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Empowering Educators with Executive Function & ExQ®

We are in an educational crisis due to the current pandemic.  Many schools are delaying fall start dates or going online for the foreseeable future.  Others are looking at hybrid models, and some are even working to create new in-person and socially distanced teaching environments.

During this time confusing time, we may be overlooking one critical component of student success – their Executive Function Skills. These are the set of skills essential for managing time, organizing tasks, and solving problems to achieve goals. In short, strong EF skills allow students to learn HOW to learn.

Traditional classrooms and lessons have built-in cues that support task initiation and sustained attention. By giving kids a schedule to follow, teachers support students’ planning and time management needs. Finally, organizational structures and peer interactions help students to monitor their behaviors and goals.

In this new age, remote learning has proven to be hard as many young brains are not primed for this non-traditional self-guided teaching experience, especially where parental oversight may not be there to help students stay focused and productive.  All of this causes a strain to students’ cognitive flexibility and emotional coping when their self-management skills are not up to par; making learning (especially remote learning!) a challenge.  Teachers too will need support to stay connected with students and care for those who are falling behind BECAUSE of their poor EF.

Now, more than ever, educators are realizing the need for us to prioritize the “hidden curriculum” of Executive Function development.  The power to take action to support the health, well-being, and intellectual development of our students is within the reach of every Middle and High School in the nation right now with ExQ!

ExQ® is a proven solution available for all teaching models that is rooted in more than 20 years of cognitive neuroscience.  ExQ is a cloud-based, patented system designed to enhance the brain’s Executive Function through personalized game-based training.  ExQ offers teaching value for schools including:

  • Immediate, cloud-based implementation (with no software downloads)
  • Easy onboarding with an online teacher portal featuring many useful resources
  • Active, built-in teaching–not passive assignments
  • Student learning through online games, virtual coaching, video journaling, and metacognitive video lessons
  • Individualized feedback for students to provide guidance for future learning
  • Access for teachers to see if students are engaged in real-time
  • Measurable training results with progress data and easy-to-understand reporting

The age of Executive Function training is now!  Advancing effective Executive Function programs, such as ExQ, can only be achieved from a commitment from educational leaders.  We urge you to adopt these evidence-based solutions.  Your students and teachers are waiting!   Contact us today to schedule a meeting with an ExQ team member.

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Supporting Educators During Distance Learning and Beyond

This academic year has been unlike any other. As all 50 states shut down school buildings in response to the pandemic, educators and students were thrust into uncharted territory and K-12 education was completely disrupted. ​Educators have dedicated an incredible amount of time and effort to help millions of students transition to distance learning​, ensuring that they can still be engaged in their education from home.

Communication and collaboration tools have proven to be incredibly useful for distance learning environments. Students are using digital tools such as Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams for project collaboration, live class discussions, peer mentoring, virtual office hours, and online study groups. ​These powerful tools also help students stay connected to their teachers and friends while learning remotely.​ ​By remaining connected to their school life, students can feel more at ease about this major shift in their daily routine.

If you’re concerned about keeping students safe in your digital learning environment as they learn remotely, Gaggle can help.​ O​ur student safety tools keep a close eye on how students are doing as they engage in their education from home, helping districts identify those who may be struggling with being isolated, the dramatic change in their daily routine, or concerns over the pandemic. Gaggle can give you peace of mind knowing that your students’ mental health and safety are being monitored both during and after school hours in the distance learning environment.

Below you’ll find a variety of content to help you address students’ mental health and well-being, discover how to apply for and utilize new educational funding streams designated by the CARES Act, and learn more about how the Gaggle safety solution can create a digital safety net for your school district.

Recommended Resources

Blog | Happy and Healthy at Home: 10 Student Mental Health Resources
Report | Investing in Student Safety by Dr. Kecia Ray
Webinar | Funding Distance Learning Through the CARES Act
Webinar | Happy and Healthy at Home: Student Mental Health and Distance Learning
Success Story | Stopping a Child Predator in His Tracks

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Diversity in Education: How to Meet Student Needs

The social fabric of the United States is more diverse than ever, and different identities have been thrust into the nation’s social consciousness with greater immediacy and attention than ever before.

Similarly, there are changing demographics in higher education, which is also becoming more diverse. As a result, it’s necessary that educators prepare and adapt to increasing gender, racial, and language diversity in education in order to best address student needs.

The History of Diversity in the Classroom

According to James A. Banks, a professor and editor of the scholarly collection of essays titled Multicultural Education: Issues and Perspectives, the types of diversity can be boiled down to the social construction of demographic criteria. He unpacked them into five variables:

  • Gender: Gender-role expectations can vary across cultures and even “across social classes within the same society.” Educators should confront these expectations to create a more equitable classroom culture.
  • Sexual Orientation: This identity characteristic requires attention because youths in the LGBT community are much more likely to experience prejudice, discrimination, and even hate crimes, according to Banks. As a result, it’s the responsibility of the educator to approach the topic delicately and create a classroom environment that prioritizes social equality. 
  • Race: Banks stated that race relies on “physical characteristics in a complex way.” Race and ethnicity are necessary components for an educator to address diversity because race can be an indicator for socioeconomic, historical, and political values across different cultures.
  • Social Class: It’s nearly impossible to clarify “which variables are the most important in determining the social-class status of an individual or family.” The variables here include family income, level of education, and type of career.
  • Exceptionality: Exceptionality can be split into two primary identity categories: disability and giftedness. Physical and mental disabilities have historically acted as barriers in education, which is why it’s important for teachers to build accessible, accommodating classrooms to support all students.

With these variables in mind, administrators and teachers can concentrate on incorporating educational diversity. At every level of education, these identity categories require attention to help foster critical thinking and understanding in classrooms. Banks added that educators “should also make sure that students from all social-class, cultural, language, ethnic, and gender groups have an equal opportunity to participate in programs for academically and creatively talented students.”

Exploring further, these tenets began to take hold in the world of education. To help give this context, Kenneth Cushner, writer of the chapter “Intercultural Training for Educators” of The International Encyclopedia of Intercultural Communication, articulated the need for introducing multicultural education from a historical perspective. He tracked the work of John Dewey, who even in the early twentieth century found “education as inclusive, participative, and experiential, laying the foundation that cultural diversity should be considered fundamental to education.”

