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Myths about the Common Core Standards

by Patrick 2. September 2014 14:32
The Common Core Standards have become something of a staple in the news as of late. Politicians, pundits, celebrities and educators have discussed potential benefits and pitfalls of the adoption and implementation of the new standards. As with any social and political debate, however, the discussion about Common Core has been plagued by a number of misconceptions. By no means a comprehensive list, here are four of the more prominent myths about Common Core.

Myth 1: The Common Core Standards represent a national curriculum and implementing it means that the standards tell teachers precisely how and what they must teach.

This is one of the big ones. Many teachers are worried that Common Core dictates the exact material that needs to be taught in the classroom, and these concerns have been compounded by several public figures making accusations about the standards’ educational and political bias. It could be argued that the Mathematics Standards do fit this description; they do set content-specific goals to be reached by the end of each grade level. But in the English Language Arts Standards very few specific content requirements are made. Most specific authors and works they list are merely suggestions and do not need to be adopted by the teacher (with the notable exception of Shakespeare; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7; sorry students). Otherwise, Common Core gives teachers flexibility to choose their own material, as seen in its call for student proficiency with “eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature” (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.9). As another example, the standards for history (limited to grades 6-12) do not even list specific historical topics through which the standards can be met, let alone do they determine what content would be required in the classroom. We find the same trend in the science and writing standards. Rather than specific curricula, Common Core tends to focus more on outlining the requisite critical thinking skills students could learn through any of thousands of individual curricula. Crafting lesson plans, choosing reading materials, and deciding on a teaching method are still left up to the teacher and the school.

Myth 2: Common Core decreases the amount of fiction and literature students will read.

This comes from a commonly cited set of figures which have Common Core proposing that, in elementary school, half of what students would be reading would be fiction. By middle school 40% would be fiction, and by high school it would be 30%. This myth is founded on the idea that these percentages represent the fiction/nonfiction ratio in English classes only. However, the standards mean for this 30% high school fiction rate to be a cumulative total from all of their classes. This means that the (probable) majority of texts from history, science, and math classes will count toward that 70% nonfiction total. English teachers will not have to worry that they will have to cut literature out of their curricula.

Myth 3: English Teachers will be forced to teach Social Studies and Science

This most likely comes from a misunderstanding of how the creators of Common Core categorized their standards. The two main categories are English Language Arts and Mathematics. Social Studies, Science, and Writing are subsumed under the former. But, this does not mean that history and science education now falls under the purview of English teachers. To be fair, some of the placement of certain standards under certain categories can be a little confusing; the standard outlining students’ need to be able to analyze the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7) is not listed under the History standards but rather under Reading Informational Texts, which itself is listed under the broad English Language Arts category. English teachers, however, will not suddenly become responsible for teaching American history or science.

Myth 4: No teachers were involved in creating the Common Core Standards.

The initial formation of the Common Core standards was in fact not carried out by K-12 teachers. The “Work Groups” – those who wrote the first versions of the standards – were made of diverse education and assessment experts from a number of associations, namely Achieve and The College Board. The “Feedback Groups” were made up mostly of university professors, understandable given that Common Core is aimed at promoting college and workplace readiness. You can see the full list of people who worked on the early stages of Common Core here. But K-12 teachers have had numerous opportunities to share their input. According to the NEA, “When the first drafts of the Common Core [standards]… were released, the Common Core State Standards staff and writers met with two groups of NEA members.  One was a group of mathematics teachers and the other was a group of English language arts teachers.  All the teachers in the groups were National Board Certified Teachers.” Similarly, the AFT has noted the involvement of its teachers in developing and implementing Common Core.

So there you have it, some of the more widespread myths about the Common Core Standards. Let us know what you think. Have you read or heard anything about Common Core that’s sounded somewhat dubious that we could address in a future blog? Leave us a comment, and stay tuned for our next post!

The SAT’s Shifting Strategies

by Julie 27. March 2014 11:09

Standardized tests are changing left and right, and the SAT is no exception. The test is being updated to align more closely with what students are required to do in high school. While these changes are being made, others will be included as well.

