Tag Archives: reading

The National Council for the Social Studies Conference

by Helen Beyne

Lincoln MemorialMore than 3,000 social studies colleagues gathered in our nation’s capital to share their ideas, research, and expertise at the world’s largest and most comprehensive social studies conference. The texts featured at the booths as well as the topics discussed at the sessions reflected the curriculum changes that have occurred over the past few years: the curriculum is now much more customized, standards have changed the way social studies is taught, and social studies instruction is more relevant now because it is more driven by current topics.

At the conference, it was evident that there is a growing consensus—social studies should take the lead in teaching the critical inquiry-related skill questioning. Education experts encouraged teachers to move away from traditional, lecture-based instruction towards instruction that emphasizes such skills as analyzing primary source documents and writing evaluatively. Many speakers urged educators to adjust their existing lessons by integrating social studies with literacy and by using document based questions.

Document based questions encourage students of history to act like detectives. Students must evaluate primary sources and secondary texts, draw on background knowledge, ask questions, and use evidence to draw conclusions. By analyzing historical sources and evidence, making historical connections, and crafting a historical analysis, students learn historical content and simultaneously develop the higher-level thinking skills emphasized by the CCSS.

One main takeaway from NCSS was the focus on the importance of inquiry-based learning. Another was the importance of civic learning. The message was clear—if we want students to become educated, responsible, and informed citizens, we must expose them to balanced knowledge, instill democratic values in them, and cultivate the qualities that will enable them to understand our society and become active participants in it. Educators stressed that high-quality civic learning should engage students by making the curriculum more relevant to real life and incorporate human rights education.

One way to ramp up civic learning is by teaching important documents, such as the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and demonstrating their relevance in current events. For age-appropriate resources on current and historical international issues, be sure to check out The Choices Program, which offers free videos, handouts, and lesson plans that connect students to headlines in the news. These resources can be used in conjunction with the United for Human Rights Online Education app, which allows educators to easily access human rights curriculum. Students can use these resources to explore, debate, and evaluate challenging topics, such as Immigration, ISIS, and Genocide.

We look forward to seeing how teachers use the ideas and practices they learned at NCSS to promote social understanding and civic efficacy in the classroom. See you next year in San Francisco!

The Presidency (pre-election) ebook now available!

The History of The Presidency

A limited edition ebook for today’s tech-savvy student

ap-preelection-presidency-cover-092116Contemporary classrooms ought to represent contemporary students—students born of the New Media Age. In the past, students learned dense subjects like science, history, and math from standard textbooks. Today, publishers are creating interactive, educational resources that compliment traditional textbooks and grab students’ interest to encourage learning.

Together the Associated Press and Green Light Learning Tools have created The Presidency (pre-election), a multimedia overview of the U.S. presidency, that does just that—connects students to the content to encourage learning. In an innovative approach to marrying news coverage and curriculum, students can not only read about the executive branch and presidents but also directly hear the words and see video of the presidents as they learn about them. The Presidency (pre-election) features award-winning photos and video culled from AP’s rich historical archive, and it pairs them with clear, succinct, age-level appropriate explanations.

Students have information available at the touch of their fingertips—literally! With the swipe of a finger students can access videos, presidential debates, interactive timelines of the U.S. presidency, quizzes, and slideshows.

The ebook is primarily for students in grades 4–8, but is a valuable resource for anyone interested in the presidency. It also includes a glossary of academic terms and their definitions and three chapters—The Executive Branch, Electing a President, and Election 2016.

The Presidency (pre-election) is available for download on iTunes for $5.99, and is compatible with Android devices, the iPad 2 or later, and the iPad Mini.

Coming Soon!

ap-postelection-presidency-cover-092116Stay connected with Green Light Learning Tools via Twitter and/or Facebook for news about the release of The Presidency (post-election), an updated edition that includes the outcome of the 2016 election as well as the new president’s inauguration speech.

