Remove the Scaffolding!

Scaffold by definition is a temporary structure put in place to repair a “building or other construction.” Applying this definition to education we know that scaffolding is when we put instructional strategies in place to temporarily repair or support learning.

We, as educators, put scaffolds automatically in place to ensure our students are successful. It is important to support our learners while they are shaky and beginning to learn, practice and apply new tasks or strategies.   All students can benefit from this support. We provide to them in various ways. We use guided instruction where a teacher levels instruction to a child’s level and gradually increases the level of complexity over time. This simplified lesson helps students see and understand the concept in a smaller group and allows the teacher to check and monitor progress. Teachers employ strategies such as “I do, we do, you do” to help transfer responsibility gradually to the student. Other popular ways to offer scaffolding to students are:

  • Frontloading vocabulary
  • Visuals and graphics
  • Modeling and think aloud
  • Sentence starters or word boxes
  • Partner work or collaborative teams
  • Graphic Organizers together as a class to organize ideas

But what happens when we do not remove this “temporary” support?


Teaching is an art and knowing when to apply and remove instructional support is crucial.  We must constantly think:  

  • Who is the reader or student?
  • What is their ability?
  • What can they do?  
  • Are we applying tasks that are stretching this student?  
  • Am I providing activities and materials to help them grow and think a bit more than yesterday?  
  • Is the text or material we are providing continuing to challenge?
  • Is the proper scaffold in place?

Constantly evaluating “Task–Text—Student” is the key to ensuring a balanced and rigorous classroom. There must be a balance between these variables to ensure continued learning. If you are providing rigorous material and tasks that stretch thinking but give too much support–you are keeping the student from learning. Rigor and learning is obtained by instilling conceptual understanding through the domains of literacy, having students matched to text and task appropriately to ensure they are stretching. Each element must work together in accordance with the instructional strategies and scaffolding the teacher is providing.

How can we lessen “learning scaffolding” AND continue with rigor?


Give the Graphic Organizer for students to do while the lesson is in progress and independent work.

Do not do graphic organizers with students without having them generate their own ideas and complete them first. Graphic organizers should be strategically used within a lesson to chunk the lesson and have students show understanding along the way.  For example, when reading a story, stop periodically and have students fill in a story map. Do not tell them what or how to do it but let them share their ideas with a partner and make changes. Only after this time of independent work and partner discussion should a teacher model or intervene. By providing the time for students to work–you are allowing them to generate ideas and show their own learning. Teachers can then intervene and deepen understanding through modeling and questioning.


Plan time for students to learn in whole group move to partners and then to  independent work while learning a new concept. Let them do the work!

After teaching a concept, it is important for students to talk through their ideas and concepts with a partner to begin to make sense of the information. Student talk is crucial to help students work through the domains of literacy (listening, speaking, reading and writing) to have conceptual understanding.  More importantly, students must take time to work independently on the skill AND MAKE MISTAKES. It is not until you bring students back together to clarify and question students do they begin to make connections and to make sense of errors.  The best way to take scaffolding from a student is to make them think through and do the work themselves. Give time for students to think on their own and write their own ideas into their journal or notebook. After they have generated ideas, then let them share and work together. All students should bring ideas to the table when doing group work or it is not an equal learning experience. Instead of think-pair-share, try write-pair-share-write!  By changing this strategy students are writing or drawing their ideas, getting support from a partner when discussing (deepening understanding).  The sharing helps to clarify and deepen understanding further with the teacher modeling.  The final write allows the student to conceptualize their ideas into written drawings or thoughts. (labels on drawings is a great next step for younger students)

Removing instructional scaffolding is not easy because we want our students to be successful. However, we must remember that until they make mistakes–learning truly has no purpose or meaning. Let students have time to make errors and then help students fix them–that is truly TEACHING AND LEARNING WITH RIGOR.

Deep Comprehension = A move from Retell to Summarization

Helping your students to capture knowledge while reading is NOT easy!  We hear about modeling, think aloud, direct instruction but what do our students need?  They need to see the structure of the text so they can help make sense of it.

Without YOUR skeleton your body would have no shape and would not function. We have to help students see how an author creates the text by writing it with a structure.

