As a teacher educator,  there are certainly a few topics that cause me to hold back.  My chest tightens when I hear one of my teacher candidates share about a recent suicide at their school site.

As a classroom teacher I never experienced having to navigate in a school setting where a student I use to know has taken their life  and I might have to grapple with questions like, "What could I have done?" "Was this preventable?" and "Were there any signs?"

In Silicon Valley where many of my teacher candidates are working teen suicide has made national headlines.  The pressure to perform and the expectation to succeed is a likely factor that contributes to stress and anxiety in a teen's life.  Luthar's (2006) research found affluent kids are at risk especially when achievement-related goals such as "attend a good college" and "make a lot of money" are higher ranked than personal values such as "being kind to others" and "happy with yourself and life".

As a teenage I will never forget the day when I found out a friend decided to take his life.  It happened unexpectedly and without warning. So the topic of suicide can possibly trigger some old memories I never had the chance to deal with.  I imagine that many of the teachers I work with also know someone who took their life; teenage suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens.

Personally, the thought of suicide never occurred to me,  until I lost someone I knew.  Then came feelings of deep sadness that I could not explain or even process.  I also began to wonder what it would be like, to bring my life to an end, would that make all my troubles go away?  I experienced bullying, shaming, and pressure to perform and get into a "good" college as a teen.  My parents were also going through a divorce during high school and I felt suffocated going to a catholic school where so many pressures I faced as a teen were ignored.

A recent Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, chronicles the life of a teenage girl whose decision to take her life at the onset of the movie,  is revealed through a series of audio tapes she sends to students who impacted her decision.  As this film and book brings much needed attention to the topic of suicide,  the power and romanticism of the act can be potentially dangerous to teenagers at risk and lacking sense of agency in their life.  As noted in Luthar's research teens who are already depressed and feeling little self-worth might see suicide as powerful choice.  The potential danger of a romanticized version of suicide is echoed by teen writer Jaclyn Grimm in a USA Today Op-ed piece.
Teachers should consider how media such as this show may influence students' beliefs and opinion especially when it comes to suicide.  Having conversations with your students and colleagues at your school site, including guidance counselors and administrators can begin formulating ways you can build a safe and inclusive school where students thrive and feel safe, protected and cared for.  Here are a few addition resources for information on suicide prevention and support:

Either way I will be watching the "13 Reasons Why" series so I can better understand teen suicide and the context of being a teenager in a social media driven world. I had a hard time not clicking on episode #2 after I finished the first one.

Join me Sunday night at 8pm (PST),  in a weekly twitter chat to discuss this powerful series by sending a tweet to:

Our first week question for the video study will be:

Q1: Who is affected by teenage suicide?

Q2: What are the possible reasons why a teen may take their life?

Q3:What are the pressures facing teenagers in the classroom today? How are they similar/different to when you were a teen?

To engage in this discussion just send a tweet to #Teacherprep13reasons with a response to your question as Q1, Q2, Q3.  

