Sunday, October 8, 2017

How to Be a Happier Teacher This School Year

By Justin Ashley

We are now a few weeks into the school year.

The back to school excitement has fizzled out and the realization of high expectations has kicked in, once again-the meetings, the lessons, the grading. As the paperwork piles up, here’s 17 little things you can do this week to fight against depression, anxiety, and burnout this school year.

1. Plan a family field trip for the fall.

During a quick break or while eating lunch, plan out an out-of-town adventure for an upcoming weekend this fall, maybe you could go pumpkin picking, to Tweetsie Railroad, Scarowinds, or visit a family farm. Once you pick one out, immediately put it on your calendar.

A research study showed that just planning and thinking about your next family vacay can raise your endorphin levels by 27 percent.

2. Buy your custodian or cafeteria lady a soda from the teacher’s lounge.
Research has proven that buying stuff doesn't make a lasting difference on our mood, with one exception-buying stuff for other people. This makes us happier than buying stuff for ourselves. Tis’ better to give than to receive.

3. Tell your class a funny story.
Your kids don’t want to just hear about the curriculum. They want to learn about you! Think of a story from your past that’s gotten laughs before. Tell them a silly story about yourself to get them giggling and lighten the mood in the room.

My middle schoolers like hearing about the day I proposed to my wife. We both threw a penny in a fountain and made a wish. My wish-her hand in marriage. Her wish-A raise at work.

When I taught elementary school, my kids loved to hear about my 1st visit to the zoo as a 5 year old boy, where I got too close to a fence and was attacked by a monkey, after I smiled at him. Never smile at monkeys. Never.

4. Start your lesson off with an inspirational video.
Find a Youtube video that’s motivating. Something that lights your fire and gives you chill bumps. Here’s one of my favorites…
40 speeches in 2 minutes

5. Leave your phone in your purse or workbag. 

It’s no secret that compulsive phone checking is damaging. It moves you away from your present environment and even further from each present moment. Check your phone between blocks, on breaks, or at lunch.

6. Meditate with Headspace.

Before the morning bell rings or during your planning, set aside a few minutes to get your mind right and meditate.

Don’t know where or how to start? Try downloading this free app, Headspace. This chill dude with a British accent will walk you through it. All you have to do is put your headphones in, turn off the lights, and find a chair. It’s that easy.

7. Make a list of 10 things you’re grateful for. 
Write them down and read them aloud. Here’s 3 of mine:
I’m grateful to have a job that’s also a calling, where I get paid to do something I enjoy doing.
I’m grateful to live in a democratic country, where I have guaranteed rights listed in my country’s constitution.
I’m grateful to pay my taxes, because this money makes better roads, better emergency services, better schools, and a better community. (*This last one’s a stretch. I know.)

8. Try a simple breathing technique periodically throughout the day.
A recent study showed that war veterans who suffer from PTSD could significantly reduce their cortisol levels (stress hormones) simply by using deep, slow breathing techniques. The 4-7-8 breathing technique is the easiest, most effective one I’ve found:
Inhale for 4 seconds
Hold your breath for 7 seconds
Exhale for 8 seconds
Try this a few times when you feel stressed and see if it helps.

9. Put motivational quotes cards on your desk. 
Use some index cards and google inspirational quotes or order some off Amazon and put them on your desk. Verses of scripture could also work. Read a few at a time for encouragement.

10. Write thank you cards to students or compliment them with a sticky note.
Pick out a kid or two in class, students who are working really hard, and write them a little note of recognition. We have a tendency to instinctively spot the negative, but make it a point to point out the positives, too.

11. Smile when you greet and talk with students. 
Smiles are infectious (mirror neurons), so smile when you they come into your room. Positive classroom culture starts and ends with you.

12. Set a fun short-term goal. 
Come up with a small goal. Not a SMART goal or some big resolution, just something simple, but exciting. It should take 13 weeks or less, so you can finish it around the New Year. After tomorrow, continue doing one thing each day to reach it. That’s what I did with my kids to make  STRAIGHT INTTA OREGON, a music video about Westward Expansion that went viral. Check it out!

13. Thank your principal.
Drop in their office or stop them in the hallway and tell them thank you for something they did recently. Maybe they helped you out with a resource, or stuck up for you when a parent complained. You might be a little down that summer is over and school is back in session, but they were probably working through the whole summer. Thank them for what they do behind the scenes on the daily.

14. Exercise with kids at recess.
Join in on in the fun outside. You deserve a break, too. Walk the track with your students. Kick or throw a ball with them. Jump rope with them. Connect with kids while you are working out on the playground.

15. Do some fall cleaning. 
Purge some of your school files. Get rid of old resources. Set up a new filing system. Minimalism is a really neat documentary on Netflix that shows how liberating it can be to simplify your environment.

16. Dress super nice. 
Professional attire means more respect. Kids notice that you take the job seriously. It also feels good to get hat-tips from teachers and administrators.

17. Find your 30 minute thing.
You work ridiculously hard serving others each week, so you need to carve out 30 minutes each day to serve yourself.

Take this time to move. It could be jogging around your neighborhood, doing yoga, or playing soccer with your kid. For me, it’s boxing. Every day after school, I box for 30 minutes before I pick up my kids. That’s my ‘me’ time. It’s something I look forward to each day.

And research shows that just 30 minutes of exercise uplifts your mood for the next 3-4 hours, improves your quality of sleep, and has a similar impact on your brain as the strongest anti-depressants on the market, without the negative side effects.
____________________________________________________________________________
***Bottom Line-There are small things we can do to live healthier, happier lives today and tomorrow. Some are about the external (changing our actions and environment), others internal (changing our thought patterns). We don’t have to wait until the summertime to be happy. We don’t have to count down the  school days to each Friday.

We can be happier now.

References
Happiness Advantage
The Happiness Track

Justin Ashley is a teacher, author, and motivational speaker.  He will be facilitating a breakout session and will lead us in a closing celebration at this year's Elementary Conference! You won't want to miss him or his purple cows!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Can Elementary Teachers Explicitly Teach the Concept of “Adversity” to their Students?

By Rick Jetter, Ph.D.

     What if I told you that there is a gap in Character Education programs that have historically been administered to students in schools across the nation?  What if I told you that there is also a gap in the Emotional Intelligence (EI/EQ) research that is currently in the field of psychology and education and how we apply adversity training to student learning today?
     So, why is adversity important and what types of adversity exist in our students’ lives that you can help them tackle or cope with while also preparing them to proactively deal with any adverse situation no matter what age they are?  Think about your own life right now.  What adversities existed in your life since you were 5 years old?  10 years old?  16 years old?  21 years old?  And NOW?
     Take a look at this video and can you honestly say that YOUR students would know how to handle this kind of adversity without FREAKING out like the woman whose car was vandalized did?


Maybe this will help even more:

Adversity training is needed for students to learn how to deal with the following 6 kinds of adversity, including (but not limited to):
1.  Physical Adversity
2.  Mental Adversity
3.  Emotional Adversity
4.  Social Adversity
5.  Spiritual Adversity
6.  Financial Adversity

From those types of adversities, there are event subgroupings that are often neglected and are often experienced by not only our youth, but by adults no matter their age:
1.  Loss of a pet or loved one.
2.  Not achieving what they thought they would.
3.  Financial loss.
4.  Job loss.
5.  Illness/disease.
6.  Dealing with others when they suffer adversity (many do not know how to continue being friends or supportive of others during their time of adversity).
7.  Stress as a result of opposition or conflict.
8.  Addiction.
9.  Dealing with geographical disasters.
10.  Dealing with accidents.

