Tip of the Week
[Re-posted from "Simple Science Strategies," April 3, 2013]
Struggling to find time to teach science in a day full of math and language arts?
Trying to move beyond fun activities to authentic learning tasks that lead to big scientific thinking?
Wondering how to take your students beyond the superficial to the higher order thinking of a real scientist?
Get a copy of The Essentials of Science and Literacy.
Who Would Enjoy The Essentials of Science and Literacy ?
- Literacy support teachers who are in classrooms during science instruction;
- Teachers in priority districts, where the traditional focus has been on increasing literacy scores;
- Teachers who like to use an integrated approach to instruction;
- Instructional coaches who are charged with helping teachers improve their practice;
- Any teacher who wants to raise the level of rigor and engagement in their literacy and science work.
Read a review of The Essentials of Science and Literacy
For ordering information:
Click on the image, above, for information on ordering this text from Barnes & Noble.
, lesson plans
, classroom environment
, Simple Science Strategies
, integrated curriculum
What's Been on the Calendar Here:
Here at Northside Consulting, the dust has settled, and we are well into the school year. What are we working on?
- The use of part-part-whole diagrams to teach second graders the relationship between addition and subtraction;
effective progression from concrete, to representational, to abstract,
when using manipulatives and diagrams in primary math instruction;
- Teaching kindergartners that meaning is created between words, by the use of high-frequency phrases;
student-to-student discourse to promote language development, using
cooperative learning strategies in Sheltered Instruction classes;
- Developing classroom libraries in the middle grades;
- Classroom arrangements that promote discussion in the upper elementary grades;
- Unpacking Common Core State Standards to determine key concepts, skills and vocabulary;
- Determining "acceptable evidence of learning"
- Increasing Academic Engaged Time through the use of cooperative learning and high-quality learning centers in the middle grades;
- Using classroom learning tasks as authentic assessment opportunities.
Very exciting stuff!
We've begun a new website dedicated to science education, Simple Science Strategies
. Click on the image, below, to check out this month's focus: Questioning.
Some posts that will be coming up this month, in "Tip of the Week":
- The use of visuals to support second language learners in high school...
- Developing learning centers based on the Common Core State Standards...
- Collecting the right data, and charting it so it answers your data question.
Meanwhile, we get ready for conferences and mid-term reports!
More on the Common Core State Standards in 2012-13!
Check you state's department of education web page for released sample assessment items from the Smarter Balanced Assessment.
- Rake leaves...
- Buy a pumpkin...
- Bake an apple pie...
- Clean your garden...
Have a great rest of the month!
Homogeneous groups are a type of instructional group where learners are placed with other students who are alike in some way. Literacy instruction in most public school settings includes
time in homogeneous groups, usually based on overall reading level, using
instructional level texts as the primary reading material. This structure is
based on the work of Marie Clay, and others, who advocate that students should
be working on their instructional level,
with texts that are just a little higher than what they can read and comprehend
independently. Identifying a student’s independent, instructional and
frustration levels in reading has made reading instruction much more enjoyable
for students, and has led to better targeting of specific foci for instruction,
for groups of students.
While homogeneous groups have their place in instruction,
only using homogeneous, leveled groups can lead to some unintended problems in instruction:
- While they may progress within their instructional level groups, students in the lower groups often do not “accelerate” – that is, the lowest
performing students do not make up a year and a half’s growth over the course
of the school year, and end the year as behind as when they started the year;
- Learners work with their instructional level
texts, but students do not apply learned strategies to more challenging texts, nor learn
additional strategies for navigating appropriately complex texts (e.g., grade-level,
or above) – and these might not even be the same strategies;
- Although generally supported as a strategy for increasing performance of gifted and
talented students, scientific literature does not necessarily support homogeneous ability grouping for other groups;
- Grouping of students based on literacy level
creates de facto tracking, as other content areas may now be “leveled” because
of scheduling reading instruction;
- Students in the highest groups often do not receive an
equitable level of instruction, as they generally are more independent in
academic tasks, and can complete grade-level assignments without adult
assistance – consequently, while they start out and end the year ahead of their
classmates, they do not make a year’s growth, as they often receive less actual
direct instruction with appropriately challenging material;
- Homogeneous grouping may undermine the use of
collaborative groups and student discourse, as the lowest readers might lack
sufficient oral language skills or background knowledge to have extended discourse
and the highest students may be accustomed to working in isolation, rather than
Reading Level, vs. Literacy Level
Using the overall reading level of a student (such as her
DRA level), rather than a specific skill area, can also make instruction challenging
in homogeneous groups:
- Because reading is a complex task, reading
level, alone, is not specific enough to help the teacher select an appropriate
instructional focus for a student;
- Students in a “group” may be at the same DRA
level for many different reasons, and need different strategies from one
- The students in the lowest performing groups may
need many different skills, that planning appropriate, targeted instruction
for their groups becomes challenging;
- Reading level only measures some components of
comprehensive literacy: speaking and listening, word work, writing and other
areas are not adequately measured by the DRA or other similar assessments;
- Student groups may become static, as reading level changes more slowly than specific skill proficiency.