It is used to track students, evaluate teachers and determine a schools' performance. It causes a sense of fear and anxiety for students and teachers alike and can influence funding,  ratings, and the housing market.  Yes, assessment is the "elephant in the room" and it's not moving anytime soon.
Assessment does not need to be something we fear, but embrace.  If we chose wisely and use assessment as a tool rather than a means of solely evaluating,  assessment can be valuable in identifying key points for designing instruction, monitoring progress and supporting students. Assessment should be thought of as "evidence" that educators can use to make informed decision about teaching and learning.
Here are some key points of consideration when incorporating assessment in the classroom:
  1. Use  diagnostic assessments to gather evidence about student knowledge prior to instruction.  Diagnostic assessments are traditionally multiple choice tests, chapter warm-ups and pre-asssessments that can give you a snap shot of mastery toward previously taught skills and standards.   Learning Progressions are important to consider when designing these types of assessments.
  2. Spice up your assessment with web tools.  Create a  virtual game-based assessment using web applications such as Kahoot-, Go Formative or Poll Everywhere to create an online assessment .
  3. As much as we love categories to classify information and sort things, being placed in a category can feel strange, obtrusive and just cold and uninviting.  Avoid categorizing students into bucket groups that can create a stigma and perception of how they are viewed as a learner.
  4. Teachers need to use data and assessment collaboratively.  Working in silos does not work.  Create a space to continuously meet with colleagues and use data to determine not just students academic growth but also if they are progressing socially, emotionally and behavioral.  Looking at data with colleagues can promote collaboration and help determine patterns and outliers in a students' performance.  If a student is having success in math and not art, what might be happening in one classroom environment that is not happening in the other?
  5. Use project-based assignments and tasks to provide students with the flexibility and the ability to work within their zone of proximal development while still targeting on specific standards and grade-level curriculum.  With rubrics, criteria charts and targeted goals students can progress at their own pace, and high achieving students can be challenged beyond the traditional assessment.
  6. Design assessments to determine what students know and have learned in your instruction. Don't teach to the test, teach to the individual.  A good assessment measure will match your instruction and not the other way around.
  7.  No assessment is perfect! Assessments should be refined, and modified according to students' needs, abilities and it's effectiveness.  If the majority of the students' in your class scored poorly on an assessment measure consider your instructional approach, the assessment type and whether it is a valid measure.
  8. The best use of an assessment is often the one that is least used, share results with your students, parents, and colleagues; reflect on learning and refine your assessment practice. Post assessment practices are vital to consider.  Have a discussion with your students, get feedback using a tool like Google Forms.
What if we abandoned thinking about assessment as a means to an end but as a part of the teaching and learning process? What if students "products" (assessment) was part of the process (teaching)? And the products were used to create a community of learners who share knowledge with each other. We need to move to a mindset of assessment as evidence rather than evaluation.  Learning is a lifelong process and it doesn't end with an assessment.

Two wrongs don't make a right. An eye for an eye. I remember hearing that so much as a child but it never made any sense to me.  As a child when someone hurt me I wanted to hurt them back. That seems right... not wrong.  As a classroom teacher and mom of three elementary kids resolving conflicts is an ongoing task, one that is part of my "daily agenda".
I've learned painfully that conflict resolution can not and should not be avoided. Conflict resolution is not just a way to resolve a conflict between children but more importantly teach an important skill that children need to learn and teachers need to explicitly teach. Dismissing a child's behavior to a time out or removal of privileged often does more harm than good because their feelings are never heard, and children might not understand what they did wrong.
When children engage in conflicts with one another, similarly to adults it is often due to a break down in communication in which one person perceives another persons actions adversely.  This can result in further conflict, hostile behavior and aggressive actions.
Teachers who simply look at a situation separate from the child's feelings and perspective can do more damage than good and they are more likely to see the behavior repeated again.
Conflict resolution is time consuming, it will require you to stop what you are doing, analyze the situation and come up with a plan to address student behavior. However like any classroom routine over time it becomes embedded in your practice.  The key is to plan out step-by-step your approach to conflict resolution.
Here are my steps for addressing conflicts in the classroom:
  1. Give kids time to process. Have them writedraw, or express their feelings in a way that allows them to think about what happened without judgment.
  2.  Bring both students together for time to listen and express what happened.  Each student shares their perspective without comments. The other student is required to listen and restate three things they hear the other student say then switch roles.
  3. Summarize what you hear as the main concerns of both students.  For example you would say "What I hear you saying is..."
  4. Discuss with both students positive strategies to resolve their conflict and what they could have done to resolve their conflict. This step helps promote metacognition and reflective thinking.
  5. Emphasize the positive qualities in each other and focus on areas of growth.  Have students share one thing they admire about the other student and one thing they can do to improve their interactions with him/her.
  6. Have students participate in class activities that support social emotional growth and management.  Teacher Vision has whole group activities that can promote positive expression of feelings in your classroom.
Teachers should also be aware of their own body language during conflict resolution.  Be sure you are approachable by: 
  1. Listen without criticism.
  2. Check your body language by making eye contact, getting at kids levels and not crossing your arms or pointing your finger. 
  3. Speak slowly, clearly and use a gentle tone. 

