Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Vacation in Yellowstone: A lot to see, a lot to learn.


This summer my husband, teenage daughter, and I took a trip to Yellowstone National Park. The park itself is a natural wonder with majestic landscapes, and strange and smelly features, and the round trip from Salt Lake City airport included stops to learn about our social, religious, and geographic history, and view works of art as well. To better understand some of the background on the places we visited, I am looking at learner.org for more information.

Golden Spike National Historic Site/Spiral Jetty yellowstonetrain

I learned that the Golden Spike was for ceremonial purposes. Anyone with an understanding of chemistry knows that gold is too soft a medal to use as a railroad spike. Besides, they would have to guard it! The history of the joining of the Transcontinental Railroad is a fascinating one.

spiraljettyThe immense earth artwork Spiral Jetty, set in the Great Salt Lake in 1970, was only 12 miles away from the Golden Spike site on a dusty, dirt road. The lake water had receded since it was installed, but it occasionally comes back to the north end of the lake.

Yellowstone National Park

yellowstone geysersYellowstone was the nation’s first national park and it attracts millions of American and foreign visitors. We stopped by the Norris Geyser area to view Porcelain Basin, oozing with lava composed of silica.

MorningGloryPoolIn the Old Faithful Geyser area, there were smoking and erupting geysers as far as you could see. We saw Old Faithful erupt about a dozen times, also enticing thermal pools bathed in beautiful gem colors. Stepping into one would severely scald a human but thermophile microbes find the high temps quite agreeable.

MMCpettingmooseWe did see wildlife in the park. A coyote approached our group on a horseback ride and our car drive was held up by road-crossing bison. More majestic and idyllic views of wildlife and nature were on view at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, WY. Here we learned about the connection between art and conservation of the wild.

We have wonderful memories of the trip and I am glad I have learner.org as a resource.

All photos on this page by Michele McLeod

Use CLIQUES To Make Quotations Click

quotation marks_123rf

Image Copyright : Mike Bullot

Grading student papers is no task for the weak. Teachers have to be pumped up to deal with the endless issues with conventions, argumentation, citing/formatting, voice, and many other things. If you’re like me, you can’t read a paper without taking a red pen to it. It’s exhausting! (I’m not going to lie – The red pen eventually turns into red wine!)

So, I finally got smarter. I decided to explicitly teach writing skills BEFORE assigning writing tasks. I discovered that my students produced better papers. (Imagine that!? Teaching improving practice – What a crazy notion!)

The key is to attack one writing problem at a time. In this blog, I will be sharing how I addressed the problem of quotations. I told my students that they were “dropping quotations like bombs.” Students would just insert quotations somewhere in the middle of their papers. It seems like students struggle with how to integrate quotations in their writing effectively.

The Common Core State Standards pushes students to support their thinking with evidence from the text. Teachers are placing great importance on textual evidence in writing and discussions. Textual evidence includes but is not limited to facts, statistics, examples, and quotations. I developed the CLIQUES strategy to help students contextualize quotations when writing expository texts. The following table provides an overview of the strategy:

CL Claim State your claim. This is the topic sentence. It’s the main idea of your paragraph. It’s the argument or the explanation.
I Introduction of Quotation Prepare to present your evidence. Provide a reason that supports your claim. Build readers up to your quotation by providing some context. If applicable, describe who, to whom, when, and where the quotation takes place.
QU Quotation State your quotation. Use signal phrases such as For example…, According to…, ___ states,…,
E Explanation of Quotation Explain how your quotation supports your claim. Explain why you chose this quotation.
S So What? Explain your point again. Analyze your position in light of the evidence you produced.

Students can use the CLIQUES strategy to learn how to make quotations a substantial part of their logical reasoning process.

Several tips for successful implementation of the CLIQUE strategy:

  • This strategy supports students in writing a supporting body paragraph. If writing a complete paper, students will need additional scaffolds to write introduction and conclusion paragraphs. Consider accessing Annenberg Learner’s Write in the Middle workshops, which provide a more comprehensive model for teaching writing.
  • This strategy would be a great follow-up to the Double-Journal Entry strategy explained in Teaching Multicultural Literature, workshop 8, “Social Justice and Action.”
  • Before introducing the strategy, spend some time discussing quotations and how they’re used in writing. In News Writing: Interviews, news writers actually share their writing experiences. Many of them discuss the use of quotations.