Students interact with fiction at an early age but when do we begin instructing them on how all fiction stories are organized?   The basic structure of any fiction story contains the five elements:  characters, setting, problem, solution and the mood.  When I begin teaching children about fiction we will refer to the 5 basic elements as the BIG FIVE.  I use my hand because as I hold it up each time and refer to the elements–the students are “creating” a map in their mind of the structure of fictional text.

Begin reading stories with basic story structure (singular story problem or plot line) to begin modeling for students.  While reading, stop after several pages, hold your hand up and go through each element while pointing to the corresponding finger which helps students begin to create  connections.  If a student can identify each element, then they do understand the story on a basic level.

The next step, have students begin retelling the story using the BIG FIVE following this basic outline:


The story is about __________________ (Character) who is at ___________________ (Setting).  He/She wanted to _____________________________ but _____________________(problem).  So, he/she _____________________________ (Solution). When _____________________ happened he/she felt ____________________.


Retelling is the K-1 expectation for students. Retelling helps students begin to make sense of a story in a logical sequence. Understanding the “structure” or how the story was “built” helps a child retell main events.

By 2-3 grade, students should be transitioning from a simple retell to recounting a story.  A “recount” of a story requires students to synthesize information into a more concise version of a retell.  A recount begins by explaining who is in the story and where it takes place. The reader then synthesizes information into a clear beginning, middle and end. They share a recount with phrases such as:

  • In the beginning,
  • First,
  • In the middle,
  • Next,
  • At the end,
  • Finally,
  • In conclusion

These phrases encourage the reader to understand the sequential order of the events as they did in a retell but begin to combine or classify them into beginning, middle and end. This requires students to begin categorizing information and combine like ideas.

Here is a sample organizer for recount.

recount-122nm1l Graphic Organizer for Recount

Finally, 4th grade students begin to summarize text which takes the understanding of a story to the next level. Students have to have a sequential understanding of the text and still combine the ideas but take it one step further to organize and synthesize the most important events or ideas into a cohesive and SHORT paraphrase of the text.

Here is a sample organizer for a summary.

mi-1zpb14c– Summary Graphic Organizer

Understanding the structure of  fictional text is essential. Understanding the structure helps students build the ability to sequence ideas for a retell which is simply a natural conversation about a story in order. Once a student can retell a story, the next step, is to begin to synthesize ideas.  Students put these ideas into a clear beginning, middle and end which is known as a recount.  Finally, learning to paraphrase and condense relevant information in a logical manner is a summary.

A child’s ability to move from “retell to recount to summarizing” is the move from basic recall of a story to deep comprehension of the ideas, events and characters. Don’t allow students to simply retell once they have this mastered so they continue to deepen thinking.



Keep Learning Moving with Brain Breaks

A teacher excitedly came back from a workshop and shared that “we should be teaching whole brain.”  She went on to explain that students can only process information for a short period such as their age plus one or two.  This reminded me of an article I read recently that talked about the importance of taking a break by allowing student talk to keep learning happening.

Implementing a “Brain Break” is essential to keeping learning happening and can be a natural way for students to “sum up learning” or thinking. No more than 20 minutes of any activity should be taking place in the elementary school without a change in thought or activity. A person’s attention limit is approximately their age plus one –a second grader only has an attention span of about 8 to 9 minutes! By rebooting the brain, you restart the learning process by restoring to a calm state and producing dopamine.

Judy Willis M.D., Edutopia Article, stated the following, “For students to learn at their highest potential, their brains need to send signals efficiently from the sensory receptors (what they hear, see, touch, read, imagine, and experience) to memory storage regions of the brain. The most detrimental disruptions to traffic along these information pathways are stress and overload.” Providing our students with opportunities to summarize and talk about content often throughout a lesson can help students obtain optimal retention of information and attention.

Your brain contains 100 billion neurons or brain cells. These cells have the primary job of receiving information and signaling other neurons using electricity or chemicals to stimulate messages within the body. The hypothalamus is the regulation center of the brain. It keeps your body at a constant; including temperature, heart rate, etc. Learning happens when neurons are activated and a message is sent along the axon. When repeatedly stimulated a process called synapse is created. Synapse is created when two neurons are connected from the end of the dendrite. The creation of dendrites is when the brain is relating information that is important within the brain and “filing it” for retention or when the brain makes a learning connection which puts it in our memory.

