Saturday, January 30, 2010

Black History Month

edHelper has a vast amount of activities, worksheets, reader's theater scripts, and more. Check it out:

Friday, January 29, 2010

Student Hackers Change Grades

Students at Potomac school hack into computers; grades feared changed

By Michael Birnbaum and Jenna Johnson

Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 29, 2010

Students at a Potomac high school hacked into the school's computer system and changed class grades, according to sources briefed by the school's principal, and officials are investigating how widespread the damage might be.

The incident prompted an emergency staff meeting at Churchill High School, a top school in one of the nation's premier public systems, and a recorded phone message to parents Wednesday saying that grades might have been corrupted by the hackers.

The extent of the apparent security breach was not immediately clear. Teachers at the school were being asked to review their grades for discrepancies. The students involved used a computer program to capture passwords from at least one teacher, according to school sources familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Recovering just five percent of the food that Americans waste could feed four million hungry people a day. [New York Times]

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Homework has Changed

Good article about how homework has changed – it is no longer drill and kill, dittos, etc. Click here to read the article from Teacher Magazine.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Females and math

Not exactly language arts, but interesting nonetheless:

Female teachers may pass on math anxiety to girls, study finds

After a year in the classroom with female teachers who say they are anxious about math, girls are more likely to share that attitude -- and score lower on tests, researchers say.

By Karen Kaplan

January 26, 2010


Girls have long embraced the stereotype that they're not supposed to be good at math. It seems they may be getting the idea from a surprising source -- their female elementary school teachers.

First- and second-graders whose teachers were anxious about mathematics were more likely to believe that boys are hard-wired for math and that girls are better at reading, a new study has found. What's more, the girls who bought into that notion scored significantly lower on math tests than their peers who didn't.

The gap in test scores was not apparent in the fall when the kids were first tested, but emerged after spending a school year in the classrooms of teachers with math anxiety. That detail convinced researchers that the teachers -- all of them women --
were the culprits. (click to read the rest of the LA Times story)


Friday, January 22, 2010

Black History Month Resources

With Martin Luther King, Jr. Day having just passed and Black History Month approaching quickly, here are a just a few examples of the excellent resources catalogued for you on our Black History Month / Martin Luther King, Jr. Day resource page.



Note: Black History Month is important no matter where you are located. However, it might be even more important to those of us located in areas that aren't too rich with African-American culture.

Is Language an ‘Invisible Medium’ in Your Classroom?

This comes from Mary Ann Zehr's blog. I thought it was really great --- and something that teachers of older students might not give much thought.

Language Shouldn't Be an 'Invisible Medium' in the Classroom

These days, when many classrooms have English-language learners, content-area teachers need to explicitly teach about language, says a thoughtful article written by a couple of doctoral candidates in the department of linguistics at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, published in the Middle School Journal.

Many regular classroom teachers at the secondary level who are native speakers of English may treat language as an "invisible medium" in the classroom, Naomi M. Watkins and Kristen M. Lindahl write in their article, which can be accessed by members of the National Middle School Association. They spell out how teachers can deliberately teach literacy, which they contend is good not only for ELLs but for all students. In giving lessons, they say, teachers should try to answer some of the following questions: "What background knowledge do my students need?," "What parts of the text will cause them the most difficulty or challenges?," and "How can I fill in those gaps to aid reading comprehension?"

The article describes a number of strategies for teaching language to adolescents while also teaching academic content and it is based on some of the latest research. The authors, in fact, cite information from three books that have a publication date of 2010. I'd like to get my hands on the latest editions of those books myself. They are: The Crosscultural Language and Academic Development Handbook (4th ed.); Making Content Comprehensible for English Learners; and Reading, Writing, and Learning in ESL: A Resource Book for K-12 Teachers (5th ed.).

The article about how regular classroom teachers teach literacy is part of a special focus of the January issue of Middle School Journal on "celebrating cultural diversity." Another interesting article in the issue tells about resources for teaching about Arabs and Arab-Americans.

RTI Said to Pay Off in Gains for English-Learners

As always, click on the hyperlink at the end to read the article in its entirety.

Calif. District Using RTI for English-Learners

By Mary Ann Zehr

Chula Vista, Calif.

Fernando Lujo and Hector Martinez are only in 1st grade, but already educators at Lillian J. Rice Elementary School have mapped out different instructional paths for them.