#ANEW15 Aha Moment(s)!

Post written by Lisa Mayo, high school English teacher and participant in the 2015 Newseum Summer Teacher Institute,“Primarily Digital: Teaching Media Literacy to Plugged-in Students,” sponsored by Annenberg Learner. Look for the #ANEW15 hashtag on Twitter.

Lisa Mayo at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Lisa Mayo at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

I cannot begin to count all the aha moments I felt as a participant in the #ANEW15 advanced institute this summer. As I review the Google Slide presentations multiple times, I find myself revisiting those moments. There will be differences in my classroom this year because of my experience at the Newseum with so many brilliant teachers and librarians from all over the country.

Taking Classroom Polls

The first thing I’m adding to my classroom is, oddly enough, not technological. Well, it can be, but I’m going old school for this. I was thrilled with all the uses of Poll Everywhere in the Institute, and I will incorporate it in my classes; but the polling system I’m going to employ is from the Vietnam Exhibit we visited. There was a polling question and responses were registered by placing a peg in a grid. It was instantaneously visual to see the results.

Well, when collaborating with colleagues, we figured out a quick, inexpensive way to do this. So, this year my students will find 5 ribbons for different responses and a basket of clip-on clothespins on my bulletin board. I’m thinking each day there will be a quick question and each ribbon will represent an answer. Each student will post a clothespin on their selected ribbon/answer. It will be fast and it will be visual.

I’m considering the questions to be anything from silly/pop-culture to questions that reflect what we are studying. I can even see it as a ticket out the door. On deeper thinking topics, I imagine using it as a conversation starter and then allowing students to move their clothespins if they change their mind. On days where it is most enlightening, I will post pictures on our class Twitter account and compare classses. This is simple and I think my sophomores and juniors will play along.

Evaluating Sources With Consumer Questions 

Another aha moment that stands out is the Consumer Questions to evaluate the value of a source. Applying the common journalist questions (how, what, when, why, where, and who) to sources, especially on the internet, is going to be one my opening lessons when starting my research paper process with my juniors. Since the Institute has ended, I have found myself applying the questions as I’m reading and preparing for my classes.

Integrating Social Media

I am already a proponent of Twitter usage in the high school classroom, but now I can see uses for Instagram and Pinterest. I use Twitter on a daily basis to keep students up to date and to have them post assignments. I see Instagram as a great source for mentor text/writing prompts in my classroom and creative writing club. Pinterest is a constant resource for teachers, but I would like to find a way to incorporate it with students. I feel very strongly that I want students to see the value of social media as a tool for communication and change.

Collaborating With Google Classroom

As last school year was ending, I began exploring Google Classroom as a test run with one of my sections. I found it helpful for organizing assignments and sharing with students. After #ANEW15’s guest speakers (such as Jen Roberts from Reading & Writing in the Disciplines) and that valuable collaboration time, I am onboard and will be using it in all my classes this fall.

I hardly think there is any part of my teaching experience that will not be impacted by my three glorious days at the Newseum this summer. The presenters and organizers kept things moving and filled our days with information that will take weeks to process. To have been a part of this institute is not only professionally life altering, but also personally. I connected with people that I will stay in touch with – especially as our school years kick off. I look forward to seeing what we are all doing on Twitter and our Google Community.

Annenberg Learner: Videos for Content Area Literacy


Jennifer Roberts asks students to compare two characters from The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe using evidence they have gathered from the text.

This post originally appeared on Litandtech.com May 8, 2015.

I am excited this week to be exploring the resources now available from Annenberg Learner [Reading & Writing in the Disciplines] and specific to disciplinary literacy. These are videos of students working on developing their literacy skills in a range of core subject areas.

I’m looking forward to being able to use these videos as starting points for conversations with my colleagues and administrators about what literacy looks like in all subject areas, not just English.

I also appreciate that the collection is searchable by discipline and topics like close reading, differentiation, gradual release of responsibility etc. It makes it easy for me to narrow down my search and preview the videos I might want to use.

