Curriculum Newsletter 6-12

December 2021

Hamilton Township School District

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How to Use Can-Do Descriptors to Differentiate Instruction

Where to start in instruction with ELLs is often difficult for any teacher. This is because all ELLs differ in terms of their knowledge in each of the language domains. WIDA has developed the Can Do Descriptors to help guide teachers in each of the language domains for each ELL. The Can-Do Descriptors are individualized and tell what a student Can Do in Speaking, Listening, Reading, and Writing. It is a useful tool that can help teachers differentiate lessons so that the student is working at a level that they can succeed at and ultimately be graded on.

The Can-Do Descriptors help teachers understand what ELLs can do at different levels in each of the language domains and within the grade, level clusters identified. The Can-Do Descriptors are based on the Access test which is usually taken in the Spring of each school year. These scores change year to year and therefore what the student can do changes year to year as well. Each score differs from student to student and will identify whether the child may only be capable of pointing or labeling to being able to do a research project on their own with some vocabulary support.

ESL teachers know how to scaffold and how to use the Can-Do Descriptors. They are always modifying their instruction so that they can challenge their students based on what WIDA has identified their students can do. ESL teachers are a great resource when it comes to learning more about how to use these descriptors to individualize instruction and to grade students.

Classroom Norms for Meaningful Math

Most of the learning in a problem-based math classroom happens when students compare their ideas to one another. Teachers who are aware of this can be more comfortable facilitating this sort of robust, synthesizing conversation. The teacher does not have to correct the group with a wrong answer because they know the whole class will benefit from comparing that group’s thinking to their own, and will understand better why the right answer is right. The teacher does not have to wait for each group to finish because they know that the students had opportunities during the launch and work time to develop a better understanding of the problem.

But how does this learning from others happen? It happens when students have shifted from thinking that the learning happens when the teacher explains (at the beginning of class) or corrects (at the end of class). It happens when students believe that learning happens from actively comparing their ideas to others’ ideas.

In order for students to learn this way, they need to:

  • Be willing to share their ideas, right or wrong.

  • Be willing to listen to and learn from others’ ideas, right or wrong.

  • Be curious about the work of other students, even if they have already solved the problem one way.

  • Actively work to make sense of what other people are saying, even if they are confused.

  • Be willing to try someone else’s method and work until they feel confident in their reasoning to solve similar problems in the future.

  • Listen for structure, patterns, representations, and methods, not just answers and steps.

When planning for your problem based learning, consider modeling these norms to help students work on more efficient and effective ways of thinking and communicating.

Anchoring Phenomena

NGSS places a strong emphasis on the use of phenomena within units of study. One type of phenomena are Anchoring Phenomena, which are puzzling events or processes whose full explanation requires students to coordinate and use a wide range of science and evidence.

If you’re thinking of including anchoring phenomena into your instruction consider these simple rules:

  1. Students have to find them comprehensible and relate them to their life experiences.

  2. The phenomena should be complex and rich in science content.

  3. It should be an observable event or process.

  4. The best phenomena are specific events within a specific context.

  5. The questions you pose when introducing the phenomena should be “why” not “what”. For example, don’t ask “what causes seasons” but rather, “why are there no seasons near the equator?”

  6. Look for phenomena that either

    1. Draw upon students everyday experiences.

    2. Draw upon students interests.

    3. Are current in the media.

*2014 photo of a cotton field experiencing drought conditions in Ropesville, Texas. Approximately 53.4% of the contiguous U.S. was in drought by the end of November 2021

Reading Aloud to Secondary ELA Students

Recent (and not-so-recent) research indicates that students — even those in middle and high school — benefit from hearing literature read aloud. This is especially important now as we navigate through the pandemic; students (particularly those who were already struggling with reading before March of 2020) are finding it difficult to focus on and make sense of long, complex texts.

Whether it’s the last five minutes of class or embedded in your daily lesson, consider reading aloud to your students for the following reasons:

  • Reading aloud gives teachers the opportunity to model fluency and expression. Additionally, students hear things like word pronunciation, dialect, and pacing.

  • Teachers can access a wide range of reading levels within one classroom. Even If a text is above a student’s reading level, that doesn’t mean it’s above their comprehension level.

  • Reading aloud is an effective replacement for popcorn and round-robin reading (need I say more?)

