Category Archives: CTE

Visual Thinking

I’m kind of a New York Times (NYT) junkie. A few years ago, we bought a subscription to the Sunday Times at home, which additionally provided us unlimited digital access. I signed up for news alerts and a few news digests, like “Education” and “Tests and Assessments,” so I’m sent short abstracts of articles that pertain to those categories.

It was in one of these digests, recently, that I encountered the headline: “40 Intriguing Photos to Make Students Think.” Not the catchiest of titles, but the photo accompanying it piqued my interest:screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-9-27-02-pmSo, I clicked. That’s where I was reminded of another great service The Times offers: The Learning Network. In essence, they deliver education resources like lesson plans, news quizzes and the like all based on NYT articles, photos, graphics and more. Better yet, you can access the Network’s many features without a digital subscription.

Back to what brought me to The Learning Network in the first place: the above picture. It’s part of a weekly feature called, “What’s Going On in This Picture?” Readers are asked three standard questions about a visual text:

  • What’s going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can you find?

Then, they are encouraged to acutely observe (a.k.a. closely read) the image, find evidence, and post and respond to comments of others online. Partners, Visual Thinking Strategies facilitate the online discussion Mondays between 9a – 2p Eastern Time (6a-11a Pacific). On Thursday afternoons, Learning Network writers reveal a caption and backstory below the photo on the site.  Check out this week’s photo below (week of October 17):


As for classroom applications, I immediately thought of a warm-up. Whether you participate live through the Learning Network or want to spark an in-class dialog, there are images that relate to nearly any subject are. Five minutes at the beginning of class is plenty to take in the photo and respond, turn to a partner and compare perceptions. Cogs are turning, awareness is heightened and students are engaged in analysis–great practice for getting into the day’s content. And, what a great way to build a community of inquiry, teacher included!

In 21st Century literacy, when we hear or say text, we need to be mindful of the myriad forms that word may conjure. Our students are consuming these many texts in record numbers, daily. Teaching the tools to become informed about what they consume doesn’t get more real.



Growing our mindset

Embracing challenges vs. avoiding them; expending effort vs. settling into complacency; learning from vs. avoiding feedback. These contrary actions describe the differences between Growth and Fixed Mindset.  Growth Mindset is becoming a popular initiative of teachers and teacher leaders around the United States and the United Kingdom. If you’ve not read  Mindset by Carol Dweck, I highly recommend it.  A quick read, it’s impactful on many levels–as an educator, partner, parent, coach, and the like.  The book, accompanied by an Educational Psychology class I took almost two years ago that discussed the Power of Yet and How We Learn, has my mind spinning about how we can help our students succeed. First, we need to believe our students can succeed.  And second, our students need to believe they can succeed.

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There are many resources I’ve looked at over the last year or two that have continued to give me insight into the importance of growth mindset. The following are three of the resources that I find exceptionally valuable:

  1.  Jo Boaler’s YouCubed  website is the first.  She has short video snippets that can be shown to students to help explain how their brains learn, why mistakes help fire the synapses in the brain, and the plasticity potential of the brain. Her website also include tasks, research, and a Mooc for students with 6 sessions on How to Learn Math.
Short Video Snipit from YouCubed about the Black Cab drivers in London.

Short video snippet from youcubed about the Black Cab drivers in London.

2.  Marissa of La Vie Mathematique shows a video (see example below) from her Mindset Moment List  once or twice a month as a warm-up to spark conversations about having a Growth Mindset. She sees value in connecting traits like perseverance, effort, and educational risk-taking to all students, regardless of content area.

Kid President with a Pep Talk

Kid President with a Pep Talk

3.  Mike Mann from Dexter McCarty shared an extensive list of resources on a google doc  last year.  In it, are  articles and videos lending themselves to close reading/viewing techniques, as well as graphics to post in your room.

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I would love to hear what are you doing in your classroom to help develop a growth mindset in your students.

Summer Opportunities Coming Your Way!

Whether you’re more of a fan of The Jamies (Summertime, Summertime) or Alice Cooper (School’s Out for Summer) or fall somewhere in the middle, one thing is clear, Summer is fast approaching! For our final post of the year, we’re offering a little something for you (check out our Events page for a host of classes/workshops), and if you read on, a little something for your students.

In my literacy world, one of the greats of summertime is the Summer Reading Program run by Multnomah County Library a cornerstone of our district’s Middle School Summer Reading Program, offering schools a variety of adventures for students!