Keeping the Common Core in Mind

Dave Coleman, president of College Board, was also the “architect” of the Common Core, so it is no wonder he has decided to align the SAT more closely to the new standards. This is a smart move. 

•  It makes the SAT more relevant to testing students’ knowledge. 

•  It also makes the Common Core more relevant because it will be used on the SAT, which colleges look at during the admission process.

•  If states actually follow the Common Core, their students should be prepared for the SAT, which leads into the next change.

Leveling the Playing Field

By keeping the Common Core in mind and making a few additional changes, the College Board hopes to reach more lower-income students than in the past. According to Coleman, this country needs more opportunities and the College Board is renewing its commitment to delivering them.
•  Because of the Common Core connection, students should be prepared for the SAT without outside tutoring, SAT-specific lessons, or practice books. (Although, those additional services can still increase test scores.)
•  To prepare test-takers who want more help, the College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to create test-preparation materials. (We have also partnered with Kahn Academy, including some of their lessons in our Show What You Know® Online programs to prepare students for the Common Core or for STAAR with online assessments, lessons, and games.)
•  Income-eligible students will also receive fee waivers to apply to colleges.

Updating the Sections

In order to make the SAT more accessible, some of the sections are being updated in ways other than keeping the Common Core in mind.
•  The dreaded vocabulary section of the SAT will be updated to align closer to what students should already know. This means that it will test their current knowledge. However, there is an advantage to also testing the peculiar and challenging words: it tests college readiness. Students will likely come across words that they don’t know as they read. The current vocabulary section tests their ability to strategize and connect the words to similar words and their context to determine the meaning. While students will love the updates to this section and it will test what they have learned, it takes the strategy out of the test and reduces the test of their college readiness.
•  In addition, the essay will be optional and will be paired with a reading selection. Students will need to explain how the author used certain techniques to get their point across. They will not need to write their own persuasive essay. Students will be recognizing the techniques rather than recalling them and putting them into practice. This decreases the value of the essay because it does not show that the students are able to use what they know, which is needed in college and in many careers.

Taking and Scoring the Test
•  Students will have the option to take the SAT on the computer.
•  Students will no longer lose a 1/4 point when they answer a question wrong. This will encourage students to select the best answer for each question rather than skipping questions.
•  The test will return to a 1600-point scale with the essay being scored separately.

Find out more:
•  At EdNet Insight
•  From the New York Times
•  More from the New York Times
•  From NPR

The Digital Dilemma: The Print to Digital Transition for K-12 Education

by Guest Blogger- Paul Laporte 6. March 2014 16:24
It was after the second world war when the influx of “ready-made” print content known as “Supplemental” began to really grow. Also at this same time, content to address a region's specific curriculum requirements began to be widely adopted and was known as “Text Books”. For over the next 50 years, School Boards and Educators had ONLY these two options as the key content and curriculum foundations for teaching a nation's K-12 students. For all those years, Classroom technology was only the overhead projector, which displayed this print content over clear acetate. I’m sure most educators long for that simpler time when a class lesson went without interruption and the only “hardware” issue was a broken chalk.
For the K-12 Educator, the first digital version of content to widely be distributed began in the early '90s, in PDF format. Throughout the next 20 years, and somewhat still today, savvy teachers preferred this format primarily due to increased availability by being able to purchase this format online. Additionally, the PDF format is easier to store on a desktop, and one has the ability for 1st generation printing rather than making a copy of a print. For digital, this format is still relatively low tech and appeals to most who have not used truly great digital content.

By the year 2000, those two long-held key foundational content options expanded and transformed to a multitude of digital hardware options. K-12 education had stepped up their game considerably, learning from the invasion of consumer electronics and the internet expansion; therefore making the need for more digital in the classroom essential to better engage young digital learners. This leading revolution advanced the content buying habits of Educators and Curriculum Directors by including expanded Technology Departments who were now responsible for digital hardware. The idea was to better show content and curriculum on specific educational-suited devices like Interactive Whiteboards, Digital Projectors, Slates and soon after handheld Tablets and BYODs.

