Common Sense

Thomas Jefferson Feeder Pattern News - March 23, 2015

About the Title

Common Sense was a pamphlet authored by Thomas Paine in 1775-76. It was written to inspire American colonists to declare independence from British Rule at the beginning of The Revolution. This weekly, modern, online relative of that pamphlet documents the news, events, updates, and celebrations of the TJ Revolution - the educational sensation sweeping through northwest Dallas.

TJ Feeder Pattern News in Brief

Executive Director's Message

As we transition from the third to the final lap of the school year, fatigue and fear sometimes set in. Those feelings cause some to revert to low-impact practices that are comfortable, but not high-leverage.

High Quality Instruction is what drives improved student achievement. And it is you – the School Leader – who ensures that high quality instruction is systemic throughout your building. We must have high expectations of ourselves, our teachers, and our students to ensure high quality instruction is pervasive.

It is March. Good First Instruction should be pervasive in your building. At minimum, aligned LO’s and DOL’s are supported with a purposefully aligned lesson that includes multiple response strategies. Poor instructional practices to avoid are absent from every classroom. Poor quality instruction must be addressed and remediated. You should be able to articulate your support/accountability plan for any classroom where Good First Instruction is not occurring every day.

I will continue my campus visits, focusing on high-quality, good first instruction. We will focus on the support you are providing and mechanisms you are utilizing to hold your staff accountable. Continue to monitor instruction and provide effective feedback and support. In the midst of a busy end of the school year, we must continue to keep the main thing the main thing. And the main thing is the Quality of Instruction.

Having high expectations of your students begins with having high expectations of yourself and your teachers. Maintain your brisk pace and finish the race strong. The students of the TJ Feeder Pattern deserve the best all the way through the finish line, 2½ months from now.

Thank you for your leadership. As always, please let me know how I may support you in your endeavor to create the best schools in Dallas ISD!

Have a great week with students!

Timothy J. Hise

Executive Director, Thomas Jefferson Feeder Pattern

Tips from the National Bilingual Teacher of the Year (A Dallas ISD Teacher!)

Universal Language of a successful classroom is student engagement

The REAL Test Prep

from Marshall Memo #578

“The idea of having students practice answering test questions is ubiquitous and ineffective in raising test scores,” says Timothy Shanahan (University of Illinois/ Chicago) in this article in The Reading Teacher. He understands the pressure to raise scores on the new generation of more-challenging ELA tests coming down the pike – PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and others. But the time-honored approach of analyzing sample test items and having students answer questions on main idea, supporting detail, providing evidence, describing a character, identifying a theme, and drawing conclusions doesn’t work, he says. “It has never worked. And it won’t work any better with the new assessments on the horizon. It’s as ineffective as pushing the elevator button multiple times to hurry it along or turning the thermostat to 90º to make a room warm up faster.”

So why are so many principals and superintendents and teachers wasting valuable instructional time on an ineffective strategy? “There is a kind of logic to it,” says Shanahan: “The students are practicing something that at least looks like it could improve test scores.” But the fundamental problem is that many educators are not sure what will improve test scores and make students better readers. It’s not students’ ability to answer questions on specific skills, says Shanahan – “performance on various question types explains none of the variance in student performance on standardized comprehension tests… Analyses of test performance suggest that outcome variance is due not to the questions but to the passages. On reading comprehension tests, it matters how well students read the passages that they will be questioned about. If you want higher test scores, then teach your students to read the test passages better.” How do teachers do that? Here are Shanahan’s suggestions:

  • Teach students how to figure out unknown words. When they take the new tests, students are going to encounter some words they don’t know – there’s no way they will have learned all the possible words. If instruction during the year has focused on learning as many words as possible, students will be up the creek without a paddle. But if instruction has focused on learning words and strategies for figuring out unknown words, students will be able to manage. Shanahan believes that during the year, too many teachers are pre-teaching words. That’s okay if the words’ meaning can’t be figured out from context clues. But if there are context clues, as there usually are, students should be required to do the work of figuring out the word – and explicitly taught how to struggle successfully.