Full disclosure, the reason I know about this project is because my classroom is one of the many that were filmed for the collection. It’s not possible to search by teacher, so if you really want to see me or my classroom you’ll need to look here and here, but you may also spot me in some of the expert commentary videos. My classroom shows up as an example sometimes while leading educational researchers talk about current trends in literacy instruction.

If you are a literacy coach, a resource teacher, an administrator, or anyone else responsible for helping teachers implement Common Core or develop student literacy then you will appreciate the resources from Annenberg Learner as much as I do.

Power Up Cover copy

Click on the book cover to find purchase information through Stenhouse.com.

By popular demand, direct links to videos from my classroom.

Check out Jen’s blog Literacy, Technology, Policy, etc… A Blog, about teaching literacy with technology in an era of educational innovation, and learn about Diana Neebe and Jen Roberts’ new book Power Up: Making the Shift to 1:1 Teaching and Learning.  

Make Reading A Part of Every Day

VLH get caught photo“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” ~Groucho Marx

There is nothing better in life than reading books with my dog, Woody! Reading in the Hagan house is a special time. My husband and I read for at least 20 minutes a day. No matter how busy we think we are, we always take the time to read a good book. (A family that reads together, stays together.) Give me a book, my dog, and a small corner of the world!

Do you remember SSR (Silent Sustained Reading) and/or DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time? Teachers give students an opportunity to independently read in class. This is sacred time. I remember this being my favorite part of the school day. I carefully selected books. I forgot about my to-do list. I escaped into the pages. Most importantly, I relished in being a member of a community of readers.

In the name of test preparation and/or “instructional minutes,” sometimes teachers have had to sacrifice this reading time. I’d like to reiterate the importance of providing our students time to read, with us. If we are to develop lifelong readers, we need to make sure students see adults and peers reading. Students need time to practice their reading skills. They need to build a love for reading.

To encourage students and their families to read, I suggest creating a “Get Caught Reading” calendar with your class. May is “Get Caught Reading” month, but really any month is a good month to read. According to the “Get Caught Reading” website, this initiative is a “national campaign to remind people of all ages how much fun it is to read.” During the month of May (or June, or whenever), take pictures of your students reading during SSR or DEAR time. Have students take pictures of their family members reading. Encourage a community around reading – and document it!

I recently got caught reading The Tale of Genji. Watch Invitation to World Literature‘s program on “The Tale of Genji,” and be inspired to read this great book as well.

Remember – When you get caught reading, make sure you are reading something you want to get caught reading. P.J. O’Rourke said, “Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.” Just something to think about. :)

What are you reading with your students?

Preparing Students to Read

Written by WGBH Education for Annenberg Learner, Part 3 of 3 (Go to Part 1 and Part 2)


Check out the new Reading & Writing in the Disciplines professional development course.

Accessing Prior Knowledge

When students read, their prior knowledge greatly impacts how they comprehend a text and learn new information from it. This prior knowledge includes both school-based and personal experiences, including previous instruction, academic and out-of-school texts, personal experiences, videos and movies, and discussions with teachers and peers. It is critical that readers are able to connect this prior knowledge to new learning for the most effective understanding of text ideas.

But prior knowledge isn’t just what students know about the topic itself; it’s also what they know about how to read a particular type of text, such as understanding the text structure, text features, language structures, and strategies for learning new information.

For example, students may come to a history unit about abolition knowing something about the slave trade, Abraham Lincoln, and Frederick Douglass. But they may also have an understanding of how to identify organizational text structures often found in history texts (e.g., cause and effect, problem/solution), how to use different text features that support informational text (e.g., headings, captions, timelines), and/or how to analyze, synthesize, and corroborate ideas by comparing and contrasting sources on the same topic.

Given that students will have a range of prior knowledge as they begin a particular reading, teachers need to assess the text (what prior knowledge is necessary for effective comprehension of new content) and the students (what they already know). Based on this assessment, teachers decide what content knowledge students need to develop, how to access it using a variety of resources, and how to help students connect what they know to new learning. It’s important to note that even when students possess prior knowledge, they often need reminders to activate and connect it to specific reading situations.