 

Bring Presidential Debate into the Classroom

by Elizabeth Liberatore

A presidential debate is like a job interview. It is the final opportunity for a candidate to distinguish him or herself from the competition to earn the majority of votes. After two fiery debates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have one more showdown before the public heads to the polls and the Electoral College fills the position of president.

Presidential debates are significant in both the political landscape and classroom. As a learning tool, presidential debates aid in comprehension about the American government and democracy. Additionally, classroom debates enhance students’ critical thinking and public speaking.

With the debates between Trump and Clinton in full swing, there is no better time than the present to teach students about the debates and host debates in the classroom. Here are some ways to put past and present debates at the forefront of a lesson:

Political ethnographers

Designate different sections of a debate to small groups. The groups should be silent ethnographers, and take detailed notes on the content of the each candidate’s answers and the style of his or her performance. What is his or her tone of voice? What mannerisms are present? Does either candidate’s inflection change during the debate? Does this signify anything? Students should also identify the main idea of the argument and fact-check the information presented to ensure that it is sound. After students have completed their research, ask them to present their findings to the class.

Reference past debates

Watch the Debates is an archive of every presidential debate since 1960. The site allows students to easily navigate through more than five decades of election issues. Microsoft Pulse, an audience response tool, allows students to agree or disagree with the candidates’ responses and lets students compare their responses to those of other viewers. Watch The Debates is ideal for social studies teachers as it allows students to not only evaluate presidential debates but also understand the nation’s most serious issues. Students can use this site in conjunction with Google Newspapers to compare and contrast past election issues that dominated the headlines.

Create a classroom Twitter account

The first Trump-Clinton presidential debate was the most streamed debate ever. Twitter and Facebook’s live video feature allows audiences worldwide to watch the debates on their computers, tablets, and smartphones. The feature also allows viewers to participate in live conversation. In preparation for the final debate on Oct. 19, create a classroom Twitter account or Facebook page where students can interact with one another during the debate. Students should evaluate candidates’ answers, pose questions to their peers, and compare and contrast the first two debates to the third. Do the debates reveal what each candidate stands for? Are candidates being consistent? Are the candidates’ responses thoughtful? Were any of the candidates’ responses surprising?

Classroom debates

Another fantastic resource that both social studies and English teachers can benefit from is Join the Debates. Join the Debates gives teachers curriculum for free so that their students can have civil conversations in the classroom about the issues in the campaign cycle. Classroom debates enable students to become engaged listeners, collaborators, expand their vocabulary with domain-specific words, practice the art of persuasion, and become more proficient in public speech. Students learn all of this while also learning how important presidential debates or ‘interviews’ are in every election.

 

A Brief History of the Evolution of the Presidential Debate

by Tom Klonoski

The debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump occur at a critical time during the 2016 presidential campaign. With opinion polls showing a close race, the debates have the potential to swing the race in the favor of a single candidate.

Debates have not always been important factors in presidential general elections. They became significant only after the arrival of television in U.S. households in the mid-1900s. Prior to that, newspaper stories on campaign speeches played a much more important role.

The first presidential debate during a general election campaign occurred in 1960. Most people listening in on radio felt that Vice President Richard Nixon, a skilled debater, had triumphed. But those watching on television felt that Senator John F. Kennedy was the victor. Democrat Kennedy appeared calm and poised, whereas Republican Nixon appeared sweaty and nervous. It didn’t help Nixon that he applied his own makeup before the debate.

Youtube feature on Nixon-Kennedy debate

Another campaign in which debates played an important role in the public’s perceptions of the candidates occurred in 1976. In the second debate that year, President Gerald Ford, running against former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, declared that the Soviet Union had “no domination of Eastern Europe” at a time when the USSR had military control throughout the region and dominated Eastern European governments. Ford, a Republican, had meant that the spirit of the Eastern European people would never be dominated by the Soviets, but he did not make this clear. Carter pounced on the apparent error and was deemed to have won the debate. He surged ahead in the polls and was able to hold off late gains by Ford to win the election.

