6-12 Curriculum Newsletter

December 2018

Happy Holidays from the Curriculum and Instruction Team!

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Start the New Year on a High Note

December is an interesting month for everyone in education. The excitement of the holiday season and the break to come can add extra distractions for students. At times, it can feel like a countdown to January for a much needed reboot, for both the students and teachers. Let us make the road to 2019 a meaningful one, with great tasks (for the teacher) and activities (for the class) that lead into the new year. Here are a few ideas:

  • Review and discuss class expectations to refocus for the second half of the school year. This is a great time to redirect possible bad habits.

  • Reboot out of class habits (ie- effective note-taking, studying, time management...).

  • Reflect on the school year thus far (as individuals and as a whole class). Where was there success and where can you improve in 2019?

  • Set personal, educational, and group goals for 2019. Involve your students in the process as well. It is nice for them to have some accountability for their own learning and where they would like to improve as well.

  • Allow everyone to re-introduce themselves. With so much to do during the school year, it is easy to forget those meaningful moments of learning the finer details about your students. There are many fine ice breaker/team building types of activities that can bring everyone back together to end 2018 and start 2019 on a high note.

The Importance of Using Visuals with English Language Learners

In last month’s newsletter, tips and strategies were shared on supporting English Language Learners (ELLs) across content areas. The first strategy on the list was the use of visuals as often as possible. Let’s revisit this strategy by reviewing the importance of visuals and ways to incorporate them in your lessons starting tomorrow.

So, why visuals? Do you remember the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”? Teaching ELLs grade-level content across different proficiency levels can be challenging. Just as challenging is acclimating to a new country and culture while learning English.

The use of visuals facilitates the learning process by providing students with permanent images that can easily be referred to at a later time. Through visuals, students are able to see abstract concepts in a more concrete way. Imagine being able to scaffold students as they build background knowledge and make connections to the new learning. This simple yet powerful tool also helps students by lowering their affective filter or anxiety levels as they engage in activities, participate, and complete tasks.

Types of visuals recommended for ELLs and all students:

  • Realia (real objects)

  • Anchor Charts

  • Academic Vocabulary Word Wall

  • Manipulatives

  • Graphic Organizers

  • Sentence Strips

Building Community: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Building positive relationships with students is the number one way to decrease behavior issues and add to a strong classroom community. There never seems to be enough time in a class period to accomplish everything that must be done. For this reason, making time to find out how each student is doing and talking one-on-one might be a daunting task. This simple activity encourages students and the teacher to share one positive and one negative thought for that day. A quick daily survey will provide an opportunity to have a pulse on the students.

Students can choose their level of openness: A positive thought can simply be “It’s sunny today” or a negative might be “I feel tired.” Yet students may choose to respond in a more personal manner: “I scored the winning goal in my championship game” or “I am worried about my grandmom; she is in the hospital.”

December is not too late to continue to build community within the classroom and to learn about students. Consider investing in a quick, daily opening activity so all students’ voices are heard and valued.

What are Cross Cutting Concepts?

Science should not be taught in content silos, disconnected from one another, but all too often that is exactly how it’s being taught. To help students make sense of science concepts, the NGSS has defined 7 cross cutting concepts. These are overarching themes that transcend all fields of science, and help students connect one science discipline to another.

The California Academy of Sciences compares the concept of CCC to a study of how expert and novice chess players organize information. These experts think about groups of pieces and the strategic moves they can make, while novices tend to focus on the individual pieces. Like the expert’s mindset, CCCs group pieces of scientific information by broader similarities to fully understand each piece’s importance.

Learning science without CCCs is more like the novice perspective, failing to consider how the different scientific principles relate to each other across the broader field of science.

Any Questions?

After providing directions or delivering content, teachers often say, “Does anyone have any questions?” Unfortunately, this isn’t a very effective way to check for understanding as many students will not respond -- for a variety of reasons.

As an alternative, ask targeted questions such as:

  • Manny, in your own words, can you tell your tablemates the definition of foreshadowing?

  • Michael, remind your classmates what they should do when they have finished the Do Now?