To continue this work and to move further against racism, antisemitism, and sexism, Cushner conveyed the significance of Hilda Taba’s work. Her contributions would lay the foundation for intercultural and multicultural scholars of the second half of the 20th century to explore the best practices surrounding diversity in education.

Cushner further underscored the continuation of research — and teacher preparation — in this arena. Moreover, he highlighted that teachers must receive specific training to incorporate diversity in the classroom. He said, “Teachers, thus, must not only enhance their own intercultural competence, but must also understand the nuances of intercultural communication and interaction sufficiently so they can transfer this to the students in their charge.”

In other words, as teachers strive to familiarize themselves with the best practices surrounding intercultural exchanges, they can introduce those tenets to their students more effectively.

Understanding the Importance of Diversity in Education

To grasp how teachers can best address the ways to facilitate multicultural education, more attention should be given to the ways that other institutions approach the issue.

One such institution is the American Psychological Association, which unveiled a bombshell report about the ways that inclusivity and diversity are the most effective remedies to prejudice and discrimination. The study highlighted nine strategies that enable people to confront and overcome prejudice, and all can be facilitated in the classroom.

  • Intercultural Contact: When people of different cultural and social makeups interact, bias, prejudice, and discrimination will decrease dramatically.
  • Collaborative Learning Opportunities: As students work with each other across different identities, they’ll learn to complete tasks and solve problems together. As a result, students will learn dynamically while they also overcome different forms of discrimination.
  • Intercultural Friendships: Outside of academic activities, teachers can focus on social exercises that enable students to form friendships across cultural barriers.
  • Reclassification: As students of different cultures interact with each other, they’ll have the opportunity “to recategorize themselves as members of the same, more inclusive group,” according to the report.
  • Maintaining a Dual Identity: As students are invited to recategorize their identity makeup when they interact with students from different cultures, they should still maintain and explore further their own more exclusive identities based on their race, gender, sexuality, and socioeconomic status.
  • Grappling with the Dynamic Theory of Human Nature: As educators look to incorporate lessons on diversity, they must understand that humans can change. When teachers subscribe to the static theory of human nature — that humans are incapable of fundamentally changing — their pedagogy will be much less inclusive and prone to facilitating more discrimination.
  • Unlearning Stereotypes: Prejudice and discrimination arise from stereotypes and “learned associations,” according to the report. The study goes further to state “it is possible to combat stereotyping by unlearning and reversing those associations.”
  • Encouraging Self-Reflection: To grow as human beings away from discrimination, teachers who focus on diversity in education can motivate their students to reflect on their past experiences to effectively combat future implicit bias and prejudice.
  • Providing an Empathetic Approach: As the report stated, “evidence suggests that inducing empathy for an out-group member could reduce bias toward members of that group.” As a result, teachers should focus on highlighting diversity in their classrooms to help combat discrimination.

These guidelines are helpful when considering how important a responsibility it is to confront and dismantle close-mindedness, stereotyping, and prejudice.

As for the state of diversity in higher education currently, college students come from the most diverse backgrounds in history. According to the American Council on Education, the population of college students has kept pace with the general American population in terms of diversity since 1997.

At the same time, the level of diversity has not kept up at the faculty and administrative level. Across the board, nearly 75% of faculty members have identified as white, while white men claimed a jarring majority of the college presidencies across the country. At 58.1%, the next highest group to hold the position at the highest level was white women, who make up a quarter of all college and university presidents.

While diversity in education is valued at the classroom level in higher education, more substantive work needs to be done to address the growing need for diversity at the administrative and faculty levels.

The Future of Multicultural Education in the U.S.

Outside of a greater need for diversity at the highest levels, the future of diversity in education relies on specific training methods that teachers should adhere to.

A 2016 scholarly article in the Journal of Transformative Education found that, as more teachers engage in these kinds of programs, they’ll have an easier time facilitating classroom conversation with their students centered on topics pertaining to diversity. The results of the data collected by the researchers found that “teachers not only taught with cultural relevance in mind but also adopted a philosophy of education” that would advocate for inclusivity for diverse children and families.

While valuable work is being done to highlight diversity in education, more research is required to locate the best possible strategies for teachers to use. In other words, more researchers are needed to help gather data to help best address student needs.

One of the best ways to join this expanding conversation is to gain the experience of the seasoned educators who focus on this issue currently. An online Ph.D. in Higher Education Leadership for Changing Populations is the perfect entry point to give prospective deans, college administrators, professors, and education researchers a foundation for exploring the shifting landscape of the university.

At Notre Dame of Maryland University, you’ll have the opportunity to explore these different and evolving dynamics in a flexible, online format. Learn more today about how you can help contribute to a growing body of research toward the best practices of inclusivity and diversity in education.

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How Students’ Reading Habits Have Changed and Shifted

What are the most popular books at each grade level? Is the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series still as popular as ever? What topics do students like the most? What about the least?

The latest edition of What Kids Are Reading, the world’s largest annual study of K–12 student reading habits, highlights fiction and nonfiction reading trends, along with the top books K–12 students are reading nationwide.

Popular with educators and families, the What Kids Are Reading report has been a go-to resource for insight into students’ ever-changing reading habits for more than a decade. Created by Renaissance, the report provides helpful tools to help educators guide their students toward “just-right” reading recommendations.

The report draws from two data sources: Accelerated Reader, which tracks the books and articles

(print and digital) that students have read from start to finish, and myON, which monitors student reading on a personalized digital library platform. Combined, these two sources provide insight into millions of students’ reading habits. The 2020 edition draws from reading data on more than 7.6 million students from all 50 US states. In fact, no other study captures student reading behavior on this scale.

To mark the release of the all-new What Kids Are Reading report, we’ve highlighted the three biggest takeaways from the 2020 edition. 

1. Students still prefer fiction over nonfiction

With an increased emphasis on nonfiction in recent years, educators were encouraged to steer students toward nonfiction content in their classrooms. Yet, according to the latest findings in What Kids Are Reading, an average of just one in four of the books read in grades K–12 are nonfiction.

Students tend to read the most nonfiction in grades 3–5, making up an average of 54 percent of their total reading, but that amount drops to just 43 percent in grades 9–12.