In 2000, presidential debates swung the general election campaign in the Republicans’ favor. Going into the first of three debates, Vice President Al Gore, a Democrat, had an 8 percent lead in the polls over former Texas Governor George Bush. But in the debates Gore came off as condescending while Bush appeared more likable. After the last debate, Gore’s lead had disintegrated and the campaign ended with one of the closest elections in U.S. history, with Bush winning in a controversial manner.

Photograph from 2000 presidential debate

Although the outcome of the first Clinton-Trump debate was widely portrayed as a Clinton victory, this result alone is unlikely to determine the election. There are still two debates to come, and unexpected developments in domestic and international affairs could also play a key role in separating the candidates in the minds of undecided voters. Only a major error in the debates would be likely to be an important factor in the election results on November 8th.

Photograph from 2016 presidential debate (image from www.wbur.org)

Reading Dailies: Daily Digital Reading Curriculum, Available Now

LESSONS FOR TODAY’S DIGITAL CLASSROOM

Contemporary classrooms need to engage students with digital tools—such as tablets and Chromebooks—and digital curricula. That was the intent behind Reading Dailies, a new digital curriculum designed to be delivered through tablets and computers. A teacher need only paste the lesson link into an assignment, and students can access a complete week of lessons that break down one of the Common Core reading standards and that include high-quality, complex, literary texts.

Reading Dailies, for grades 3–5, build students’ reading skills through weekly lessons that break down the skills students need to understand fiction and informational texts.

OVERVIEW

This supplemental reading program includes a Teacher’s Guide, 19 units, and 19 Checkpoint Assessments. Each unit and Checkpoint Assessment is available as an interactive HTML5 lesson or as a downloadable PDF, and each unit includes 3, 4, or 5 lessons designed to be completed in a single week. Each lesson takes about one day and requires students to read and reread a literary passage and write about it. A checkpoint at the end of each week assess students’ understanding of the main strategy, giving teachers the summative data they need to assess whether students have mastered the composite skills folded into one of the Common Core standards.

FEATURES

Reading Dailies offers students and teachers several features that make the program easy to use and convenient while still being rigorous.

 

Reading Dailies title pageMain strategy gives the overall big idea for students to understand

Skills show the smaller skills needed to master the overall strategy

 

 

 

 

instructionalsummaryInstructional summary allows teachers to walk through key instruction at the beginning of the week

Academic vocabulary is introduced at the beginning of the week and reinforced throughout the week

 

 

 

guidedcloserdgInstructional focus begins each lesson to establish clear focus

Quality literature can be found in each lesson to acquaint students with literary use of language and the vocabulary used in authentic texts

Focused responses provide students with scaffolding needed to delve into the text and understand it

 


responserubricResponse rubrics
give students clear criteria for what is required in a successful response

 

 

 

 

checkpointCheckpoint Assessments are summative assessments that afford students an opportunity to demonstrate mastery of each unit.

 

 

 

 

PACING

pacingEach unit is designed to be completed in a single week.

  • Start the week by introducing the unit and key concepts. Then allow about one day to complete each lesson.
  • Some students on their own may be able to complete a unit in less time, but the one day, one lesson pace allows time for students to work in small groups to discuss the passages and respond to them. Talking about the passages in small groups will benefit all learners and help them enrich their understanding of the passages.
  • Small groups will also support struggling readers and English Language Learners.
  • Throughout the week, encourage use of the academic vocabulary in the lesson in small-and whole-group settings.

To preview a G3 unit for free, visit http://store.greenlightlearningtools.com/product/rd301/

To preview a G4 unit for free, visit http://store.greenlightlearningtools.com/product/rd41/

To preview a G5 unit for free, visit http://store.greenlightlearningtools.com/product/rd501/

 

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Helen Beyne has years of experience in creating innovative curriculum materials in reading, ESL, science, and social studies. She writes about IWBs and free online resources for teachers.