Why Focus on Discourse?
Forming mixed instructional groups to foster
student-to-student discourse is based on several principles:
- The best peer to model a particular skill or
strategy is one who most recently mastered it;
- Listening and speaking come before reading and
- Comprehension of a topic or concept exists
separately from being able to decode a text about it;
- Comprehension can be measured by how well a
student discusses a topic or concept;
- Talking about a topic or concept is a rehearsal
for writing about it;
- Discussion has to be explicitly taught, just
like other literacy skills.
Forming Discussion Groups
Here is one way to form groups that foster
- Rank the students in your class from 1-5 on
their English Oral Language, with 1 being a beginner, and 5 being the highest
with regard to their oral language skills (ability to converse, vocabulary use,
ability to listen to other speakers, ability to work around sticky points when
working with a group, etc.).
- Form groups of students with mixed rankings,
with a range of similar (but not the same) abilities (see the graphic for an
example), such as 1-2-3 together, 2-3-4 together, and 3-4-5 together.
- To distribute the groups among several
classrooms, you can now have a low, medium and high group, but the groups will
be heterogeneous. And, because you are grouping on a specific skill, you won’t
have “predictable” groups: e.g., you might have a student ranked as a 4 or 5,
based on oral language and group leadership, who is a struggling decoder,
Provide literacy tasks at a lower reading level
than instructional, because your focus will be on discussion strategies to
prepare a group oral response to questions. (Literature Circles work well for
To Form Groups across Classrooms
Rank the students for the whole grade level.
[NOTE: This example assumes the following distribution of
students, when ranked by oral language proficiency, just as an example. Use
your own numbers here.]
- Rank 1 – 8 students (new arrivals, with limited
English oral language proficiency)
- Rank 2 – 12 students
- Rank 3 – 20 students
- Rank 4 – 16 students
- Rank 5 – 4 students
You will want groups of 5 students for discourse. In this
example, there are 20 students per classroom, or 4 groups per classroom.
To form “leveled” classrooms (to prioritize
assignment of adult supports, for example), concentrate the 1’s in one
classroom, and the 5’s in another (you may have to adjust this, depending on
your specific numbers).
Distribute students of a given rank across a
number of groups, paying attention to dynamics among particular students
(remember, you want conversation, so you want to create groups of students who
will be supportive of one another.
Refer to the diagram, below, for one way to form mixed instructional groups, based on a oral language proficiency, across multiple classrooms. (NOTE: This same technique could be used to form mixed groups for any other skill, as well).
Regardless of the content area (math, science,
reading, writing), provide learning tasks that focus on discussion.
- For reading, instead of guided reading groups, create literature circles, and
provide discussion prompts.
- For math, provide complex problems with multiple possible solutions, and have groups collaborate to solve the problems.
science, provide a scientific claim that students must find evidence to both
support AND refute, before they select their stance on the issue.
- For social studies, create a gallery walk of artifacts for students to discuss and respond to.
- For writing, create peer editing/revising groups for process writing assignments.
Grade Level: Upper elementary
, reluctant readers
, classroom environment
, cooperative learning
, second language support
, grouping strategies
I do a lot of work with schools that have high populations of Second-Language Language Learners, including "newcomers," students who are new arrivals to the United States.
In these classrooms, both elementary and secondary, teachers make great use of hands on activities and visuals, to separate the cognitive demands from the language demands of their instruction.
Here's a visual review of some techniques they've used recently:
1. Labeling: Classroom objects are labeled with their English names. In some classrooms, these signs are labeled in English, Spanish, French, Twi, and whatever other first languages are present in this high school classroom.