From there, we can certainly “prevail” as human beings under pressure by living gracefully, living with gratitudes, living mindfully, and living with skills that emotionally healthy human beings possess--especially when we see how this weather man deals with adversity due to technical malfunctions within his meteorological newscast in Arizona:


Adversity training = grace under pressure for your students for the rest of their lives.

See you at NCAEE 2017 for Dr. Rick Jetter’s presentation: Teaching Adversity in Our Schools where you can learn more about how to not only prepare students for the next grade level, but how you can prepare students for life!

Rick Jetter, Ph.D., is currently a national educational consultant, author, speaker, trainer, and partner at Pushing Boundaries Consulting: http://www.pushboundconsulting.com 

Rick previously worked as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent, and superintendent of schools prior to becoming the Director of K-12 Education for the AEP Group which can be found at www.aepk12.com.  You can also find out more information about Rick by visiting www.rickjetter.com.  On Twitter, you will find him at @RickJetter. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Diagrams: Bringing Visual Learning to a Classroom Near You

By Amanda Kaestner

Your classroom is a melting pot of learning styles—and you might feel overwhelmed trying to meet so many different needs. 65% of people are categorized as visual learners, yet so much of what goes on in the classroom revolves around written and spoken instruction.

Incorporating visuals into your lesson plans might seem like a lot of effort just to cater to one learning style. But it’s not just your visual learners who benefit. We are all visually wired—we actually retain a whopping 80% of what we see and do, and our brains process visuals 60,000 times faster than text. Visuals help all students better understand and retain information—in fact, visual aids in the classroom can improve learning up to 400%.

But “visuals” is a vague term, and it’s hard to know how to add this new element to your lesson plans and classroom setup (especially when time is always scarce). As you’re looking to plunge into the world of visuals, diagramming can be the perfect way to get your feet wet. Diagrams offer many different formats for visually representing any type of information in a way that clarifies concepts and engages students.

  • Use a Venn diagram as a new spin when explaining the greatest common factor. 
  • Have students recreate a famous work of art from the time period you’re studying. 


  • Instead of assigning ten pages of reading on the food chain, have students map the flow of energy in a flowchart. 
  • After finishing your class book, check reading comprehension by asking students to build a timeline of the story rather than just asking verbal questions.



With the right tool, these diagrams can be simple for students to make. Lucidchart is a collaborative diagram software that helps anyone clearly understand and share ideas and information, and its product features make it particularly powerful for classroom use.

Ease of use
With an intuitive interface, getting started in Lucidchart is as simple as dragging and dropping shapes onto the canvas or customizing one of the many available templates.

Cloud-based
Lucidchart is accessible from any computer or device, regardless of operating system.

Real-time collaboration
You and your students can share documents with each other and edit them simultaneously. Commenting and chat features make collaboration seamless.

G Suite integration
Lucidchart integrates with Google Drive, Google Docs, and other G Suite programs. Students can insert diagrams into their assignments or submit a link to Google Classroom for you to grade.

Most importantly, Lucidchart is free to educators and students! Here’s how to get started:
1. Sign up for a free account with your educational email address.
2. Log in, click on your username located in the upper right-hand corner, and select “Account Settings” from the dropdown menu.
3. Select “Get a Free Educational Upgrade” in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen.
4. Click the link in the confirmation email you receive, and you’re ready to diagram!

For inspiration in getting started, check out these lesson plans and see how other educators have used Lucidchart to bring visual learning to their classrooms.



Amanda Kaestner works with Lucidchart.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Flexible Seating in K-2

At this point everyone has probably heard of flexible seating, am I right?  There are still some who say “no way that is not for my classroom”, but many others who have bought in 100%.  I saw all the social media posts about flexible seating and loved all the changes teachers were making in their classrooms, but was not ready to jump in yet.  In these classrooms you could see how excited, yet engaged their students were with the new seating available to them.

Fast forward to this spring sitting in a professional development session and I was finally sold on flexible seating!  The presenter was positive (and realistic) as she discussed how she used it in her classroom, showed pictures, and even brought examples of seating with her.  The what-if’s and fears were calmed as we learned from the presenter.  Teachers could see a classroom very similar to what they taught in and saw it was working really well.  I was at Walmart, Five Below, and Goodwill that afternoon!   The types of flexible seating in my classroom are yoga balls, sensory cushions, small metal stools, 30” barstools, yoga mats, raised table, desks, traditional desk chairs, folding chairs, and carpet areas.

The first day of flexible seating all of the new seating was set up as students came in to the room.  Their faces were priceless as they looked around the room.  For the first week of flexible seating students had to pick a different type of seat each day and just try it out to learn what worked for them.  Students were in charge of their new seating and were driven to prove they could handle this new privilege.  From the teacher side of things I really had to sit back and watch them explore this new responsibility of not only picking the type of seat that worked for them, but taking care of these items.

Flexible seating did amazing things for the behavior management of my class.  You could hear and see the changes immediately.   There were some students who picked the same type of seat almost every day and others who would rotate different types of seating available.  The biggest fear I had with the younger students and flexible seating was that they would fight over whom sat where.  I never once had this problem!  One student who thought it was a big hit said “plain old chairs aren’t squishy like yoga balls; you can lie on a yoga mat, or stand if you like to stand up”.  If behavior would have been an issue I could have used a sign-up sheet for the seat options.  I will definitely be using flexible seating again and again.  It looks messy and a little chaotic, but the learning that takes place is magical.  

About Melissa Mooney –
Melissa is a classroom teacher and has taught grades 2-5 (in a classroom and a trailer) for the past ten years.  Her two big focuses at the moment are flexible seating and personalized learning.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Engaging & Empowering Educators- Join Us!


NCAEE is proud to host the 14th Elementary School Conference this fall. This year's theme is Engaging and Empowering Educators and our goal is to do just that-- make sure our attendees are highly engaged throughout the conference and leave feeling empowered to do whatever it takes to meet the needs of our students. This, in turn, will lead you to engage and empower your elementary students! Save the dates for October 22nd-24th and plan to attend the a conference specifically focused on elementary school teachers.

Once again, our conference will take place at the beautiful Charlotte-Concord Embassy Suites and Convention Center in Concord, NC. The Embassy Suites features spacious suites with separate living rooms, refrigerators and The Embassy Suites also offers a free, made-to-order, hot breakfast each morning and a nightly Manager's Reception. Staying at the Embassy Suites means you will have a great time, even when the sessions are over. The hotel is offering a reduced rate for our conference attendees so be sure to reserve a room early by clicking here.

Concord, NC is just minutes away from Charlotte and there are many things to do, including Lowe's Motor Speedway, Concord Mills, and a variety of different restaurants.

Opening Kick-Off & Closing Celebration

We are mixing things up just a bit! Our conference begins on a Sunday afternoon and ends on a Tuesday afternoon. We will have an opening kick-off session on Monday morning and Dr. Pitre-Martin will bring greetings and an update from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. We are so excited to have her at our event!

For the first time ever, we will have a Closing Celebration on Tuesday afternoon and NCAEE fan favorite, Justin Ashley, will speak. You won't want to leave early and miss this!

It wasn't long after being named North Carolina History Teacher of the Year that Justin Ashley started noticing signs of burnout. He knew he needed to make some radical changes in how he handled his work and personal life. In his session The Balanced Teacher Path, Justin will share his personal story—illuminating how easy it is to give your job everything you've got and leave yourself with nothing outside of school—and will show new teachers and veterans alike the self-care techniques they can employ to create work-life balance and prevent burnout. With equal parts humor and wisdom, Justin will analyze four key aspects of every teacher's life—career, social, physical/emotional, and financial—and offer practical advice to bring these areas into sync, reigniting a passion for teaching in the process!

