Phones in the Classroom

I recently saw a pin on Pinterest where teachers were making QR codes for their students to glue in their Interactive Notebooks. I loved this idea so I cranked out a handout of QR codes for my students to use when they take their notebooks home. I’ve also started adding QR codes to worksheets to help them when they get stuck.

QR codes on pinterest

Officially phones are not allowed to be out in the classroom at my school, but we also have a free WiFi available to students… so I feel the policy is a bit contradictory. As more and more schools start to allow social media and technology into the classroom, I suspect many districts will not only allow phones in the classroom, but encourage them (if they are used for educational purpose!)

For more on phones in the classroom, I suggest this article:

Here is the handout I made for my students,  which I’ve posted for FREE on TpT:

Writing QR Codes


5 Things You Might Not Know About the STAAR Reading Test

Did you Know the STAAR Reading Test is…

1. Written above the tested grade level?

Therefore Lexile is not an indicator of success on the STAAR test. We should teach students how to justify the correct answer using accurate, relevant, explicit text evidence. The best strategy for teaching reading in the secondary grades isn’t really a strategy at all. Teach them to be a GOOD reader that depends on the information that is given in the text.

The readiness standards were written to be a predictor of college entrance and success. Think about it, each standardized test has a purpose. The SAT/ACT is *meant* to predict college success and completion. The STAAR and EOC exams are to meant to test if a student  is college ready, i.e. Have they developed the skills they need to complete public school and enter college or the workforce?


2. “Text-Dependent” reading, not “Personal Schema” reading?*

text dependent


3. Covers far too many genres to teach entire novels (and get to all of your TEKS before the test)?

Organizing your curriculum by genre is ideal so that you can ensure that you teach all of the genres! The “Reading Workshop” model works well so that you can isolate specific skills, but still work in a larger genre focused framework, and hit Reading and Writing TEKS at the same time. For example, teach students about imagery and figurative language during a poetry or fiction reading unit, while having them write a narrative with imagery and figurative language.


4. Divided into three reporting categories? (this example is for English I)

genre categories

5. Covers non-fiction texts that are NOT considered Expository?

Example: Biographies are non-fiction but they are tested under the Literary reporting category (Category 2) because they have a theme and many other elements of a story. If a practice passage from your text-book or another resource is a biography and asks main idea questions, that material is not aligned to the Texas TEKS. Do not use it.


For this information and more (plus a “Genre Card Sort” activity for students) visit my TpT store!

genre card sort reading staar test information


RRR: Day 3

(First, my apologies for the tardiness of this review… a certain 5-year-old’s birthday, anniversaries, and a trip to the beach interfered with my  blogging! It was a happy distraction though. Please enjoy my final review of the RRR conference.)

On Day 3, Todd Whitaker and Jason Ryan Dorsey (The Gen Y Guy) were the final presenters at the Rigor, Relevancy, and Relationship Conference I attended earlier this month in Cy-Fair ISD. (See my reviews of Day 1 and Day 2)

The morning’s keynote address as given by Todd Whitaker. He spoke mostly about his book, “Leading School Change.” All week-long, I heard other participants talk about Todd and say things like, “I don’t want to miss that guy!” so I knew his keynote would be great. I wasn’t disappointed.

His book is not trying to convince you to change something about your school. We all know that each school, and heck, education as a whole has its flaws. His book is nine step-by-step strategies a school leader can use to lead change at their school. I wish I could have listened to Todd speak all day and get through the entire nine steps! Before I knew it, I looked at my watch and it was time to go, and we were only on the third step!

If I learned anything from Todd Whitaker’s presentation… it’s to make sure that a person’s first exposure to a new idea or program is great. So I’m going to avoid going into a lot of detail about how awesome and informative his presentation was and just encourage you to visit his website, “youtube” him, and read his book. “Leading School Change” is sitting on my desk, marked, highlighted, and sticky noted. I’m intrigued to also read: “50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior” and “What Great Teachers Do Differently.” And I have to wonder, am I a “superstar” teacher?