Unlike the previous 50 years, Schools and School Boards put enormous efforts into acquiring digital hardware, oftentimes at the expense of the curriculum content. It used to only be about the content, now Educators have the daunting task not only to choose a device, rather what operating system, assessment integration, connectivity options, one-to-one bandwidth, and security and loss prevention, to mention a few. For plenty of schools, this technology has done the intended opposite by complicating and sometimes diminishing the delivery of curriculum content for students in exchange for the latest shiny new hardware device. 

PDFs now add little value operating on these new robust digital devices. Teachers and Students demand a higher level of engaging interactive content. The purchasing of great digital content for these new devices were seldom included in the package, as the hardware manufacturer's distribution channel had no interest or did not understand the value of content. The manufacturers and their resellers need for a sustainable aftermarket is imperative, so they choose training programs instead of content. Therefore, with the delivery of the new hardware device brought in-service training for Educators on how to use the new electronic device and how to use proprietary programs to create content. Hardware manufacturers always used examples of the “Exemplary Teacher” who made all their own digital content; sadly that has proven to be the exception. This offering was a great solution for the hardware manufacturer, not so good for the Classroom Teachers and their Students.

Today, even more so than the earlier 50 years, very few Teachers make their own content. Most are too busy with day-to-day teaching, increased class management, assessment and after-school programs, to name a few. In the old days, there were far less demands on the Classroom Teacher. The standards were less demanding and foremost of curriculum content was purchased in supplemental or text book print versions by the School Board, or bought from the pockets of individual Teachers. To do the same now, great digital curriculum content is often more expensive than its old print counterpart and often out of budget for individual Teachers. Also, many regions have eliminated the Text Book, even the PDF version as it provides little value to the new hardware devices, thus exacerbating this content dilemma.

It is clear why Teachers seldom made their own content when it was a print format, now they are making even less content in a digital format. For most Teachers, it takes considerably longer and is significantly harder to make engaging interactive content that will appeal to the new digital learners, utilize the best features of the new device, and get it to operate successfully. Most Principals will agree that unfortunately, many of the Interactive Whiteboards and Digital Projectors in their classrooms have only ever been used as large TV screens or fancy electronic chalkboards. By 2006 in Europe and 2009 in North America, it was clear that the majority of teachers were not going to make their own digital content for the Interactive Whiteboard or Digital Projectors, so the lack of use of the devices became embarrassingly obvious.

Less users quickly translated in lagging new installs of these “Big Screen” devices in K-12 schools. New and existing hardware manufacturers sighted this as the “wrong device” and quickly saw an opportunity to market the tablet as the unique new mobile hardware solution. The first iPad was introduced to education in 2010 and by 2012 it was quickly touted as the “new solution” for K-12 classrooms. Android tablets quickly jumped on this, and today the market is now flooded with 100s of similar digital solutions. Furthermore, there are 1000s of individual “apps” cashing in on this wild west trend; unfortunately, at best offering gamification with limited pedagogy, no consistency, and un-proven learning foundations.

Now it is 2014, and the shine has already begun to wear off many tablets. Why? Again for the same reason, not enough great content pre-loaded on the device! Also, some Educators say that it takes enormous resources to load and manage individual apps, to keep them all powered up and to have them all stay connected. Unfortunately — going the way of the Interactive Whiteboards — many of the tablets in classrooms are simply used for games and outside educational web browsing. Over the last decade, there always seems to be money for the latest classroom hardware device, but not for engaging digital curriculum software, even though we know that classroom hardware is simply a platform to interact with engaging content. This is changing; the waste is very visible and we now realize that with no ready-made content, the latest hardware device is almost useless. Like a laptop without software, educational hardware is simply an expensive and poor light source.

Tablets and big screens are purposeful and will continue to be the rage in K-12 Classrooms; however, we have learned from the past and are now migrating to the paramount “total solution” that will be sustainable.