Please share your best practice for conflict resolution in your classroom.  Are there variations you might try with older and younger children?

Teacher grant opportunities can open doors to innovative teaching strategies and differentiated learning experiences for your students.  From STEM-based initiatives to programs that develop students social-emotional awareness, grants provide the mean$ and momentum for teachers to develop new ways of fostering the whole child.
Grant season is upon us and school leaders and grant writing teams need to move quickly to meet deadlines and submit proposals.
Here's what teachers need to know about writing grants:
  1. Check your eligibility: grants may be categorized for a specific student population, school environment, or grade span be sure you always check the requirements first.
  2. Identify your school goals/needs: what types of program innovation, training needs and resources are needed for your school and how would this benefit your student population.  Use data from standardized assessments, parent and program surveys, and census data, to define needs and provide evidence in your grant proposal.
  3. Follow the timelines: Not only do grants have deadlines but they also have timelines that are part of their requirements.  Create a detailed timeline of how the money will be used to meet the project goals within a fixed timeline.
  4.  Apples to Apples: Be sure your grant proposal is matched with the vision of the grant giving organization and your goals are clearly aligned with the goals of the grant.
  5.  Balance the Budget: Be clear as possible in terms of how funding will be used in your proposal.  10 boxes of crayons @ 2.00 = $20.00.  Grants will often state how money should be and should not be used.
  6.  When in doubt: Find a sample proposal and contact your local University/ School of Education for help (Dr. Dickenson can help at University professors are always looking to help out their K12 partners.
Here are grants that are currently accepting proposals for this  2016-2017 school year:
  • Lowe's Toolbox for Education

    Sponsor: Lowe's Charitable and Educational Foundation
    Award: $5,000
    Number of Awards: Up to 1,000
    Qualification: Public schools only
    Application Deadline: Sept. 26
  • Project Learning Tree GreenWorks Grants 2016

    Sponsor: Project Learning Tree
    Award: $1,000
    Number of Awards: Not specified
    Application Deadline: Sept. 30
  • TAF Project-Based Learning Grants for Grades K–5

    Sponsor: Toshiba America Foundation
    Award: Two categories: Up to $1,000
    Number of Awards: Not specified
    Application Deadline: Oct. 1
  • NEA Learning & Leadership Grants

    Sponsor: National Education Association
    Award: $2,000 to $5,000
    Number of Awards: Not specified
    Application Deadline: Oct. 15
  • NEA Student Achievement Grants

    Sponsor: National Education Association
    Award: $2,000 to $5,000
    Number of Awards: Not specified
    Application Deadline: Oct. 15
  • Teacher Grant

    Award: $500
    Number of Awards: 6
    Application Deadline: Oct. 21
  • AIAA Foundation Classroom Grant

    Sponsor: AIAA Foundation (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics)
    Award: $250
    Number of Awards: Not specified (up to two grants per educator per year)
    Qualification: Teacher submitting proposal must be AIAA member (Educator Associate membership is free and includes other benefits); homeschool clubs of 25 or more students also eligible
    Application Deadline: Nov. 16 (submission period opens Oct. 1)
  • NCTM Grants

    Sponsor: National Council of Teaching Mathematics
    Award: Up to $24,000
    Number of Awards: Not specified (up to two grants per educator per year)
    Qualification: Teacher submitting proposal must be NCTM member
    Application Deadline: Nov. 4th
  • Verizon Innovative Learning app challenge

    Sponsor: Verizon
    Award: $5,000 plus technology for state-level winners; $15,000 additional cash, plus travel and support, for national winners
    Number of Awards: 102 state-level winners (one middle school and one high school team from each state, plus DC); nine national winners (four middle school and four high school, plus one "fan favorite" based on public voting)
    Application Deadline: Nov. 18
  • TAF Project-Based Learning Grants for Grades 6–12

    Sponsor: Toshiba America Foundation
    Award: Two categories: Up to $5,000 and more than $5,000
    Number of Awards: Not specified
    Application Deadline: Up to $5,000 awarded on a rolling basis; Feb. 1, 2017 deadline for applications for more than $5,000
  • Academic Enrichment Grants