A few months ago, both of the English-language learners had limited awareness of how to sound out words, according to a screening test. Fernando was assigned to an hourlong intensive reading "clinic" four days a week and was soon reading on grade level, so he graduated from the extra lessons last month. Hector was put in the reading clinic as well, but made only limited progress, so the school's reading expert now meets with him one-on-one for a half-hour four days a week.

Another Great Blog for the Teachers of English Language Learners

This blog is part of Education Week. I would encourage everyone to check it out, bookmark it, or RSS it.

How Much Time/Energy/Money Are Our Schools Spending On Supplementary Programs?

Click the link at the end to read the story in its entirety.

Supplementary Reading Programs Found Ineffective

By Mary Ann Zehr

A federal study intended to provide insight on the effectiveness of supplementary programs for reading comprehension found that three such programs had no positive impact, while a fourth had a negative effect on student achievement.

In other words, the report concludes that none of the four programs studied—Project CRISS, ReadAbout, Read for Real, and Reading for Knowledge—is effective.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Another Great Website

If any of your students are English Language Learners the website can be a great resource. In fact, the site is really a great resource for use with any students. Check it out!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Children's Board Games Help Reinforce Lessons Learned In the Classroom

Article from the Washington Post; click on the hyperlink at the end of the summary to read the article in its entirety:

The Washington Post (1/15, Williams) reports that according to experts, "there are so many benefits to playing board games." Games such as Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, and Uno have for years been thought to "help children with social interaction, taking turns, and learning to follow rules and to win and lose gracefully." Also, according to educators, "by pushing young children to think strategically and plan ahead, and to attach abstract thoughts to concrete objects, many games can help develop more-sophisticated thinking skills." In the classroom, "teachers also find ways to use board games to supplement their lesson plans, particularly in preschool and early elementary school."

Creating a Culture of Inquiry Through the Use of Model Lessons

This article really demonstrates what can be accomplished when schools embrace collaboration. Included is a pdf file of a sample schedule that would be a great jumping-off point for any school that might want to follow suit. Below is the beginning of the article. If you'd like to read it in its entirety, simple click on the hyperlink at the end:

Creating a Culture of Inquiry Through the Use of Model Lessons

Suzanne Linebarger
Date: January 8, 2010

Summary: Suzanne Linebarger, associate director of the Northern California Writing Project, describes how the site conducts an inservice program of model lessons that supports collective teacher inquiry into key concepts in teaching reading and writing.  

The students in TJ's third grade classroom listen intently as their guest teacher, a Northern California Writing Project (NCWP) teacher-consultant, reads an article about how ancient Egyptians mummified bodies. Four teachers—third and fourth grade colleagues of TJ's—sit with him in the back of the room watching this model lesson and taking notes as part of a yearlong inservice series anchored by model lessons.

Model lessons are like lab lessons, where an experienced teacher-consultant demonstrates key concepts in the teaching of writing in the classrooms of the teachers to whom the writing project is providing professional development. These lessons are followed by a collective debriefing session where teachers design inquiries into the schoolwide use of the concept demonstrated.

This classroom in Sierra Avenue Elementary School, a diverse rural school near Oroville, California, with nearly 80 percent of its students coming from families receiving AFDC assistance, is a good example of how NCWP uses model lesson structures in multisession inservice programs.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Five Components People Need to Be Able to Learn

Once again, this is probably old news to most. However, it bears repeating. According to educator Bob Sullo (in his book, Activating the Desire to Learn) there are five components that are necessary for people to be able to learn:

  • Power
  • Mastery
  • Belonging
  • Safety
  • Fun



Changing Your Classroom?

After winter break some teachers change the physical composition of their classroom. Many change the students' seats, while others actually reconfigure the desks, etc. This might be a good time to rethink how the layout of your classroom can benefit all of your learners. Below is an excerpt from Valerie Schiffer-Danoff's book, which can be purchased through Scholastic:


Teaching ELL: Classroom Setup Strategies

Easy Ways to Reach & Teach English Language Learners

By Valerie Schiffer-Danoff

This article was excerpted from Easy Ways to Reach and Teach English Language Learners by Valerie Schiffer-Danoff.

Making your classroom ELL friendly will keep your EO students on track, too. A good classroom setup saves you time by making resources and supplies readily available for you and your students. For example, students can be more responsible for working independently when a map or word wall is right in front of them and easily accessible. Students are more comfortable when asked to write or illustrate when pencils, crayons, and other materials are within reach. A well-planned classroom setup makes the space more inviting and efficient for everyone.