Many of the great digital content publishers feel that the “total solution” for a K-12 classroom is a “Big Screen” at the front with teacher-led instruction for clarifying the key curriculum concepts along with student hand-held devices, primarily for research and assessment. The key difference is that successful hardware manufacturers will hard-bundle complete digital curriculum packages with every unit sold, giving Classroom Teachers and Students a true “complete solution” to effectively use the power of their hardware. Technology and Curriculum buyers will work together and ensure that the install of any new hardware will include a complete suite of ready-made curriculum content. Content is king — always has been, always will be.

March for Music

by Julie 27. February 2014 09:34
Celebrate music during Music in Our Schools Month (MIOSM) this March. More and more music programs are in danger of being pulled from schools, but music won’t go down without a fight! Even while schools are struggling to keep music alive, MIOSM is reaching more students, educators, and musicians.

MIOSM began in 1973 as a single statewide celebration.
By 1985, it was a month long. MIOSM is meant to raise

awareness about the importance of music education. In a time when music education is disappearing, this month is more important than ever.

So why is music education so important?

Music is a part of our daily lives. It can be found on the radio, in movies, in television shows, and even as ringtones. Look around you next time you are on the bus, walking around a school campus (especially colleges), or at the gym. Chances are that you will see many people with headphones listening to music. Many people pair certain ringtones with certain people; it could be because it is their friend’s favorite song or maybe the song makes them feel like they do when they see their friend, parent, or child. Music education helps individuals fully appreciate and understand the music that they hear so often. It can show them the work musicians put into creating their work or how music affects people. The music in television shows and movies may be in the background, but this background noise affects the scene’s mood and the audience’s reaction. It is one of many tools at our disposal to connect events and emotions and spur people to action.

Music can bring people together and initiate social change. The Chicago Children’s Choir was formed during the Civil Rights Movement to help children better understand each other. Choirs, bands, and orchestras are made up of a diverse group of people (any age, gender, nationality, race, etc.). The music forces them to put aside their differences and find what they have in common: a love of music and a goal (not to mention non-music commonalities). The Chicago Children’s Choir, which was originally 12 members, has grown to over 3,500 children according to the Huffington Post, and a group within the choir, called the Voice of Chicago, travels around the country, and even internationally, showing the power of music to unite people.

This experience doesn’t have to end with youth! Columbus, Ohio’s Harmony Project brings the community together in song, service, and education. The choir is a diverse group of individuals (some with no musical experience prior to this group). The choir and other members volunteer their time to improve neighborhoods in their community and promote community issues.

Clearly, music can be taught outside of school and still have an impact. Why should music be in our schools?

First, it can be connected to other parts of the curriculum. In music class, students make music, but how does this actually work? What makes the sound when you hit a drum or play the clarinet? This can be explained by physics. A connection with social studies can explain why music has changed throughout the years and what impact it has had on history. Don’t forget math. How do students know they have the right number of beats in a measure? What is the difference between a quarter note, a half note, and a whole note? I even learned my times tables through tunes I already knew. (I still remember how the times tables match to the tunes today.)

In addition, schools are meant to prepare students for the future. Music can help them learn how to maintain a commitment. Learning an instrument or preparing for a performance is hard work and involves a lot of practice. Performing can also help students gain confidence and learn how to deal with the pressure of other people counting on them. Sometimes they may perform a solo, but many times, they will perform as a group. Choir, band, and orchestra give students a diverse set of experiences.

What can I do to promote music in our schools and pass along its importance to students?
To celebrate MIOSM, get your Music Education Fact a Day by following the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) on Twitter or Facebook. Share the knowledge you gain from these facts with your students.

If you don’t teach music, incorporate it into your classroom or home. Pair music with historic events or a physics lesson. Use it as mnemonic device for remembering multiplication facts. Have a conversation with your children about the impact of music on the movie you just watched. Debate the benefit of music or a specific song or musician with your students.

Check out our music products that can be incorporated into your celebration.

We want to know! (Leave a comment to join the conversation.)
Do you think music should remain in our schools? What do you see as benefits to learning music? How do you use music in your general classroom or core curriculum in your music classroom?