    Sponsor: McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation
    Award: $30,000 maximum ($10,000 over three years)
    Number of Awards: Not specified (five awarded last year)
    Application Deadline: April 15, 2017 (submissions open Jan. 15, 2017)
  • Teacher Development Grants

    Sponsor: McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation
    Award: $30,000 maximum ($10,000 over three years)
    Number of Awards: Not specified (two awarded last year)
    Application Deadline: April 15, 2017 (submissions open Jan. 15, 2017)
  • Adopt a Classroom

    Deadline: Ongoing
  • Brinker International Grants

    Deadline: Ongoing
  • Brown Rudnick Community Grants

    Deadline: Ongoing
  • Corning Foundation Grants

    Deadline: Ongoing

    Deadline: Ongoing
  • Michael & Susan Dell Foundation Grants

    Deadline: Ongoing
    Award: No more than 10 percent of an organization's annual operating expenses or 25 percent of the total budget for the project being funded; awards have ranged from the hundreds to the millions of dollars.
    Number of Awards: Varies
    Qualification: Project should "directly serve or impact children living in urban poverty, particularly in the areas of education, family economic stability (including microfinance) and childhood health."
  • Naiku Innovative Teacher Grant

    Deadline: Ongoing (approx. 10 awards per month)
  • Sony Grants for Education

    Deadline: Ongoing (grants awarded on a rolling basis)

Remember the day when...searching for a job consisted of circling advertisements in a newspaper and sending a letter of interest and your resume in hope of a phone call for an interview.  Well those days are over and today's information age provides instantaneous background checks, resume scans by key words, and social media searches galore. 
Future teachers are launching into a profession that is hungry for tech savvy natives who can go beyond regurgitating information to engaging digital natives.  The idea that teachers are conduits of knowledge and information is dead.  Ask any elementary kid where they can find information on a topic of interest and you will likely hear "google it".

I recently presented to a group of preservice teachers who are about to embark on a journey that will move them into teachers of record.  Excitement filled the room on the day I entered, hopeful eyes in anticipation, that I would share the knowledge to secure the job they have dreamed of.  In a digital world where resumes consists of mere words and new teachers often lack experience, you need to harness the power of technology and set yourself apart from the rest of the pack.
Here are some helpful tips I shared with new teachers:
  1.  Highlight the training, and experience you received in your program.  Did you become adept at Project Based Learning or master Understanding by Design? Share what knowledge you could bring to the table.
  2. Create a digital presence through an online blog, website or digital portfolio.  Adding a URL to your resume lets schools know you are tech savvy.
  3. Network, network, network, join professional organizations and connect with inservice teachers during summer training.
  4.  Share your contact information with teachers and administrators for future job openings.  Sometimes timing is everything so be ready to  go for it!
  5. Keep your resume short and sweet.  No more than one page that includes multiple ways to contact you: EMAIL, PHONE, ADDRESS, BLOG. Include your most recent teaching experience and titles only for positions outside of education.
  6. Get your REFERENCES in CHECK! Hasta la Vista it's Summer Time.
  7. Brush up on interview questions and practice in front of the mirror or with a friend. Or use "Photobooth" to record yourself and determine where you need to "ummmm" (most common word in an interview) improve. 
  8. Stay current and keep teaching.  Even if you don't land that perfect job the first year out of the gate,  develop an undisputed reputation through substitute teaching at your district of choice. Put flyers in teachers mailbox at the beginning of the year with your contact information and get to know the office staff. 
  9. Start creating digital content to showcase your knowledge, skills and dispositions.  This can include a "how to" video on using a web-based tool, or demonstration of content knowledge.
Please feel free to reach out to me to review your resume and check out the sample of a digital portfolio I have included in this Prezi.

