Online Resources for ELA

Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The internet has a plethora of quality educational resources for classrooms aligned with the Common Core. The issue for many teachers in discovering new resources is time. With trying to manage both a professional and personal life, searching the World Wide Web can be daunting and very time consuming for anyone. In order to assist our teachers a Title I specialist and myself worked together to design professional development session to highlight a few of the quality online ELA resources available.

First we looked at our needs as a district and staff. We quickly realized we required additional informational text for our students, especially extended informational text. Additionally, teachers required more complex text, which addresses one of the six ELA shifts. Below is a Google Presentation highlighting a few online resources. The teachers can decide, after using them for a period of time, whether or not to include them in our Collaborative Curriculum Maps.


3rd Quarter Collaborative Mapping

Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Following Dr. Heidi Hayes-Jacobs' ideologies, our district undertook curriculum mapping this past year to build the faculty's capacity to fully understand the new state standards, build collaborative teams, and enhance instructional practices.


With this plan in mind, the Language Arts team at Cactus Canyon Junior High are in the process of curriculum mapping for the 3rd quarter. This is a continuation of the mapping process from the summer. The team’s goal was to map the entire year, one quarter at a time. First and second quarter have already been finished and are ready to be revised over the summer.



Revisiting the yearly Essential Map first, the team analyzed the 3rd quarter learning expectations and began to plot learning experiences for the students. As  a review, we discussed how to unpack the standards, pulling out concepts and skills. The unpacking of standards is the most essential component of mapping and if not done correctly, could negatively impact mastery of standards. Kathy Gardner describes this process as Task Analysis.

photo (1)


Not only is diving into the standards critical, but the collaborative process is even more important. Even as a fairly newer team,due to the process,  they constantly bounce ideas off of each other and devise the strongest learning experiences possible. They share both print and digital resources and talk about how to best implement the new Arizona College and Career Readiness Standards while considering Cactus Canyon’s 1:1 philosophy.


photo (2)


Our professional development time at Cactus Canyon for the next two quarters is dedicated to completing the mapping process and developing professional relationships that allows for future effective discussion about data, instructional practices, and the shifts associated with ELA. As we progress through the next semester, I’ll update the mapping progress and offer a glimpse at the final maps. I’d encourage any district or team to consider this same process in order to develop a learning community that embraces best practices and fully understands the new standards.


A Negative Perception of Coaching

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »


I am currently reading a book by Ferriter, Graham, and Wight titled, Making Teamwork Meaningful; Leading Progress-Driven Collaboration in a PLC at Work. As I was reading the story of Atul Gawande, I had a huge epiphany.The authors tell the story of Dr. Gawande, a surgeon, and his experience with both athletic and profession coaching. He asked a colleague, a fellow doctor, to serve as his coach to improve his operating room procedures and surgery skills. After only a few conversations and operating room observations, he noticed a huge improvement based on his coach’s recommendations.  Dr. Gawande wondered why it was okay for athletes to hire a coach, but if a professional were to reach out for the same assistance, it would be perceived as negative.

To be honest, I’ve often wondered why this negative connotation exists. I have witnessed numerous after game interviews where the coach is interviewed along with the players because it is a team sport. Or, the athlete, in their interview, will recognize their coach for assisting them through their development. Michael Phelps is just one example. I begin to wonder what professional athletics would look like if coaches were not involved. One NFL football team alone has enough assistant coaches to make a small army. They are even specialists. How is this different from schools? We have specialists and a head coach, the principal.

So, my question is why are professional (non-athletic) coaches  not held in the same light? I don’t understand why it is considered a weakness.

I’ve been an athlete all my life. I grew playing volleyball and basketball in the Midwest. In fact I was very successful in my athletic career, earning numerous awards and recognition. However, I couldn’t just rely on my talent and knowledge. I always relied on my coach for guidance and feedback. I had one coach that pushed me to my limits which greatly enhanced my athletic performances. I earned league MVP my senior year in high school because of my coach.

As a current academic coach I know this negative perception continues to exist. It hinders our growth. I’m at a loss as to how to approach this negative connotation. Then it occurred to me that it is trust! I have to slowly transform the idea of coaching through positive experience. Once a few individuals begin to have success and have a positive coaching experience, then more will begin to join the movement.

Curriculum Mapping

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

This past Spring several district personnel attended a Common Core conference featuring Dr. Heidi Hayes-Jacobs. We were excited to hear more about curriculum mapping with the new Common Core standards. Over the past year we have increased our knowledge of the new standards and accompanying shifts. For me, in particular, I wanted to dig into how to map out a year successfully and effectively.