MLK Day of Service

by Julie 17. January 2014 09:37
Monday, January 20 will be a day away from school for many students across the country. It is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Students will celebrate by sleeping in, relaxing, watching television, or spending the day with their friends. They may learn about Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement at school in the days surrounding the holiday, but on their day off, they likely won’t think of it.

But Dr. King was known for giving back and encouraging people to help others, saying "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?’" Encourage your students to follow his lead and “Make it a Day ON… Not a Day Off.” This way, they actively use what they learn to help social problems.

In 1994, the government turned MLK Day into a national day of community service. The first official MLK Day of Service took place in January 1995. Cities across the country honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by setting up volunteer opportunities in the community.

Projects may include cleaning up a park or playground, serving food at a local shelter, building a Habitat for Humanity home, or painting school walls, just to name a few. Many colleges and universities celebrate in a similar way, bringing students together from across campus to volunteer their time and give back to the community. More schools, including elementary, middle, and high schools should take part. It is a great way to meet new people, make some friends, and make a difference.

Look in your local newspaper or search online to find out what opportunities are available in your area. Let your students know the opportunities that are available near them. After MLK Day of Service has taken place, discuss it with your students. What did they do? What did they like about it? Would they want to do it again? Remind them that they don’t have to wait for specific service days to volunteer, but rather they can give back throughout the year.

More information can be found on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service website or on the Corporation for National & Community Service YouTube channel.

WE WANT TO KNOW: Have you or your students participated in MLK Day of Service? What do you think the benefits are, not only toward the community but also toward students’ education?

Physical Education: A Disappearing Act

by Julie 12. December 2013 16:07

What has happened to gym class and recess? They are slowly disappearing from the school day. When I was in elementary school, we had recess every day with plenty of time for a long game of tag or basketball with a few rounds of four square thrown in and time left over to talk with our friends. Teachers occasionally even gave us extra recess when they thought we had done particularly well that week with our classwork and behavior. Gym class was every day or at least on a regular basis as well. But now, schools around the country have reduced the amount of time kids get to be physically active. It has been determined that more time needs to be spent on core classes and standardized testing, leaving less time for physical education and recess.

According to a survey released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Harvard School of Public Health, and National Public Radio, about 25% of the parents polled thought their child’s school does not provide adequate attention to physical education and exercise. These concerns should be listened to because regular physical activity builds bones and muscles, reduces the risks of many diseases and depression, and can even help academic achievement and behavior. Even though this is known, less than 50% of children were found to get the recommended 60 minutes of daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.

If this is the case, why don’t parents make their children get exercise after school? Students have homework and chores to complete. Many kids have extra-curricular activities like music lessons, art, or theater programs rather than sports, and these don’t provide the necessary physical activity. Then, they need to eat and to sleep the recommended 8–9 hours. Time simply runs out.

Physical education classes and recess are important for more than just physical exercise though. In gym class, children get a sampling of many physical activities and learn what they are interested in. Some may realize they love soccer. Others may realize they never want to play it again, but they enjoyed basketball, volleyball, or gymnastics. Without this opportunity, parents would have to pay for lessons for each activity before their children learn what they like, and many cannot afford to do that. It would also take many years for students to experience all of the possibilities because seasons overlap. Either that or the students would be overbooked trying to fit everything in at once. Gym class and recess also give students time to interact with and get to know each other. Friendships are forged and often maintained on the playground. Gym class and recess may be the only times students from different classes get to interact.

Schools are at least trying to solve part of the problem (physical activity). At least one school requires students to take a walk in the morning before school starts. Others are having teachers mix it into the core classes. The importance of physical activity hasn’t been lost, but somehow the time has.

WE WANT TO KNOW: Do your students get enough physical exercise? Are gym class and recess available at your students’ schools, or is physical activity encouraged in another way? If you are a general education teacher, do you incorporate physical activity in your classroom? How? Leave a comment to let your fellow teachers and parents know!

If you are a teacher looking to incorporate movement in your classroom, you can find help in our movement & music section (http://ow.ly/rHvsj).