How to Create a Weekly Reading Routine

unpacking the standards

Image courtesy of yodiyim at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Reading standards are big and complex, embedded with at least three or four smaller skills that warrant lessons on their own. A weekly reading routine that ‘unpacks’ literature standards into bite-size portions helps students become masterful, independent readers.

by Elizabeth Liberatore

Plan to turn complexity into comprehension

Reading, like any activity, requires plenty of practice to perfect. You cannot expect piano students to master a technically demanding score by Chopin or Beethoven unless it is practiced in bite-size portions. Reading is no different. Only when students are routinely exposed to quality literature with embedded skills that reinforce standards can students raise their literacy and comprehension skills.

“Unpack” Literature Standards in the Classroom

But how do you make a reading lesson equal parts attainable and rigorous for your students? You “unpack it.” Reading standards today are big and complex, embedded with at least three or four smaller skills. Students need to “make inferences” while also “explaining what the text says explicitly” and referring “to details and examples in a text.” Any one of those subskills warrants a lesson unto itself.

Small, bite-size skills help introduce your students to academic vocabulary, high frequency words, and other proficiencies needed to master the larger standard. Once students learn the subskills within a standard—such as reading and rereading, annotating unfamiliar and/or repetitive words, locating literary devices, and so forth—they will approach the larger standard with confidence. Assessments of each subskill within a standard allow you to better gauge students’ trouble spots in mastering the overall standard.

Make It Approachable Without Compromising Rigor

How often should students be practicing their reading? According to Dick Allington, author of What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Research-based Programs, students ought to read 300 minutes every week. That’s a lot. Constant distractions like entertainment on devices such as computers or iPads and students entering and exiting the classroom can make it difficult to allot that much time to reading without shortchanging other subjects. Even when 15–30 minutes of reading is spent in after-school programs or as homework, the suggested 300 minutes per week will be met only if students practice a daily reading routine in the classroom. That is, students need to read daily and practice mastering the skills they need to unravel today’s complex reading and literature standards.

Planning is teaching—teach a plan! Pack two ingredients into each week: clear, explicit instruction of key reading skills and sufficient reading of engaging, complex texts across all subjects. Take time to unpack the reading literature and informational text standards and work through them methodically. Then challenge students with complex texts on which they can practice the subskills they need to master. As long as your weekly reading routine has a consistent structure that students can easily digest, you can be assured that their comprehension and literacy skills will improve with every lesson they complete.

5 Great Sites for Student-Friendly Informational Texts

by Helen Beyne

sites for informational texts

You already know that one main mission of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative is to help students comprehend a wide variety of informational texts—nonfiction texts that inform readers about a topic. But with the vast amount of information available online, you might not know where to go to find appropriate informational texts for your students. The five websites described below are a great place to start.

1. Time for Kids
(primary, elementary, and middle school)

The articles on Time for Kids have been created specifically for students in grades K–6, introducing them to “high-quality nonfiction writing to build reading and critical thinking skills.” Topics include national and world news, science, and health. The articles address high-interest subjects, and many have appealing text features—such as “Are We Alone?,” which ponders the existence of alien life. (Note: Access to the site’s special features requires a subscription, but the full text of many articles can be accessed for free.)

2. Newsela
(elementary, middle, and high school)

Newsela presents daily news articles from a number of well-known media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press. You can choose from topics including war and peace, science, law, health, arts, and sports. Articles are CCSS-aligned and are written at five Lexile levels, allowing students with varying levels of reading proficiency to analyze the same content in class. The free version includes student quizzes and one-click assignment of articles to class; a professional version (Newsela Pro) is available for a fee.