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Why summer reading, you may ask? Well, a big reason is heading off the summer skills slide. A landmark study done by Barbara Haynes (1978) who followed 6th & 7th graders for two years revealed the following effects of summer reading participation:

1. The number of books read in summer is consistently related to academic gains.

2. Children in every income group who read six or more books in summer “maintained or improved their reading skills while kids who didn’t read any, saw their skills slip as much as an entire grade level.”

3. The use of the public library during the summer is more predictive of vocabulary gains than attending summer school.

4. The major factors determining whether a child reads over the summer were: whether the child used the public library; the child’s gender (girls read more than boys); socioeconomic status; and the distance from home to a library.

5. More than any other public institution, including the schools, the public library contributed to the intellectual growth of children during the summer. Moreover, unlike summer school programs, the library was used by over half the children and attracted children from diverse backgrounds.

There have been notable studies since this original publication, if you’re looking for additional research, such as the 1982 “Beginning School Study,” by researchers Karl Alexander and Doris Entwisle of the National Center for Summer Learning and a 2001 report, “The Role of Public Libraries in Children’s Literacy Development,” by the University of Michigan’s Susan Neuman and Temple University’s Donna Celano. The bottom line: summer reading, including free, independent reading of a student’s choice is a must! And, remember, reading doesn’t need to be limited to physical books. Some of our more reluctant readers can be turned on by an e- or audio book, a graphic novel, or Zine. There’s also a whole informational text side to reading that appeals to some, which could include anything from newsy articles to infographics to “reading” a museum exhibit. Truly, the possibilities are limitless! Check out the summer reading programs in your community and get your kids pumped to include reading in their down-time!

As we bid you adieu for the summer months, we hope you will spend 5 minutes browsing the Events page and find a class or workshop that resonates with you. If you know of anything we may have missed, send us a note and we’ll add it.

Until September….


Rigorous Reading Across Content Areas: Text-Dependent Formative Tasks

Back in February, I had the opportunity to attend the Oregon Reading Association’s Winter Institute, featuring Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey. For a self-professed literacy geek like me, this experience was akin to IT folks hearing from Steve Jobs, Classical Violinists spending a day with Itzhak Perlman, or Craft Brewers (hey, we are in Oregon) being addressed by Fritz Maytag. It’s not often we get to see our professional mentors live and in person, at the Holiday Inn PDX Airport, no less.

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Their presentation provided guidance for teaching complex texts and raising the level of rigor in the classroom, which are Common Core literacy cornerstones. A bonus of our participation in the session included walking away with a copy of Fisher & Frey’s 2013 title, Rigorous Reading, 5 Access Points for Comprehending Complex Texts. Although each access point is worthy of its own blog post , the one this post is devoted to is Access Point #5: Demonstrating Understanding and Assessing Performance. In this section of the text, the authors posit the need for after-reading “Text-Dependent Tasks” such as the following:

Perspective Writing: Perhaps too often, we teachers assume the role of audience for a student’s writing. Writing from differing perspectives or to a different audience can stretch students’ decision-making powers. Who is the audience? What then is the purpose of my writing? What register must I employ in my style?

Many teachers have heard of and have used the RAFT strategy developed by Santa and Havens (1995) requiring students to understand the Role, Audience, Format, and Topic for each piece of writing. Fisher & Frey resurrect it here as a strategy for formative assessment. In one example they cite, an English teacher learns she needs to review author’s purpose and the introduction to The Metamorphosis because her students don’t show evidence of understanding beyond the literal level when presented this RAFT:

Role – Gregor Samsa

Audience – Mr. and Mrs. Samsa, his parents

Format – Note

Topic – Why don’t you notice me?

Though, RAFT is not only for the realm of the English Teacher. Apply RAFT after reading a famous historical speech, such as Susan B. Anthony’s “Women’s Rights to the Suffrage, 1873.”

Role – Participant

Audience – Susan B. Anthony

Format – Letter

Topic – Reaction to this speech

In Science: After reading the article, “West Coast starfish are dying, but why?” convince Congress that the plight of sea stars is farther reaching than just one species:

Role – Researcher

Audience – U.S. Congress

Format – Speech Talking Points

Topic – Explanation of metaphor: “…starfish are sentinels about conditions in our oceans….”