Luncheon Keynote Speaker

This year's luncheon keynote speaker is highly acclaimed educator- Dr. John Hodge. He will present BE THE ONE! He will discuss how the education of America's youth is a challenging prospect when one considers the many burdens faced by impoverished children and their families. Research indicates that poverty need not be a barrier to academic excellence. As co-author of the book  Standing in the Gap, Dr. Hodge states, "Across the nation, schools are demonstrating that it can be done: That students can reach high standards, that all children can succeed, that the gap between white and minority students, poor and affluent, can be closed." More often than not, one caring adult can make all the difference in the world. Dr. Hodge's presentation will encourage all of us to  BE THE ONE!

Featured Speakers & Breakout Sessions

We have secured a fantastic lineup of featured speakers--Kyle Greene, Rick Jetter, Justin Ashley, North Carolina's Teacher of the Year- Lisa Godwin, The Bag Ladies, and Kathy Bumgardner. Their session titles and descriptions can be accessed here.

In addition to our featured speakers, our conference boasts over 60 breakout sessions. Our Board of Directors has selected a wide range of high-quality sessions with engaging content in the strands of Educator Effectiveness, 21st Century Learning Approaches, Active Learning, and Social Emotional Learning. We are confident our participants will find sessions relevant and will be able to apply what they learn immediately in their classrooms.


On behalf of NCAEE, we wish you a wonderful summer and hope to see you in October!


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Engaging with the Arts

By: Leni Fragakis

As elementary educators, we all know the feeling of impending doom as we become frustrated with the number of standards to teach and the time allotted for instruction.  I have found that the only method to this superfluous standard madness is to integrate the content areas.  Here are some third grade ways to easily integrate science, social studies, and literacy standards by effectively using the arts as a means to weave together learning goals.

I use the Kennedy Center’s definition for Arts Integration as a guideline to creating deeper understanding for my students.  The Kennedy Center’s ARTSEDGE program even has lessons at your disposal!  My goal is to connect inquiry-based learning with arts integration to provide engaging learning opportunities.    


In the science standards for third grade, the reoccurring theme is the Renaissance Man who excels at many things.  An individual who influenced history with his careful examination of his surroundings was Leonardo da Vinci.  Teaching third graders about the Renaissance time period may seem unnecessary, but I have seen the connections generated and the creative understanding promoted.  

The theme of innovation and careful, detailed observation constructed an alternate universe for my students because they too wanted to become like da Vinci.  The classroom culture was transformed as the students learned that da Vinci would not have formulated his ideas about the universe without being reflective, dedicated, and meticulous.  If you have not already, you should view some of da Vinci sketches online or in person at an exhibit.  

In this unit of study, these were the main science objectives, but I do not feel that it is limited to these:

3.P.1 Understand motion and factors that affect motion
Students examined da Vinci’s sketches of catapults, military machines, crossbow, and hydraulics.
Students were provided minimal supplies such as a wooden dowel, paperclips, rubber bands, and a tongue depressor in order to create a marshmallow catapult that would launch the farthest.
After numerous trials, students would sketch (in da Vinci fashion) their catapult for the students in years to come.

3.L.1 Understand human body systems and how they are essential for life
Student will examine da Vinci’s bones and muscle sketches in true Renaissance fashion with dimmed lighting.
Students will use tracing paper to challenge themselves to use as much detail as da Vinci did in tracing his sketches.
Students will make observations about the interactions between bones and muscles.



Possible Literacy Connections
Compare and contrast in a Venn diagram the Mona Lisa and the Head of a Woman
Predict the story behind Mona Lisa’s smile

Study which facts from Magic Tree House Monday with a Mad Genius are true compared to the nonfiction text, Who Was Leonardo da Vinci?
Create, sketch, and write about your own invention and your inspiration to one of da Vinci’s sketches
After reading Magic Tree House, write on the prompt “If I had wings…”  Students wrote their stories on feathers to create class “wings.”


Knowing da Vinci’s ideas were progressive for the times, students will begin to make connections to today’s technological advances and be inspired to create their own inventions.


About the Author
Leni Fragakis has worked at The Arts Based School in Winston-Salem, NC, for five years, teaching 1st, 3rd, and 5th grades.  She has her BA (Elementary Education, minor Special Education), MEd (Literacy), and administration add-on from High Point University.  She is working toward her EdD in cultural foundations and leadership from UNCG.  Published by the International Literacy Association, Leni also presents on her passions of literacy and arts integration at workshops in and out of NC.    






Sunday, June 4, 2017

From Blank Stares to Understanding Main Idea

by: Denise Jones

Have you ever witnessed the blank stare of a student when asked to locate the main idea of a passage or paragraph? It’s all too common, but there could be a simple place where you can backtrack to. It’s a step that students may have missed along the way.


The missing link can be as simple as understanding categories and category titles.  It can be the beginning of making connections to finding the main idea.  The following lesson may seem simplistic, but can be THE THING that brings students to a point of understanding.

First, create an anchor chart with a list of categories but no title.  Students will analyze the list to establish a title.  Then, hand out index cards (which you have created)  that contain category titles.  Some examples are: transportation, seasons, sports, things you shine, types of money, presidents, etc. The students will receive this card with a partner, fold a piece of paper into four squares, and illustrate four pictures that represent this category. At this point, teachers need to emphasize the importance of utilizing details in the pictures.  Each team places their illustrations under an Elmo. The class determines the category title (main idea) from the illustrations drawn (supporting details). Students begin to make the connections, providing a basis for these larger concepts.

At a school in which I coach, third through fifth graders have completed these tasks.  I have seen light bulbs go off, and have noted significant improvement with continued practice.  Our fifth grade scores jumped from a 38% to a 79% on our formative assessments in just three weeks.  No more do blank stares greet me as I discuss main idea and supporting details with these students.


Denise Jones is an award winning educator.  She has twenty-three years of experience in this field, including eighteen years as an Elementary Education teacher and five years as an Instructional Coach. Denise has experience in grading educational portfolios for East Carolina University.  A graduate of William Paterson University, Mrs. Jones has a Bachelor of Arts in both Elementary Education and Sociology and has been a member of the NCAE organization for more than twenty years. Professional highlights include presenting at the NC Teachers of English Association in Asheboro NC, writing a published vignette,  and aiding a school with the Leader in Me process to attain Lighthouse Status through Steven Covey.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

What is the Definition of Common Assessment?

By Jennifer Hardy

Too often educators use the term "common assessment"  "CFA" interchangeably with district assessments and benchmarks.  This communicates a false identity to the purpose, design and research behind common formative assessments.  “[Common assessments are] not standardized tests, but teacher-created, teacher-owned assessments that are collaboratively scored and that provide immediate feedback to students and teachers.” —Douglas Reeves, CEO and founder, The Leadership and Learning Center.  Common formative assessments or CFA's are focused intentional check-ins developed by teachers who are giving the assessment.  CFA's help teachers determine if core instruction was effective based on the the level of rigor and learning criteria the teachers are delivering and assessing.  These assessments are designed through the collaborative efforts during a content grade level professional learning community for the purpose of driving instruction.  CFA's should focus on a few learning targets, aligned to the standards, 5-10 questions per target, with the same criteria for delivery and grading.  Rubrics for learning criteria should be established during CFA development.

