All posts by Gare Thompson

Why It’s Critical to Implement Civics Lessons and the C-3 Framework

Recently, citizens once again exercised their right to vote. They used the power of voting to have their voices heard. But what does it all mean? Now is the time for civics lessons that teach students civic responsibility. As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words,” and students must know how to act, deciding which actions are responsible and which are not. How do students treat others while making their voices heard? Civics lessons provide answers to these questions.

“Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” —John Locke

Focus on the Thinking and Motivation Behind Actions

Students need to see that every civic action has a reaction and a consequence. The actions establish a chain of events; each action is linked to a subsequent one.


© Nevit Dilmen [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
The heart of civics lessons is not necessarily the content, but rather understanding the thinking and motivation behind the actions taken by individuals or groups. When students read about events in history, they should be able to answer the following questions:

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Insights From NCSS 2016

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Mark Twain said, “What gets us in trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know that just ain’t so.” Today’s students are bombarded with information and images and there is a need for lessons that foster critical thinking and civic responsibility. The time for strong, innovative social studies lessons has arrived. The National Council for the Social Studies conference provided a showcase of lesson, organizations, and companies that are working to meet those classroom demands. Here are some insights we gained from the NCSS 2016 convention:

  • Learning from the past is critical in thinking about the future. Primary sources are perfect tools for seeing how events unfolded, the thinking and emotions behind the events, and the impact those events have on the world today. Organizations such as The Library of Congress, The Civil War Trust, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and the Pennsylvania Historical Society are treasure troves of primary sources with lessons and programs that allow students to see the links between the past and the present. Companies such as Pearson highlight primary sources in their social studies programs. Gibbs Smith Education offers fine state history products. As we discussed in a recent post, it’s worth checking out your state or local historical society for primary sources that will enhance and enrich history lessons.
  • Often events are driven by economic decisions that continue to affect our daily lives. Students should learn to review and think about how the government spends money and how citizens benefit. Organizations such as the Council for Economic Education have many lessons and programs for students to explore these important issues.
  • Geography is about much more than learning map skills. Geography tells us about people, their environment, their movements, and how geography affects our daily lives. As individuals in a global world, geography knowledge is critical. The National Council for Geographic Education and Core Knowledge support geography teaching and learning at all levels where students learn not only about physical geography, but also human geography.
  • Social responsibility is critical in today’s ever-changing world. Students need to understand both the backstories of current events and must comprehend the why as well as the who and what of current events. Access to current events through videos, social media, print, and magazines is offered through Scholastic Magazines, Time Education, CNN Classroom, and Studies Weekly. These companies have products that allow students to focus on specific current events, discussing, thinking about, and understanding why things happen and what are the consequences.

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How to Manage Classroom Instruction

Not having heard something is not as good as having heard it; having heard it is not as good as having seen it; having seen it is not as good as knowing it; knowing it is not as good as putting it into practice.—Xun Kuang, c. 312-230 BCE

Choosing Instruction Modes

Facing a classroom of students who represent different levels of learning curves is not an easy task. We know students learn better by doing, but they may not all be ready at the same time. This is a key reason for planning how to manage classroom instruction.

An effective way to start planning is to ask yourself:

  • When should I teach the whole class?
  • Should I move some students into group work?
  • When are students ready to work independently?

The choices you make directly affect students’ learning and the structure and pacing of lessons. The presentation below gives an overview of when whole-class, small-group, and independent modes work best in classroom instruction. Just click “Start Prezi.”

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5 Keys to Unlock Read-Aloud Success

Why Read Aloud?

Simotas_Reads_to_Students_at_PS70When I first taught kindergarten, I read aloud The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The kids in my class loved it and we spent hours discussing caterpillars, eating habits, stories, and Eric Carle. Luckily for me, the third-grade teacher down the hall, probably tired of hearing me read the book aloud again and again, offered a wonderful list of books to read aloud. The list included fiction and nonfiction. To this day, I’m grateful (as I’m sure my students are, too!) to this teacher. Over time, I’ve learned from first-hand experience how important a read-aloud is.

Research supports the importance of read-alouds for developing fluency, background knowledge, and language acquisition. Allen (2000) reminds us that those same benefits occur when we use read-alouds beyond the primary years. Read-alouds are one classroom practice that students never outgrow.

As a working author, I’ve spent time researching and thinking about what makes a good read-aloud and how to ensure everyone has the best read-aloud experience. Typically when writing, I read aloud what I have written. A read-aloud has often served as an excellent editor. It’s a good habit for kids to use when they write. Here are five key things I suggest to do for an exciting and meaningful read-aloud.