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is being touted as a panacea for the emergence of emotional and behavioral issues that are abundant in schools across the country.  This push to develop students' awareness of themselves, their goals and emotions, as well as the feelings of others, often comes prepackaged in a curriculum box with a range of pictures, videos and puppets for the teacher to connect.
But after spending a weekend in the woods with a group of squirrelly first and second graders who are a "pack" in the Boy's Scouts of America it made me realizing developing social emotional skills must be an authentic experience that emerges from free play, exploration, and group norms.  This sentiment is echoed in research about how children learn SEL best, with too much emphasis on academic and direct instruction resulting in an upsurge of deviant behavior in the adult years.
As we drove to the campsite located at Pico Blanco in the mountains of Big Sur, words like "courteous", "kind", and "brave" were posted along the road to our campsite.  This began the conversation about what it means to be a boy scout and how these values can be demonstrated in our choices and actions toward others.
The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional learning (CASEL) identifies five social and emotional learning core competencies: (1) self-management, (2) social awareness, (3) relationship skills, (4) self-awareness, and (5) responsible-decision making.
These skills should not be developed in isolation, that is learning how to control your impulses (self-management) is connected to your awareness of yourself and limitations (self-awareness) and how your choices impacts yourself and others (responsible decision making).  To think that a scripted curriculum with "typical" scenarios could promote a shift in students thinking in a way that alters the core of who they are is a big stretch for me.  Rather this shift seems much more apparent in the lives of children who experience novel events outside of the classroom, in a connected community with shared values and common beliefs.
The Boy's Scout of America is a perfect exemplar for those who are looking to connect to youth in a way that is meaningful, engaging, and rooted in core principals and values that are socially connected and impacts a child's self-esteem and efficacy to thrive in a ever-changing and complex world.
When designing instruction to support students social emotional learning consider authentic experiences that will alter the way students think and perceive the world, not just what they are able to recite back to you and record in a fill-in-the blank worksheet.
Real learning is disruptive and creates a state of disequilibrium.  Consider planting a school garden and selling proceeds to support families in need, or spend the day at a elderly home/food shelter or children's hospital where kids can demonstrate kindness and empathy toward others. Reading about such core beliefs is an empty experience that may reinforce reading skills but fail to awaken the self.

How do you create authentic learning experiences in your class to teach Social-Emotional skills? 
Invented Spelling  to tell story about "my weekend"
(translation: Go to Kk birthday party)

Moving students along a continuum towards "emergent writer" takes time, practice, modeling, and most importantly MOTIVATION.  Regardless of where students are at the beginning of the year, it is important for the teacher to make note of how a student advances throughout the year with continuous progress monitoring. In the student sample above invented spelling provides evidence of knowledge of letter-sound relationships as well as writing development.

A first grade teacher might see students using pre-phonemic spelling which contains letters but do not represent sounds in a meaningful way, to invented spelling which contains use of the alphabetic principle such as letter(s) representing words.Do you know the seven major forms of emergent writing.
1. Drawing: Illustration to represent the meaning of a story or event.
2. Scribbling: A line of writing similar to a series of waves.
3.  Letter-like forms: manuscript that are written in separate forms but are not real letters.
4. Prephonemic Spelling: letters that are a meaningless pattern and do not represent sound.
5. Copying: spelling copied from the environment with no meaning to the story.
6. Invented Spelling: Letters represent sound.
7. Conventional spelling: Traditional spelling patterns and writing conventions.
(Sulzby, 1989).
Teachers need to be aware of the different stages to move students forward towards writing independently.  But motivating students to write can be a difficult task as it is hard work and requires concentration.  Students might be hesitant to take risks in writing words they can not spell or continue to use invented spelling rather than use words they have been taught.

Modeling is an important part of children's early writing attempts, however what if there was a way for modeling to be something that comes from the child and not necessarily the adult.  Students will be motivated to write and read when they see THEIR stories on paper.  The relationship between reading and writing is bidirectional, as writing improves students' reading and vice versa.

Typing can be a tedious task one that requires memorization of the keyboard and concentration on creating grammatically correct sentences.  For emergent writers the goal of putting ideas on paper and connecting with their ideas is a complex task but what student wouldn't want to read a story they wrote?