When the brain is exposed to overload or stress the body begins to release cortisol which is the primary stress hormone. This chemical affects your heart, lungs, skin, immune system and circulation. In addition, it stimulates the hypothalamus and when it reaches the neuron, it shuts off the impulses of the dendrites which halt learning. This is a temporary response and the dendrites will grow back UNLESS there is a long term period of stress. When stress is repetitive the brain will respond by short circuiting that pathway which will stop impulses and result in the lack of input and messaging. Many of our students are in a constant state of stress from instability at home, lack of confidence in a subject, poor self-esteem, and relationships with their peers, etc. This constant state of stress causes inability to stay on task, inattention, and lack of self-control.  Brain breaks stop overload and stress and allow students to process the information you are teaching.

Top Way to Implement a Brain Break?

Have students summarize content material throughout the lesson.


  • During teaching stop frequently and ask students to talk to a partner and summarize learning or their ideas. To change things up you can have students draw, write or act out their learning as well.

Keep learning moving by allowing students to make sense of what they are learning through talking, drawing, acting or writing.  All of these activities allow students to review the information and have time to process the information. Overload shuts the brain down and stops learning.  Stop that cortisol production and overload with frequent learning breaks.


Rigor in Reading


We continually hear the same buzz words in our reading classroom such as rigor, complexity, language and conceptual understanding. We hear it BUT do we really get it?  We think of rigor and complexity as something that older students or proficient readers need BUT this is simply NOT true.  If we wait to provide complexity in syntax and language until students are proficient readers–it is like waiting to teach road rules and signs to a proficient driver.  

Rigor in reading is not simply asking higher order questions, doing a close read or giving more difficult text.  Students acquire language through the four domains of literacy which are listening, speaking, reading and writing. These domains build in complexity and are developmental. Students must first listen to a concept to understand. Once they have heard the concept they must begin making sense out of it through speaking and conversation. This allows students to synthesize the information they have learned and process it into their own ideas. By organizing information and making sense of it, students are building background knowledge of the topic. Once students have background information they are able to make sense of text when they read about the topic. Conversation about what they read deepens their understanding because they continue to synthesize more information together to create connections. Finally, students have enough knowledge to put their thoughts into writing which shows conceptual understanding of the topic. You have probably noticed that these are the ELA standards:

  • Speaking and Listening
  • Language
  • Reading
    • Foundational
    • Informational
    • Literature
  • Writing

Do you notice how they progress in the level of difficulty and mirror how students gain knowledge through the domains of literacy?

Speaking and Listening sets the foundation of understanding. Think of a two year old and the question–WHY!  Why do they continually ask WHY?  They are building their understanding of topics.  We must build this time in our lessons for students.  While teaching a concept–stop frequently and have students talk about the ideas you are sharing. Can they paraphrase or summarize?

The speaking and listening piece goes hand in hand with Language.  As students listen they are learning how words can be put together to make sentences. Think about how powerful a read aloud is for building syntax. Listening to poetry, rhymes and complex text helps children see that words, phrases and sentences can be put together in many ways. You expose them to dialect, punctuation, intonation and syntax by reading aloud.  

Remember, students CANNOT read what they cannot speak. So, when you give them a compound sentence with phrases–does it make them stumble?  Yes, probably because you are exposing them to “language” at a higher level than their conversation.  The more exposure will increase their ability to expect longer sentences, be looking for the where, when and how that author’s add in complex text.

Reading is making meaning of text and the tasks we give students help to create the rigor or complexity for our readers.  We have used center rotations for years but do we really take time to think about the tasks we are giving our students and how they scaffold to the depth of the standard?  If my goal is for third grade students to master context clues in difficult text then I need to think about the skills needed for that task.  Having students practice spelling or read to self may not be the best center rotation to meet that task demand. Some appropriate tasks might include:

  • Reading paragraph task cards with a partner and applying their knowledge of context clues.
  • Reading to self and tagging unknown words and prediction/evidence of meaning for conferencing,
  • Reading a difficult passage with words identified. Students determine word meaning using context clues.

Application of skills is how students learn and extend knowledge. Think about the tasks that we give students and ensure that we are pushing them even working independently. If they need support—give them a partner, technology to help (lingro which can hyperlink all words on a website to a dictionary), a place or person to go for hints but DO NOT lessen the expectation. Continue to give them the rigor.

Scaffolding is the way to provide support such as think aloud, modeling, partners, annotation, graphic organizers and discussion.  Scaffolding helps to level the playing field so all students can access the task you want them to complete. The trick is the balance of knowing when to scaffold and when to pull it away for continued struggle.

