Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Why Do We Write?

The 2015 theme for the National Council of Teachers of English’s National Day on Writing is #WhyIWrite. We all write for different reasons, whether journaling for personal reflection; researching topics of interest; gathering information to inform or persuade others; sharing personal perspectives through stories of our lives, families, and communities, and more. The following resources provide lesson plans and strategies you can use to inspire your students to become life-long writers.


Elementary School Resources

Teach students to identify writing modes that best fit their ideas, and allow them to choose topics, like their community, that have personal meaning. See Inside Writing Communities, Grades 3-5, workshop 2, “Reasons for Writing.”

Teach young students how to respond meaningfully to their peers work and provide an authentic audience experience. See Inside Writing Communities, “Conversations Among Writing Peers.”

Middle and High School Resources

Middle school students are often focused on themselves, and the self can be a great starting point for motivating students to write. Teachers in Write in the Middle: A Workshop for Middle School Teachers, workshop 2, “Making Writing Meaningful,” start by encouraging students to share their personal stories in writing. Gradually, students expand their writing to reflect how forces in their communities impact them. See them in action here.

Have you wanted to try a multigenre project with your high school students but not sure how to start? After studying various examples (a list is included in the resource), allow students to create a multigenre piece around the theme of community. Go to Developing Writers, workshop 4, “Different Purposes.”

Hear famous authors like Leslie Marmon Silko, Ernest Gaines, and J. K. Rowling discuss where their inspiration comes from in In Search of the Novel, “Authors Notes: Part III.”

Share four videos from Reading & Writing in the Disciplines with students to show how professionals use writing in their specific fields. Hear from an epidemiologist, a biotech startup, a documentary filmmaker, and a sports journalist.

How are you helping students develop purpose in their writing?

Teaching About Columbus and the New World

Christopher Columbus, bust portrait: Published by W.H. Lowdermilk and V.G. Fisher c1892 (Paris), LC-DIG-pga-03191

In the United States, the Columbus Day holiday was created to commemorate Christopher Columbus’s landing in the New World in 1492. While this was an achievement, Columbus has also come to negatively represent conquest and colonialism. The following resources provide a multi-faceted view of Columbus’s New World encounters.

Global trade started with Columbus’s arrival in the New World. America’s History in the Making, unit 2, “Mapping Initial Encounters” details the trade practices that occurred between native peoples, Europeans, and Africans in theme 1 of the video. This unit also presents primary sources that illustrate different perspectives of these initial encounters.

Examine how archaeological and scientific evidence has changed the way Americans think about Columbus Day in Bridging World History, unit 2, “History and Memory,” video part 1, Commemorating Columbus. Columbus’s early image as an explorer and civilizer is contrasted with resulting conquest, colonialism, and the destruction of peoples and habitats.

American Passages, unit 1, “Native Voices,” Stories of the Beginning of the World presents the literary voices and oral traditions of Native Americans.  How did the New World encounters influence the lives of Native Americans?

A Biography of America, program 1, “New World Encounters,” looks at the beginnings of American history from west to east, following the first Ice Age migrations through the corn civilizations of Middle America, and the explorations of Columbus, DeSoto, and the Spanish.

Native Americans had established a rich and highly developed tradition of oral literature long before the writings of the European colonists. American Passages, unit 2, “Exploring Borderlands,” explores that richness by introducing Native American oral traditions through the work of three contemporary authors: Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo), Simon Ortiz (Acoma Pueblo), and Luci Tapahonso (Navajo).

In Social Studies in Action, grades 3-5, program 9, “Explorers in North America,” see Rob Cuddi’s lesson on the theme of exploration in North America. The lesson poses three essential questions: How have people in history affected our lives today?; How do the human and physical systems of the Earth interact?; and What role do economies play in the foundation of our history?

How to Incorporate the Arts in All Subjects

PuppetsArt is a valuable tool for students to learn how to express themselves, work through a process, work cooperatively, and gain respect and understanding for others. How can we teach the arts in all subject areas so that students benefit from the learning opportunities that art affords them? For more ways art instruction benefits students, read “Ten reasons why teaching the arts is critical in a 21st century world” by Elliott Seif.