  • Reading aloud can help to build a classroom community and expose students to new authors, genres, and themes. Reading for the last five minutes of class might have students walking out of class talking about the book and wondering what will happen next!

  • Teachers can model reading strategies (using context clues to determine a word’s meaning, visualizing text, making connections, etc.).

  • Listening to a story can be relaxing and can lead to a lifelong appreciation for storytelling and literature.

  • Reading aloud helps students develop good listening habits. The value of listening may not be fully appreciated in our digitally accessible, media saturated, and fast-paced culture.

Digital Graphic Organizers: A Great Tool for Social Studies

One of the roles of a Social Studies teacher is to assist students in understanding their role in history, their neighborhood, the nation, and the world by guiding them through challenging subject matter. This can often be difficult when faced with a classroom of diverse learners. A graphic organizer is a great tool that can be utilized in Social Studies.

Both students and teachers can benefit from using graphic organizers. It makes teaching and learning easier for everyone while also making it more entertaining and participatory. Graphic organizers can make the material more accessible to all learners while also increasing student engagement. Students have the opportunity to actively participate in and contribute to their learning. In addition, graphic organizers can allow for a deeper understanding of specific content. Graphic organizers that are printed on paper can help with this. However, by making the graphic organizers digital they become instantaneously modifiable. This enables them to be tailored to meet the needs of your students, which increase their accessibility and functionality. These digital graphic organizers can also be emailed, embedded in a website, or downloaded as an image file.

Here are some examples of digital graphic organizers that could be utilized in the SS classroom:

Keep Moving into the New Year!

As staff and students prepare for a well deserved break with family and friends over winter recess, maybe there is a way to think about staying active. Prepare yourself and your students to keep moving into the New Year! Whether you are indoors or outdoors, there are fun and productive ways to stay active and have fun while doing it. The following are fun ways to bring Physical Education and Wellness goals home. Let's stay active, have fun, and keep moving into 2022!

  • DEAM Calendar- Follow challenges from a Drop Everything And Move Calendar

  • Family Yoga Night

  • Mediate

  • Backyard Games: Cornhole, Horse shoes, Spikeball, bocce ball

  • Family Bowling.

  • Family Dance Party- Line dances and Zumba

  • Shoveling! (If it snows…)

  • Have a jump rope challenge. Who can do the most in a minute?

  • Family Morning Flex: Start each morning with a 10-minute stretch before breakfast.

  • Go ice-skating or roller-skating.

  • Bundle up and take a hike or a neighborhood walk.

  • Step Marathon: Track your steps and see how many you can get before the end of the break.

  • Unplug. Unplug. Unplug…

Data Guy

Start Strong Parent Reports will be mailed to parents in the next month. All teachers can also view the Start Strong Parent Reports through their PearsonAccessNext account right now. When you view the reports, first reference the Start Strong Score Interpretation Guide which is posted at the bottom of the newsletter. The guide outlines the content domain, major content cluster, reporting concept, number of items, and number of points in each content area. Of note, are the reporting concepts which begin on page 26. When you speak with parents about the assessment, it is important to outline what the test asked the student to do, how the student performed, how you are helping the student, and how the student can be helped at home or some talking notes for parents to speak with his/her child. Have a great holiday!

Notes from Mr. Scotto

December is a great month for reflection. As we prepare for Winter Recess, it is also time to think about the progress our students have made to date. We know that this year's curricular progress is certainly different from pre-COVID years (and that is fine).

If we know that things are "different" right now, have we also adjusted our approach to instruction, assessment, and overall academic support? If the answer to this question is yes, then take some time to share your successes with a colleague. If the answer is no, it's not too late to look at new ways to meet our students' needs and help them as we begin 2022.

I leave you with this quote by Mike Anderson:

  • "We know that students crave a sense of belonging and connection with others, so let's make sure to meet that need through their academic work."
  • Follow Mike on Twitter for more information -

Best wishes for a restful winter break!

Hamilton Township School District

Anthony Scotto, Director of Curriculum & Instruction


Alejandro Batlle, Health/PE and World Language

Kevin Bobetich, Testing/Assessment

Karen Gronikowski, Mathematics and STEM/STEAM

Sandra Jacome, ESL K-12, ESSER III Pre-K

Joanne Long, Science and Applied Technology

Francesca Miraglia, English Language Arts and Media Centers

Erick Shio, Social Studies and Business

Robert Pispecky (Interim), Visual and Performing Arts