Benchmark assessments are helpful for informing instruction and to look for gaps in the instruction, however too much time between instruction has lapsed for immediate formative data.  Nor, are benchmarks typically designed by the teachers giving them to students.  Benchmark data is wonderful for progress monitoring students and establishing the level of questions and rigor that are aligned with curriculum standards.


Students do not have to know it is an assessment!
What can a common assessment look like?

  1. Game
  2. Exit Ticket
  3. Poll
  4. Survey
  5. Anticipation guide
  6. Short Answer
  7. Writing Sample
  8. Daily Essential Question
  9. Group Activity
  10. Learning logs
  11. Summaries
  12. Thinking Maps
  13. Quiz
  14. Various Checkpoints During A Project


Serving Onslow County Schools since 2002, Jennifer Hardy has taught third through sixth grade students.  In her current role as an Instructional Coach, it has truly been an honor to support students and staff across the district.  She has a passion for teaching that is fueled through her zany little girl, Ava.  She is a third-grade product of Onslow County Schools and every decision Mrs. Hardy makes, every battle she chooses to fight, is never initiated without trying to view the outcome through her daughter's big blue beautiful eyes!


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Reader Response Notebooks

By Katie Head

If you are anything like me, organization, fonts, and neon paper make your teacher world go round! I love my Reader Response Notebooks and hope you do too! See the Freebie below to print out your own tabs.

First, I organize my notebooks into four categories: Reading Log, Reader Response, Anchor Charts, and Shopping List.  *For the K-2 teacher, I modified the Shopping List section to a Word Wall.

Set up: When I introduce my journals, I precut my tabs (on neon paper, of course!). I use clear tape to reinforce the tabs after they are glued down. My co-worker laminated them first and it worked just as well. I have students (roughly) count out a different number of pages for each tab; this is based
on a 100-page notebook.

Reading Log: about 15 pages

I teach them how to highlight lines and use quotation marks for repeated titles.

Reader Response: about 40 pages

This is where we do most of our responses and activities after our minilessons. This might include a post-it progression, context clues vocabulary chart, or written responses.

Anchor Chart: about 35 pages

This is pretty self-explanatory… students create their own anchor charts as we review the charts that are up in our classroom. I always let them use colored pencils, markers, etc. and they LOVE it! It is great to encourage these as a reference throughout the year.

Shopping List (and Book Shopping!): about 10 pages

The Shopping List is a place for students to write their “shopping” list for books they would like to read. They make a chart for book titles and author names. My wonderful coworker and I introduce new titles during our Book Shopping Day. (This of course includes shopping bags, sunglasses, and
Madonna’s Material Girl playing in the background. ;) We preview a few texts and the students write the titles down in their Shopping List. Here’s a look at the Google Slides presentation we have up in the background.


Thanks for spending some time learning about my Reader Response Journals. Happy teaching!
Reading Journal Tabs
Reading Journal Tabs 1


Katie Head is a 3rd grade teacher at Barringer Academic Center in Charlotte, NC. Katie has been teaching at 3rd grade at BAC for 3 years.  Prior to that, Katie lived in Chicago. There she taught 1st and 4th grades at Marion Jordan Elementary in Palatine, IL for 8 years. She received her Master’s in Reading through Concordia University in Chicago. Katie iscurrently working on her AIG certification through Queens University

Sunday, April 30, 2017

#30secondbooktalk

By Katie Pasvankas

As a 4th grade ELA & Social Studies teacher, teaching these subjects at a STEM school was a at first a daunting task. Incorporating technology and PBL in a meaningful way is not always as easy as incorporating through the disciplines of math and science.  Our ELA team has been able to refocus lessons, using many of the ideas and activities we were currently implementing in order to align with STEM. I’d love to share our latest one with you: #30secondbooktalk.


The idea actually came from our awesome county STEM Coach, Brenda Eason. Brenda shared it with the teachers in our school and the idea took off! First, teachers were divided into brackets: 4-5 Fiction Fanatics, 2-3 Thrillers, K-1 Wonders, Special Edition, Team Book-Heart (after our principal) and The Mystery Team.  Each teacher (4 in each bracket) created a 30 second book talk video. We used Photo Booth and even our phones to record the videos. The final product was made with iMovie.  It was simple to do, fun and the kids LOVED it!

Teachers chose a book they felt would get kids fired up about reading. Everyone had a different style which made the videos so cool to watch. Some teachers chose to dress up as a character in their book or add music while others videos featured students.  I channeled my inner Grand High Witch into my first video for The Witches by Roald Dahl and several characters, Kissin Kate, Stanley and Madame Zeroni from HOLES by Louis Sachar.  These choices were easy for me as I’ve enjoyed reading these books for years and have had plenty of practice emulating voices of the characters!

After the videos were released, a voting frenzy began. Mrs. Eason posted the videos on her YouTube channel and created a Google form to make voting simple and easy to tally. We had thousands of votes and suggestions for future book talks! We posted the links for videos and voting on social media so parents, students, and the public could vote.

Then, the winners of each bracket went on to create another #30secondbooktalk and the new videos were shared with the students.  We had some 4th and 5th grade students introduce the first round of book talks.  Our SciGirls, a club at our school, introduced the second round of books and announced the winner of the final round.



In the end, Mrs. Spencer, our AIG teacher, pulled out the win!  Of course, the other victory was that the students were super excited about the books featured on our #30secondbooktalk videos! Soon after my second video, I started reading HOLES to my classes and they have been hanging on my every word, and that’s a huge win in my book!

Check out all of our #30secondbooktalk videos at this link.


Katie Pasvankas has been a 4th grade teacher at Patriots since it opened in 2010. Prior to that, she taught at R. Brown McAllister, also in Cabarrus County,  and in New York. For the last few years, she has been happily teaching ELA and Social Studies so she’s able to focus on bringing her two favorite subjects together and bringing history and characters to life with her animated teaching style. You can follow her lifestyle blog at colorfullykatie.com.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Working With ELLs - Part 2

By Rosalie Pereda


This is the conclusion of last week’s blog post “Working with ELLs” where we will continue the discussion on how to best help our English Language Learner students to learn and meet with success.

Now, armed with all of this information and data on your ELLs language proficiency levels, how do you make it work?  Well, their scores on the WIDA assessments let you know what your ELLs are capable of doing in each language domain, so I would use that information to group my students either homogeneously based on their needs or heterogeneously to allow my ELLs to interact with and learn from their peers.  Also, I would adjust my questioning to challenge my students accordingly based on their language levels and how they are able to answer my questions.  For example, if I have an English Language Learner who can understand my math lesson and get the right answer but does not have enough English language vocabulary to explain how he got his answer, then I would not require that student to explain his answer to me as he would be incapable of doing so at this time based on his language level.  I would however, work with him to develop the necessary language skills to be able to do so at a later time.  I would also use the multiple intelligences and various other differentiated instruction techniques to allow my English Language Learners to answer questions, provide feedback, and demonstrate understanding using a variety of activities so that they will feel comfortable and meet with success.  