Setting a Purpose for Reading

Many students, especially struggling readers, have difficulty determining important information during and after reading, particularly as the disciplinary texts become more complex. Having a specific purpose for reading will support students’ comprehension of important text ideas, focus their attention on the text and accompanying text features, and provide motivation for learning new content. However, too often, students are given a generic purpose, such as reading a chapter to answer concluding questions. In this case, the purpose is simply to complete a task after reading.

In contrast, a specific purpose should address the text content—important information, key concepts, and author’s purpose or point of view. For example, in science, students may read to compare and contrast features of sustainable and non-sustainable energy. In math, they may read real world earthquake measurement data and use that information to create and interpret a graph.

In the earlier grades, teachers usually set a purpose for students before they read. However, the goal of this important component of reading is for students to learn how to set their own purpose as independent readers. As students become more proficient readers in each discipline, teachers may continue to model setting a purpose while still encouraging students to determine their own purpose, build upon their knowledge, and think more critically about text ideas. Setting a purpose often occurs before reading; however, as students read, they may revise their purposes and set new goals for learning. For example, a student may set an initial reading purpose of identifying the causes of the Civil War. During reading, the student may refine this purpose to focus on specific causes related to different geographical regions of the United States. In science, students may set a purpose for reading an article on climate change to understand the factors related to this issue. As they read, they may revise this purpose to discover specific human behavior that affects climate change. Again, this sophistication develops as a student gains an expanding view of the topic.

Using Prior Knowledge to Set a Purpose

Not surprisingly, students’ ability to set their own purpose for reading is closely tied to their prior knowledge. In other words, students must have a general understanding related to the topic in order to set a purpose for reading about it. A familiar strategy for connecting prior knowledge with purposes for reading is the KWL (Know-Want to Know-Learn) strategy (Ogle, D., 1986). With this practice, students determine what they already know about a topic, what information they want to know related to the topic, and finally, what they learned after reading and discussion. This process promotes connecting prior knowledge to new information, which leads to effective learning. Charting these understandings helps students to engage in the process of reading to learn. Also, teachers must have a clear understanding of what needs to be learned about a topic, because in many instances students have difficulty identifying what they want to learn due to limited understanding of the topic. These student and teacher understandings before reading influence the teaching that will occur.

Ogle, D. (1986). K-W-L: A teaching model that develops active reading of expository text. The Reading Teacher, 39 (6), 564-570.

Are you ready to incorporate discipline literacy strategies into your curriculum? Learn how with Reading and Writing in the Disciplines. – See more at: http://learnerlog.org/socialstudies/how-does-discipline-literacy-differ-from-content-area-literacy/?preview=true&preview_id=3168&preview_nonce=8d8bf65a26#sthash.6JEXI13f.dpuf

Are you ready to incorporate discipline literacy strategies into your curriculum? Learn how with Reading & Writing in the Disciplines

Read part 1 of this blog series on discipline literacy: “How Does Discipline Literacy Differ from Content-area Literacy?” and part 2: “Literacy in the 21st Century.”

Caught Reading: Measuring Penny

Engaging students in measuring objects and space around us is active and fun! Remember, measuring is always doing – and we all measure, all the time. Consider how often you hear questions that start like this:


My daughter and I recently got caught reading Measuring Penny. While reading, we talked about how we measure qualities of the world every day, including length, volume, and time.

How much…

When will it be time to…

How big…

Will this fit…

Do I have enough…

How old…

Is this too much…

How do these compare…

We ask these kinds of questions every day at home, at school, at work, at the store, on the bus, and at the park. Be sure to tell your students how answering these kinds of questions involves mathematical thinking and increases our reasoning and analytical skills. Use examples and point out the connections between investigation, measurement, and number.

While measurement is often viewed as a matter of procedure, there’s really more to it. Think about what features of certain objects and spaces are measurable, and why we even care about size and scale. Think about comparisons. Think about magnitude. Think about precision and estimation; whole units and parts. All of these ideas are fundamentally related to measurement, and contribute in important ways to our awareness of and actions in the world.