3. The Library of Congress
(middle and high school)

The Library of Congress (LOC) is one of the definitive online resources for primary-source documents. Oh, and it’s all free! Browse the site by topic to find materials on a range of different subjects, including American and world history; science, technology, and business; news, journalism, and advertising; and much more. A blog on the site describes how to use the LOC’s primary sources to address the CCSS; it also features teacher tools and a primary-source analysis tool for students. Also check out this article, which explains why primary sources are integral to the CCSS.

4. The National Archives
(middle and high school)

Another excellent place to access primary sources is the National Archives. This independent agency of the U.S. federal government has an entire Teachers’ Resources section devoted to helping educators use primary sources in the classroom. Use the online DocsTeach tool to find thousands of primary sources from different historical eras, including the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Great Depression and World War II, the postwar United States, and contemporary America. Find and create activities to “bring history alive for your students.”

5. The New York Times Learning Network
(middle and high school)

Need to find an engaging way to help students understand what’s going on in the world? Then check out The Learning Network blog from the New York Times. This resource features weekly lesson plans that use the newspaper’s content to teach current events. All content from The Learning Network, including any Times articles that are linked to, is free. To get started with The Learning Network, begin by reading How to Use Our Blog This School Year.

Have any thoughts on the sites above? Are there other favorite informational-text sites you’d like to share? Leave a comment below, or find us on Facebook and Twitter!

Helen bioHelen Beyne is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development. She has years of experience in creating innovative curriculum materials in reading, ESL, science, and social studies. She writes about IWBs and free online resources for teachers.

Reading and Writing Across the Curriculum: The Basics

by Erin Dye

reading and writing across the curriculum

Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For more than thirty years, there has been an emphasis on using reading and writing “across the curriculum” to promote student learning—activities that come part and parcel with teaching ELA, but seem more difficult to integrate into a geometry class. The underlying principle is simple: purposeful reading and writing activities help students better understand and think critically about content, no matter the subject.

With many states adopting the Common Core State Standards to direct instruction—which includes a set of standards just for reading and writing about history, science, and technical subjects—there is a renewed emphasis on the inclusion of purposeful reading and writing activities both inside and outside of the ELA classroom.

Reading across the curriculum means more than reading an assigned chapter in a textbook. Students might also read related essays, letters, speeches, reports, and so on to better understand a particular topic. Students in an American history class, for example, might read an online excerpt from one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates to better understand how politicians viewed the issue of slavery before the Civil War, using a program such as Diigo to annotate the text as they read. To kick off a new unit in a math class, students could read an excerpt from John Allen Paulos’s Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences or Keith Devlin’s Life by the Numbers to answer that age-old question, “When am I ever going to need to use this?”

But reading subject-specific texts isn’t enough. To develop understanding, students need to produce related writing. There are two main types of writing activities that teachers can use to promote student learning in any classroom—“writing to learn” and “writing in the discipline.”

When students write to learn, they produce short pieces of writing that help them process the content that they have learned. For example, a student in a chemistry class might use a “learning log” (using a program such as Evernote) to reflect upon a week’s concept—recording their initial reactions and questions. These types of assignments typically require only a cursory review by teachers.

When students write in the discipline, they produce longer pieces of writing that also adhere to the conventions of a particular discipline. In an ELA classroom, for example, a student might produce a research paper that adheres to MLA guidelines. The chemistry student would develop a lab report to document an experiment.

Reading and writing can be integrated in any class to further student engagement and learning. Find ways to make “writing to learn” activities a regular activity in your classroom and ways to incorporate “writing in the discipline” activities as long-term projects, and you will make your students engaged, thoughtful learners.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAErin Dye is Manager of Consulting Services for Green Light Professional Development and a Google Certified Educator. She has extensive experience creating digital materials for interactive whiteboards and iPads. She writes about technology integration and GLPD’s work in local schools.

Banned Books Week 2014

How are you using technology + literature to celebrate the Freedom to Read?

by Helen Beyne

banned books week

image courtesy of ddpavumba | freedigitalphotos.net

As you probably know, the last week of September is Banned Books Week, and this year the focus is on graphic novels. It’s possible that your classroom library already includes one or more titles that have been banned or challenged. (Challenging refers to an attempt to remove materials from libraries, or otherwise restrict access, based on objection to content. Banning refers to the actual removal of materials.)