“If a child can't learn the way we teach,
maybe we should teach the way they learn.” 
― Ignacio Estrada

ELLs do best when you use these particular techniques:

  • Build Background Knowledge
  • Modeling (Writing, Think Alouds, Reading, Group Work, etc.)
  • Increase Wait Time
  • Verbal and Written Directions
  • Checking for Understanding
  • Graphic Organizers
  • TPR (Total Physical Response) to interact with vocabulary
  • Read Alouds
  • Sentence Frames
  • Visual Cues/Visual Support (Pictures with Vocabulary Words, Word Walls, etc.)
  • Anchor Charts
  • Use of technology and hands on centers
  • Encourage use of native language at home (Ex. Reading in L1 at home to transfer skills to L2)
  • Do not forbid use of L1 at school but do encourage use of English


Also, don’t forget to differentiate instruction by:

  • Incorporating the four language domains (Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing) in your lessons
  • Using the Can Do Descriptors to modify the lessons and expectations based on the student’s English language proficiency level
  • Offering activities such as Cooperative Learning Activities; Think, Pair, Share; and Reading Pairs (Pair up with a fluent reader)
  • Offering appropriate assessments and/or modifications to assessments for ELLs based on their language proficiency levels
  • Visual Thinking Strategies
  • Incorporating Music (Songs/Chants for specific skills, techniques, etc.)
  • Establishing purpose for reading
  • Pre-reading the text
  • Taking a picture walk
  • Choosing one specific comprehension strategy for students to learn and use at a time
  • Pre-teaching vocabulary; select tier 1, tier 2, and tier 3 words from target content; use different strategies to teach them

Please keep in mind that there are many differentiated instruction techniques that one could use.  Not all of them could be listed in this blog post.  These differentiated instruction techniques and strategies are best practices for all of our students, not just for our English Language Learners.  As we differentiate instruction, our students are better prepared to access the information and ascertain knowledge.  Our students' self-esteem and confidence will build as they feel more comfortable taking risks and ownership of their own learning.  Motivation for learning will increase, which in turn will give our students the enthusiasm and excitement needed to become lifelong learners.  

I leave you with this very powerful and moving video that has been shared many times in the ELL circuit.  Please watch it in its entirety and think about how you would help the student in the video and what were his difficulties in meeting with success in his class.  






With the help of all of the stakeholders in our ELLs education, they will persevere and learn the language.  They will meet with success as long as they are given the proper tools and time to do so.  We can still set high expectations for our English Language Learners as long as they are pedagogically sound and appropriate.  Together we should be advocates and the voice of our students to give them the best education possible.

I hope that this blog post helps you to have much needed discussions in your schools about how to best meet the needs of our English Language Learners.


Mrs. Rosalie Pereda is currently a First Grade Bilingual and ESL Teacher.  She has taught grades K-8 in various capacities over the years in both urban and suburban districts.  She received her B.A. in Elementary Education and Spanish from Rider University.   She holds certifications in Elementary Education, Spanish, Bilingual Education, and ESL.  She is in her 18th year of teaching, all of which have been in New Jersey.  Rosalie believes in being an advocate for her students and in doing so, helps to prepare teachers to meet the needs of English Language Learners through professional development opportunities.  As a professional development presenter, she has presented several workshops on English Language Learners and differentiated instruction at conferences, including the NCAEE Conference and district in-service trainings.  

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Working with ELLs - Part 1

By Rosalie Pereda

This is a two-part blog post appearing April 16th and April 23rd.

“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, 
but learning another way to think about things.”
-Flora Lewis

Imagine walking into a classroom and not understanding what is being said.  What feels like a million eyes are on you, watching your every move.  You may hear some sneers or giggles as you struggle to figure out what to do and where to sit.  You have no idea how to ask for help, let alone understand what instruction is taking place.  You feel lost, hopeless, and alone. You just want to go home.

Every day, thousands of students feel this way across the country.  Even though each English Language Learners experiences may be different, many feel the way I’ve described above.  Many have just arrived and often feel as lost in our classrooms and schools, as we do in how to help them.  The numbers of English Language Learners in our country are growing rapidly with no sign of slowing down.  Now more than ever, classroom teachers need to be well versed in their teacher preparation programs on how to teach and differentiate instruction for ELLs (English Language Learners).  Teachers in the classroom need to keep abreast of ever changing laws, best practices, and the needs of their students.

Although many teachers have been trained in SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol), many teachers I’ve found lack the basic knowledge about second language acquisition to truly understand what ELLs go through.  Also, many teachers struggle with how to help the ELL students in their classroom to meet with success.  It can seem like a very daunting task that I hope to shed some light on in this blog post.  My objectives in this two-part blog post, will be to discuss some main points to provide some background knowledge about English as a Second Language and ELLs, as well as to provide some helpful hints and tools to assist teachers in differentiating instruction for ELLs in their classroom.




First, it is important to remember that we are all vital to the process of English language learning.  The Classroom Teacher, Special Area Teachers, classmates, etc. are just as important as the ESL Teachers in the language process.  From the cafeteria workers, bus drivers, classmates, and Special Area Teachers, the ELLs will develop their BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills).  BICS is basically our social language that we use in conversations to communicate with others.  When one is learning a language, this is the type of vocabulary that develops first.  Many people are fooled into thinking that a student is proficient in English based on their BICS.  This is a common misconception.  From their Classroom Teachers and ESL Teachers, ELLs develop their CALPS (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency Skills), which is essentially their academic language.  Subject matter vocabulary comes into play with CALPS.  For example, one doesn’t usually use words such as metamorphosis at home in conversation.  That would be an example of CALPS or academic language.

It takes students 4-10 years to achieve cognitive academic language proficiency in a second language.  However, if a child has had no prior schooling or has no support in native language development, it may take seven to ten years for ELLs to catch up to their peers. (Thomas & Collier, 1995) We must remember that each English Language Learner is different.  Some students may not have been able to attend school at all or may have had interrupted schooling, while other students will come to school well prepared with foundational skills firmly developed in their first language.  The varying degrees of English language proficiency makes it imperative to know the language levels of your students and their needs.

In that respect, it is important to know how one learns a language.  There are four language domains which will be listed in the order that they develop; listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  Writing is the last domain and it is the most difficult as it is not easy for one to express him/herself in writing.  Each year, students are assessed using assessments from WIDA (ACCESS and W-APT) which determine a child’s eligibility for English language services and gauges their English language proficiency levels and growth in English language development.  WIDA is a consortium made up of 36 states with standards for English language development and English language assessments.  North Carolina is a member of WIDA.  Teachers in North Carolina with ELLs will receive a report listing the scores of their students in each of the four language domains from their assessment.  This information is crucial in planning and differentiating instruction for optimal success.



WIDA has what are called Can Do Descriptors which will detail what a student can accomplish at each proficiency level and for each language domain.    You can download or order these Can Do Descriptors which are available by grade cluster.  Once you have your students’ scores, you can easily look up what they can do at that level and for that particular language domain.  Don’t be surprised when you see relatively higher scores for the listening and speaking domains compared to the reading and writing domains.  Remember, listening and speaking are the first language domains that are developed when learning a language; they are our BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills).

Click here for more information about the WIDA Can Do Descriptors.

Click here for more information about WIDA, including professional development opportunities can be found here

Laura Castro from http://mrscastrospanglishstyle.blogspot.com/ has created a wonderful form that can be edited in Word to fit all of your students’ English language proficiency levels on one page to simplify it for you.  Her form can be a quick and easy reference guide when lesson planning and to serve as documentation when being observed to demonstrate knowledge of students in your class.  I like to put the student’s scores next to their name under each language level and domain so I know exactly how my students scored.