Determining the amount, size, or degree of something is necessary and useful. This is clearly illustrated in Loreen Leedy’s Measuring Penny. In this story, Lisa learns a lot about her dog, Penny, by measuring. Lisa measures Penny’s height, compares Penny’s weight to other dogs’ weight, considers how much food and water Penny needs every day, and calculates how fast Penny runs. Lisa is identifying many different measurable attributes of Penny and being her care-taker. She uses different tools and both standard and non-standard units to measure and explore. She is deepening her understanding of quantities and number and enriching her perspectives on her special pal, Penny, and what it means to take care of a pet. Illustrations in the book show us how to measure and why measuring can be so powerful!

Consider using books like this in your classroom. Be sure to highlight these big ideas related to measurement that help us bring conceptual understanding and procedural understanding together.

Big Idea #1: Identifying, describing, and comparing measurable attributes of objects around us helps us make sense of everyday life.

Big Idea #2: Specific techniques, tools, and formulas are used to determine measurements.

Measure and explore with your students, and share your thoughts and reactions in the comment section below. Tell us how you develop understanding of measurement in your work with children.

For additional ideas and materials on this topic, check out

Annenberg Learner’s Learning Math: Measurement for K-8 teachers

Eames Powers of Ten

Literacy in the 21st Century

Written by WGBH Education for Annenberg Learner, Part 2 of 3 (Go to Part 1 and Part 3)

LIT 16“Literacy is no longer a static construct from the standpoint of its defining technology for the past 500 years; it has now come to mean a rapid and continuous process of change in the ways in which we read, write, view, listen, compose, and communicate information.” (Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear, & Leu, 2014. Handbook of research on new literacies.)

Traditional views of literacy learning and development are changing to reflect a more global view of understanding and communicating in today’s increasingly complex world. It will come as no surprise that students spend a lot of time using technology outside of school. But what teachers are beginning to think more about is how this explosion of technology impacts the ways students read, write, think, and communicate about their world. Whether engaged in social media, texting, making videos, sharing images, reading e-books, or navigating the Internet, students are using a variety of literacy practices and tools. Combining these practices with other outside-of-school activities in which literacy plays a part—such as independent reading, writing, performance, and even sport—it becomes evident that many students engage in substantial literacy-based activities beyond their schoolwork. There is a high degree of motivation when students select their literacy practices and venues. Given this, it is important for teachers to understand the out-of-school literacy practices students bring to school and to relate them to school-based learning. This connection will expand and enhance their use of multiple literacies.

“Students engage in literacy practices and learning outside of school, learning they consider powerful and important. Typical approaches to secondary school content learning often overlook the learning and literacy practices that youth engage in apart from their school-based, content learning (Moje, 2008).”

Given the knowledge and expertise students have in using technology outside of school, digital literacy can play a significant role in school as a way to maximize productive learning. This requires instruction in new literacies, including how to determine where to find relevant information, analyze and evaluate websites, summarize and synthesize important information, incorporate videos, music, and other media of students’ choice into performance assessments, and produce projects that illustrate understanding. For example, when students are taught to evaluate the authenticity and reliability of websites, they are using the social studies strategies of sourcing and contextualization. When students create or locate images, or incorporate music into a project, they are making connections and demonstrating their interpretation and synthesis of key ideas. When done effectively, technology can provide a critical connection between home and school literacy and change the often-held view by students that reading and writing are things you only “do” in school.

For examples of how to blend these practices, check out the following:

Lapp, Fisher, Frey and Gonzalez (2014). Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 58(3) November 2014 doi: 10.1002/jaal.353 © 2014 International Reading Association (pp. 182–188).

Lapp, Thayre, Wolsey, Fisher, 2014. June 2014 doi:10.1598/e-ssentials.8056 © 2014 International Reading Association.

Are you ready to incorporate discipline literacy strategies into your curriculum? Learn how with Reading & Writing in the Disciplines.