Balance is the KEY!

RIGOR and COMPLEXITY in reading is a balancing act. Rigor is obtained by instilling conceptual understanding through the domains of literacy, having students matched appropriately with text and task to ensure they are stretching to their maximum with the proper scaffolds in place.  Teachers must really know the text,  reader and the standards because each element must work together.  It is crucial that children learn content through each domain of literacy–listening, speaking, reading and writing. A text just a text—until you pair it with the correct standard, reader and task.  

Primary Source Images

For those of you who know me–know I LOVE history and helping children build background in this area.  It is not complicated but it does take some time to find the right resources to use. (This might be something your Instructional Facilitator could help you with–hint hint)

Primary Sources are documents, songs, poems, photographs or paintings and artifacts that was written or created during the time you are studying.  These items offer a view into the historical time period or culture you are studying.  Realia refers to everyday objects of a time or culture that may be authentic or not but can certainly impact your students by helping them to “see” and make connections. (Ex. 2nd Grade bringing in Sugar Skulls during their study of the Mexican Tradition or baskets when studying Native Americans)

There are three main types of Primary Sources or Realia that can be used which include:  1)  Original Documents   2) Creative Works and 3) Relics or Artifacts.  Original documents include letters, diary excepts, interviews, speeches, news film, court records, autobiographies, etc.  Creative Works include the art pieces, music, drama, novels and poetry.  Artifacts can include buildings, clothing, furniture, pottery, etc.

I mentioned with my post on inferences that you can find primary sources online through the National Archives, Library of Congress, NC Museum of History, etc. I wanted to get you ready for the next few months with some great places to begin using Primary Sources.  Here are common topics around this time of year and AWESOME documents to accompany your study.

4th Grade BLUE- Dust Bowl This site has photographs, lessons, and ideas

The Mayflower Compact

Native Americans

Thanksgiving Photographs/Documents and Teaching Ideas

3-5 resources Thanksgiving– the pictures could be used with any grade level

I know you are looking at this and thinking–KELLY THIS YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING.  But actually, not so much!  Think about this lesson:

click on this photograph and it take you to a larger version.


Show this photograph and have students discuss with a partner. What do they see? What are the people doing? The are simply sharing what they see. Have a set of partners pair up with another set of partners and discuss their ideas.  Bring together whole group and have students share out what they see.

After you have about 10 items on your list–stop them and tell students you are going to look deeper at their list. You will have things on the list like:  a woman is fainting, a man has his hand on his head, a book is open, etc.  It will be normal every day things–not spectacular but that is okay.

Say to the student–It is time to make some inferences about what we are seeing. Why do you think the lady is fainting? What evidence do you have to support that?  Why does the man have his hand on his head? How is he feeling? How do you know?

As you make inferences–if no one has noticed the title–point this out and ask what further information this provides us as the viewers.  How does the title change what we think about the woman fainting–what reasons does a voyage make you think about?  Continue discussing and asking questions.

Finally, you have went through this list and have lots of inferences. You might stop there because your students struggled but what if you go a step further and ask–So, now that we have all these inferences–what conclusions can we draw from this about the Pilgrims Voyage? Help students put ideas together such as the man with his hand on his head was feeling bad and maybe sick–the lady is fainting so this might help us draw the conclusion that many people got sick on the journey.  Make a list as students come up with conclusions. This list would be great to investigate or research to see if they were right.

Remember that inferences and conclusions are not easy but with modeling and visuals–it is much easier. AND if this is HARD–GREAT!! Know that it takes a lot of wrong answers to get to a right one and most of all a student who is engaged and struggling is more productive than a student who already knows the answer is regurgitating the info back to you.

I would love for you to try a Primary Source lesson and let me know how it goes!  I will be happy to help you find resources if you need me to do that!  GOOD LUCK!  Can’t wait to hear some great things from you!




Last week in my update, I shared this quote:


Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light.

— Albert Schweitzer


Authors refer to light and darkness when creating imagery within a text. These references are so powerful that when you hear the word “light” you immediately have a picture in your mind and the connotation stirs positive thoughts and images.  The power of evoking or igniting light into another person’s life is a true opportunity.  Educators are given the gift to do this every single day.