Here are a few pointers:

  • When placing tables and desks, think about creating spaces that can be used for various setups: partner work and small or large groups. Can desks be moved aside or grouped easily?
  • Follow a daily routine and post your schedule using graphics or a rebus format if possible. When students know what to expect of their day, they are more comfortable.
  • Frequently, one of the first things ELLs learn is the day on which they have a special class like gym or music. All students seem to like knowing what time they have lunch or recess!
  • Place responsibility for learning on the students. Keeping supplies, math manipulative materials, and reference books within reach of the students enables them to access what they need on their own.
  • Set up your classroom with word walls that have pictures or real objects (realia) connected to them.
  • Display rebus charts to provide pictorial cues along with word cues.
  • Use graphics such as maps, photographs, and other visual displays as much as possible.
  • Have plenty of chart paper on hand for recording strategies, word banks, and other class-generated ideas. Having more than one pad or stand accessible is helpful too. Keep a stand placed where large group instruction occurs and one placed for small-group instruction.
  • Gather materials that can be used for hands-on learning, such as math manipulative materials, sensory learning materials (e.g., sandpaper letters), maps, and graphs.
  • Set up a classroom library that includes a listening center with books on tape and earphones. Children love to listen to a story. ELLs can listen to a book on tape that they are not yet ready to read on their own. I find that my ELLs especially love to listen to song books and you may hear them singing along.

About the Author

Valerie Schiffer-Danoff is the author of Easy Ways to Reach & Teach English Language Learners.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Kids From Chaos

An interesting idea that is bound to stir up a bit of controversy. What do you think?

Kids From Chaos

By Grace Sussman


Labels help us organize various factors into workable constellations. In education, we have many of them for categorizing the children needing special attention: ELL (for those learning English as a second language), TAG (for the gifted and talented learners), SPED (for those with disabilities requiring special education), and simply "students at risk." I would suggest adding another label to the list: "kids from chaos." These students share similarities with students at risk, but with some important differences.

Like at-risk students, kids from chaos struggle to achieve academically. They are frequently from poor and historically marginalized student populations. But in addition to this, they come from homes where chaos reigns. The adults in their homes are absent, either physically, from the necessity of working multiple low-paying jobs, or emotionally, as the fallout from unemployment, substance abuse, illness, or some other social factor. Food, clothing, guidance, nurturance, and support often are unavailable to these children. More significantly, they lack substantive relationships with powerful, humane, culturally affirmed, and engaged citizens. Turmoil and unpredictability rule the daily lives of kids from chaos.

Were we writing diagnostic criteria for kids from chaos, they would read something like this:

• Struggle academically.
• Feel alienated from school.
• Feel unaffirmed by society.
• Lack time-management skills.
• Have little vision of the future and live for the moment.
• Lack appropriate oral-language skills to connect and negotiate with others or to express themselves.
• Act out physically or withdraw into depression.
• Encounter trouble with the law.
• Relate most significantly with their peers.
• Rarely experience success in life or see legitimate success attained by their associates.

As the veteran educator Bob Sullo points out in Activating the Desire to Learn, people need five components to be able to learn: power, mastery, belonging, safety, and fun. But in their attempts to provide themselves with these, kids from chaos typically engage in activities that are either illegal or unhealthy, or both. Gang membership is a good example.

Educators of kids from chaos easily fall into the "deficit model" of thinking, in which these students are seen as deficient—in intelligence and in their commitment to learning. But we must push ourselves out of this mode of thinking and into one in which we continually challenge our instructional strategies, searching for ways to help the students come to know themselves as thinkers, readers, writers, and people with contributions to make to society.

We must see the multidimensionality of all students, most particularly these kids from chaos. They are more than any label can convey. They are strong, resilient, good people who, for reasons not of their making, are in places that facilitate bad decisions. Because of this, we must find the ways to teach them, so that they will have the tools to evolve into powerful, humane, culturally affirmed, and engaged citizens.

Some of the instructional strategies that can move kids from chaos in those directions include the following:

Multimodality instruction. These students have to be able to see, hear, touch, and speak as they learn. Offering them lectures alone is like pouring water over rocks and expecting seeds to sprout. Kids from chaos lack a sufficient academic vocabulary to easily process information delivered only by a teacher talking in front of a class.