Dr. Heidi Hayes-Jacobs did not disappoint. She opened the conference discussing three types of maps. Districts and teachers must have all three in order to be successful. Essential Maps are the larger, over arcing maps. Here a district would emphasize the non-negotiables. For example, teachers would use this resource as a tool to understand yearly goals at a particular grade level and general focus. We started the mapping process by thinking about what we would consider to be our non-negotiables. Our English Department and Language Arts Department decided to mirror the PARCC Framework as an Essential Map. They felt this was a good starting point.

Next, the departments focused on the first quarter. We began the process of task analyzing the standards and creating strong Collaborative Maps for each grade level. Our 1oth grade English team created a first quarter map that focused on informational text and indifference. Through this process they brought together their resources for short articles, poems, websites, and technology tools. Additionally, this provided them the opportunity to create a common summative which assists in future data conversations.

Throughout this coming year the departments are revising and reflecting on their Collaborative Maps in order to build a dynamic and effective map. If you’re interested in viewing any of the maps, please contact me.

A Flipped Classroom and Close Reading

Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

I find it amusing when districts request their teachers to differentiate or integrate technology, but in professional development sessions, they do not model these practices. Basically, we need to practice what we preach.

Last month, during our half day professional development session, I designed an online resource on formative assessments. The teachers were able to learn about a topic of their choice and learn at their own pace. The session received rave reviews. Basically, I differentiated a differentiated lesson.

During this month’s half day session, we focused on Close Reading and Text Dependent Questions. Again, our teachers are at various levels. Our AP English teachers are masters, yet our history and science teachers have never heard of it. Time is precious. When we actually met, I wanted to focus on actual practice and application, rather than just delivering theory. However, I knew many individuals still required the background knowledge. Instantly I knew a flipped classroom approach would assist us.

About a week before meeting in person, I brought everyone together and explained the Google Site I created developing and enriching their background knowledge on Close Reading and Text Dependent Questions.  When we met, we reviewed quickly and, then, went into applying our knowledge to our units and lessons.

I wanted the teachers to experience Close Reading from a student’s perspective. My hope was to model the students’ expectations as they worked through the process. Additionally, by having the teachers experience Close Reading through this perspective, they observed the teacher routine as well.

For our “mock” lesson, the teachers interacted with Florence Kelley’s 1905 speech on child labor and women’s rights. We dug into the text by analyzing how she used logos, pathos, and syntax to rally individuals together and push her point of view. Additionally, we analyzed the purpose of her speech during this time frame. The teachers were able to experience a student’s role and a teacher’s role in this process. Everyone liked the fact that they could truly experience close reading and not just look at a video.

This experience was possible because our teachers utilized a Flipped Classroom approach to deepen their basic understanding of Close Reading and Text Dependent Questions. Our follow-up sessions include time to plan with actual text. Teachers are in the process of selecting text. Our goal is to collaborate on lessons using the text and Close Reading. Additionally, numerous teachers have requested to have me model an actual lesson with their kids. This professional development approach has been extremely effective.

Instructional Rounds

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

This year the junior high and high school implemented instructional rounds in order to scan the system to better drive our professional development decisions. Adapted from Instructional Rounds in Education — A Network Approach to Improving Teaching and Learning by Elizabeth A. City, Richard F. Elmore, Sarah E. Fiarman, Lee Teitel,  our secondary schools participated in instructional rounds once a month at our junior high and every two weeks at our high school. Keep in mind, instructional rounds are different from walk through observations. Rounds are NOT tied to a teacher evaluation. Their only purpose is to drive our departments’ and schools’ professional development.

Rounds, as we commonly refer to them as, started with our Language Arts team at the junior high. The goal was to complete a quick 20 minute observation in teams of two. This past summer, we offered professional development on questioning and Depth of Knowledge. With this in mind, we wanted our observations to focus on questioning in a language arts classroom. In our observations we did not look at student engagement or modeling, just questioning.

A shared Google template served as our method for recording our data. The teams focused on recording the teacher’s questions and student responses. Again, our goal for rounds was to scan the system to check if our professional development was effective. If it was effective, higher level of questioning should be evident in the language arts classroom. If the observation team was not able to document appropriate evidence to support the claim that higher level questioning was, in fact, being used, a plan needed to be created and implemented.