Learn more about the survey here: http://www.educationnews.org/parenting/survey-too-little-physical-education

Or here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/12/06/249247319/to-get-kids-exercising

And get more information about physical activity recommendations here: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/physicalactivity/facts.htm


Listening: The Key to Common Core?

by Lauren 12. December 2013 10:25
What separates a successful student from his or her classmates? According to Common Core advocates, it’s listening skills. A student who truly listens understands what is being asked, can demonstrate skills based on his or her understanding, and can apply his/her new knowledge in a variety of situations. In fact, the Common Core is comprised of a set of speaking and listening skills for each grade, starting in kindergarten with basics like taking turns speaking and listening to others while they speak, and ending in twelfth grade with more complex skills like expressing ideas persuasively and building off of others’ thoughts. Ultimately, the Common Core listening skills are designed to make students an asset to the workforce, where listening skills are in great demand but are often little seen.
According to an article on eSchool News, a 21st century worker is a good listener when, “they can summarize what they have been told and retell what they have learned to colleagues…Those in the workplace will be expected to reflect on what they have heard, ask for clarity in the face of a misunderstanding, as well as make connections to what is being said on team.” Listening skills can make or break a worker’s performance in the office. Those who don’t follow through with what they’ve been told, and worst of all refuse to ask questions when they don’t understand something, will exasperate their employers and might make their future uncertain at said company.

Unfortunately, teachers can often find listening a tough skill to engrain in their students.  To combat this problem, eSchool News recommends using audio books in the classroom. Students will not only have to listen to what is being said, but they will have to process that information in order to understand the message of the story, essay, or article. Using audiobooks in the classroom also introduces students to different forms of media, another component of the Common Core State Standards.

How do you incorporate listening skills in your classroom? Have you tried audiobooks? What other suggestions do you have? How would you assess the Common Core Listening Standards-a good idea or bad idea for teachers?

Read the eSchool News article on Common Core listening skills here.

Check out some of LEP’s products that boost speaking & listening skills: What’s That Sound?, I Can…Move!, Taking Time for Teamwork, & Ice Breakers!

Read the Common Core Speaking & Listening Standards.


District Decides to Monitor Students’ Social Networking

by Lauren 15. November 2013 16:10
In an effort to curtail cyber bullying, vandalism, drug use, and even suicidal thoughts, the Glendale Unified School District in California has decided to monitor their students’ activity on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other popular social-networking sites. To complete this controversial task, the school enlisted Geo Listening, a social network monitoring service, for a sum of $40,500. Last year, the school district used Geo Listening in a pilot program to monitor three thousand of its students, both in middle school and in high school. Ultimately, Glendale’s decision raises concerns regarding student privacy; many believe the school has overstepped its boundaries.

In order to monitor Glendale middle and high schoolers, Geo Listening accesses students’ public posts on social networking sites. This means if a student keeps his or her posts/profiles marked private, the company won’t have access. When the company finds questionable content or posts that violate the school’s code of conduct, the campus is notified. In fact, school administrators receive daily updates from Geo Listening. These updates usually include a screen shot of the problematic content with the user’s name, along with the time and date, if the post was made on or off campus, and why the post caught the attention of analysts. So far, none of the campus administrators have disciplined a student for the material he or she has published online.

Even though the school might mean well, (the decision was made after several student’s suicides), many high schoolers and middle schoolers have expressed concern over the monitoring program.  The ACLU has also said that the district is walking a very fine line and their use of monitoring oversteps what is necessary for student safety. Equally concerning are the qualifications and the methodology used by the analysts. Do the analysts have a background in counseling or psychology that would enable them to determine when a student really needs help? What right do the analysts have to deem content questionable or unquestionable? It’s possible their ratings might be more stringent than a parent or guardian. The analysts could easily have a strong bearing on a student’s future and reputation at school, so hopefully they use both strong judgment and wisdom.

What do you think about schools monitoring students’ social media postings? Does this infringe on student privacy, even when posts are already marked “public”? Will monitoring actually decrease bullying and other problems? What negative effects is it likely to have?

Check out Geo Listening’s website to get the full scoop on their controversial system. 