Here are a few other Text Dependent Task ideas to include in your repertoire:

  • Admit Slips: Akin to Exit Tickets, students instead respond to an assigned topic as they enter the classroom. “Describe the water cycle.” “Why are irrational numbers important in science and engineering?”  “What factors motivated the character to commence her journey?”
  • Found Poems: As students reread a text, have them find key phrases to arrange into a free-verse poem, linked with connector words (articles, conjunctions, “to be” verbs, etc.)
  • Yesterday’s News: Summarize the information presented the day before, from a film, reading, lecture, or discussion.
  • Write a letter to people who have made a difference. Write to Albert Einstein about the negotiations for a present day nuclear deal in Iran. Write to an author about his/her influence on a particular topic (TC Boyle on the environment; Roald Dahl on imagination, for example).

Students beginning some of these tasks may need a reminder to go back to text and quote or paraphrase in their responses. Sentence frames to introduce text are helpful aids to guide students:

  • (author) states, “….”
  • In her book _______, (author) maintains that, “….”
  • X disagrees when he writes, “….”
  • According to the text, “….”

Supplemental frames to assist students with explaining their evidence can prevent the infamous “hanging quote,” when students mistakenly think that quoted text speaks for itself:

  • Basically, X is saying _______.
  • In other words, X believes ________.
  • X‘s point is that ________.

Finally, writers also need to make a distinct connection, identifying the reason for including the quote/evidence. Simple connector frames could be:

  • This statement is important because ______.
  • This relates to _____.
  • This contradicts _____ because ______.

Perhaps May isn’t the time that you’re thinking about doing “heavy lifting” in the classroom, but consider these ideas seeds. Let them germinate over the summer if you’re not ready to harvest them today. You never know what you might reap in the Fall.

Poetry: It’s Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

When I first sat down to write this post, I thought I would virtually chest-bump my English Language Arts peeps–the topic is poetry, after all, the domain of the English teacher, right? I shortly realized narrowing my audience would mean I would simultaneously be turning off other content area teachers. As I come back to revise, I’m thinking how poetry could add a dimension to literacy in Science and Social Studies while addressing CCSS Literacy Standards in the process: WHST.4, WHST.5, and WHST.10, to name a few. I’m not suggesting other content area experts start teaching poetry, but I am suggesting you might consider offering such a literacy opportunity in response to a scientific or social studies topic.

Today, April 30th, marks the end of National Poetry Month, but like many of the “month” celebrations, poetry could and should be showcased throughout the year–definitely as part of an English class and perhaps even outside of English. At Gresham High School, the opportunity to have Paulann Petersen, past Oregon Poet Laureate, lead a workshop for interested students happened to coincide not only with National Poetry Month but with prolific poet William Shakespeare’s birth/death-day, April 23rd. What you’re about to read is a chronicle of a poetry writing process. The process (minus the lesson on imagery) can remain the same, regardless of the content: Emancipation, Meiosis & Meitosis (I wrote a verse of a song about this once in high school Biology), The Holocaust, Bacteria, Imperialism, Atoms & Molecules….

Paulann Petersen, 2013

Paulann Petersen, 2013

When I joined the workshop, student writing was well underway. Petersen guided the process through Springboards. Some of us might call them brainstorms, focused freewrites, or fastwrites; her’s are a bit more involved. Ours began with brainstorming a list, but it also branched out to include reading an exemplar poem, “to know what’s possible.” With this group of high school writers, we were prompted with a common topic: food. We could list foods, describe rituals around food, categorize those we liked or disliked, etc.  Following the listing activity, Petersen introduced the poem, “Good Hotdogs,” by Sandra Cisneros (House on Mango Street). She stated she chose this poem because she wanted a “new to you” poem. Next she asked a simple question: “What do you notice?” Student volunteers responded: “line endings,” “specific details, like ‘the little burnt tips/of french fries.'”

Our lesson followed: Image/Imagery. We started with definitions. An image, Petersen defined, is something you can see/perceive visually, whereas imagery is a word/phrase that makes a sensory connection. She described that writers constantly battle the domination of sight imagery, and she encouraged us to do the same.

Often, Petersen relayed, students (of all ages) have a tough time getting started. Here are a few ideas:

  • Mimic the start strategy of the exemplar poem: in this case, the price of the hotdog.
  • Use first-person experience, “I take the first bite….”
  • Set up imagery: We take the first step through the doorway and smell….”
  • Start with a simile or metaphor: “It tasted like….” or “The steam was….”

Once we had a starting point, we were tasked to Fastwrite for 10 minutes straight. “Don’t stop; get down as much as you can. If you begin to hesitate or stall out, look back to your brainstorm list. Focus on imagery details.”