2. Visual Dictionary:
A "menu" book is created for school lunch items in an elementary school, with their names in English and in Spanish. Many times, there is not only a language barrier, but a cultural barrier, because the foods are not ones eaten in their culture.
3. Graphic Organizers: Graphic organizers help students see the relationship between pieces of information, even when the words on the page are not understood, making the input more comprehensible. Shown is a sheltered instruction general math class.
4. Visual Technology:
The SmartBoard is not only visually
accessible, but interactive, and students can manipulate maps, words,
numbers and other figures right on the board. Other helpful
technological visual aids include iPads, iPods, student responders, and
5. Student-created Visuals:
Timelines, maps, diagrams and other visual aids have added meaning when students work together to create them. Here, the visual of the timeline and the student-drawn images help make the timeline come to life in high school social studies.
6. Directions in Words and Pictures:
Using pictures to reinforce written words helps to clarify directions.
Directions for routine procedures are posted on large charts, where students can access them independently. Vocabulary in the directions is clear, and high-frequency, Tier 1 vocabulary words ("write", "draw") are used repeatedly.
Here, a high school science teacher in a sheltered English class posts the directions for a vocabulary game that students use to reinforce and practice general science vocabulary.
7. Target Language Goals and Words:
In this high school English classroom, language goals, and their corresponding vocabulary, are posted for a reminder to the teacher, and students, of the skills to be practiced in speaking and listening.
8. Word Walls: In this high school math class, the focus is on Tier 2 vocabulary words that will be used across content areas, and in all math subjects ("position", "round", "fraction"). In addition, high-concept, Tier 1 words are included ("move", "each").
Common phrases or questions are included.
Having the vocabulary in a pocket chart allows students and teachers to manipulate them for activities, or take them to their desks for reference, and allows the teacher the flexibility of rotating through vocabulary words as students master them.
My thanks to the students and teachers at East Hartford High School and Franklin H. Mayberry Elementary School, in East Hartford, for sharing their work on this blog.
Video Clip of the Week:
For a video on improving student engagement in the middle grades, see the video clip from The Teaching Channel
, showing grade eight students in language arts class. Also, see learning stations in action in a high school English literature class, see the video, below.
For more information on how to design effective small-group instruction, please see our New Teachers' Series
, and contact us for more information.
Have a terrific week!
Schools all over the state (and country) are communicating data to stakeholders through the use of data walls. Businesses have been doing this for decades. This article reviews some of the considerations when using data in various school settings, based on some of the observations I have made in schools over the past several years, as well as teacher feedback.
Personal Data Walls:
Teachers have re-discovered the importance and impact of sharing a student's progress with the student, and inviting that student into the data-driven decision-making process. Special educators have had students track their progress (fluency graphs, sight word checklists, DRA levels, etc.) for years. More and more, classroom teachers are having students do the same in the general ed classroom, and are seeing the impace on even the youngest learners.
First-grade teachers at O'Brien STEM Elementary School in East Hartford use file folders as personal data walls for their students. Students graph their writing scores five times a year and post the graph on the left side of the folder, as well as keep track of their mastery of their first grade sight words in a graph on the right side of the folder. Photocopies of the graphs are sent home periodically to communicate with parents, and the students use their folders during conferences. The folder format creates a handy way to send scores and student work to the receiving second grade teacher at the end of the year.
Classroom Data Displays
In a previous post ("Getting Data Teams Up and Running, 2011
"), I shared one of the best classroom data displays that I've seen, where the second grade team at Mayberry Elementary School in East Hartford created a "walking data wall" to show student progress in the DRA2. Teachers at O'Brien found that placing their student reading group table near the display helped keep students focused on their goals. They also met with parents at this table, so that parents could see where their children fell in relation to their peers, in their reading progress.
Public Data Displays
When it comes to displaying data outside the classroom, teachers and schools have to make some decisions:
- Who is the intended audience for this display (parents, other students, other teachers/staff)?
- If parents, what is the intended purpose of the display (to inform, to teach, to call to action)?
- If students, how will students (in your class and others) use the data? How will their attention be drawn to it?
- If other teachers, how will the data be highlighted? What will be the intended action?