The research highlights that students read more nonfiction when they have easy access to nonfiction books and articles. Is there a lack of access to nonfiction in most classrooms? Access to compelling nonfiction has been shown to be a difference-maker in getting students to choose to read more from this genre. From learning more about the natural wonders of the world to understanding weather patterns, the interest in nonfiction is there, it’s sometimes just a matter of providing enough choice.

Nonfiction is also often perceived as more difficult for students to understand than fiction. Yet, according to the analysis in What Kids Are Reading, students passed the majority of comprehension quizzes taken on both fiction and nonfiction books, with only slightly lower pass rates for nonfiction titles. In fact, the research shows that with the right background knowledge, nonfiction is no more challenging than fiction.

2. Background knowledge makes a big difference

Background knowledge is critical to success. When students have background knowledge on a subject like a certain sport or interest, research proves that students are able to read higher-level texts, even when they generally read at a lower level.

Research from What Kids Are Reading points out that on average, younger students read about more topics than older students. This makes sense, given that younger students are generally still discovering what interests them (and what doesn’t), while older students and adults tend to have a decent idea of their interests. Not surprisingly, when students show sustained interest in topic areas, their scores also tend to be higher than students who read only one or two books on those topics.

The report also shines a light on how students’ reading interests change as they age. K–2 students gravitate toward poetry and rhymes, so Dr. Seuss books are often the most popular. In grades 3–5, sports and recreation take center stage, and interpersonal relationships become the hot topic as students transition into middle school. Those interests continue to change as students enter high school, with students showing a continued interest in sports, while also balancing assigned reading.

3. The connection between reading and careers

Speaking of background knowledge, What Kids Are Reading highlights just how important reading is in understanding training and career materials.

The report includes a section that calls out the importance of reading, emphasizing that reading is important in college, career, and life. Electricians, registered nurses, and other careers all require reading skills to be successful. While it might not mean reading Shakespeare cover to cover, a solid foundation in reading—particularly nonfiction reading—is crucial in the workforce.

For example, according to the Lexile® Career Database, registered nurses will likely encounter training materials ranging from a Lexile reading level of 1260L to 1410L. To illustrate this, a book within this reading range is A Brief History of Time by Stephen W. Hawking (10.5, UG, 1290L). Again, not that a registered nurse would need to read A Brief History of Time, but it’s an interesting way to call out the importance of reading—and to make a solid connection between students’ literacy skills and their aspirations for the future.

Ready to explore the other great insights that What Kids Are Reading has to offer? Click here to explore more reading data points, to create custom book lists, and to download the all-new report.

Plus, join Renaissance for a webinar that delves into these findings in even greater detail.

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7 Steps to Supporting Your Intervention Team

Allocating time and resources to building out your intervention team can yield big rewards. Moving teachers past the “it’s just one more thing on my plate” attitude is critical to success. It is important to customize your professional development to the needs of your schools and district. Developing data leader coaches ensures that teachers have a deep understanding of the benefits of data-driven instruction. They will also learn how to support each other in reaching the school’s learning goals. 

Using a common framework for intervention allows teachers to focus on assessing the needs of students and incorporating student performance data in an equitable way. Many schools use Response to Intervention (RTI), a multi-tiered approach to identify and support students with learning needs. All students first receive research-based instruction in their core curriculum in their regular classrooms. 

Then universal screening and progress monitoring provide data about students’ levels of achievement. This data is used to determine which students need closer monitoring or intervention. Student progress is monitored over time to measure the effectiveness of both the curriculum and the interventions.[1]

The Power of Data and Differentiated Instruction

Teachers need to see the power of data-informed instruction to adopt this method of teaching. Benchmarking through assessments helps determine the level of instruction needed by individual students. 

Regular review of individual student data along with assessments helps teachers determine the exact amount of support or enrichment each student needs. Adaptive curriculum adjusts to the level of each student so that progress remains steady toward end-of-year learning goals.

Creating a Strong Intervention Culture

Most schools have either a formal or an informal intervention team based on their unique circumstances and resources. The following seven recommendations can be individualized to suit any configuration of intervention teams.

1.     Engage your stakeholders. A blended learning curriculum approach using data to benchmark and monitor student progress requires more than one champion. Leadership and teachers need to be on board. Explain the “why” of using student data to reach student, school, and district learning goals. Comprehensive initial training will help teachers understand how to support student growth with data. Ongoing professional development and teacher collaboration builds a shared culture.

2.     Put systems in place. In addition to the appropriate technology support and professional development, make sure the primary data leader is a good communicator and coaches teachers to make data a priority. Establish regular communication to parents and feedback to teachers. 

3.     Level set expectations. The data leader reinforces for teachers the power of using data to impact instruction. Schedule regular data review sessions so that teachers can learn to support each other as well as their students by diving deep into the data.

4.     Hold data meetings monthly. The more professional development you provide teachers, the better they will be able to drill down into the data to ensure that learning goals continue to be met. Focus on the importance of the data so that teachers don’t feel this process is a waste of their time. Ensure teachers have sufficient support as they learn how to address each student’s needs especially when they are critical. 

5.     Empower teachers. Help teachers know what they’re looking for in the data reports. The goal is for teachers to become data experts on their students, review the reports themselves, and to learn how to adjust instruction to accommodate. Coaching is the key to successful implementations.

6.     Generate enthusiasm. As an ongoing practice, encourage teacher behaviors you want to embed into your school culture. Seeing the growth of students is a huge motivator.  Students themselves get motivated by being able to track their own growth through their teachers. Encourage parents to stay in touch with their student’s progress.

7.     Celebrate Success: As teachers and students meet benchmarks and growth goals, find ways to celebrate – jeans Fridays for teachers, or a weekly session for lesson planning, or a class pizza party, for example. Celebrating success is a morale booster for teachers and students; reinforces the role of data-driven instruction in your school; and contributes to a positive school culture.

Technology plays an important role in an effective data-infused learning environment. Differentiated instruction and intervention are supported by technology. Not only does technology personalize learning for students but it informs a teacher’s instruction plan. Data captures a student’s academic performance, quantifies a student’s rate of improvement or responsiveness to instruction, and evaluates the effectiveness of the instruction. Ongoing professional development ensures that the intervention team uses their resources for maximum impact.