When we observed teachers, we did not attach teachers’ names to the questions or students’ names to their responses, because we  analyzed the data from a department level. After all of the observations are completed, the observation team debriefed and analyzed the data holistically. Each team member wrote five questions from the rounds on sticky notes and, then, placed them on a chart paper with the levels of Bloom’s labeled.  Since our goal focused on overall trends, this method allowed us to visually identify areas of concern or areas of celebration. After pinpointing areas of concern, a plan was created, specifically, to target a trend immediately.

After the observation team completed their analysis, the language arts teachers were brought together to debrief in a similar fashion.

 Taken from our recent set of rounds. 

Analyzing the questioning data as a team.

During this time, the department responded to the following questions:

  • Based on the data, what trends do you see?
  • What don’t we see?
  • Just by looking at the questions and responses  what can the students do?

After a plan was created and implemented, rounds were held again to scan the system as a formative or checkpoint. After some adjustments and additional professional development to the plan, the actual language arts team participated in the rounds by observing their peers on their prep hours.  As a team, we repeated the analyzing process by using the data to drive our future decisions.

From this process, we saw an increase in levels of questioning, deeper student responses, an overall awareness of types of questions when planning, and a deeper understanding of DOK.  The process was valuable and will be repeated, but with a different emphasis.



Social Studies and Text

Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

In order to better integrate the social studies content standards with the reading and writing Common Core standards, our  junior high social studies department is, currently, focusing on the type of text presented in lessons and how the students will interact with the text. During our last social studies department meeting, we looked at text that would, potentially, be read in the third quarter. Teachers brought various books and articles to select from that best meet their needs. Some were found online, while others were found in our resource library.  Various types of text were presented as potential anchor pieces. In order to meet the needs of the students and unit, the team, first, began to think about whether or not the text was appropriate for the students. They asked themselves the following questions:

  • Is the text complex? Is it too complex?
  • How do I want the students to interact with the text?
  • How will this assist in the development of reading and writing skills?
  • Will the text support content standards?

The eighth grade team focused on developing an understanding of  global events, economic issues and political ideologies in order to better understand worldwide development and change. After analyzing the different pieces, the group decided on a short article discussing dictators. Using this article, they wanted to increase academic vocabulary that is both tier III vocabulary (domain specific), as well as tier II vocabulary (academic). Additionally, the students will be required to search for evidence of the author’s bias and find evidence that supports the author’s point of view. (RH.SS.6-8. 4) (RH.SS.6-8.6) In order to respond to the reading, students where asked to explain the rise of dictators in Italy, Germany, and Japan in the 1920’s and 1930’s by supporting their answer with specific evidence from the article. (WH.SS.6-8.2b)

The seventh grade team focused on Reconstruction and the issues that came from the Civil War.  The students interactd with a three page article that discussed the life of former slaves post war.  The students read the article in digestible chunks over several days in order to answer the question, “Were African Americans truly free after emancipation?”. Students utilized the text to form a claim and support it with valid evidence. Additionally, students engaged in collaboration when reading and forming their claims. (RH.SS.6-8.1 and WH.SS.6-8.1a) In order to assess the writing, the team created a rubric evaluating the presence of a clear and concise claim, support the claim with logical reasoning and relevant evidence, establish and maintain a formal writing style, and provide a concluding statement that follows from and supports the argument presented. After completion, the team analyzed the student product for effectiveness to reflect and drive future instruction.



Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The 2010 article from Principal Leadership, “Mind-Sets and Equitable Education” by Carol S. Dweck, discusses our beliefs as educators and administrators. Dweck distinguishes between a fixed mind-set and a growth mind-set.  In a fixed mind-set, according to the author, “students and educators believe that intelligence is a static trait: some students are smart and some are not.” On the other hand, individuals with a growth mind-set, “believe that intelligence can be developed by various means-for example, through effort and instruction.” (Dweck 2010 p.26) Research has documented the positive impact of a student’s growth mind-set on their grades and scores. (Dweck 2010)

Dweck and her fellow collaborators followed hundreds of New York students as they transitioned to junior high. (Dweck 2010) The students’ mind-sets were measured at the beginning of the year. (Dweck 2010) As the students progressed through junior high, the team monitored their grades and scores. (Dweck 2010) They found “the students with the growth mind-set, those who believed that intelligence could be developed, significantly outperformed their classmates who held a fixed mind-set.” (Dweck 2010 p.26)