Recently, I met with teams of teachers at O'Brien STEM Elementary School, in East Hartford, where we discussed how to make hall displays parent friendly. Here are some suggestions for sharing data with the community:
- Use a small amount of data to show the reason behind the current classroom work (e.g., a bar graph showing DRA2 data to show why 'retelling' is the current area of focus in Grade 2). Parents can support school focus more easily if they understand why it is important.
- Avoid "sorting" words like "below basic," "proficient," "substantially deficient," etc. While we may use these words as teachers, they do not evoke positive and encouraging thoughts in parents. Better to provide the goal, and visually show progress toward the goal. People will get the picture, without the "punishing" words.
- Use lots of visuals to show, rather than tell. Classroom teachers can share photos and vignettes of ways that they addressed the data focus, to show parents the kinds of activities that support learners in that area.
- Provide a pocket folder with "take-home" ideas. One fourth grade teacher at O'Brien provided parents with ideas on how to support the grade-level focus at home. Other teachers provide a classroom newsletter as part of the display, to make the display interactive.
- Turn your display into a "waiting room." If there was something I wanted parents to see, I placed a desk next to it during parent conferences. Waiting parents could interact with the display while they waited for their turn at conferences.
The photo at left shows one school's approach to making hallway data displays parent-friendly. Click the photo to see their description of the display.
School Data Displays
I was at E. C. Goodwin Technical High School last week, and got a chance to take a good look at the data display they had in their main office conference room, before the school data team meeting convened. Here were the components of the display, simply tacked to the bulletin board):
- The School Improvement Plan (front page with main goals showing)
- CAPT data graph, showing 5 years of standardized assessment data (reading, writing, math and science) for 10th graders
- NOCTI data graph, showing 5 years' performance on the standardized trades exam
- The school professional development plan and calendar for the year
- CMT and CAPT (state assessment data), disaggregated by student graduating cohort)
- Guiding questions for the School Data Team
- CAPT data graph showing 5 years of reading scores and 5 years of writing scores
- The Reading Action Plan from the SIP
- The most recent English Department Data Team process summary (i.e., their most recent data team minutes)
- A narrative description of their current strategy focus (a teacher-created strategy to make more meaningful connections to literature)
- Dipstick data on a scoring rubric
- CAPT data graph showing 5 years of math scores
- The Math Action Plan from the SIP
- Math screening data (from STAR Math) - grade-level profile
- The most recent Math Department Data Team process summary
- A narrative description of their method of selecting a targeted group of struggling ninth graders for a focus group on working with exponents
- Dipstick data (via "quizlets") for the targeted student group
- Office discipline referrals for the year, by month
- A narrative of school-wide strategies being implemented to address ODRs
- CAPT data graph showing 5 years of science scores
- The most recent Science Department Data Team process summary
- A bulleted instructional plan to address the current student learning focus (developing a problem statement) in Science
- Summaries of professional development to address literacy, numeracy and comprehension strategies in the trades
The display clearly showed the alignment between district, school and departmental goals, as linked by their four guiding questions (as shown below). On a montly basis, the team gathered for brief reports, by department, then discussed school-wide strategies to address themes that emerged across disciplines. For example, their most recent debrief revealed a student learning issue around making meaning from text that was technical in nature: assignement directions, math word problems, scientific procedures, technical manual specs, etc. They then discussed the adoption of a school wide strategy for paraphrasing technical texts (going from part to whole), as well as a school-wide strategy for analyzing problems and procedures (whole to part).
For more examples of public data displays, see my Pinterest board on School Data Walls
. The examples show different formats that schools have chosen to present data. Choose the format that best suits the purpose and culture of your team and school. I will continue to add to the board as I see examples to share, so check back often.
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to take a brief survey on your experience on this page (You will NOT be
directed to an advertiser! This is for my research, only!).
, professional development
, data teams
, progress monitoring
, classroom environment
, data displays
, leadership teams
I have been on a mission to find videos that show some different ways to structure high school classes to better foster student-to-student discourse, especially in math classes.
Here is a sampling -- more to follow!
This video clip shows a high school algebra class arranged in a conference style, with students working in a workshop model to solve math problems, using the white board.
This full-length video shows a grade 6 math class on substitution, using a workshop model. The teacher narrates and provides background planning information.
Photo montage of the use of visuals, interactive wall space and purposeful seating arrangement to scaffold learning and foster student collaboration
Discovery learning model - a chemistry class, but applicable to math instruction, as well
Making math relevant to 21st century students, with excellent connections to technical programs