Taylorsville is filled with light in many forms including actions, thoughts, words and people.   Our building is not fancy and in places is worn and needs paint but the children that fill our building bring a joy. Their laughter and chatter surround this space with energy and remind me of their eagerness to learn. They come each day ready for us to guide and encourage.  It is our actions as educators that can bring light to their lives or darken their world.


You, as individuals and as a staff, have ignited my light.  My light had dwindled by the stress of deadlines, frustrated voices, and a plethora of tasks that have yet to be completed on time.


Here are the top 10 things about Taylorsville Elementary that has filled me with light!

10.  The laughter of students filling the hall and bright colored art work that covers the walls creates a warm glow throughout the school.

9.  Lessons created with care and thought and then executed with passion to connect learning for students and deepen understanding.

8.  Data discussions that pin point “Swiss Cheese Holes” and end with a plan to fill them.

7.  Colleagues who fill my desk with encouraging notes, smiling sticky notes and an occasional Slim Jim.

6.  My fellow teachers using words like prosody, text complexity, interventions, growth mindset and YET.

5.  Actions that show—PUSH!

4.  An extra kindness for a student with clean clothes, money for a fieldtrip, school supplies, hugs, etc.

3.  Walking through the building, seeing teachers and staff putting into action their own learning from professional development and PLC.

2.  Compassion, kindness and patience with our students who have big emotions and are struggling to channel them.



My ending thought for you!  Remember I value you as my colleague and I see you do amazing things each day. I am in continuous awe of your patience and compassion—do not lose sight of these characteristics with the stress of every day “teaching.”  You do make a difference and are appreciated!  Be the LIGHT for all to see—Taylorsville is LIGHT and I am proud to be a part of this staff.

Who Needs Syntax?


In a workshop last year for silent fluency, I showed this slide.

Rand Reading Group (Snow 2002) reinforced my slide by stating the following, “for students to successfully “negotiate textual meaning the reader must bring at least the following to the act of reading:  cognitive capabilities, motivation, linguistic knowledge and experiences.”


What Rand Reading Group included that I did not was linguistic knowledge and experiences. Linguistics refers to the structure of language.  Syntax is part of linguistics because it is the art of combining words together to make sentences, the proper word order and punctuation which helps to build the structure of our language. (Grammar)


I bring this up because syntax is almost subconscious at early ages, being created through speaking and listening. As children speak and listen, they are learning how words are combined to create sentences and questions. As they encounter language through listening and modeling, the sentences become more complex.  You have heard a small child say, “see dog.”  The adult or other child will say, “Yes, you see a dog.”  As time progresses the child begins to clarify and say, “I see a dog.”


The complexity of language and “syntax” increases each year as the child gets older and has different experiences. Sentences become more complex and vocabulary more abstract.  According to J.S. Chall (1983), by the 4th grade the grade level text structure students are exposed to begins to exceed conversational language.”  This is a HUGE discovery for me because we all know about the “4th grade slump,” this seems to help to explain that gap. The rigor or complexity in the language of the text is higher than the students are use to putting in order or comfortably recognizing.


Syntax affects fluency and comprehension because it is the student’s ability to chunk sentences into “syntactic chunks” that help with intonation, stress and pause as they read.


We, as teachers, do not really think about syntax but it plays a large role in reading fluency and comprehension. A few facts about syntax that teachers NEED to know.

  • Syntax awareness at 1st grade predicts word recognition at 2nd (Tunmer, 1989)
  • Poor readers have difficulty detecting and correcting syntactic errors. (Bentin, Deutsch, and Liberman, 1990)
  • Lower levels of syntax awareness usually correspond with lower fluency and comprehension performance.
  • If you increase syntax awareness than you can increase reading ability in both fluency and comprehension.


So, bottom line, what are the implications for our students and classrooms?  How do we build syntax awareness for our students?

Speaking in complete sentences! By encouraging students to put all answers and thoughts in complete sentences, you are helping them to practice the art of syntax (applying word order).  Help students to extend sentences and to make more complex sentences.

Create more complex sentences than they are used to speaking and reading and have students put them together on sentence strips. If you have students who are still speaking in simple sentences, then give them a compound sentence on a sentence strip. Ask them to put it together. They will want to make two sentences but will see the conjunction holds it together. For older students, give them sentences with phrases, clauses and unusual punctuation   By  exposing them to these types of sentences, you are instructing them on language that is above the level they normally speak in conversation and will be reading as they move to more difficult text.