Jason Ryan Dorsey gave the afternoon keynote during lunch. A neat little factoid: Jason grew up near the Cy-Fair area, which made it really neat to hear him speak about how one special teacher really shaped his life.

Jason’s presentation was a little different from some of the other keynote speakers or session presentations I attended. Jason isn’t a teacher or former teacher, but he still managed to captivate the audience with his anecdotes about different generations. He studies the generations and speaks to business and school leaders on how to unify a team of people from multiple generations.

What I learned from Jason Ryan Dorsey’s presentation is that you can’t treat people from different generations the same or expect them to act the same. They have different attitudes, beliefs, and unique behaviors and talents. A school contains at least four different generations of people, all trying to work side-by-side. That’s a lot of attitude! His website gives more information about “Gen Y” or people born from 1977 to 1995. This is probably a big bulk of a school’s teaching staff. This would be younger, newbie teachers to veterans with around 10 years (maybe a little less) experience. Here is a video (not from the RRR conference I attended, but of Jason Ryan Dorsey speaking about the different generations. This speech was definitely on par with the quality of the presentation he gave at the RRR conference – in which he also received a standing ovation!)

You can purchase his newest book, “My Reality Check Bounced” or “Y-Size Your Business” on

Organizing Middle School ELA Curriculum: Part 2

My Recommendation for Organizing your ELA Curriculum

Reading and Writing should be integrated into one ELA curriculum, and a “thematic topic” approach should be used. Teachers should search for a way to group reading, writing, research, listening and speaking strands into thematic topics. This approach is best for classroom instruction for two reasons:

  1. It provides the teacher with an opportunity to embed relevant and multilevel standards into the instruction (Rakow, 2008).
  2. It provides an opportunity for students to study a larger concept or theme and then explore many other diverse examples of skills associated with that concept or theme across the content.

What NCTE Says About the Integrated (Thematic Topic) Approach

The NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) supports the integration of reading and writing in the curriculum. In a statement on their website they said, “Findings from recent education research show that students learn the language arts best when reading, writing, and literature are integrated…”  (Position Statements, 1982-2008). The state of Texas has already divided the standards into strands, and within those strands the specific TEK is associated with a genre. This move by the state was a step towards ensuring that reading and writing curriculums across the state are integrated into one ELA curriculum.

The figure below shows how one genre, persuasive writing, is addressed in the reading and writing TEKS.

In specific content areas, like English/Language Arts, the curriculum should reflect the elegance and sophistication unique to the discipline (Rakow, 2008) An instructional opportunity is missed if students cannot see the connection between the identifiable elements of a persuasive text, for example, and how a writer can use literary devices to persuade or affect the reader.

A thematic approach based on genre would be the most sensible way to integrate the reading and writing curriculum. The NCTE supports a literature-based approach to teaching ELA. This approach would be similar to a “whole-language” curriculum model, where elements of each of the four TEKS strands are integrated into one unit of study  (Rakow, 2008). For example, when studying persuasive writing, students would learn about fact versus opinion in reading, and about writing thesis statements, main ideas, and supporting details in writing. Within this unit of study, students will research and present their side of an issue to the class, and then revise and edit persuasive texts for grammatical errors and weaknesses in the author’s arguments. This kind of integrated, thematic approach to teaching ELA would cover a broader and larger amount of TEKS, at a greater depth, in a shorter amount of time.

Steps for Getting Started

  1. The thematic approach to writing and implementing ELA curriculum may be time-consuming and work intensive for the teacher at first. Administrators can support their teachers by giving them time to during the school day to plan and discuss how they will divide up the TEKS and which genre to start with. Administrators should keep in mind that this approach is more sophisticated than teaching the TEKS in numerical order or using a part-to-whole or whole-to-part approach. A thematic approach requires the teacher and students to have a deeper understanding of the content in each strand of TEKS (reading, writing, research, and speaking and listening.)
  2. If the teachers are responsible for writing the curriculum, they will need support from the campus instructional leader and/or the district coordinator when planning for instructional strategies and common assessments.
  3. The curriculum writer(s) would have to start with a central genre, and identify subtopics to be taught within that genre. (This should be fairly easy since the reading and writing TEKS are already broken down by genre.)
  4. Within each thematic unit over genre, important terms, facts, or skills will need to be identified. Some TEKS or skills may be re-taught multiple times throughout the year, due to the fact that they can be studied as a part of multiple types of genres.