Laura’s Classroom Can-Do Template is great for grouping students and for differentiated instruction based on the needs of the ELLs in your class.  Once you have your students’ scores from the WIDA assessment (ACCESS), simply plug them into this form.  You’ll easily be able to tell what types of centers and activities you’ll need to develop or implement to gain understanding of the subject matter.  Please don’t forget that it is also important to take note of what your students will be able to accomplish at the next proficiency level as it should always be our goal and mission to help our students progress and move on to the next level.  Here is a sample of Laura’s Classroom Can-Do Template:


Please click here for a copy of Laura’s free Classroom Can-Do Template on Teachers Pay Teachers.

In next week’s conclusion of the blog post “Working with ELLs” we will continue the discussion on how to best help our English Language Learner students to learn and meet with success.


Mrs. Rosalie Pereda is currently a First Grade Bilingual and ESL Teacher.  She has taught grades K-8 in various capacities over the years in both urban and suburban districts.  She received her B.A. in Elementary Education and Spanish from Rider University.   She holds certifications in Elementary Education, Spanish, Bilingual Education, and ESL.  She is in her 18th year of teaching, all of which have been in New Jersey.  Rosalie believes in being an advocate for her students and in doing so, helps to prepare teachers to meet the needs of English Language Learners through professional development opportunities.  As a professional development presenter, she has presented several workshops on English Language Learners and differentiated instruction at conferences, including the NCAEE Conference and district in-service trainings.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

If I Knew Then...

By Megan Mehta

I have shared the story of the journey my 4th grade daughter on my blog and I have been on since she began elementary school and how it has led me to advocating not only for her, but for all the kids in North Carolina. She was identified as dyslexic and ADD at the beginning of second grade, and I was suddenly dealing with a very real, very common learning disability that I knew little about. As a parent, it was upsetting because I was suddenly in a situation where I didn’t know how to help my child. As a veteran teacher, this was disconcerting to say the least because how many students had I taught that were struggling with the same or similar issues? It was an awful feeling as an educator, so this post will be what I needed over two years ago in the hopes that others will find it helpful.

First some statistics:

(these were compiled by Susan C. Lowell and Dr. Rebecca Felton, coauthors of Basic Facts About Assessment of Dyslexia. I had the privilege of working with Susan in Raleigh recently and she is nothing short of amazing.)

About 37% of 4th graders are considered below basic level in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
This same test finds reading failure in about 67% of minority populations such as African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, Limited English Proficient Americans, and impoverished Americans.
Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) make up roughly half of all special education students. Of this group, 80% experience reading difficulties.
Reading research scientists find reading failure in about 20% of the general school-age population. These same scientists predict that all but 2-5% of these students can be taught to read accurately and fluently with appropriate instruction.
I don’t know about you but to me these are sobering figures– especially the last one. All but 2-5% can be taught to read accurately and fluently with appropriate instruction. This shouldn’t all be falling on the shoulders of the teachers of Exceptional Children, and our kids shouldn’t need an IEP to rival a Tolstoy novel in order to access appropriate instruction.

Signs of Dyslexia:

I want to include the typical signs to watch out for, but I also want to point out there are characteristics that should have been giant, flaming red flags to me in hindsight had I known to pay attention to them. Generally, a child with dyslexia will have difficulty with the following (from the International Dyslexia Association Website– link below):

Writing letters and numbers backwards and reading backwards. No! All kids do this at some point– it is not something only people in Club Dyslexia do.
Learning to speak
Learning letters and their sounds
Organizing written and spoken language
Memorizing number facts
Reading quickly enough to comprehend
Persisting with and comprehending longer reading assignments
Spelling
Learning a foreign language
Correctly doing math operations
There are subtleties, too. People with dyslexia often have difficulty rhyming words or pronouncing multi-syllable words. L still calls ambulances “amalances” and though her rhyming skills have improved, she will still occasionally ask if words like “dog” and “done” rhyme. Another thing to look out for is substitution of words that may be in the same category or may have the same beginning or ending sound– this can happen in speaking or reading. An example given from the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity cites using “volcano” instead of “tornado”. When this happens with L, she can verbalize that she knows it’s the wrong word and that the correct one is stashed in her head somewhere, but out it comes anyway.

So this is a VERY brief overview– there are organizations that have more exhaustive and detailed lists and I have noted them below. I cannot stress enough how important it is that if teachers are seeing these behaviors, it’s not because the child is lazy or defiant or immature or whatever. It’s also not personal. They. Cannot. Help. It. The more we educate ourselves about this, the better we can meet the needs of our kids and hopefully mitigate any more self-esteem nosedives.



Resources:

These are just to get you started and the tip of the iceberg. In other words, my thoughts on what I recommend you click on if you find yourself googling “dyslexia resources” (which now you don’t have to do because I just did it for you!).

Decoding Dyslexia NC: great place to find North Carolina-specific info, as well as advocates to accompany you to IEP meetings at your child’s school, tutors, etc. I met one of the advocates, Jeanette Meachem, this week when we went to Raleigh and I wish I had known her two years ago. She is fabulous.

Understood.org: This link is to their page on characteristics of dyslexia, but this amazing site has info on the whole dys- family and their cousins: dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, sensory processing disorder, ADD, ADHD and more. I print their math graphic organizers weekly to help L with her homework and they have worked wonders.

International Dyslexia Association: Lots of great info, as well as a self-assessment for adults. I highly recommend checking it out if you had difficulty reading as a child or had troubles with foreign languages.

Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity: I love that they have resources that speak directly to kids here. One thing L says to me frequently is “Dyslexia is my deepest, darkest secret” and it breaks my heart into a million tiny pieces every time I hear it. I am trying hard to chip away at this and some of the things on this site are helping. I’m hoping that the more I show her that there are so many others who face the same challenges and have the same type of incredible brain that she has, the more comfortable she will feel about it. Of course, as her mom I know exactly nothing about anything, so I’m relying on the hope that at least some of it is registering subconsciously…

I find myself thinking of more and more resources as I type this, but I’m going to stop here. This is a beginning– whether you suspect dyslexia in you or your child or student, know someone newly diagnosed, or have been at this a while and are looking for something else that might help, I hope I am able to point you down a path that has some answers. If you have other resources to help families, please share in the comments. I will address places to find things to help in the classroom in a later post– there are a lot of great things out there, but really no website or app will replace a good teacher.


Megan Mehta is the STEM Coordinator at Ballantyne Elementary in Charlotte, NC. She began her career as an educator in December of 2000 and spent most of those years as a 3rd grade teacher. For the 2016-2017 school year, with her principal’s support, she created her current position of STEM Coordinator at her school and has been working hard to define her role ever since. She blogs at AdventuresinNCEducation.wordpress.com.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Using Jacob's Ladder with Song Lyrics

By Todd Nasife

As a music major, I try to incorporate various aspects of music into the class. One idea I had from a PD session at school was creating our own Jacob’s Ladder to song lyrics.

I started using the ladders this year with song lyrics as a way to help students with theme. Determining the theme of a story, poem, song, etc. is a concept that students struggle with when studying larger novels, short stories, and especially poetry.  I thought  with a shorter 3 or 4 minute song it might make it easier before moving on to harder text.

The biggest problem I had with this was that my taste in music is usually different than my 10 year old students. So far this year, I have only used songs that I selected, but I might open this up next year to having students choose some songs and develop ladders around them.

This idea first came to me last year when we did The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. The story is set in a middle school in Long Island during the 1967-68  school year. Topics such as the Cold War and the Vietnam War come up throughout the story and I was looking for ways to teach about these topics and show the emotional impact they had then and now. I was a big Billy Joel fan growing up (still am) and was in high school when his Storm Front album was released. The song Leningrad immediately came to mind and I played it for the class and we discussed the lyrics.  This year I decided to create a ladder based on the lyrics. The other song I played at the end of the novel was Goodnight, Saigon.  I was a little hesitant about this because of some of the lyrics (Playboy and hash pipe), but this really did not come up at all in our discussion. I made a ladder for this to go along with the novel and give us more focus in our discussion.