Case Study: Intervention in Action in Alabama

Hoover City Schools in Alabama wanted to streamline their intervention process for their RTI and Title I students. They chose Istation because it identifies learning gaps and provides engaging interactive lessons and face-to-face teaching strategies to get students back on track. “After we started using Istation, students were going back into the general education classroom and were being successful, so we were able to serve additional students—more than we ever had in the past,” says Debra Walker Smith, director of federal programs and testing for the district. “Istation definitely helps drill down to the standards that students haven’t mastered. And when students do, they are so excited to share what they’ve accomplished.”

Students used Istation from August to April and saw a marked increase in Lexile scores: First graders gained 370 points; second grade, 280; third-grade, 155; fourth grade, 165, and fifth grade, 132 points.

“I believe this program is one of the best investments we have made using our federal funds,” Smith says. “I like the ease of implementation, but more importantly, I like that students feel successful using it.”

The Importance of Assessments

Powered by the science of reading, Istation’s assessments and instruction support the “Big Five” foundations determined by the National Reading Panel. Istation provides activities and lessons that generate insightful and actionable data that measures phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary—the Big Five.

·      Readers are assessed in 30 minutes – ISIP™ Reading (Istation’s assessment for pre-K through 8th grade)

·      Based on results, students placed in skill level-appropriate online instruction – Istation Reading (Istation’s instruction for pre-K through 8th grade)

·      Teachers receive instant reports to monitor student progress­—Priority Reports direct teachers to specific, skills-based, small group lessons for targeted reading intervention.

Monthly review of progress monitoring allows teachers to get a pulse check on how their students are moving toward skill mastery and provides an opportunity for teachers to pivot their instruction to remain on track to achieve grade level goals. It is important to realize that  Istation focuses on differentiation for all students, not just intervention for struggling students. 

“Using a common framework for intervention allows teachers to focus on assessing the needs of students and incorporating student performance data in an equitable way.”

Powerful Intervention and Instruction

Istation is unique in how it provides digital tools and curriculum for powerful pre-K-8 blended learning that accelerates growth in reading. Istation’s Indicators of Progress (ISIP) is a powerful web-based component that provides frequent assessment data through progress monitoring.

Appropriate to use from intervention to enrichment, Istation includes:

·      Nationally normed formative assessments

·      Personalized data profiles

·      Adaptive curriculum

·      Teacher Resources

·      School to home connection

·      Customized professional development

For more information visit Istation.com

[1] Retrieved from http://www.rtinetwork.org/learn/what/whatisrti

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Essential Assessment: Six Tenets for Bringing Hope, Efficacy, and Achievement to the Classroom

Developing one’s assessment literacy—that is, understanding the principles and processes of sound assessment practices—is the most efficient and effective professional investment any educator can make. To teach without assessment is to never quite know whether the intended learning goals are being met, where learners might have some misunderstandings, and what the array of next steps are in order to continue to advance their achievement. Teaching without assessment is not really teaching; it’s delivering information.

Assessment Is the Engine

Assessment sits at the center and is the engine behind of so many of the systems, structures, routines, and goals of the education system. While some success is most certainly possible, few things can maximize their impact without those responsible for implementation being assessment literate.

The ability to serve all learners is compromised when assessment fundamentals are limited, because teachers (and teams) will, at some point, be either misinformed or have a deficit of information that inhibits any further progress:

PLC: Collaborative teams within a PLC will flounder, since the first two questions—what do we want students to know and be able to do and how will we know that they know or can do it—are assessment questions. Being able to identify learning goals at the appropriate cognitive complexity (i.e., DOK level) will assure that the common assessments used to engineer collaborative conversations are valid and reliable.

RTI: The three tiers of a response to intervention continuum are built on the fundamental principle that the intensity of any intervention must match the intensity of the presenting challenge. Being able to match the appropriate intervention to either a small group of learners (tier 2) or an individual (tier 3) depends on valid and reliable assessment information to create a seamlessness between assessment and intervention. Inaccurate assessment results will, at best, create an inefficiency that neither students nor teachers can afford.

Differentiation: To differentiate is to be a learner-responsive teacher, which relies on assessing students for readiness and interest to create opportunities for the content, processes, products, or environment to be malleable to the students’ strengths, talents, and curiosities.

Unique Learners: Decisions about support for unique learners depends heavily on the ability to understand both the specific strengths and aspects in need of strengthening for our unique (and often most vulnerable) learners. Valid and  reliable assessment information will confirm that IEP goals are on track, the language acquisition remains on a positive trajectory, or that the appropriate challenges are made available.

Feedback and Grading: Clearly being able to initiate more learning (feedback) or measure it depends on sound assessment practices and principles.

Student Investment: Students investing in their own learning doesn’t happen by accident; they need to be taught how to do it if it’s going to be meaningful. The ability to self-direct their learning, set goals, monitor their progress, and think metacognitively will develop only when teachers have the assessment literacy to create the conditions and teach the practices and processes to all learners.

Social Competence: Students becoming socially competent relies on assessment fundamentals that are universal. Teaching students to be responsible, respectful, self-directed, and empathetic (to name a few) still leans heavily on the identification of the goal, the establishment of success criteria, and the ability of the teacher to recognize strengths and areas for improvement so that the whole learner is developing.

21st Century Skills: The ability to develop learners as critical, collaborative, and creative thinkers will make assessment more essential than ever. While assessment methods may evolve, the ability to assess the 21st century competencies remains critical if students are going to develop the skills and dispositions necessary to succeed in an ever-changing world.

Building Hope, Efficacy, and Achievement

While assessment has always been about measuring achievement, assessment is not just a clinical exercise in number crunching. Learning cannot be separated from its social context, which means everything teachers do with assessment will either contribute to or take something away from the relationships they develop with their students. While teachers aren’t necessarily one assessment practice away from undermining all of their relationships with learners, there is no neutral impact.

In their book, Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters the Most, Hendrie Weisinger and J. P. Pawliw-Fry (2015) identify the characteristics of those people—not just students—who perform better under pressure. While no one truly outperforms him- or herself under more pressure than he or she would otherwise, some people perform better than others when they approach inevitable pressure moments with confidence, optimism, tenacity, and enthusiasm; what they call the COTE of armor.