Read part 1 of this blog series on discipline literacy: “How Does Discipline Literacy Differ from Content-area Literacy?” and part 3: “Preparing Students to Read

How Does Discipline Literacy Differ from Content-area Literacy? – See more at: http://learnerlog.org/socialstudies/how-does-discipline-literacy-differ-from-content-area-literacy/?preview=true&preview_id=3168&preview_nonce=8d8bf65a26#sthash.6JEXI13f.dpuf
How Does Discipline Literacy Differ from Content-area Literacy? – See more at: http://learnerlog.org/socialstudies/how-does-discipline-literacy-differ-from-content-area-literacy/?preview=true&preview_id=3168&preview_nonce=8d8bf65a26#sthash.6JEXI13f.dpuf

Caught Reading: The Soul of an Octopus

Jenny Get Caught photoThree years ago on a family car trip I started reading a magazine article about octopuses out loud to my husband and daughters, who then were 14 and 10 years old. It held everyone’s attention for more than 20 miles. In the article Sy Montgomery, an award-winning science and nature writer, described meeting a sweet-tempered octopus named Athena at the New England Aquarium and learning about how amazingly intelligent these creatures are. My girls shrieked with laughter as Montgomery described octopuses escaping from laboratory tanks and evading college students who tried to catch them.

Now Montgomery has expanded her encounter with octopuses into a book that’s packed with amazing facts about these alien but engaging creatures. Did you know that octopuses can taste with their skin? That they’re deft and curious enough to take apart a Mr. Potato Head toy for fun? That they’re extremely social with people, and will hold onto a trusted person’s hands and arms for hours? Or that these shape-shifters can squeeze through tiny holes and transform their bodies, changing their skin’s color, pattern, and texture in less than a second?

The Soul of an Octopus is also full of behind-the-scenes stories about the New England Aquarium, where Montgomery spent many hours getting to know cephalopods (the class of marine mollusks that includes octopuses, squids, and cuttlefish). She recounts how keepers tackle challenges like luring reclusive electric eels out from hiding so visitors can see them, and describes the many practical roles that slime plays in the ocean. Her writing is deceptively clear and simple. Here’s how she explains that octopuses clearly have “theory of mind” – the ability to perceive what another creature is thinking:

“An octopus must convince many species of predators and prey that it is really something else. Look! I’m a blob of ink. No, I’m a coral. No, I’m a rock! The octopus must assess whether the other animal believes its ruse or not, and if not, try something different.”

May 2015 is Get Caught Reading Month. If you want to engage middle or high school science students, pick this book up, crack it open to any chapter, and start reading aloud.

Caught Reading: The Journal of John Winthrop, 1630-1649

Lori_GetCRead15What must it be like to go to a place you have never seen, or even heard reliable reports of, and rebuild your whole world from scratch? That’s the challenge the first Puritan settlers in today’s Massachusetts faced in 1630. As you can imagine, the amount of trial and error in their project to build a Godly commonwealth in America was huge. Without the leadership of John Winthrop, I’d say it would have failed—a dozen times.

Winthrop’s Journal is his day-to-day account of events huge, large, medium, small, and tiny. No member of the company was too small or insignificant for him to notice and have concern for. In December 1630, the first winter, he noted not only that the frozen rivers made it impossible for the people of Charleston to sail across to attend church in Boston, but that “many of our sheep and goats were forced to be still abroad for want of houses”.

Winthrop was not above a little moralizing (during the tough days of that first winter, he claims that “those that fell into discontent” and homesickness for England died while others who did not survived), but overall the man who comes through to us in his Journal is one who put justice, peace, and love above all else, humbly accepting criticism when it came to him, and gently refusing high honors that would single him out from the rest of his company. His passionate devotion to the little commonwealth created in Massachusetts was strong enough to lead him to prepare the colony for war with England if King Charles I tried to impose a royally appointed governor (instead of an elected governor). Winthrop recounts how, at an emergency meeting in January 1635, he led the government and ministers in deciding “what we ought to do if a General Governor should be sent out of England… they all agreed that if a General Governor were sent we ought not to accept him but defend our lawful possessions (if we were able); otherwise to avoid or protract.” This is a striking declaration of independence that is never taught in high school American history classrooms.

Winthrop wrote in the third-person because he planned on publishing his Journal as an official history of the colony’s founding. It stands today as a wonderful glimpse into the life and energy of early Massachusetts, and as a tribute to its governor.

Learn more about Winthrop in the video and on his biography page for American Passages, unit 3, “Utopian Promise.”