Focus on chunks. The brain has the ability to process four words at a time so thinking about sentences in chunks helps the brain process information and the language easier. For example: The little red hen and the yellow bunny sat around the campfire.  When students are learning to read this and think about how to read—they should see the word “and” which means it is a conjunction holding subjects together so on either side is a chunk.  The verb usually starts another chunk (predicate).  This helps students with fluency and not reading one single word at a time. Modeling how to chunk a sentence and explicitly teaching sentence parts helps students to better determine how to process as they read.

Use all the domains of literacy to build conceptual understanding. To truly understand any concept, a child or adult must work the idea through all domains of literacy.  Students must first hear the information (listening) through modeling, think aloud and direct instruction.  Students next should speak the information through student to student interaction.  The step of speaking allows students to process the information and to own it.  They are putting together their own sentences to make sense of the knowledge (summarizing).  The next step, now that they have proper background, they can begin reading on the topic.  The final step to show true conceptual understanding is when a child can take the information, rearrange, process and make the information their own in writing. This shows that they have a deep understanding and strong command of the information.


Revisiting the above quote from Rand Reading Group (Snow 2002),  “for students to successfully “negotiate textual meaning the reader must bring at least the following to the act of reading:  cognitive capabilities, motivation, linguistic knowledge and experiences.”  The teaching of syntax directly through grammar and punctuation instruction paired with speaking and listening helps students have the linguistic knowledge and experiences to effectively decode text and read with prosody.


Motivation will be another Blog!



Resources considered and read for this Blog: 

Article entitled:  8 Common Mistakes in Modern Language Instruction by claraalert on guestblogger which was accessed on 9/12/2017

Article entitled:  The Role of Early Oral Language in Literacy Development by Timothy Shanahan and Christopher Lonigan which was accessed 9/10/17 

PPT archived on Internet by Michael Sullivan on Significance of Syntax (I am unsure of ownership of this but found this in the title it was saved in.)

Chall, J.S. (1983) Stages of reading development. New York:  Harcourt Brace which was cited in the PPT discussed below.

Old Post: Language Revisted

Do you have that one person in your life who just “says it?”  Tells you what others haven’t—your hair is sticking up, you have toilet paper on your shoe,  or NO ONE UNDERSTANDS WHAT YOU MEAN BY THE TERM LANGUAGE.  I love my Taylorsville colleagues who keep me grounded!

It had not occurred to me but we do use the word language in various ways. Normally, I refer to language in three ways.


  1. Language = Student to Student Interaction and communication
  2. Language = Common Core Standards L. 1-6
  3. “Academic Language” = the words, phrases, grammar choices and author’s craft in organizing a text


First, language is used to refer to our students’ ability to communicate ideas and thoughts through listening, speaking, reading and writing. Increasing student to student interaction allows time for processing and for students to make sense of knowledge. The four domains of literacy (listening, speaking, reading and writing) are all interrelated and interact to affect one another.


Implications for our classrooms: 

  1. Students process information when they have the opportunity to interact.  Speaking helps students make sense of ideas, ask questions and begin to own their own thinking.  By putting ideas into your own words and examples demonstrates conceptual understanding of the topic.
  2. When you move students through a concept by listening then speaking and progressing to reading and writing—you are scaffolding instruction AND building conceptual understanding.
  3. Allowing students to paraphrase and put information into their own words aids students in making connections to the information on a deeper level.

Secondly, I often refer to the Common Core Language Standards as a way to “increase our focus on language.”  These standards are all grounded in the fundamentals of language and the domains of literacy and are written in a pattern that builds on prior knowledge.


Standard Meaning
L.1 Understanding of conventions and sentence structure
L.2 Understanding of capitalization and punctuation
L.3 Understanding why words were used and chosen and their affect within the text
L.4 Determining word meanings and phrases through context, word parts, reference materials,
L.5 Understanding figurative language, word relationships and nuances in word meanings
L.6 Determining academic and domain specific words and phrases



Implications for our classrooms: 

  1. Language comprises of about 20-25% of the Reading End of Grade Test. Knowing this fact,  a focus on context clues, figurative language, words and phrases that affect characters, setting and mood should all be MAJOR focuses of instruction.
  2. “Language” in the form of words and phrases, woven within the text,  are written to affect the reader—teach students to see subtly and question the techniques used by the author—THIS IS HOW RIGOR IS ATTAINED!
  3. Remember that you must directly teach students what you want them to do. When teaching students how to figure out words and phrases in context teach all the different strategies you might use such as look at punctuation, synonyms, antonyms, grammar, examples embedded, etc. Be explicit when you show students and MODEL what you want for them—then let them try it and apply it.