The Storm Front ladder is something I use as a way to introduce the music and lyrics of Billy Joel to the class.  I also use it as a way to discuss theme. I remember when I first heard this song I took it in the literal sense and thought it was strange that he would be writing about going out fishing.  It wasn’t until I heard an interview when he explained the metaphor behind it. The urge to shrug off stability and ride off into a storm despite the dangers. I realize my students might not get this concept, but at least it gets them thinking on a higher level.



Todd Nasife is a 5th grade teacher at Barringer Academic Center in Charlotte, NC. This is his second year at this school and his eighth in the Charlotte Mecklenburg School District. Along with his work in Charlotte, he also has international experience working as a 6th grade teacher in Astana, Kazakhstan and an English teacher in Taiwan. He loves the elementary classroom and the variety of subjects. Along with the standard curriculum, he enjoys working with all things technology and integrating it in the classroom. @MrNasife

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Passionate about EdCamps: My Experience at EdCamp Foothills

By Dr. Nancy Betler
It is EdCamp season in North Carolina and on Saturday September 10, 2016, I attended EdCamp Foothills (@EdcampFoothills) in beautiful Valdese, North Carolina.  Valedese is approximately two hours from Charlotte and is located near the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina.

EdCamps are an amazing trend in professional development where the participants guide the training.  As it says on the EdCamp Foothills website, “The learning at EdCamps is driven by the PEOPLE who choose to get up early on a Saturday and come out to learn.”  The participants not only choose the sessions that will be offered that day but also decide which of those sessions best meet their individual professional needs.

So on that beautiful morning my friend Peggy (@Peggyhrs3) and I got up super early and headed to EdCamp.  When we arrived we were greeted by the friendly EdCamp planners.  They were just as excited as we were and were even more excited when they found out we had come all the way from Charlotte.  We were happy to be there.  It was especially nice to enjoy a fantastic breakfast that had been sponsored by Squirrels (@Squirrels) after the long drive.

There were many take aways that day but the first thing that I personally took away from this experience was not only as an educator but as a co-organizer of EdCamp Queen City (@EdCampQC) was using Dot Storming (dotstorming.com) to choose sessions.  The organizers had us login to their account and decide on the sessions for the day.  Dot Storming (@dotstorming) was not a format that I have used before.  Not only will we be trying it out at EdCamp Queen City, but this is a great tool to use with students in the classroom, also.

Peggy and I were eager to get started.  We started our day learning about how to better connect Makerspaces, Literacy and STEAM.  There are natural opportunities to connect these areas, and the participants had ideas to share.  The teachers in this group talked about available resources as well as ways to better incorporate new ideas into their MakerSpace.  One resource, Reflector (@ReflectorApp), was shared as an excellent way to share resources with your students.  This is a resource that I have used in the past during math instruction but loved the natural way it connected to MakerSpace.  This was a chance for me to take something I was already familiar with and use it in a new way.  Teachers in this group shared Twitter names and e-mail addresses in the hopes of continuing collaboration after the event.

The second session that we attended was about using Breakout EDU (@BreakoutEDU) with students.  This was something that I had been curious about for a while so I was excited when I saw this session as an option.  It had looked interesting, but I needed to see it in action to actually wrap my mind around it.  As I listened to different people share their experiences in regards to using Breakout EDU, I became smitten.  This was a way to engage my gifted students in higher level thinking and problem solving.  It is also great because you don’t have to buy the kit (although I plan to as soon as possible) to use this idea.  I felt like this was something that I had needed to see in action before using it in order to make it concrete, and EdCamp Foothills gave me that opportunity.  It left me empowered to confidently use it with my students.

Our third session choice was on using Canvas (@nccanvas) with your students.  It ended up being a discussion geared towards the district needs so Peggy and I used the “rule of two feet” and decided to collaborate with the individuals that had gathered in the Media Center.  We both enjoyed this time to talk with other teachers, grow our Professional Learning Community and see what they felt was and was not working in their classrooms.

At the end of the day we had the chance to win wonderful door prizes from some of the sponsors of EdCamp Foothills.  It is fantastic that so many different education companies understand the value of EdCamps.  Unfortunately I didn’t win but maybe next time.

As Peggy and I drove back to Charlotte we discussed our day and the overall benefits of EdCamps.  We both had the opportunity to learn with fellow educators on our own terms.  EdCamps are definitely “created by educators for educators” and that is what I think makes the difference in their success.  The people who run them are passionate about them as well as the people who attend.  This passion is what makes us all come back.

Dr. Nancy Betler is a Talent Development Teacher at Eastover Elementary and primarily works with gifted and high-ability students in grades K-5.  As a National Board Certified Teacher, she fully embraces life-long learning and has recently earned her doctorate degree.  Nancy is also heavily involved with the North Carolina Association of Elementary Educators (NCAEE) and serves as a Board Member. She looks forward to connecting with you on Twitter @nbetler and being a part of your PLN!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Gift of Giftedness: Effectively Teaching Gifted Students

I despised my elementary classes. I had to do additional work on topics I had no interest in.  I preferred reading a text of my choice, working on a project related to my interests, or researching something I enjoy.  These academic-related activities still would've developed me as a student, but the program didn't provide me with the freedom to make my own choices.

 Instead, I learned the content required for all students in my grade.  Then, once my teacher had covered the material, the other students practiced the new concept or skill.  In the meantime, a group of us, the AIG students, left the classroom to expand on what we had just learned.  We had to complete the same homework as the other students, but had additional homework from the separate lesson.  My teachers realized we, the AIG students, mastered new content more rapidly than other students, so they 'rewarded' us with more work.

My experience in elementary school didn't make me want to go to class.  I learned under the accelerated or AIG student program at my school, but the program didn't provide me with a desirable experience.  I spent most of my time in a normal classroom, but there were periods of additional lessons in a separate classroom.  Another teacher would take us in a separate room to learn different content.  These lessons were extremely structured, built around rigid content requirements.

I didn't enjoy my classes as much because I felt punished for my abilities.  Slowly, assignments changed from opportunities to explore and discover into tedious, unwanted work.  AIG students have certain characteristics leading them to be AIG.  These characteristics set them apart from their peers.

All students should enjoy the content they learn, but AIG students enjoy seeking out new knowledge in topics that interest them.  As a child, I enjoyed writing stories about sporting events, reading science fiction and sports books, and working with numbers as they related to sports statistics.  No one asked me or told me to do these activities; I took part because I wanted to.

A better understanding of AIG students and their approach to learning will help teachers better serve these students.  Each student deserves an enjoyable, adapted education experience and teachers can help provide their AIG students with this positive experience by getting to know more about AIG students and following the best practices for teaching AIG students.

AIG is an acronym for 'academically and/or intellectually gifted' and labels students who excel in one or more subject areas more than just being a good student.  These students shouldn't be defined by this broad, scientific definition.  The characteristics of AIG students set them apart from their peers, leading them to require differentiation.  Teachers with AIG students need to better understand this group of students so they can better adapt their instruction to their students.  There are instructional strategies better fitting AIG students, which, when implemented, significantly influence growth and achievement.