Assessment is, or at least has been, as responsible for creating pressure situations for learners as anything else they experience. Too often, assessment has been something students feared or endured. Weisinger and Pawliw-Fry are not suggesting pressure can be avoided; it can’t. But succeeding under pressure (where an outcome is dependent upon one’s own performance) requires a dispositional mindset (COTE) that can be cultivated. The implication for educators is clear. If assessment is responsible for creating pressure moments in school, and if students
need a COTE of armor to perform at their best under pressure, then it is fair to ask teachers to consider how their assessment practices contribute to—or take away from—their students’ COTE of armor.

Hope is everything. It’s about being optimistic, not naïve. When paired with efficacy—the belief that goals can be accomplished—it creates a potent mental paradigm that makes success inevitable. Teachers who put hope, efficacy, and achievement at the center of the assessment experience create unrivaled conditions where students expect to succeed. That mental expectation is powerful since, as Harvard business professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter (2004) once wrote, “Expectations about the likelihood of eventual success determine the amount of effort people are willing to put in.” Without hope and efficacy, the learning is over.

Six Tenets of Assessment

When my colleagues (Cassandra Erkens and Nicole Vagle) and I set out to write Essential Assessment: Six Tenets for Bringing Hope, Efficacy, and Achievement to the Classroom (2017), we had not predetermined that there would be six tenets. As we reviewed the assessment research over the past couple of decades, we were looking for the fundamental and universal practices that had proven to be the most favorable assessment practices; for all we knew, there could have been four, eight, or twelve. What emerged was, of course, six fundamental practices and mindset shifts that create a culture of learning where assessment is a natural and integral part of the instructional process. What follows is a brief summary of each tenet and its role in creating the optimal learning conditions; the tenets are not listed in order of priority.

Assessment Purpose: Understanding our assessment purpose means we have a clear picture of how we intend to use the emerging assessment results before the assessment. The formative purpose of assessment is about continual learning; the summative purpose is about the verification of learning. Though they serve a different purpose, formative and summative ssessment can develop a seamless, mutually supportive relationship.

Assessment Architecture: Assessment is most effective when it is planned, purposeful, and intentionally sequenced in advance of instruction by all of those responsible for the delivery. Assessment architecture is a blueprint that tightly sequences essential standards, teases out learning targets, identifies the assessments that reflect learning targets, and determines the use of assessments.

Accurate Interpretation: The interpretation of assessment results must be accurate, accessible, and reliable. This means the items and tasks in our assessments  must accurately reflect the standards on which we are gathering information.  Essential to the accurate interpretation is clear criteria, aligned inferences of what the criteria represent, and continual calibration to avoid inconsistencies or  tangential influences.

Agility: Being instructionaly agile means teachers have the capacity to use emerging evidence to make real-time modifications within the context of the expected learning. Whether at the classroom or school level, the true power of assessment comes when emerging results are used to determine what comes next in the learning.

Communication: The communication of assessment results must generate productive responses from learners and all stakeholders who support them. Whether through feedback or grades, the communication of proficiency must serve as a catalyst for continual learning rather than inhibiting it.

Student Investment: There is a symbiotic relationship between assessment and self-regulation. This means that assessment can be used to teach students to be self-regulatory about their learning; however, by learning to be self-regulatory and metacognitive, student assessment results are likely to increase. When learners understand this, they are able to track their progress, reflecting on what they are learning and where they need to go next.

Together, and when implemented consistently, these six tenets of assessment will serve as a foundation where real hope, real efficacy, and real achievement result. Assessment is relationship building. How we handle all aspects of assessment says more about our relationships with our students than anything else we do; it’s how we authentically connect to each and every learner.

Six Tenets & Grading

Grading is assessment, so rather than having philosophical debates and discussions about grading, schools and districts would be wise to have an assessment conversation. Grading is the verification of learning; it is the summative purpose. Of course, schools and districts can choose to create new reporting symbols, leveled descriptors, or move to a more anecdotal form of reporting; however, the process of verifying learning and the reporting out to others (primarily parents) is unlikely to ever leave us. Building an assessment foundation for grading reform is the most efficient and effective way to bring about a renewed focus on what grades are and what they are supposed to communicate. The foundation of assessment  fundamentals is how we will build a standards-based mindset (Schimmer, 2016).

Grading practices that leave students feeling hopeless and less efficacious about their eventual success are counterproductive and need to be stopped:

Assessment Purpose: A balanced assessment system (i.e., practice versus games) is always necessary to ensure that the original intent of the assessment is carried out. This is how teachers will know what to grade and what not to grade; when to initiate more learning and when to measure it.

Assessment Architecture: Grades are only as accurate as the assessments
they’re based on, so being planned and purposeful about assessment will ensure that assessments are not just covering a topic, but that they are assessing at the appropriate level of complexity; that’s rigor.

Accurate Interpretation: Accurate grades are the result of accurate inferences and interpretations by the teacher examining the evidence. Working to make success criteria transparent and calibrating with colleagues on those criteria to ensure consistency among colleagues is the pathway to producing reliable grades that reflect what a student knows, understands, or can do.

Instructional Agility: Grading should result in teachers (and students) knowing what comes next in the learning. Grades, if directly connected to the quality of the demonstrations students produce, can be moments when students (with teachers) create a next steps plan for how to keep improving. While the formative purpose may serve a more vital role in the dayto-day maneuvers, being instructionally agile as a result of grades can take on a larger scope of maneuver where a long-term plan or adjustment focuses on how to increase overall achievement.

Communication of Results: Grades should elicit productive responses from students. Even though grades can feel final, it’s important that students and parents see that the moments of verification can also serve as a springboard from which students can keep learning and growing.

Student Investment: Grading practices and processes need to be transparent enough to allow students to be fully invested before, during, and after. This is not about students giving themselves grades; it is about bringing them inside the process to experience what it’s like to synthesize their own learning.

Again, as schools and districts continue to strive to bring grading back into alignment with teaching (teaching to standards should mean grading by those very same standards), anchoring those reforms on sound assessment practices and processes will prevent less-than-favorable deviations from the ideal alignment between learning and reporting.

Six Tenets & 21st Century Learning

Cassandra, Nicole, and I wrote Growing Tomorrow’s Citizens in Today’s Classrooms: Assessing Seven Critical Competencies because we know that assessment is the place where educators most commonly get stuck when contemplating how 21st century competencies (critical thinking, collaborative thinking, creative thinking,  communication, self-regulation, digital citizenship, and social competence) will take their place as the instructional focal point in classrooms. We knew that, again, assessment is timeless and universal, and that the six tenets of assessment could still remain the foundation from which schools shape the assessment experience to be more aligned with goals of a 21st century classroom.