  • Making sense of sentences. Consider this sentence from a fourth-grade text and how difficult it would be for many students to decipher its dependent clauses: The women of Montgomery, both young and older, would come in with their fancy holiday dresses that needed adjustments or their Sunday suits or blouses that needed just a touch – a flower or some velvet trimming or something to make the ladies look festive. Students need explicit instruction in how to close-read this sentence, break it down to its basic elements by taking out parenthetical phrases, and make sense of it. The same is true of sentences that use the passive voice (It was determined by Roosevelt that the Chancellor’s message did not require an immediate response from the State Department). “There is a substantial research base showing the effectiveness of sentence combining and sentence reduction in improving students’ writing and reading comprehension,” says Shanahan. “Such lessons, at one time, were commonplace in many American classrooms. Perhaps it’s time for their rediscovery.”

  • Silent reading with real understanding – Reading comprehension tests require students to read lengthy passages without prompting or assistance. How much practice are students getting at this demanding task? Shanahan wonders. He sees silent reading periods in schools he visits, but he’s unclear: “I just can’t tell, from what I see, whether the students are really improving in that essential reading skill or whether they are languishing. In many situations, I doubt whether the teacher knows, either. Sadly, I’m finding that few teachers have any idea how to teach students to engage successfully in this kind of extended silent reading.” Shanahan believes many students need to be asked to read one sentence silently and be quizzed on it, then two sentences, then a paragraph, then a page, then a chapter. “This kind of build-up reading with intensive questioning can take place beyond the reading book,” he says – in science, social studies, Weekly Reader, Time for Kids. And students need to be able to do it without picture clues.

If we teach these three things well – figuring out unknown words, breaking down difficult sentences, and sustaining concentration and comprehension when reading long passages silently – Shanahan believes we will see improved test performance, and students will be better readers as well.

“Let’s Get Higher Scores on These New Assessments” by Timothy Shanahan in The Reading Teacher, March 2015 (Vol. 68, #6, p. 459-463), available for purchase at; Shanahan can be reached at

Pre-K Round-Up: April 6-11, 2015

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One Teacher's Strategy for "Flipping" Test Review

From Marshall Memo #578

In this Education Update article, high-school teacher Lillian Sims says she’d reached an impasse with her twelfth grade British literature class: “They wanted a spoon-fed curriculum and I wanted to teach without sacrificing rigor.” A quarter of her students weren’t on track to pass, and some left her test papers completely blank.

But then a freak snowstorm cancelled school for two days and Sims tried something new to help students prepare for an upcoming test. She recorded a brief video of herself paging through the textbook noting key items, summarized historical events and poems, suggested an acronym to remember titles in a logical sequence, and showed how each poem fit into the unit’s themes. She uploaded the video to YouTube and alerted her students about it by e-mail, Facebook, Remind, and Twitter.

When school re-opened, students said they loved the video and wanted her to do it again for future tests. What was the big deal? Sims wondered – all she’d done was review what they’d already heard in class. But then she understood: “[I]t wasn’t hearing me talk all over again that had helped; it was seeing me demonstrate how I ‘study.’ My students didn’t need help with literature; they needed help with how to learn.”

For the rest of the year, Sims made a regular routine of uploading study videos, and the results were dramatic. Test grades improved by two letter grades, failures dropped from 15 to 4, every student tried hard, and the number of As went from 6 to 33 percent of the class.

“Snowstorms and Studying Breakthroughs” by Lillian Sims in Education Update, March 2015 (Vol. 57, #3, p. 8),; Sims can be reached at

Teach for Dallas ISD. It Makes Sense!

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Leadership Quote of the Week

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Week At-a-Glance

Monday, March 23
  • Campus Visits
  • K-2 Math Teacher Summit @ Field ES (3:30-4:30pm)

Tuesday, March 24

  • Campus Visits
  • Summer School Principals Meeting @ Buckner (2-4pm)

Wednesday, March 25

  • Campus Visits

Thursday, March 26

  • Campus Visits

Friday, March 27

  • Cycle 7 Secondary Data Meeting @ Longfellow MS (8-10am)
  • Campus Visits

On The Horizon

March 16-April 8 - TELPAS K-12

March 23 - Dual Language Model Information Session

March 26 - Dallas ISD Board Meeting

April 3 - Inclement Weather Make-Up Day

April 6-10 - Pre-K Round-Up

April 15-30 - Circle Pre-K Assessment

April 17 - End of 5th Six Weeks

April 20-24 - Administrative Professionals' Week

Action Items