Electronic books and digital or online annotation can be powerful tools. Anyone who has ever lugged an eight-hundred page anthology from home to school and back again can surely appreciate the portability of e-readers, tablets, and laptops. Likewise, no one who flipped through pages and pages of highlighting, marginalia, and sticky notes trying to recall that one particular a-ha moment can deny that searchability is a real time saver.

Project Gutenberg is a great source for free downloadable (or read-online) books. Their catalog includes titles that are in the public domain in the United States. Use Gutenberg texts on e-readers with highlight and note-taking capability, or invite students to mark them up using an annotation program such as Diigo.

Try searching Curriculet for a title you’re teaching; for instance, The Call of the Wild—a favorite among middle school teachers—has been challenged or banned many times since its 1903 publication. Curriculet lessons are correlated to CCSS, and more importantly, you can make or add your own questions and notes. In addition to answering questions, students can add their own notes!

Auditory learners fear not: If you are looking for yet another non-print way to access great books, Librivox to the rescue. Listen online, or download files of audio recordings of books in the public domain.

Is your class participating in the Virtual Read Out? How is your community celebrating the Freedom to Read? Leave us a comment, send us a tweet, or find us on Facebook!

Helen bioHelen Beyne is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development. She has years of experience in creating innovative curriculum materials in reading, ESL, science, and social studies. She writes about IWBs and free online resources for teachers.

What Does Collaborative Learning Really Mean?

by Helen Beyne

Collaborative learning is working together to create deeper, better understanding.

Image courtesy of ddpavumba at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We know that students need to develop twenty-first century thinking skills and metacognitive skills. A great way to build self-awareness and metacognitive skills is to use, explain, and justify critical thinking with peers, then transfer that ability to internal processes.

What is collaborative learning? It’s probably already taking place in your classroom! Do you have two or more learners, at different stages of mastery, working together? You’re most of the way there. Learners who are struggling will benefit from observing and working with students who are further along. Students with a better grasp of the content will find that accurately assessing someone else’s level of understanding, and beginning the dialogue from that point, is a big step toward mastery. All members of a group will find that open dialogue can lead to important new insights and understanding of material.

Another key trait of collaborative learning is a learner-driven and -modified dynamic. This means that students are aware of the give-and-take within the group and adjust interactions as time goes on. The process of modifying the group’s interactions helps learners become‑and stay‑productively accountable to themselves as well as to others. Working collaboratively allows students to take on leadership roles, practice teamwork, and resolve conflict effectively.

An additional defining trait of collaborative learning is the common goal. Groups of learners must have an explicit goal that they are working toward together. Although this method is very process-driven, it will not succeed without some structure and a known endpoint.

Lastly, there is one thing that is generally absent from collaborative learning: you. The teacher, in this context, takes a hands-off, facilitator role instead of being the center of attention. As the teacher, you create a safe space for the teams to stretch, grow, and take risks without intervening at every stage.

Why is collaborative learning important to your class? Collaboration helps learners develop and mature their sense of responsibility as well as boost their sense of self-worth. It feels good to contribute to a meaningful task, and it feels good to have your contribution valued by your team! Working with peers provides authentic practice and real-time feedback on metacognitive processes such as clarifying, questioning, predicting, and summarizing.

In addition, students become responsible for their own learning through questioning, refocusing, and responding to one another. The process stretches learners and lends itself best to DOK (Depth of Knowledge) level 3 and 4 activities.

Have a success story to share? Want to chat about how collaborative learning and classroom technology are better together? Leave us a comment, or find us on Facebook and Twitter!

Helen bioHelen Beyne is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development. She has years of experience in creating innovative curriculum materials in reading, ESL, science, and social studies. She writes about IWBs and free online resources for teachers.