The major educational differences between AIG students and regular students can be divided into two categories, their interests and their learning approach.  First, AIG students are more likely to enjoy learning and the activities leading to learning.  According to a study conducted by Lu, Li, Stevens and Ye (2015), AIG students find greater joy in reading, read more often and read a greater variety of texts than their peers.  Perhaps, this greater enjoyment of learning stems from having stronger teacher-student relationships than their peers.  Second, AIG students tend to use higher level thinking strategies than normal students.  AIG students find analyzing through discussion and creating summaries as more effective strategies than other memorization strategies including reading the easy part and repeatedly reading.  Additionally, when learning new materials, AIG students prefer to make connections and develop understanding instead of just memorizing the new material.  These differences between students should direct teachers' instruction.  Understanding that AIG students enjoy reading and learning eliminates the necessity for mandated reading time.  The desire to understand and connect to new information means beginning at a simpler depth, like memorization, isn't functional (Lu et al., 2015).

Educators acknowledge AIG students have different educational needs than students labelled 'normal' or 'struggling' or 'learning disabled'.  However, there are differing approaches to addressing these needs.  Research supports simple changes to much more drastic changes (i.e. changing instruction styles) and addresses some common misconceptions regarding AIG students.

One often debated option for AIG students is pull-out programs or separate classrooms for AIG students.  In the spirit of inclusive classrooms, AIG students more commonly find themselves in a classroom with other students of different ability levels.  According to Scott Willis (1995), AIG students can be divided into subcategories.  Students with IQs above 145 require separate learning environments because their learning so too accelerated for a normal classroom.  In other cases, AIG students can be educated in a normal classroom.  When in a traditional classroom setting, the growth and learning of AIG students falls on the teachers in the class.

Teachers of AIG students have several strategies they can employ to challenge their AIG students and continue the growth of these students.  The main concept all teachers need to implement in their classrooms for AIG students is differentiation.  Despite the need for differentiation, the majority of teachers don't know proven differentiation strategies and techniques.  A few possible differentiation ideas are:
flexible grouping: different grouping for different assignments to enhance the learning experience
tiered assignments: upper level students do upper level thinking on an assignment while other students have other questions to respond to
ability-based reading groups: grouping students by reading level
ability-based discussion groups: grouping students by comprehension skills
learning centers: having different projects/questions for different students to complete
student contracts: working independently on a project created through student-teacher collaboration
research projects: independently, or in a small group, researching an academic topic
mentorship programs: a specialized education program for AIG students (Willis, 1995)


A study performed by Yuen et al. (2016), in Hong Kong illustrated the lack of knowledge related to differentiation and differentiation techniques.  Teachers in Hong Kong primary schools underwent training on differentiating instruction in their classrooms.  Following the training, the majority of teachers in the study reported an increased understanding of differentiation.  Additionally, these teachers felt more well-equipped to teach students with the unique academic needs of AIG students.

Another, more drastic, option for meeting the learning needs of AIG students is a learning model called REAPS.  REAPS stands for "Real Engagement in Active Problem Solving" and is an "evidence-based teaching-learning model ... designed to serve gifted and talented learners" (Maker, Zimmerman, Alhusaini, & Pease, 2015, p. 2).  This learning model combines three learning models, Problem Based Learning, Thinking Actively in a Social Context, and Discovering Intellectual Strengths and Capabilities while Observing Varied Ethnic Responses, to create a newer, more dynamic model (Maker et al., 2015).

Problem Based Learning, PBL, uses complex, real-world problems to educate students on academic topics.  Teachers choose problems with multiple factors and multiple stakeholders.  From there, students must analyze the problem from multiple perspectives and create multiple realistic solutions to the problem.

Thinking Actively in a Social Context, TASC, gives students a process for solving real-world problems.  The process isn't linear.  Instead, students learn the process as a wheel with eight steps: "Gather and Organize, Identify the Task, Generate, Decide, Implement, Evaluate, Communicate, and Learn from Experience" (Maker et al., 2015, p. 3) The students learn through solving problems using these eight steps.

Discovering Intellectual Strengths and Capabilities while Observing Varied Ethnic Responses, DISCOVER, focuses on diversity and development of well-rounded students.  The DISCOVER learning model uses a problem-solving continuum to develop multiple abilities.  Through this learning, students identify their strengths, develop multiple skills/abilities, solve a variety of problems, work hands-on, and integrate culture and community while learning the required standards and themes (Maker et al., 2015).

All three of these learning models have flaws and weaknesses, but each model offers something new to REAPS, strengthening the REAPS model.  AIG students require a strong learning model that provides freedom, allows for creativity and discovery, and builds upper level thinking skills.  Students have the freedom in REAPS because the students have a voice in identifying the problems, designing the solutions, pacing of the project and the method of presentation.  The REAPS model creates variety and upper level thinking because they are real-world problems.  Real problems have multiple aspects, factors, and possible solutions allowing for creative minds to flourish and grow.  Lastly, the DISCOVER model focuses on discovery in its name, demonstrating the importance of discovery in REAPS.  The other models also promote discovery because students gather information or conduct research related to a problem, discovering new knowledge.

Research does support REAPS and each component of REAPS as valid, effective approaches to teaching AIG students.  Additionally, any of these learning models can be differentiated to meet the learning needs and goals of different students in a classroom of mixed abilities.  Each problem created for students can be developed to different levels of complexity and expectations set at different levels of achievement.  A teacher following any of these models would push AIG students and other high-achieving students to dig deeper and explore upper levels of thinking.  Students following a normal curriculum are still encouraged to dig deeper, but the expectations aren't for them to reach the same depth or complexity as the AIG students.  This differentiation allows for all students to gain the same base knowledge through the same problem, but gives AIG students the freedom to explore the complexities of real-world problems and develop high level solutions through their thinking (Maker et al., 2015).

In conclusion, AIG students can be a challenge for teachers in mixed ability classrooms.  When these students find themselves in mixed-ability classrooms, teachers need to understand their students' needs.  AIG students find joy in learning and exploring new information.  When teaching AIG students, teachers must differentiate their instruction to fit the AIG students in their classrooms.  One of the options for differentiating instruction in a classroom is the REAPS learning model.  This model is supported by research and contains all the components AIG students desire from their education experience.

Noah Diebel is a junior at High Point University in High Point, N.C.   He is studying Elementary Education, and he is originally from Buffalo, New York. Following undergraduate graduation, Noah plans to continue at High Point University in the Master's degree program for STEM Education. His long-term plans are to pursue teaching either abroad or in the southern United States.


References:
Holloway, J. (2003). Research Link / Grouping Gifted Students. Educational Leadership, 61(8). Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/oct03/vol61/num02/-Grouping-Gifted-Students.aspx.

Lu, J., Li, D., Stevens, C., & Ye, R. (2015). Comparisons and analyses of gifted students’ characteristics and learning methods. Gifted Education International, 0261429414565160.

Maker, J., Zimmerman, R., Alhusaini, A., Pease, R. (2015). Real Engagement in Active Problem Solving (REAPS): An evidence based model that meets content, process, product, and learning environment principles recommended for gifted students. APEX: The New Zealand Journal of Gifted Education, 19(1). Retrieved from www.giftedchildren.org.nz/apex.

Willis, S. (1995). Mainstreaming the Gifted. Educational Leadership, 37(2). Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/newsletters/education-update/feb95/vol37/num02/Mainstreaming-the-Gifted.aspx.

Yuen, M., Chan, S., Chan, C., Fung, D. C., Cheung, W. M., Kwan, T., & Leung, F. K. (2016). Differentiation in key learning areas for gifted students in regular classes A project for primary school teachers in Hong Kong. Gifted Education International, 0261429416649047.