Assessment Purpose: It will still be necessary to unpack/repack critical competencies, since teachers will need to create learning progressions for how students become more effective thinkers. There will still be practice, and there will still be games, which means there will still be the formative and summative  purposes.

Assessment Architecture: Critical competencies represent higher, more sophisticated ways of thinking, which means, more than ever, teachers will need to ensure that tasks are well designed to elicit authentic, sophisticated evidence of thinking.

Accurate Interpretation: Accurate inferences and interpretations by the teacher will be necessary, since performance assessment is likely to be more prominent.  With performance assessments that emulate authentic contexts, the able to  accurately infer quality has never been more important.

 • Instructional Agility: Making real-time maneuvers based on emerging results, evidence, or revelations is still critical as students scaffold their way toward  innovative thinking, creative solutions, and deeper explorations of the world around them.

Communication of Results: Feedback (and verification) on strengths and areas in need of strengthening as students develop the skill and will of the critical competencies will still be essential to advance the development of 21st century thinkers.

Student Investment: Student driven, metacognitive experiences make it essential that students learn how to own and invest in their development. A hallmark of the critical competencies is developing the habit of self-regulation and learners’ abilities to accurately recognize what’s next for their development within each of the critical competencies.

Regardless of our instructional focus, assessment will continue to be the engine that drives success throughout the system. While the focus on critical competencies might be new, the assessment fundamentals that underpin those competencies are universal and timeless.

Imagining a New Assessment Paradigm

Imagine an assessment paradigm that prioritizes hope and efficacy. Imagine an assessment paradigm that seeks to create confident learners who are tenacious in their pursuit of excellence. Imagine an assessment paradigm where learners see assessment as an opportunity, not something to be feared; just imagine. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a ways to go.

For some, this imagined new assessment paradigm is now. The work in how assessment drives instructional decisions and maneuvers through next steps has long been part of many teachers’ practices. Still for others, old habits are challenging to break, and the model of assessment-aspoint-accumulation still lingers. Assessment will always be relevant, since it is one of the few aspects of education that cannot be sidestepped for the entirety of one’s career. Assessment can be done poorly, but it is unavoidable. Assessment is the engine, and by becoming assessment literate, educators will unlock the opportunities to maximize achievement and develop unrelenting learners.


Erkens, C., Schimmer, T., & Vagle, N. (2017). Essential assessment: Six tenets for bringing hope, efficacy, and achievement to the classroom. Bloomington, IN. Solution Tree.

Erkens, C., Schimmer, T., & Vagle, N. (2019) Growing tomorrow’s citizens in today’s classrooms: Assessing seven critical competencies. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Kanter, R. M. (2004). Confidence: How winning streaks and losing streaks begin and end. New York: Crown Business.

Schimmer, T. (2016). Grading from the inside out: Bringing accuracy to student assessment through a standards-based mindset. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Weisinger, H. & Pawliw-Fry, J. P. (2015). Performing under pressure: The science of doing your best when it matters most. New York: Crown Business Publishing.


Tom Schimmer

Tom Schimmer is an author and a speaker with expertise in assessment,
grading, leadership, and behavioral support. An educator for more than 20
years, Tom is a former district-level leader, school administrator, and teacher. As a district-level leader, he was a member of the senior management team responsible for overseeing the efforts to support and build the instructional capacities of teachers and administrators.

Tom is a sought-after speaker who presents internationally for
schools and districts.

He earned a teaching degree from Boise State University and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of British Columbia.

Bringing hope to every classroom

Effective assessment serves as a powerful ally in the teaching and learning process. Join experts and master practitioners as they share the essential elements of quality assessment, and leave with an actionable plan for implementing practices proven to increase achievement, cultivate hope, and build confidence in all learners.

Learn more at SolutionTree.com/AchieveInstitute

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5 Education Game-Changers Found in Digital Content

Digital learning has fundamentally changed teaching and opened new opportunities for educators. From differentiating instruction to creating culturally responsive learning environments to improving equity of opportunity, to just saving valuable time, the benefits of digital learning environments are clearer than ever.

Students are also benefiting from modern digital learning. Today’s digital classrooms mirror students’ use of multimedia content outside of class, creating deeper engagement and improving academic achievement. In addition, the integration of digital content into instruction is empowering the growth of today’s learners by making them strong collaborators, problem-solvers, and content creators.

Below are some of the top game-changing elements exhibited by modern digital learning platforms and content.

1. Digital Content Makes It Easier Than Ever to Reach All Types of Learners

It’s becoming more and more obvious that the standard broad approach at educating isn’t guaranteed to engage the whole classroom. Differentiation gives educators a key that can unlock all doorways of learning. A well-implemented digital learning platform that’s grounded in differentiation and high-quality digital content arms educators with a bottomless toolbox of instructional strategies that can be deployed to suit any students’ learning patterns and interests. Such a strategy is nearly impossible to execute well without the employment of digital learning platforms, which amplify the capabilities of educators by giving them curated sets of resources tailored to meet their needs, and the needs of each student.

2. Digital Content Makes Learning Come Alive and Supports Student Inquiry

A good digital learning platform has the power to introduce students to discoveries around the world through multi-modal resources that simply weren’t previously possible within the confines of a classroom. Real-world content ignites students’ curiosity by showing them how what they’re learning about is present all around them. Instead of text on a page, students can dive into a deep sea of engaging, interactive resources, helping them make lasting connections between their studies and their world.

3. Digital Learning Platforms Save Teachers Time

Even after embracing all the benefits of digital tools, teachers remain some of the busiest professionals in the world. Every minute counts. That’s why it’s vital that digital learning platforms limit the friction for educators between introducing a new instructional technique and seeing that spark of interest in students. Doing that right requires good professional development and embedding on-demand instructional supports in the platform itself. Professional learning doesn’t need to be intrusive. Effective professional learning can dramatically extend the abilities of teachers by inspiring them with strategic resources, on-demand support, and creative grab-n-go lesson plans.