Below are examples of the arts blended with other curriculum areas, helping students to draw out a deeper understanding and appreciation for both familiar and unfamiliar concepts.


See art as a tool to make meaning of our relationship with the natural world in Art Through Time, program 10, “The Natural World.”

Seventh graders combine science, dance, and language arts as they compare the anatomy of a frog and a human and then debate whether a frog can join a ballet company. Connecting With the Arts Library, program 11, “Can Frogs Dance?” has the video and student materials.


Mathematicians understand symmetry differently than the rest of us, as a fundamental aspect of group theory. Learn more in Mathematics Illuminated, unit 6, “The Beauty of Symmetry,” which includes a symmetry interactive. Students can manipulate a wallpaper design to practice common geometric motions such as rotation and reflection.

Language Arts

Students explore Greek myths using puppets in Connecting With the Arts Library, program 2, “Breathing Life into Myths.”

Artifacts & Fiction, session 1, “Visual Arts,” shows how visual art, paired with literature, can be used to enhance students’ understanding of the predominant culture and historical setting of a work of literature.

World Languages

Latin students learn the difference between translating and interpreting the language using music and literary works of Mozart, Vergil, and Cicero. See Teaching Foreign Languages K-12, program 24, “Music and Manuscripts.”

In Teaching Foreign Languages, program 29, “Interpreting Literature,” students discuss “Dos caras” (Two faces) by New Mexico author Sabine Ulibarri. They act out scenes and make comparisons to a painting by a local artist.

In program 27, “Interpreting Picasso’s Guernica,” students write and deliver radio newscasts interpreting the scene in the famous painting.

Social Studies/History

Fifth graders in The Arts in Every Classroom, program 6, “Teaching Visual Art,” view portraits, looking beyond the face for historical cues. They continue the lesson by creating new portraits that reveal clues to the lives of their subjects through clothing, expressions, and background.

Use the Focus In tool with middle and high school students to analyze photographs curated by topics such as “Protest and Politics” and “Economies and Empires” in Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum. Also, hear a photo editor at National Geographic and a professional photographer discuss their work in the video “Story.”

Music and Art

Start a music program at your school based on the El Sistema program or borrow ideas from the programs presented in our new series The Power of Music: P-5 Teaching Inspired by El Sistema. The El Sistema philosophy presents music making as a collaborative process—one that teaches individual self-confidence, creates caring citizens, and builds cohesive communities. The program includes ideas for teachers of all subjects, not just music.

Watch art, dance, and theater teachers use scaffolding as they help students gain knowledge and fundamental skills while fostering creativity and active self-directed learning in The Art of Teaching the Arts, workshop 2, “Developing Students as Artists.”

Additional Resources:

To learn more about why arts education is important and how to connect the arts with big ideas in other subject areas, view Connecting With the Arts, program 2, “Why Integrate the Arts?”  and program 5, “What Are Connecting Concepts?”

These ideas just scratch the surface of all they ways arts instruction can be incorporated in other curriculum areas. Please feel free to share more ideas in the comments.

Breaking the Mindset Barrier

123rf_guzhanin_Brain copy

Image Copyright: Dmitry Guzhanin

One of the staples of American storytelling is the tale of the underdog athlete who became a superstar through relentless practice. Countless magazines have told the story of Boston Celtics basketball legend Larry Bird, discounted in adolescence by coaches, dedicating himself to hours and hours of daily practice. Alone on a shabby outdoor court, Bird would shoot and shoot and shoot, day after day, week after week, month after month until—voila!—he became a superstar. Even after he was a pro star, Bird would spend hours alone in the Boston Garden practicing his shots—before team practice even began. This is what made Bird “Larry Legend.”

Bird’s not the only one, of course; we love stories about athletes who drill and drill from sheer love of the game and a burning desire to become the best they can be. We tell our own young athletes that they can achieve anything if they really want it badly enough. Before the U.S. women’s soccer team won the 2015 World Cup, their captain Abby Wambach made an inspirational video in which she repeatedly said that the team could win the cup if they wanted it: “we’ve just got to believe.”

…so why don’t we have the same approach to academics? Why don’t we tell students that they can achieve any academic goal they want, from understanding math to writing lab reports to analyzing literature, if they want it badly enough? Why don’t we tell them it will take hours and weeks and months and even years of practice and failure, practice and incremental improvement?