Lastly, I refer to language in the form of “academic language” which is the words, phrases, grammar choices which affect the author’s craft and organization of the text.  This can be vocabulary but is usually more subtly the structure in which the text is organized.  When our students have knowledge of how sentences are structured can help students “untangle” more complex text.  Without the grammar and punctuation, students’ prosody (expressive reading and understanding of timing, phrasing, intonation and emphasis) is not possible.


Implications for our classrooms:

  1. Understanding phrases, clauses, punctuation and capitalization directly affects BOTH fluency and comprehension.
  2. Grammar should be embedded in discussions of word meanings and close reading to directly teach fluency and comprehension.
  3. Text choice should include structure that includes complex text which challenges students to examine multiple levels of meaning with subtle nuances that they may miss upon first read.  Ensuring text is “complex” with levels of meaning challenges students to read closer and dig deeper.

In summation, the term LANGUAGE is a HUGE component of EVERYTHING that we do in our classrooms because it truly plays a role in all aspects of learning.  We “use language” when communicating. Authors embed language within text to share meaning and to interest the reader.  Finally we integrate language as our instructional support with listening, speaking, reading and writing. We need to infuse it and use the Common Core Language standards as the “skeleton” of our instruction for our literature and informational standards. It is by infusing the grammar, capitalization, punctuation and an understanding of sentence structure within the areas of reading that you will deepen students’ understanding and comprehension.  Language is complex and certainly not something you can check off a list to show mastery.


Growth Mindset to No Limits

First week of school and a first grader announced to his teacher, “I can’t do this!”  She responded perfectly with “YET.”  This scenario is a perfect example of how our students are developing a fixed mindset at early ages.  It is a reminder we must reinforce that they can achieve.

As you know, a fixed mindset, one without hope, is bred in an environment where students are inundated with negative outlooks and reminders of limited resources or even criticisms of education and hope for the future. Our schools are becoming flooded with more and more students who face financial hardships in their homes.


Think about these statistics.

  • 1 in 5 children live in poverty.
  • Children who experience hunger and food insecurity have effects such as lower reading and math scores, more emotional and behavioral problems and physical or mental deficits.
  • There are as many as 46.2 million Americans living poverty.
  • Children in poverty are 1.3 times are more likely to have learning and developmental delays.
  • Students in poverty are more often more than two years behind by 4th


According to Eric Jensen (May 2013), we know students from low income families are less likely to engage in school.  Lack of effort or being unmotivated is often a lack of hope and is fostered by a give up attitude that they may be immersed in each day.  Living in poverty is difficult and the stress of the environment may spill over as a lack of optimism.  This lack of hope leads to a fixed mindset, a feeling that “it is not worth the effort.” This can be perceived as “lazy” by teachers. In actuality, it is a lack of belief that has occurred repeatedly and has become a mindset habit.

Connecting these statistics with brain research, there IS HOPE!  Within the last few years, we have come to understand that the brain is NOT a fixed entity much like a machine. Our brain is constantly changing based on our actions and thoughts.  The concept of our brain being able to change constantly is called neuroplasticity.  Plasticity is how our brain learns new information and how to do new activities. Our students need to know that their brain can change and is malleable. They can’t do it— YET!! Practice, effort, trying new strategies helps students move from can’t to can.

For example, when you are learning a new motor task, you utilize two sections of the brain called the SMA (Supplementary Motor Area) and the M1 (Primary Motor Area) which work together almost like a highway.  When you repeat the motor task and increase the blood flow to this area of the brain, you are also rousing impulses and sprouting axons and dendrites.  We know when you are creating dendrites, you are learning.  When we use this “highway” repetitively, we are creating a strong pathway and this makes the task much easier. Think about learning how to play the guitar. When you begin, the pathway is weak but with repetitive practice, the skill of playing the guitar becomes more fluent and quick.

With the same idea above, we can change a child’s fixed mindset to one of growth and hope. A person with a growth mindset believes they can work hard, practice and improve or get better. It is not just that you practice and you learn but that trying harder and attempting new strategies can help you succeed not only at the task at hand but in the future.