Short-term goals with explicitly defined time frames. Divide projects into separate parts, with each part receiving a grade, rather than assigning a project over a given time period, with the grade at its completion.

Specific, concrete, and immediate feedback. Rather than saying, "Good work," say, "Good work with your subject and verb agreement." This kind of feedback allows another opportunity for students to know what skills they are supposed to be learning.

Time and space for their voices to be heard. The Reciprocal Teaching strategy works well with kids from chaos after sufficient modeling and scaffolding.

Research-based, explicit vocabulary instruction, especially in academic vocabulary. Use standardized-testing words ("evaluate," "determine," and others) as part of classroom conversation.

Homework support. This could perhaps be provided in class time devoted to completing homework.

Movement during learning experiences.

Displays of exemplary student work. They need to be able to see and understand what the school values.

Role-playing opportunities. They need role-plays of appropriate behavior, as well as role-playing that involves talk aimed at resolving conflicts and negotiating mutual resolutions.

Affirmation. They need reflections of their cultures and ethnicities in their classrooms. And, most importantly, they need to know that they are valued.

Many kids from chaos are placed in alternative schools. Such settings give those of us who teach in them perspectives on the tremendous gaps in opportunities to learn these young people experience. We know that the task we face is both urgent and obvious: to find what is needed to make the classroom a powerful learning space for these especially at-risk and neglected kids, places where instruction helps build a strong identity while it enriches learning and life chances.

Perhaps the label "kids from chaos" could be a helpful reminder of what we're dealing with as we seek, create, and employ the instructional strategies that make up a pedagogy of power for these students.

Grace Sussman is a humanities facilitator in the Denver public schools.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Reading Aloud to Teens Gains Favor Among Teachers

By Mary Ann Zehr

Mention teachers' practice of reading aloud to their students and a typical image comes to mind: In a cozy corner of an elementary classroom, youngsters are gathered on a rug, listening intently to Charlotte's Web.

But, in fact, many teachers across the country are reading to students in middle and high schools, too, and some education researchers say more teachers of adolescents ought to be using the same strategy.

English teachers are reading aloud to teenagers classics ranging from the Odyssey to Of Mice and Men. History and social studies teachers are voicing the words of the Declaration of Independence and letters home from U.S. soldiers in the Vietnam War. Even some math and science teachers are reading to adolescents in class.

The technique is getting attention amid a bigger push for improvement in adolescent literacy, as educators emphasize that literacy is not just a concern for the elementary grades.

Many teachers made reading aloud a regular practice after attending sessions at education conferences by Jim Trelease, a journalist and the author of the Read-Aloud Handbook, published by Penguin in 1982. Now retired, Mr. Trelease has been a longtime crusader for getting parents and teachers to read to students of all ages.

"If the only thing a teacher shares is from a textbook, how are you going to get students excited about reading?" he said in a recent interview.

Other teachers found by trial and error that reading aloud worked for adding interesting content or making literature come alive for students. And some educators say they read to their classes to model good reading, such as by asking comprehension questions as they go along, or simply because students love it.

Some of those ideas might have come from Read It Aloud!, a book published in 2000 by the International Reading Association based on a column advocating reading-aloud techniques for secondary-level students.

Still, some educators and even those who are fans of reading aloud say the approach should not be overused. They say a teacher's reading aloud shouldn't become a crutch for students who don't want to read anything on their own.

Research Findings

Most research about reading aloud has been conducted on elementary school students; findings on how the strategy affects adolescents are limited. But a few researchers have studied how teachers use read-alouds at the middle school level, and the topic is often on the agenda at education conferences.

Lettie K. Albright, an associate professor in literacy at Texas Woman's University, for example, presented findings from a study of an 8th grade teacher's experience with structured read-alouds at the annual meeting of the Oak Creek, Wis.-based Literacy Research Association, formerly called the National Reading Conference, last month. Ms. Albright has specialized in studying the impact of reading aloud to middle school students.

In 2006, she co-wrote an article published in the journal Reading Research and Instruction that reported on a survey of middle school teachers who used reading-aloud approaches. In that article, she summarized research showing that the practice builds middle school students' knowledge in content areas, helps them have positive attitudes toward reading, and helps increase their reading fluency.