4. Digital Content Empowers Students to Share Their Work and Tap into Their Creativity

Many modern digital learning platforms give students the chance to share their own unique takes on their lessons. These sharing opportunities naturally incorporate the four Cs of 21st century skills—critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication. By giving students innovative ways to collaborate with peers on group work, they deepen their engagement with the learning material by seeing it through a different lens. Furthermore, research into the growth mindset of students has demonstrated that putting students in the driver’s seat of their own learning fosters independence, and they respect being given the chance to create their own content. The content creation process itself also provides its own intrinsic benefit to students as a highly prized digital skill to master.

5. Digital Content Helps Teachers Create Lessons that Speak Directly to ALL Students

The deep shelves of the content libraries in modern digital learning platforms allows curriculum developers and educators to select learning materials closely aligned to the makeup of their student populations. Whether that manifests in the differentiation of instructional resource types, or the ethnicities presented in the materials themselves, the wider the resource library, the more closely an educator can match the palette they’re seeking for their lessons.

Want to dive deeper? Read Discovery Education’s whitepaper Leveraging Digital Content to Create Equitable Pathways for Learning. Each of these game-changing elements of modern learning are strengths inside Discovery Education Experience, a new K-12 digital learning platform built from the ground up to support educators. With Experience, educators are given doorways into learning based on their preferences, allowing them to meet the needs of all learners.

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Make the 2020 Census Count for Your Students and School

It’s the year of the 2020 Census, when the U.S. Census Bureau counts everyone living in the United States, including every child. This decennial census provides a special opportunity for educators to teach their students about self-worth, civic engagement, and the value of data—and to promote a complete count that could benefit their schools and students for the next 10 years.

The 2020 Census is critical for students and educators because the count will impact the federal funds that schools receive each year for the next decade or special education, Head Start, classroom technology, teacher training, after-school programs, school lunch assistance, and more. It will also impact funds for community services that influence student readiness for learning, such as maternal and child health programs and assistance with housing, heating, and food costs.

Obtaining a complete count of children, however, can be challenging. The Census Bureau estimated that 1 million children under age 5— 5% of that age group—were not counted in the 2010 Census. Often, children are missed because they are in complex living situations. For example, they may not live in the same home as their parents, or they may divide their time between two homes. They may live with large, extended families or with multiple families under one roof.

Help Ensure a Complete Count of Your Students and Their Families

By April 1, 2020, every home will have received an invitation to respond the 2020 Census. Teachers are in a prime position to educate students and the adults in their home about the importance of responding and counting everyone who lives with them, including every child.

To help teachers provide this education to students and families, the Census Bureau operates the Statistics in Schools (SIS) program. SIS offers free classroom materials for students in pre-K through 12th grade that incorporate census data. These materials give life to topics like women in the workforce and 19th century immigration They can be used to supplement lesson plans in nearly any subject and at any level, from the basics of counting and comparing to the application of data for making real-world decisions.

New SIS materials created specifically for 2020 are designed to educate students and the adults in their home about the importance of completing the 2020 Census and counting everyone. These materials include classroom activities, maps, videos, Spanish-language materials, and a song and storybook for the youngest students.

The activities encourage students to talk about the census at home. There are also materials, like this take-home flyer, for teachers to send directly to parents or other adults in the home.      

The opportunity to have this kind of impact will not come again until the next decennial census in 2030. By that time, today’s kindergartners will be in high school.

Use Census Data to Enhance Learning in Your Classroom

It has never been more important for students to learn how to find, understand, and use statistics. By giving students the opportunity to develop the statistical literacy they need for a data-driven world, teachers help them prepare for future schooling and careers.

For example, employment of mathematicians and statisticians is projected to grow 30% from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projections.

But data can be used to enhance learning in any subject, and statistical literacy skills are needed in many everyday activities. The Census Bureau is a huge repository of real-life data that teachers can use to:

  • Show students how they can apply math and statistics to make decisions and identify important changes in their community and country.
  • Give students a deeper understanding of historic events like the Missouri Compromise.
  • Highlight geography’s impact on communities and lives.
  • Provide additional perspectives on topics like migration, modern families, and poverty.
  • Teach students how to explain, evaluate, infer, persuade, and compare.

Statistics in Schools is one resource for these types of activities, providing free and engaging classroom activities created by teachers, for teachers to support existing lesson plans. Teachers don’t need any special understanding of statistics to use SIS, and each downloadable activity includes a list of materials, a student worksheet, and easy-to-follow teacher directions.  

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Utilizing Student Feedback in the Curriculum Development Process

Every hour a teacher spends on preparation, from professional education to curriculum design, is to help students understand the lesson. And yet that endpoint, the student experience, is missing from the curriculum development of many teachers.

Curriculum development is the process by which a teacher decides what to teach and how. It has multiple stages, moving from the broadest scope to the narrowest:

  • Process or product: Every teacher has to decide whether to measure success through grades or progress in learning. Even if schools dictate how to evaluate students, teachers can still choose the curriculum culture of their classrooms.
  • Goal setting: Benchmarks are the foundations of a curriculum. They ensure students are on track for success. Teachers have to decide not only what they are but also how to measure them.
  • Lesson design: Teachers create lessons and units to help students master material.
  • Re-evaluation: Using student work, teachers determine whether the current curriculum is adequate or in need of adjustment.

When teachers understand how to gather useful feedback and apply it in the fourth step, they can better target lessons to students’ needs.

Learning Opportunities in Student Feedback

The best feedback benefits both students and teachers. It focuses constructively on student accomplishments and how to help them progress further. Asking questions such as the ones outline below can help you elicit this kind of information from students.

1. What can the student do?

For students to learn, they have to believe they are capable. You can help by pointing out how much a student has learned or improved in class. An article published in the Annual Review of Psychology reported that students are most successful when their schools emphasize growth and mastery rather than goals or competition. When students reflect on what they have learned, they gain confidence in learning, and their teachers can better design lessons to build on existing mastery.

2. What can’t the student do yet?

You can only plan lessons effectively if you know what students have yet to master. This is the concept behind formative assessment, a mid-unit evaluation method that compares student achievement to the goals of the curriculum. Sharing what knowledge gaps may exist can be productive if the conversation is framed properly. However, students in some situations may find it discouraging. You should consider the approach for each student separately.