We need to teach our students the concept of neuroplasticity and that our brains are always changing.  Their actions can increase their abilities. Work to increase a positive attitude with students by always praising effort.  A mindset is not changed easily but with repetitive positive words that affirm effort will help to increase a student’s motivation.

When we encourage students to try—we have succeeded in helping them be successful. I am not encouraging empty praise but an increase in explicitly guiding students in what steps they can take to improve or succeed. With repetitive reinforcement that quitting is NOT an option but that there is HOPE for success—it just takes effort which brings GROWTH.  Thanks Taylorsville for your efforts toward teaching Growth Mindset.  Who knows—maybe we can move towards a mindset of no limits!



Resources that inspired or were cited in this Blog:

Article (2014) by Margie Meacham entitled, “The Growth Mindset Starts in the Brain”:

Statistics from

Article (2013) by Eric Jensen enttitled, “How Poverty Affects Classroom Engagement.” Accessed on July 28, 2016.

Video from Sheridan College accessed on July 30, 2016:





All About Perspective

As I watched the news recently, I pondered my earlier question in a previous post:  How can two people see, hear or experience the same event or conversation and walk away with a completely different perspective.

Denis Waitley said, “You must look within for value, but must look beyond for perspective.”  To me this is powerful because it reminds us that we must look beyond ourselves and how we think to find perspective beyond our own.  Looking within ourselves shapes how we value the event or situation we are experiencing or watching.

Our views are shaped by our experiences, preferences, values and relationships.  We do not realize how these factors affect our view but they do because they often veil the outcome in some way.

It is important that we, as adults, step back and think through events to truly see where the truth or facts lie.  It is tough because we know how we feel and what we BELIEVE should have happened and therefore the events are often exaggerated when they do not meet our value system or we down play if they do.

Whether it is a political, moral or other passionate event, situation or idea—we are so invested in our own value—we struggle to step back to see ways others might be approaching or thinking of the situation.

As educators, we must remember, when we interact with others we are teaching it to our students.  Discussing ideas in a civil manner helps us to become a more tolerant and open minded person. This does not mean you have to believe as someone else does.  You must be able to look past your own beliefs to see  others may have a different perspective.

Aristotle shared this idea, “It is a mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”  Is it not this type of thinking we want our students to possess?  A person who can listen, consider and think about an idea but look within themselves to determine the value they want to equate with the idea.  This is a sign of not only an educated mind but an open one that can think beyond their own perspective.

As a history teacher, I loved having my students’ role play different people in history to see a situation from their eyes. One of my favorite activities, when studying the American Revolution, was to assign them a person in history. For some, it was someone famous like Patrick Henry or Thomas Jefferson. For other students, it may be a farmer, slave, merchant, ship captain, etc.  They would be asked to think from that person’s perspective to decide whether they would have sided with the Patriots or stayed loyal to the King.  Of course, everyone at first thought they would be a Patriot.  After stepping back and thinking about a wealthy merchant, with family in England, dependent on the goods from England to sell—would you really side with the Patriots?  Powerful to think through the eyes of another–such as the soldiers during the Boston Massacre–were they guilty, victims or just in the wrong place at the wrong time?  Students’ thinking as someone else helps them develop the understanding that there is more than one side to every story.

Take time this school year to emphasize the need to look at an event or idea from more than one perspective. How?

  • Role Play social situations or historical events
  • Diary entries from various perspectives of an event. Ex. Write a diary entry from a first class passenger on the Titanic. How would that diary entry be different if you were a third class passenger? Another example, write a diary entry as Rosa Parks.  How would the bus driver’s perspective of the event be similar or different?  What feelings might be different?
  • Write poetry from an alternate speaker. For example, write a poem about autumn from a squirrel’s point of view.  How would a maple tree’s perspective be different?
  • Using a story you are reading, have students define the problem and how it was solved. Discuss how would a different character solve it? Why? Was everyone happy with the solution? Did everyone think the problem was negative?

The world we live in is full of ideas, history, values, experiences and opinions—my hope is that we expose our students to many ideas and MOST OF ALL the ability to step back and think about why someone else might see or think something different. Push students through activities and questioning to think differently—not to change their opinions but to acknowledge that others do think differently.  It is important for us to emphasize that listening and considering someone’s idea does not mean you agree with it BUT you understand that someone else feels or sees something different.

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