Instead, we tend to tell students, directly and indirectly, that school is not really designed to help them set and achieve goals through unlimited practice. We tell them that school is about doing a little practicing, and then taking a test that does two things: permanently end practice of the skill that was tested and put a permanent label (a grade) on the student’s skill level.

When we test students after limited practice, we’re telling them that they have a set ability in a certain subject that can’t really change much no matter how much they practice. When we study a unit for two weeks and then test students on it, we’re saying, If you can’t master this in two weeks, you have a problem. Everyone should be able to master this in two weeks.

Tests and test grades tend to send the message that everyone is somehow born with a set amount of academic potential—a mindset—and they need to spend the rest of their school years managing (or concealing) that limitation. It’s like an academic caste system: a few lucky students are gifted; the rest are “average” or “struggling”—and they always will be. The first few tests students take that seem to “confirm” that they are forever stuck at one skill level kill all initiative. While athletes can be made, we send a message that mathletes (and others) are strictly born. See “What does this mean for me?” at the Mindset website and Reading & Writing in the Disciplines: Big Ideas in Literacy for more on this harmful and unfounded message.

In the mindset system, school is not about working hard until you achieve a goal, no matter how long it takes. It’s about struggling to achieve a goal on someone else’s timeline. The whole point of our inspiring sports stories is that the athlete took things into her or his own hands: they decided how long to practice, when to practice, and, crucially, why they were practicing. They were tested only after they felt they were ready to present their skills to a coach or a team. As Bird put it, “I really don’t count my shots. I just shoot until I feel good.”

Unfortunately, school calendars and state standards don’t allow this kind of flexibility. Students have to show mastery of a certain (large) number of learning objectives and state standards by the end of each school year, each term, even each quarter. They can’t “shoot until they feel good” on that kind of schedule.

Students aren’t the only ones who struggle with this, of course; teachers have to teach on someone else’s timeline (the one assigned by their state standards). They are required to test their students regularly. Few teachers have the option to simply stop testing and allow unlimited practice. But there are ways to reinvent testing so that it is as much a part of practicing as it is an assessment of practice; see Neuroscience & the Classroom: Making Connections for a real-world test case.

The section gives one example of how testing and grading can become tools you use to help your students develop skills. They can become part of your ongoing formative assessment of how their skills are developing and part of your teaching process, rather than an interruption of teaching and learning. When students see that testing and grading are a measure of their existing skill level, they resist both. When they see that testing and grading are a prompt to their developing skills, they embrace them as part of a collaboration with the teacher that will help them advance. Test until you feel good!

Lessons for Teaching 9/11

MakingCivicsReal_7On the anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, use the following resources to address the many layers of meaning in the commemoration of the day.

What it means to be responsible for others — Watch as history teacher Martina Grant engages her students in a discussion about their own “universe of obligation” and how the priority order changes when people are faced with tragic events. Students posit reasons we don’t always act when we see a wrong and what it takes before we act. See Teaching “The Children of Willesden Lane,” program 7, “Introducing the Universe of Obligation.”

Balancing conflicting interests with public policyMaking Civics Real, workshop 7, “Controversial Public Policy Issues,” helps students build on their own opinions and experiences to develop a deeper understanding of key public policy issues. In this workshop video, JoEllen Ambrose leads her 12th-grade law class in studying the role of the government in protecting citizens while also protecting their civil liberties. Students also reflect on their feelings and experiences with racial profiling after 9/11 and in other situations.

Patriotism — A government class at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC designs a Museum of Patriotism and Foreign Policy. The student committees present exhibits that express, through their particular majors of dance, theatre, or visual arts, their understanding of the link between patriotism and foreign policy in the light of terrorism. Go to Making Civics Real, workshop 5, “Patriotism & Foreign Policy.”

National security yesterday and todayAmerican Passages resource archive contains an excerpt from the NSC-68: U.S. Objectives and Programs for National Security, written in 1950 during the height of the Cold War. Students can compare U.S. foreign relations of the past and post-9/11 and how these objectives and programs have changed.

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

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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?