This is where technology can once again be used to harness students ability to become independent readers and writers.  Using Google Docs students can narrate their story to text using the Voice to Type feature (see video above).   In an earlier post I shared how to use the Tool WriteReader to create student digital books. How are you using technology tools to support emergent readers and writers and most importantly motivating students to write?

Is the Common Core changing the way you teach, acknowledging your best teaching practices, or making teaching more work than it use to be?

Before you answer this question,  let's first consider where we have been, before moving on to where we are going with the Common Core.

Over a decade ago No Child Left Behind (2001) required annual assessments in students basic skills and required each state to develop standards. This legislation moved classrooms and teachers to focus on skills and knowledge to be mastered by the end of each grade level. A shift occurred in what was happening across classrooms and school with an emphasis on standards-based practices to ensure fidelity and transparency across schools and districts and regular assessments to measure students progress and provide intervention.  

The Common Core shifts from state level standards to national standards as a means to ensure students completing high school are more than just college and career ready, but  competing with greater equity.  The notion of  moving beyond the surface level is emphasized with the common core, by that I mean students should be able to do more than just regurgitate facts but think critically, problem solve and apply knowledge and skills in real-life situation.  The shift to higher order thinking skills was emphasized in part as a result of the international PISA assessment which found the US ranking near the bottom of developed countries.   Want to see more fun facts on how the US Ranks Internationally
In my interviews with inservice teachers  I was able to identify 5 Big Roadblocks that are prohibiting teachers from successful implementation of CCSS: 

1. Disconnect between resources provided to teach the CCSS and perceptions of what CCSS expects teachers to teach.

2. Parent knowledge about how to engage students in thinking, questioning and supporting students with CCSS.

3. Lack of clarity in understanding the standards and how to plan instruction.  

4. Assessment strategies, for monitoring student progress and preparing students to take Smarter Balance. 

5. Failure of inservice professional development to provide quality training and resources to teach CCSS.

The question is no longer what do you think about the CCSS but what are you going to do to teach Common Core Standards.  In the below video presentation I unpack teachers, perceptions, beliefs and highlight the important shifts in ELA and Math and discuss what parents and teachers need to know.  

How are you preparing to teach the CCSS? Share your best practices with us and create a community of leaders supporting each other so all students can compete and thrive in our global economy.  

What if I told you in 2013, 66% of fourth grade students were reading below proficient levels.  If we disaggregate the data by race, that number increases by 81% for Latinos and 83% for black students.  The statistics are alarming less than half of all students in the United State read at a desirable level.Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 4.35.31 PM.
But we know from our own experience, this can change. When students are engaged in learning that is relevant and meaningful to them, they learn to read.  Guthrie and Humenick, (2004) found for improving reading motivation and comprehension the two most powerful pedagogical choices were: (1) student access to many books and (2) personal choice of what to read.
So teachers regardless of their grade level, subject and teaching experience must consider the following question:
   "How will I inspire a love of reading? "
My Personal Story: 
I have often heard throughout my career "you must of been a resilient child how did you make it out of the cycle of poverty? " As a child growing up in a housing project in the city of Boston, I spent many hours at the local library as a way to stay off the streets. As a classroom teacher I wanted my students to discover a love of reading just as I did to help imagine the possibilities education could provide them.  Teaching 6th grade at an urban middle school in Los Angeles where the majority of students were English language learners of Latino decent access to the library was limited. When I asked my homeroom class how many students had a public library card only three of my 36 students raised their hand.  I made a commitment to take my students to the public library once a week to build consistent reading habits. My personal commitment to foster a love of reading was a powerful motivator, but what happened next surprised me beyond belief. Classroom management issued diminished, students shared stories and discussed their books rather than passing notes and wasting class time. The students were so motivated by having access to a variety of reading materials they wanted to share their knowledge with the student body.  My homeroom class began a student newspaper that included a variety of sections such as comics, Dear Abby, editorial, and book reviews.   
Providing access  to a variety of reading materials from magazines to nonfiction not only created opportunity, but inspired my students to share their passion and knowledge with their peers. Before long this homeroom class transformed the school culture with a monthly newsletter and other homeroom classes following in their lead.
As a teacher educator I often asked my preservice teachers "What book in your school years made an impact and inspired a love of reading?"
Before long the mood in the room shifts and faces light up with excitement and smiles. I tell them my all time favorite was Judy Blume and Choose Your Own Adventure series. I like mischief and unpredictability in a story.
Then I ask the next question: "In a typical school day what access do students have to selecting reading materials and how much time is devoted to fostering a love of reading?"
Again the mood shifts and there is silence and perhaps a bit of disappointment when they come to realize the lack of opportunity students have to choose what they read and READ.
So we know that CHOICE and TME are key factors to promoting a LOVE of reading.  
What else should new teachers consider? 
Targeted intervention and access to texts that are slightly above the reader’s ability  is key to reading success. If text is too difficult and labor intensive students will give up. Likewise if text is too easy students will become bored and disinterested.  The notion that every teacher is a reading teacher is strongly emphasized across content standards in the Common Core.  Secondary teachers who are not aware of their students’ reading ability can use the Lexile® Framework for Reading.  This tool is a psychometric system for matching readers with texts of appropriate difficult and will support teachers  in identifying students’ reading ability and assigning leveled text that will develop fluency and aid in comprehension.  Struggling readers often read less, have less exposure to print and therefore have limited sight vocabularies (Rief and Stern, 2010). It is imperative therefore that teachers assign text that will not only provide students with access to core content but improve their reading skills.  
So what are reading skills?
According to Griffen and colleagues (1998) reading skills includes:
  • Understanding of how sounds are represented alphabetically
  • Sufficient practice in reading to achieve fluency with different kinds of texts
  • Sufficient background knowledge and vocabulary to decide if written texts are meaningful and interesting
  • Control over procedures for monitoring comprehension and repairing misunderstandings
  • Continued interest and motivation to read for a variety of purposes.

