Sunday, March 18, 2018

Great Leaders Simplify Just About Everything

As an instructional leader, one must have systems in place that maximize the efficiency of necessary procedures. Campuses require a systematic approach to effective operation. When an instructional leader collaboratively establishes systems that simplify necessary procedural tasks, more time and energy can be spent on instruction.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Paradigm Shift: Increase Reading Achievement with Vocabulary Skills, Not Vocabulary Word Lists

Abandon the weekly vocabulary quiz? That’s practically instructional blasphemy! Or is it? 
Upon close examination of both national and state reading standards, our charge as teachers is not to teach students vocabulary directly. Rather, the charge is to teach students the skills necessary to determine the meaning of new words as they encounter the unfamiliar words in context. This shift of our teaching practices will not only save time by freeing up the precious instructional minutes spent teaching lists of random words, but will allow teachers to maximize learning by requiring students to think critically as they read. As we know when students think critically, their brains are growing at a much more rapid rate than when they are simply listening at a retrieval level. Teach on! 

Dr. Kendra Strange 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Key to Closing Achievement Gap: Scaffold Instruction While Maintaining the Rigor

Often teachers solely focus on teaching prerequisite skills as a means of closely achievement gaps. This practice typically comes from a good intentions with feelings of doing what's right by the child, essentially providing the child with the instruction they need rather than the instruction the on-level curriculum demands. However, the consequence of this approach is a cycle of deficit for groups of students who are never offered the opportunity access grade level curriculum. 

The key to closing, rather than perpetuating achhievment gaps? Scaffold institution in real time within the lesson of the on-level learning standard. In other words, teach every child the required content, scaffolding up and down during the lesson, but never abandoning the Rigor of the original learning target. This practice creates equity in access to the same curriculum proving every student with the opportunity to master the required learning standards. 

Kendra Strange, Ed.D.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Rethinking Student Feedback

 Imagine the impact on learning if classroom teachers gave feedback the way athletic coaches provided their feedback. Think about music teachers or art teachers and how they observe and coach a student during practice.

Too often classroom teachers provide disconnected feedback after the student has completed the practice, rather than during. When a teacher observes a students's practice and provides feedback in real time, the student is able to make adjustments before practicing incorrectly. The impact on learning can be significant. Perhaps with the rise of a flipped classroom model, more teachers will use class time for observing and providing feeback on student practice.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Secret to Unlocking Literary Analysis and Boosting Reading Comprehension: Topic, Theme & Main Idea

 When English Language Arts or Reading teachers master teaching the universal, literary concepts of topic, theme, and main idea, students develop a skill set that allows them to successfully frame literary works for proper analysis. Students need this skill set to interact with texts from a variety of genres. Relying on the learning standards at each grade level to guide teachers when to introduce each literacy component is key to students successfully understanding the unique role of each literary element.

It seems simple, but as a literacy specialist there have been numerous occasions I've observed teachers who don't seem clear on the  differences of topic, theme and main idea.   These foundational literacy concepts span learning standards from kindergarten to high school. If lower grade teachers understand and teach their standards correctly, then when theme enters the scene in upper grades, the differences won't confuse older students. 

Secondary students often struggle with the difference between main idea and theme. After observing many English Language Arts classrooms, it became apparent to me that many teachers struggle as well. Knowing the differences before tackling a lesson will ensure teachers are able to guide students in their understanding of each literary element. 

Planning tip: Try identifying Topic, Theme, and Main Idea of short selections in teacher planning sessions prior to teaching the lessons to students. Practice as a group, or write short stories that highlight each literary element.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Content Literacy: Content Teachers & Reading Teachers Pair up for Student Success

Reading across content areas is critical to student success. An aligned campus wide literacy approach can lead to huge gains for struggling readers. For example, by strategically matching the expository text, i.e. content, in science and social studies classes with the expository literacy strategies in language arts classes (ELA classes) students interact with both the content and the text structure multiple times for a variety of purposes. It’s takes planning and organization to make the cross-curriculum alignment happen. Campus leadership can provide time for ELA teachers to work with other content teachers to select texts for both classes. Texts selected must meet the literature requirements for a genre study in ELA, but also provide the content needed for other classes. These purposeful interactions can lead to greater retention and increased achievement across the subject areas. Fountas and Pinnell, 2001, remind educators that even advanced students or students reading above grade level benefit from a coordination of content and literacy instruction. Providing a practical example of such integration, Austin ISD boasts of a campus that embraced the notion of content literacy in a campus wide effort to align research and writing across the curriculum.

 One highly effective school began the school year by organizing calendars for research project  assignments across every subject area. (The calendar helped to ensure that students were not slammed with 3 or 4 research papers due at the same time.) …In this school, even the physical  education and fine arts faculty participated. In P.E. students were required to write an article for a sports page in the school newspaper or write a biography of a famous athlete. Students in art class were required to research a theme in art or describe a style common in a certain period of history. At this school, every student was writing a paper for every teacher every 3 to 6 weeks, and the student success in all subject areas was significantly increased. And as a side benefit, no one teacher bore the brunt of grading all of those papers and giving students feedback. All of the teachers accepted their role as literacy teachers. (AISD, 2012, p. 65) 

 Content teachers need not be overwhelmed by the notion of teaching language arts and reading. There are small, yet effective teaching moves that can facilitate the merge of interdisciplinary learning standards. For example, content area teachers can use activities that activate prior knowledge of the academic discipline that do not require laborious reading initially. By working with the reading teacher, content teachers can provide students with instructional leveled reading that allows students to build on the prior knowledge while extrapolating new information from the texts. As the vocabulary and content knowledge build, the complexity of the content text can increase providing more opportunities for students to interact with authentic disciplinary texts, such as journal articles or traditional text books. (Lee & Spratley, 2010) The stronger the planning relationship between content teacher and ELA teacher, the more intentional and effective content literacy lessons become.

 “AISD Comprehensive Literacy Handbook.”, AISD Department of English Arts, 2012, Accessed 10 May 2017.

 Fountas, Irene C., and Gay Su. Pinnell. Guiding readers and writers: teaching comprehension, genre, and content literacy. Portsmouth, NH, Heinemann, 2001.

Lee, C.D., Spratley, A. (2010). Reading in the disciplines: The challenges of adolescent literacy. New York, NY: Carnegie Corporation of New York.