ISS Blog

  • A Close Look at Close Reading!

    Posted by Sadie Roosevelt on 4/11/2018 8:00:00 AM

    The term “close reading” caught people's’ attention with the introduction of the Common Core Standards. The introduction even begins with the statement “students who meet the Standards readily undertake the close, attentive reading that is at the heart of understanding and enjoying complex works of literature”. It is an underlying requirement for the majority of the ELA Standards. So, with that being said, what is your definition of close reading? What does close reading look and sound like in your classroom?

    Close reading instruction can take various forms depending on the purpose and developmental appropriateness of your students, but the process follows a ritual:

    Step 1: Decide what to carefully look for. Read through lenses. Decide what you will be paying attention to while reading and collect those details.
    Step 2: Find out what these things have in common (a pattern). Details don’t mean much until you find the relationship between them.
    Step 3: Step back and see what new understanding this gives you about the text.

    For more information about this ritual, I recommend Falling in Love with Close Reading by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts, as an excellent mentor text.



    Other mentor texts to consider would be Notice and Note and Reading Nonfiction by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst. These books are packed with strategies and tips for teaching close reading protocols to your students.

    book book

    If you would like to further explore the use of close reading in your classroom and learn more about text complexity, I will be holding a full-day workshop on August 20, 2018. Please check out our Summer Catalog for more information!


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  • Effective Group Work in the Math Classroom

    Posted by Stephen Garby on 4/2/2018 5:00:00 AM

    What is the biggest problem with group work in the average classroom?  Unequal participation.

    Often, some students dominate a discussion or task the groups is working on, while other students are withdrawn and don’t contribute. Complex instruction is a groupwork model created by Elizabeth Cohen and Rachel Lotan of Stanford University. CI emphasizes techniques and practices that can help to make groupwork more effective and equitable (Cohen & Lotan, 2014).

    Complex instruction married with well crafted “low floor, high ceiling” math tasks have been documented to be extremely successful in classrooms (Jo Boaler & Staples, 2008). Low floor, high ceiling math tasks are interesting and engaging tasks that also have a low enough entry point to get all students engaged and a “high ceiling” that will challenge all students (J Boaler, 2016).

    Complex instruction has four main components: group-worthy tasks, roles, assigning competence, and shared responsibility.

    Group-worthy tasks refer to creating math tasks that do not rely simply on satisfactory procedure or calculation, rather that are multidimensional and address many of the different skills that make up mathematics. Skill such as asking questions, posing ideas, modeling, justification, and others from the Standards of Mathematical Practice make a well-rounded task. “No one is good at all these ways of working, but everyone is good at some of them” (J Boaler, 2016, p. 121).

    Having different roles for students in groups can be a nice way to encourage equal participation. Roles such as facilitator, recorder, resource manager, and team captain would be good for an average classroom. While potentially unique to each class, roles that keep students on task and working collaboratively, while minimizing “domination” by one high-status student is the goal of this CI aspect.

    Assigning competence is a way to help students that are withdrawn from the group due to some sort of “lower status” to be more involved. Often a student’s social and/or academic status will dictate the amount of participation in a group activity. High-status students dominate, while low-status students don’t participate. Assigning competence is when a teacher intentionally and deliberately assign status to a low-status student. The teacher may approach the group and praise or involve a withdrawn student (“I like what Steve said, that’s an important point we should consider”), which may be able to raise that student’s status in the group and generate greater participation.

    Shared student responsibility means that every student in a group is responsible for knowing what is going on in the group, and is responsible for making sure the other students in the group know. A teacher may approach a group and ask just one student a question. If that student does not know the answer, no other student may answer. It is the responsibility of the rest of the group to explain the concept to him or her, and I will be back shortly to follow up with the same student to make sure they can answer my question.

    Implementing CI may be an effective way to improve student groupwork in your math class.

    Boaler, J. (2016). Mathematical mindsets: Unleashing students' potential through creative math, inspiring messages, and innovative teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass & Pfeiffer Imprints.
    Boaler, J., & Staples, M. (2008). Creating mathematical futures through an equitable teaching approach: The case of Railside School. Teachers College Record, 110(3), 608-645.
    Cohen, E., & Lotan, R. (2014). Designing groupwork: Strategies for the heterogeneous classroom (Third edition). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.