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5 Keys to Assessment Literacy

At Victory, we have been developing many kinds of assessments. Whether the assessment is high-stakes summative testing, a performance-based task, or formative student self-assessment, assessment has a huge impact on classroom instruction. This means assessment literacy is a critical tool for teachers as they develop curriculum and apply classroom strategies.

What Is Assessment Literacy?

What does assessment literacy mean? It may help to consider other types of literacy. Science literacy, for example, means being prepared to understand and discuss science issues, especially as they impact social and political decisions. Visual literacy involves understanding how people use visual information, and choosing a visual approach that supports your goals. Digital literacy is the ability to use technology tools, and choose which tool is most appropriate for a given purpose. In the same way, assessment literacy is the ability to understand the purpose of each type of assessment and then use this knowledge to make better assessment decisions.

From our experience, these are 5 keys to assessment literacy:

5 Keys to Assessment Literacy
key-flipped-small 1 Understanding different kinds of assessments and their purposes
key-flipped-small 2 Recognizing the best assessment to use for a given situation
key-flipped-small 3 Knowing how to prepare students for each kind of assessment
key-flipped-small 4 Knowing how to implement each kind of assessment
key-flipped-small 5 Getting comfortable with interpreting assessment data

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5 Keys to Digital Literacy

Recently, we premiered our digital lesson on the Boston Massacre at the ISTE and ILA conferences. The lesson was a big hit. It inspired many discussions with technology coordinators and educators on what makes a lesson good for digital literacy. The table below summarizes what we learned, and the video that follows gives concrete examples of how the 5 keys to digital literacy are executed in the Boston Massacre lesson.

5 Keys to Digital Literacy
key-flipped-small 1 Make sure the lesson has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
key-flipped-small 2 Each interactive should build on the previous one so that students gain practice and automaticity in skills and strategies.
key-flipped-small 3 Processes for working through a digital lesson need to be consistent.
key-flipped-small 4 Cross-curricular activities encourage students to employ skills and strategies from other disciplines in new ways.
key-flipped-small 5 Make sure students are using data, analyzing it, and using 21st-century skills.

Are We There Yet?

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U.S. Education Market Snapshot: English Language Learners (ELLs)

The Early Days

In the 1960s, Victoria Porras attended Melrose High School in Massachusetts as an exchange student from Bogotá, Colombia. She was far from home. Her host family, teachers, and new schoolmates were friendly and eager to help, but the everyday English spoken in the Boston area is accented, idiomatic, and studded with acronyms.

Victoria decided then that she would find a way to help other exchange students navigate spoken English. The idea of Victory Productions grew from that experience.

When Victoria established Victory Productions in 1995, its mission was to develop educational materials to teach English as a Second Language (ESL), but she found that what the market wanted was Spanish translation. Only later did the market recognize the need for materials dedicated to English Language Learners (ELLs).

The ELL market has certainly changed since those early years. Most early programs focused on teaching English language skills so students could learn in the mainstream classroom. The products offered to the market were Spanish student editions, bilingual student editions, and supplemental programs designed to build English reading skills. Today’s market, however, is different.

Today’s Market for English Language Learners (ELLs)

The U.S. Department of Education recorded 4.85 million English language learners (ELLs) enrolled in public schools in the academic year 2012–2013. ELLs attend public schools in all 50 states, so the market is national. As shown in the map below compiled by the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA), the greatest populations of ELLs (by percent of total enrollment) are in southwestern states. In 2012, there were six states with a 10% or higher density of ELLs: California, Texas, Nevada, Oregon, Colorado, and New Mexico. On the east coast, only three states—Florida, New York, and Virginia—ranked in the top fifteen states in ELL student density.

U.S. State Map of Highest Density of English Language Learners (ELLs)

Growth of the ELL Market

Overall, the number of ELL students in U.S. public schools is increasing steadily. According to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), ELLs are the fastest growing segment of the student population. Growth in grades 7–12 is the highest and now comprises 10.5% of the nation’s K–12 enrollment. The number of ELL students in elementary grades is also increasing.

Although the overall percentage of ELL students in the U.S. is growing, the OELA map below clearly shows how widely the rate of growth varies across the country. In fact, there was a decrease in the ELL population in thirteen states, most importantly in California. Massachusetts was the only state in which the ELL population doubled during this time span.

U.S. State Data on Changes in Population of English Language Learners (ELLs)

Unique Characteristics of the ELL Market

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