  • Kyarra, how many pieces of evidence do you need to support your claim?

Small tweaks can make a world of difference; before you know it, you will turn your classroom into a place where students feel comfortable taking academic risks.

  • After delivering content, ask students to think-pair-share and explain it to each other. Aside from being a low-risk situation, having students verbalize their learning is a powerful tool.

  • Model, model, model. Investing a few minutes scaffolding a task with an ‘I Do, We Do, You Do’ structure will save lots of time in the long run AND make your expectations very clear.

  • When asking students to complete a more complex problem, provide a rubric AND a few samples of a completed project. In groups, ask students to evaluate a project; this is a great way to ensure that students take a close look at the assignment criteria. A win-win!

Stay tuned for next month’s article on teaching students how to ask questions!

Bring Project-Based Learning to your Classroom

With the hustle and bustle of the holiday sesaon, it is easy to rely on tried and true instructional methods. However, Project Based Learning (PBL) provides students with with a richer, more meaningful educational experience. Simply said, project based learning allows students to learn THROUGH the project rather than learning the content first and completing the project as the last activity in a unit.

Here are some tips when implementing PBL in the classroom.

  • Be the Guide on the Side: Reduce the time spent talking in front of the classroom, and provide students with more time to actively work with content. Students will ask more questions and find more answers, leading to a deeper understanding of the content.

  • Focus on Quality Over Quantity: Instead of requiring all students to respond to a question with three or four paragraphs, say something like this instead: “Your goal today is to try and write at least one paragraph. Many of you will write two, three, or even four paragraphs, but your ultimate goal is to communicate your thoughts clearly.” This approach will allow each student to work to his/her ability with built in flexibility.

  • Teach New Content Through the Project: There are times when direct instruction is needed before moving toward student inquiry, but it’s important that these traditional instructional strategies are spread throughout the project.

Use Project Based Learning to mix up your instructional strategies, increase engagment, and foster critical thinking.

Increasing Cultural Awareness Breaks Down Diversity Barriers

As educators, we must implement educational strategies that encourage respect, acceptance, and understanding of one another. Vast possibilities to intensify learning exist in applying cultural knowledge to classroom lesson planning and teaching. Ask students to reflect upon their backgrounds when completing assignments, and encourage them to share their work. Consider pairing or grouping students so that all students are included, making the learning experience fulfilling. When orchestrated effectively, students will interact on a deeper level, breaking the diversity barriers.

Dear Data Guy

I heard PARCC is changing. Is that true?

Yes, there are a couple of changes to the PARCC test this year. First, the name of the test has changed. Instead of PARCC, the test is called NJSLA or New Jersey Student Learning Assessment.

The number of units and the unit times are also changing.

ELA assessments will have two units of 90 minutes each.

Math assessments in the middle school (6-8 assessments) will have three units of 60 minutes each.

High School Math assessments will have two units of 90 minutes each.

As Mr. Scotto discussed during the PARCC Roadshows, in order to prepare your students for the rigor of the state assessments, it is important to assess students at the same rigor and complexity as the state assessment. Your curriculum supervisor will share more information about the assessment as it becomes available.

Notes from Mr. Scotto

Over the last few months the Office of Curriculum & Instruction has been preparing for Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC). I'm pleased to inform you that all required documentation was submitted to the NJ Department of Education on Friday, December 14th.

The new monitoring guidelines require additional components to be added to existing curricular documents. In the coming days, the curriculum supervisors will be sending these revised guides to all staff. Please be sure to save an electronic copy of all documents.

On a different note, I would like to wish all of you Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year. Enjoy your winter recess.

Hamilton Township School District

Anthony Scotto, Director of Curriculum and Instruction


Alejandro Batlle, Health/PE and World Language

Kevin Bobetich, Testing/Assessment

Mayreni Fermin-Cannon, ESL K-12, Title I Pre-K, ESSA Title Grants, & Family Engagement

Karen Gronikowski, Mathematics and STEAM

Joanne Long, Science and Applied Technology

Francesca Miraglia, English Language Arts and Media Centers

Erick Shio, Social Studies and Business

Danielle Tan, Visual and Performing Arts