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  • Inventive Spelling

    Posted by Sadie Roosevelt on 3/2/2018 8:00:00 AM

    Lately, I have been providing in-district support around guided reading and learning centers that can be done during this time. A topic that frequently comes up is the students’ use of inventive spelling, so I wanted to provide some information around inventive spelling and spelling development that I hope will be helpful for you! 

    inventive spelling

    If you are unfamiliar with what invented spelling actually is, it is a term that refers to a young student’s attempt to spell words to the best of their ability. Spelling is a complex developmental process. Just think about all of the spelling “rules” that students must acquire! It is not just about memorizing words.

    There are five stages of spelling development: precommunicative, semiphonetic, phonetic, transitional, and correct. As you read on, keep in mind that the change from one spelling stage to the next is a gradual one and that examples from more than one stage may coexist in a particular sample of writing.


    Now that you are aware of the stages of spelling development, you can use this information to plan for instruction. Purposeful writing experiences are the key to cognitive growth in spelling. Teachers need to plan for and encourage purposeful writing, such as the writing of messages, lists, signs, letters, stories, and poems.Teachers can also provide opportunities for frequent writing, which, when integrated with all aspects of the curriculum, should be a natural part of the daily classroom routine. Frequent application of spelling knowledge by students while writing encourages spelling competency.When teaching students to write, teachers should avoid overemphasis on absolute correctness, mechanics, and memorization. Early emphasis on mechanical aspects of spelling inhibits developmental growth. This is not to say that teachers should not have high expectations, but these expectations depend on the student’s ability.

    A great resource to visit to learn more about this topic (and many others!) is I highly recommend checking out this site for more useful information!

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  • The Power of Providing Feedback in the Classroom

    Posted by Danielle Cornish on 2/28/2018

    The Power of Providing Feedback in the Classroom

    Feedback in the classroom provides numerous opportunities through formative assessment to enhance performance and achievement.   For the most part, feedback is used to describe the various comments used after a task is completed, including advice, encouragement, praise and suggestions.  However, feedback is information we use to gauge how we are doing relative to a goal we are trying to reach. During instruction, teachers need to generate frequent responses through student interactions, monitor their responses and provide effective feedback.  Why provide feedback?  Consider the following:  feedback is an opportunity to motivate, feedback is essential to develop performance, feedback is a way to keep learning and feedback is a way to let students know where they stand in the classroom, on the objective and with you.


    Feedback Essentials

    You just finished teaching a concept, checked for understanding, using a variety of methods to increase student engagement; pair-shares, response cards, whiteboards or other various methods, now it is time to listen to the responses to determine the next steps in your lesson.  Are the responses correct, partially correct or incorrect?  Once you listen and analyze the responses, you need to provide feedback.  Your feedback should be goal-oriented, timely, on-going and consistent.  To ensure that your feedback isn’t counterproductive, or negative consider make sure it is as specific as possible, delivered immediately, addresses the students advancement toward the objective / goal, in a nice tone and involves the learner.  


    Monitor the Feedback

    Monitor student performance carefully in order gain information on student understanding, provide corrections and affirmations, and adjust the instruction within the lesson three ways:

    • Repeat correct answers
    • Expand on partially correct answers
    • Re-Teach / Explain the answer if 2 students in a row are incorrect


    When students have the correct answer to a question, repeat the answer to the entire class for everyone to hear.When the students answer is mostly correct, you don’t need to re-teach.  Paraphrase and expand on the student’s answer so all students hear a more effectively worded answer.  If two students in a row have the wrong answers: stop, explain and re-teach the entire class.


    It is important for students to know how they are doing as they learn.  The knowledge that they are do well gives them a sense of achievement which in turn motivates them to learn more.  Similarly, it is important to let students know when they have made a mistake so they can learn from it in the moment.   Practice makes permanence, when students aren’t provided feedback they don’t know if they are practicing correctly or incorrectly, hence  the importance of immediate feedback.  Providing immediate feedback is a critical component in the teaching process to monitor students learning  and helps students understand what they are doing right and wrong!


    Resources / References:

    Archer, A. L., & Hughes, C. A. (2011). Explicit instruction: Effective and efficient teaching. New York: Guilford Press.

    Hollingsworth, J. R., & Ybarra, S. (2013). Explicit Direct Instruction for English learners. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

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