Happy NaNoWriMo!

by Julie 4. November 2013 15:43

November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. It is also a great month to get your students involved in writing (especially in locations where the weather is cold and gray). Students (and teachers) have had a few months to shake away the cobwebs after summer break and refresh their understanding of grammar and the writing process. 

Now is the time to delve deeper and push students to understand their full writing potential: they can write a story and even a book if they put their minds to it. You may have heard about some of the novels that came from NaNoWriMo, such as Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants and Erin Morgernstern’s The Night Circus.

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

NaNoWriMo is actually a nonprofit that encourages aspiring writers to sit down and create. The adult program has a word-count goal of 50,000 words, but young writers can set their own goals. Beginning writers could create a shorter story, while more advanced writers could aim for a full novel. If your students reach their goals, they can even get free copies of their finished manuscripts through CreateSpace (https://www.createspace.com/nanowrimo?ref=890654&utm_id=5932)

So how can you use NaNoWriMo to your advantage? Check out their Young Writers Program at http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/. The website brings writers and educators together through forums and provides electronic pep talks throughout the month. If your local library or bookstore is involved, you may be able to meet other writers and educators participating in the program through local write-ins. The program is free to use, and you only need internet access occasionally to participate. Students can write offline and paste the text into the Word Count Validator on their NaNoWriMo account at designated times.

Set aside time during class for students to write their stories, or have them write at home. During class, keep your students inspired! Give them fun writing activities and prompts to boost their creativity. Provide materials and lessons to help them become better writers (http://ow.ly/qovSO).  Learn more about holding writing workshops in your classroom to take full advantage of NaNoWriMo (http://ow.ly/qovzt)!

And don’t forget, if you want to try writing a novel in just 30 days, sign yourself up at http://nanowrimo.org/!

WE WANT TO KNOW: How do you encourage your students to write? Are you going to have your students try the NaNoWriMo challenge or try it yourself? Keep us updated! Leave a comment below to let us, and your fellow teachers and parents, know. 

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National Bullying Prevention Month

by Julie 9. October 2013 16:25

Have you ever heard the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? As bullying comes into the spotlight more and more, it becomes clear that this saying is not true. Although you may not see physical harm from name-calling or other types of verbal bullying, the effects are still very real. Bullying can negatively affect students’ physical and emotional health, lowering their self-esteem and even threatening their ability to learn.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, providing a perfect reason to discuss all types of bullying with children and teenagers. This topic is not always easy to approach, which may be why it is often discussed in response to something that has already happened rather than in advance as a way to prevent it. Use this month to get ahead of bullying by discussing these issues before they occur!

Teaching and modeling acceptance and compassion can help children understand that differences are not bad and not reasons to avoid or make fun of others. Bullying can occur because students don’t understand each other. Encourage students to interact with people who seem different from them. Introduce your students to students with special needs in your school or city (you could even make an event out of it and have a picnic lunch in a classroom or outside). You could also set up time to volunteer at a local shelter. The more students interact with others who seem different, the more they can connect with each other and accept these differences. Whether or not you can arrange these experiences, be sure to teach your students about various cultures and groups. If you don’t know where to start, you may want to check out our available character education books  (http://ow.ly/pC5L8 ) and culture books (http://ow.ly/pC5Zf ).

In addition to directly teaching about bullying and accepting others, it is a good idea to create a plan to respond to bullying if it occurs. Let your students know that they can come to you to discuss problems they are having with others. Explain to students how they should report bullying to you and how you will handle it (Will it be anonymous? Will you ask the bully to apologize? Will you make them do a good deed to make up for it or read a book about bullying?). Don’t forget to follow-up and make sure that the student has stopped their bullying behavior.

For more information about bullying, ways to talk about it, or ideas about how to handle these situations, visit http://www.stopbullying.gov/ or PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center at http://www.pacer.org/bullying/

WE WANT TO KNOW: Do you see bullying in your classroom? How do you handle it? Does anything in particular work well to prevent it or stop it from happening again? Leave a comment to let us (and your fellow teachers and parents) know!


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