To wrap up, teachers should assess and determine what skills students need so they can best support them in developing a love of reading. Next they should provide opportunity for choice and time to read.  So how do you motivate reluctant readers in your classroom? Share your story with us!

The pre-service teachers I work with often here me tout  "Instruction is not a one size fits all approach".  This notion is based on Tomilson's theory of differentiated instruction. Tomilson contends that teachers can and should provide multiple pathways to learning by differentiating three areas of instruction: content, process and product.  The idea of presenting content in multiple ways can feel like an overwhelming task.  Moreover some students might not find different representations of the same content meaningful or engaging.  Similarly having multiple products or processes can be extremely overwhelming for new teachers to manage and be effective, especially with younger children or students  who may not have the foundational skills to work independently.
Building on the notion of differentiation instruction is integrative instructional design. Similar to the idea of presenting content in multiple ways, integrative design  builds on students interests and readiness and makes connections across content areas in the context of a theme or unit of study.   This approach to instruction is extremely effective for English language learners who can apply academic language across content areas rather than learning new words in isolation and without meaningful experiences.  Furthermore teachers can provide explicit direct instruction, and support collaborative group work experiences with exemplars, higher order questioning and resources that"fits-all" in multiple ways.
This week I had third graders build on their knowledge of multiplication/division in the context of designing a garden and determining the area each student would receive.  This was part of their science unit on investigating the impact of different types of environments has on plant growth. Not only where students able to use their math knowledge to determine the area but they were able to apply calculations in a real-life situation which included students measuring the plot and using string to create equal spaces.
So where do you begin? Think about an essential question that can begin your investigations into a theme.  For example "What do plant's need to grow".  Then begin your investigation with activities that will support the central theme such as identifying parts of a plant, tools for the garden and sorting and counting seeds. Teachers can begin their planning by thinking about how the unit of study can overlap into other content areas.
This instructional approach is also extremely useful for secondary students to go deeper with skills and strategies to promote mastery of learning.  Co-planning with other subject teachers at your school site can provide for a much more in-depth unit of study.  Check out this unit of study on ratio and rates which is built on a unit of eating healthy and includes activities from other subject areas such as social studies, health, technology and writing.
How might you use an integrative approach in your classroom instruction?
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