3. How does the student’s work compare to that of their peers?

You can learn a great deal by comparing students’ work. A student who is behind the rest of the class, for example, may need some one-on-one attention, but if multiple students are falling behind, there may be a shortfall in the instruction.

4. How can the student do better?

Once you’ve identified the knowledge gaps in your classroom and possible causes, it’s time to help students meet their goals. This means looking at student performance from a content perspective. Ask yourself:

  • What content delivery methods and activities helped each student most in the past?
  • Which methods didn’t work?
  • Is there any connection between the type of knowledge gained and the method of delivery?

Answering these questions can help teachers move students toward mastery in more areas.

Methods for Obtaining Student Feedback

As soon as you know what you need to ask students, the next step is to decide how to present those questions. Different options will work with different grade levels and classroom cultures. Here are some common techniques that you can use or adapt, depending on your students’ needs and yours.

Formal evaluations

Formal evaluations are traditional in higher education for eliciting feedback from students. Secondary students with the maturity to provide constructive feedback may also find the process empowering. When presenting evaluations, you need to emphasize the importance of honest, constructive feedback. Students should know that both compliments and critiques are welcome, and specific examples are more useful than general ones.

Evaluations typically come at the end of a course, but mid-year or mid-semester evaluations are even more helpful. They allow you to adjust lessons to suit the needs of current students. In this case, it is important for the feedback to be anonymous. Otherwise, some students may hold back to protect their grades.

Simple surveys

Formal evaluations can be too overwhelming for some students, especially younger ones. Customizable short-form surveys can simplify the process. Consider using prompts such as:

  • “I learned more easily this year when . . .”
  • “I found it harder to learn when . . .”
  • “If I could tell my teacher one thing about my learning this year, it would be . . .”
  • “One thing I wish my teacher would do differently is . . .”

The youngest students may need an even simpler approach involving yes or no questions. Thumbs-up or thumbs-down responses or signaling with colored paper (green for yes and red for no) works nicely. With this method, have students put their heads down to encourage honesty.

Focus groups

In a focus group format, teachers and students engage each other in discussion. The students feel heard, and the teacher can ask students to clarify feedback or offer suggestions. To conduct a focus group in your classroom, ask for student volunteers to lead focus groups. All students fill out short surveys asking what worked and what didn’t in the classroom, and the volunteer leaders discuss the questions and answers with their peer groups. Volunteers report the responses back to the teacher in an informal meeting.

Individual conferences

It’s hard to find time for one-on-one student conferences, but the payoff is enormous. Conferences give students space and confidentiality to talk about their struggles, successes and if anything is preventing them from learning effectively. Conferences work best when they take place at regular intervals throughout the year. Even quarterly or mid-term conferences can inform your curriculum design and help them better meet students’ needs.

Mastering Curriculum and Instruction

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Build a Culture of Literacy with Your Classroom Library

The research is clear: Children become motivated capable readers when they are surrounded by wonderful books and are given time each day to read independently. Students in classrooms with libraries read 50–60% more than students who do not have the same access to books. (Catapano, 2009; Morrow, 2003; Kim, 2003; Neuman, 1999). Furthermore, additional time spent reading each day is linked to higher achievement scores. Effective classroom libraries are key foundations for building classroom communities steeped in literacy, and they foster independent reading. This culture of literacy includes:

The Power of Agency

Have you ever witnessed the pure and absolute joy that children have when they experience a book club or fair? Why does such joy come from those specific moments as opposed to other time spent with books? One answer—agency. When students are provided opportunities to make decisions based on their own interests, they shift the ownership of their literacy from their teachers and parents to themselves. That pride and confidence creates more engaged and dedicated readers.

Curated Collections

Within a rich classroom library, children find books that vary in tone, level of complexity, format, and style. Children can read the classics as well as many new and popular books on subjects that they want to explore. They find books that allow them to stretch their perceptions of themselves as readers by experiencing a variety of fiction and informational texts. Becoming familiar with a wide array of texts prepares them for the array of texts they will encounter in school, on devices, and out in the world.

Multifaceted Diversity

Ideally, every classroom would contain a robust classroom library that’s filled with hundreds of books that reflect the mosaic of our society. Yet excellent texts with accurate, dignified, and appealing portrayals of all genders, cultures, orientations, and neurodiversities are still largely lacking from most classroom and school libraries. And this lack of diversity takes a toll. Messages are embedded in textual mirrors and windows. When children do not see themselves in books—or worse, see only distorted or stereotypical reflections—they can internalize negative cultural views and feel that school is not a place where they matter. Positive textual images can change that, resulting in students who demonstrate higher self-esteem, better social-emotional functioning, and increased classroom engagement (Schwartz 2019.)


Students of all ages enjoy and benefit from interactive read-alouds. Using collections with whole-class read-aloud materials can introduce a unit of study or otherwise support lesson plans in and out of the ELA block. Listening to read-alouds allows all students to react and comment on a text, regardless of level or reading ability.

Social-Emotional Connections to Deepen Comprehension

In order to get students thinking—and talking—about books, teachers should ask them to focus on the characters and why they do the things they do. Researchers have explicitly tied reading literary fiction to social and emotional growth, especially empathy. “‘What great writers do is to turn you into the writer. In literary fiction, the incompleteness of the characters turns your mind to trying to understand the minds of others’, explains researcher David Comer-Kidd … Transferring the experience of reading fiction into real-world situations is a natural leap, Kidd argues, because “the same psychological processes are used to navigate fiction and real relationships. Fiction is not just a simulator of social experience, it is a social experience’” (The Guardian 2013).

Linking Reading and Writing

As students come to see themselves as writers, they will be interested in models they can use to make their own words sing.  Students think more critically and creatively about new books when they explore them together, and “writing in response to text has been shown to have a positive effect on reading comprehension” (Graham and Hebert 2011).

Making Independent Reading Nonnegotiable

Daily independent reading is one of strongest predictors of academic success for students, so guide your students to choose books that fit their interests. Provide them with conferences that allow them to think critically about what they read. Read a book of your own along with them, and model reading as a lifelong pleasure.

Classroom libraries and supportive conversations about texts are a critical part of school success. Children need access to books and time to read them. As Donalyn Miller, author of the best-seller The Book Whisperer, explains, “We teachers have enough anecdotal evidence to know that students who read the most are the best spellers and thinkers.”