As time was called and pencils quieted, I noticed students stretching and massaging their hands, most of them smiling. Writing is hard but rewarding work! Our next job was to pause: take a moment to breathe, then determine a next step. That might mean setting the writing aside to let it percolate or re-reading and beginning to tinker. Petersen asked for volunteers to read works in progress; as they did, we celebrated their heroic bravery and their imagery.

She then moved us along to a new topic topic (Mammals that fascinate) and another writing Springboard. Before the workshop came to a close, time was set aside to simply share. Petersen bounced from table to table, asking if anyone wanted to read one of the pieces they’d written. In each and every example, there was at least a line, an image, something that provoked emotion…a smile, a gasp, a chuckle. And, that’s good poetry regardless of topic!

If you’re interested in a clear path to this process, see the steps below:

Step 1: Brainstorm a list.

Step 2: Read aloud an exemplar poem followed by “What do you notice?” discussion.

Step 3: Good place for a mini-lesson of choice.

Step 4: Jot down your starting point.

Step 5: Fast write for 10 minutes straight. Focus on imagery details.

Step 6: Pause.




Finding/Creating Text Sets Just Got Easier

File this post under, “You know you’re an Edu-geek when….” My enthusiasm is right up there with Navin Johnson’s declaration, “The new phonebooks are here! The new phonebooks are here!” Read on English Language Arts, Social Science, CTE and Science teachers, ye beholden to CCSS Literacy Standards!

Venisha Bahr, our District K-8 Library Coordinator (extraordinaire) shared an email today announcing a new service from Newsela: Text Set Collections and the ability to create your own text sets! First, simply a definition from their website: “A text set is a collection of articles that share a common theme, topic, or standard.” In addition, the text sets featured by Newsela and ones you create through their resources are all available at multiple reading levels, allowing for easy differentiation.

If you’re not already familiar with Newsela, I encourage you to check out their web-based service. There is a free version and a paid subscription Pro version. Text Sets are accessible and can be created in either version. In this era of Common Core and its assessments, text sets also allow for comparison/contrast and analysis of multiple sources based around one topic/theme.

I went through the process of developing my own text set; the simple process is described in a series of support articles in their Text Sets Toolkit:

Step 1: Create a Text Set Create a “folder” by topic, theme, or other category.

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Step 2: Add articles Once you’ve created a Text Set folder, add articles by searching the archives for compatible titles:

  • Open an article
  • Click the “Add to” drop down menu
  • Select the text set to which you wish to add the article
  • OR Create a new text set in the drop down menu
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Step 3: Share your Text Set(s) On the “My Text Sets” page, select a text set name and click “Make Visible” to share with colleagues/team members and others in the Newsela community via email, Facebook, Pinterest, and/or Twitter.

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Yes, you can edit your text sets adding and deleting articles as you see fit. You can also assign text sets to your students if you choose to create a class. Our efforts to make school real for our students by explicitly teaching and providing opportunities for practicing literacy skills is paramount. Using text sets help model the research process where students dive into a topic, read multiple texts, and draw conclusions on an important topic. Good for you; good for them. – Instant feedback

You are in front of your class, and it feels as though you’re pulling teeth to get your students to give you feedback about their thinking. Are they with you? Then you remember the very cool online tool,, and you think, “You’re mine! Instant engagement!

Padlet is a free website that works like a bulletin board.  The teacher creates the wall and the question, gives the students the website, or has them scan a QR code that takes them right to your wall. They answer the question on their electronic devices: phone, tablet, or computer.  Students do not have to log in, or have any specific application, just access to the internet.

My wall from the April 25 Math Session

A padlet wall with a few responses from the April 25 Math Session.

Students have the ability to post text, a link, or an image. Teachers have the ability to approve student responses before being posted.

Students double-click anywhere on the wall, and insert text, a link, or upload an image or video

Students double-click anywhere on the wall, and insert text, a link, or upload an image.

Set up is minimal: less than 3 minutes to create a wall.  And, you get instant feedback.  While you may not know exactly who posted what, you get a general feel of what the class is thinking, and if there are any misconceptions.

Your challenge? Try it, and not just once or twice.  It will take a few times to make it yours, and for the kids to be efficient with its use.

Some ideas…

ELA:  What is one change the protagonist has made?

Science:  List as many cycles as you can think of.

SS:  Name a cause of the Revolutionary War.

Math:  What is one thing you need to remember when graphing a line?

We are excited to hear how you use it in your classroom.  Let us know!