Overall, 344 of 476 survey respondents said they read aloud to their students. Female teachers were more likely than their male colleagues to read aloud; teachers of English/language arts or reading were more likely to do so than teachers of other subjects. The most common reason for reading aloud, according to survey respondents, was to promote a love of literature or reading. Other top reasons were to build interest in a topic or introduce a topic, model fluent reading, and expose students to texts they might not read otherwise.

Ms. Albright teaches a course in teaching literacy across the academic-content areas. She has an interest in helping teacher-candidates envision how they might use read-alouds of picture books effectively with adolescents. A lot of picture books, particularly biographies, she says, are sophisticated and appropriate for adolescents.

"The teacher needs to think about why he or she is using the book and connect it to the curriculum, to have purpose, to think about how you will introduce it to the students," Ms. Albright said. "You don't want to just pick up a book, read it, and then close it and move on."

Debra Schneider, a history teacher at Merrill West High School in Tracy, Calif., said she uses picture books to supplement the U.S. history curriculum for her 11th graders because such books communicate a lot of basic information in a concise way.

She said she builds her lessons around themes and finds that picture books help her to bring extra content into the classroom, since the school library doesn't have enough books to enable all of her 105 U.S. history students to check out a book on the same theme. She's read to them, for example, a picture book about Japanese internment during World War II.

Ms. Schneider also read excerpts from the 1987 book Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam to her students, and "you could have heard a pin drop," she said.

The students, she said, told her it was much better than having to read about the Vietnam War from a textbook.

'Enhance the Lesson'

At West Babylon Junior High School in New York, educators have found a way to create a library of picture books for read-alouds. They applied for and received local and state grants to buy the books.

Julie A. Powers, a 6th grade math teacher at the school in the Long Island town of West Babylon, said she has always read to her students, even when she taught math to 7th and 8th graders. She appreciates that the school now has a picture-book collection that includes math books, so she doesn't have to buy them on her own, as she did previously.

"Math tends to be abstract, so I'm looking for concrete ways to help [students]," Ms. Powers said. "If the students aren't getting something, I'll look for something that can enhance the lesson."

To introduce fractions, for instance, she's read the Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bar Fractions Book, by Jerry Pallotta.

Some history teachers say they read primary sources to their students that may be written in language that is hard to grasp.

When Joe Ritzo, a social studies teacher at Stowe High School in Vermont, teaches students about the Declaration of Independence, he reads the beginning of the document to his students. "The language is well over 200 years old," he said. "It's very flowery and the kids just don't take to it."

Every few lines, he summarizes what the document is saying. "They need to know what its meaning is in 2009," Mr. Ritzo said.

Other teachers say they read aloud for special populations of students, such as English-language learners or students with disabilities, who may have trouble understanding a text.

For example, Betsy Green, a special education teacher at James Wood High School in Winchester, Va., said she and her students read aloud a majority of text used in her classes, often pausing for interpretation or discussion.

"The text of much of the incorporated literature is just too difficult for students with comprehension or decoding issues to read to themselves," she said in an e-mail.

'Grave Injustice'

Some educators, however, say they are concerned that reading aloud could be overused.

"If you read to students, it can be OK to motivate them and get them started," said Angelia C. Greiner, who sometimes reads aloud over the Internet as a distance-learning English and speech teacher for the Arkansas School of Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts, in Hot Springs, Ark. "But they've got to learn to read on their own, what we call close reading," she said. Teachers who read practically everything aloud to their students do them a "grave injustice," she said.

Robert Pondiscio, the communications director for the Core Knowledge Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Charlottesville, Va., that promotes a curriculum based on core academic content, said he has reservations about teachers' reading aloud to adolescents.

"The need to do this at all seems to be a way of glossing over poor reading skills and poor content knowledge that should have been addressed in elementary school," he said.

But Paul W. Hankins, who teaches 11th grade English at Silver Creek High School in Sellersburg, Ill., sees reading aloud as an equalizer for students who will read an assigned book and those who won't.

He recently finished reading John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men to his students; he said he's read it aloud to classes 36 times in 36 years of teaching.

Mr. Hankins said he often faked having read an assigned book when he was in school, and as long as he is reading aloud to his students, they won't have a chance to do the same. That's one reason why he reads Of Mice and Men and other literature out loud.

"I'm going to put myself out there with all my voices," he said, "and let you hear the dramatic part of this novella."