Additionally, the author points out students with a fixed mind-set “worried more about looking smart and not making mistakes, thought needing to make an effort to learn meant that their intelligence was deficient, and became discouraged or defensive in the face of setbacks because they believed setbacks reflected limitations in their intelligence.” (Dweck 2010 p.27)

The article, also, applies the mind-sets to educators. Carol Dweck, specifically, dedicates a large portion of the article to educators. She reiterates the connection between the teacher’s beliefs and student achievement.  In fact, when a teacher has a growth mindset, many of the low achievers at the beginning of the year dramatically improved in the study of New York students. (Dweck 2010) On the other hand, they noted, a teacher with a fixed mind-set saw no improvement with low achievers. (Dweck 2010)

According to Dweck (2010 p.29), “teachers and administrators should send the message that intelligence is fluid, and they need to hear such a message too. They need to keep growing, especially in these challenging and changing times. Thus, they, too, need permission to learn-freedom to stretch themselves, make mistakes, and try again.” This can only be accomplished through a growth mind-set.

Our schools, classrooms, and students must have a growth mind-set to tackle Common Core and the challenges we all face. In the midst of budget cuts and curriculum changes, shifting our mind-set is an inexpensive way to reach our goals and increase student achievement.  Every student is intelligent and has potential. I, also, believe that every teacher is intelligent and can be dynamic with their students. What is your mindset?  If it’s not a growth mind-set, how do you shift over from a fixed mind-set.

Carol S. Dweck, “Mind-Sets and Equitable Education.” Principal Leadership January 2010: 26-29.

Argument Writing

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

With the implementation of the new Common Core standards, our classrooms are transitioning from traditional teacher led lessons, to students engaged in collaborative decision making, working with complex levels of thinking and increasing the amount of nonfiction text and writing. These new standards help ensure all students are prepared for college and a career. When I first encountered Common Core, I immediately noticed the shift requiring students to focus a great amount of time on argumentative writing.

Argument writing is a real world tool our students desperately need in order to be successful after graduation. For college bound students, this exposure in their elementary and secondary classes prepares them for the vast amount of required expository writing. With Common Core, teachers are required to augment argumentative writing practice and steer away from traditional types of writing.

Knowing this shift is occurring, our classrooms need to reflect this increase. When entering a classroom, I should hear words like claim, evidence, reasoning, and  counterargument. I expect to see students engaged in debate and citing their textual evidence to support their claim. My question is now, how do we get from our traditional style of classroom to one that truly prepares our kids for college and their careers?

The English Language Arts Standards: Key Changes and their Evidence from Hawaii DOE Reform on Vimeo.

Crime and Citing Evidence

Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

I walked into a junior high classroom the other day to observe for a short period of time. My intent was to observe how the students were working with the new ELA standards in social studies. After forty minutes, I finally was able to pry myself from my chair to move to the next classroom. I was completely engaged the entire time. I didn’t want to leave the class. As I scanned the room, the kids were just as engaged, if not more.

The teacher gave each person an article on the infamous criminal,  Lizzie Borden. For those not familiar with her story, she was a young girl, in her twenties, accused of viciously murdering her father and step-mother. She was eventually found innocent by a jury of her peers. The article discusses the case in detail without the gore. The author points out evidence supporting her guilt, as well as evidence supporting her innocence. The kids were given their claim by the teacher. Students were divided into two groups: guilty or innocent. If their claim was Lizzie Borden was innocent, they had to search the article and find the evidence that supported the claim. If their claim was Lizzie Borden was guilty, they had to locate evidence backing that particular claim.

The teacher, then, had the students write their evidence on sticky notes. After they collected their evidence, they posted their notes on a T-Chart. One side of the chart was designated for guilty evidence, while the other side was designated for not guilty evidence. She pushed the students to use the T-Chart to make a final claim. Was she guilty or was she innocent? Students were determined to be the winner. They argued, in a pleasant manner, how their evidence best supported their claim. It was a powerful day! Even after the bell signaled for the next period, students continued to discuss the evidence and their claims.

The Common Core standards ask teachers to teach students to cite textual evidence in both nonfiction and in literature. Knowing this, the teacher found an engaging article for students to practice before moving to their larger projects. Afterwards, I asked her where the students would go from this point. She stated the kids would eventually write a logical argument with sound evidence and reasoning. Lizzie Borden was just a stepping stone in the path to the final destination. This was just one way to introduce and practice writing claims with supporting evidence.

Skip to toolbar