Below is a sample of my school’s 8th grade Reading “Semester-At-A-Glance” (other schools may refer to this as Scope and Sequence):

The Bottom Line

A whole other blog post (or 3 or 10) could be dedicated to why we chose to scaffold the genres in the way that we did. But since this blog post is essentially about how to organize you ELA curriculum, I’ll leave you with a few parting thoughts on why an intergrated and thematic topic approach based on genre is best…

An integrated and thematic approach to teaching middle school ELA would cover a broader and larger amount of TEKS at a greater depth, in a shorter amount of time. This approach provides teachers with the opportunity to embed relevant and multilevel standards into the instruction. Students are able to comprehend the larger concept of genre as it pertains to reading and writing, and then understand the specific skills associated with a particular genre. In middle school ELA, the most effective way to sequence and organize the ELA curriculum, so that it is taught at a depth that is appropriate for the STAAR test, is to use an integrated, thematic approach.

Works Cited and Studied

Ediger, M. (2002, February 18). Designing the Reading Curriculum. North Newton, Kansas: Educational Resources Information Center.

Kilgo, M. (2011, August 3). ELA Scope and Sequence. Austin, TX: Kilgo Consulting, Inc.

Position Statements: Resolution on Literature-Based Reading Instruction . (1988-2008). Retrieved Septemeber 2011, from National Council of Teachers of English:

Position Statements: Resolution on the Development of Instructional Materials that Integrate the Language Arts. (1982-2008). Retrieved September 2011, from National Council of Teachers of English:

Rakow, S. R. (winter 2008). Standards based v. standards embedded curriculum: Not just semantic. Gifted Child Today , 31 (1), 43-49.

Reeves, D. (2002). The Leaders Guide to Standards: A Blueprint for Educational Equitity and Excellence. San Francisco: John Wiley and Sons.

Siegel, G., Chittenden, L., Jensen, J., & Wall, J. (1980). Sequences in writing: Grades K-13. Curriculum Publication No. 13 . Berkely , California: Educational Resources Information Center.

Texas Education Agency. (2009-2010). Retrieved September 2011, from Chapter 110: TEKS for ELA, Subchapter B. Middle School:

Thomas, W. (1987). The English-Language Arts Model Curriculum Guide, Kindergarten Through Grade Eight. Sacramento : California State Department of Education.

RRR: Day 2

Day 2. Amazing.

I have a teaching crush on John Samara! Jon Gordon was equally impressive as a motivational speaker.

It’s funny how both men spoke about different topics but the resounding theme was the same: Relationships matter.

John Samara mostly presented on the instructional categories for an effective classroom. In the short time he had to present, he placed an emphasis on building a positive classroom environment through having a clear objective, making the content relevent to the students and implementing predictable procedures.

What I learned from John Samara’s presentation was how to write a really outstanding objective. John encourages teachers to always be mindful of the cognitive verb that teachers are teaching to. Pay attention to your state standards. Often time, the depth of understanding required by the state is very clearly stated in the standard. The objective shouldn’t be written on the board and ignored. Involve your students in reading, writing, and evaluating the objective everyday. Can they do what the objective states they can do? Below is a template, presented by John Samara, on writing objectives. (Also included is a helpful chart of Bloom’s cognitive Verbs.)

An example of an objective for this blog post might be: Today we will being to recognize the parts of an effective objective using resources from and John Samara’s presentation over instructional practices.

Jon Gordon was the keynote speaker on Day Two. Jon mostly discussed the importance of being positive. According to Jon, you can’t go to work expecting your job to make you happy. Instead,  you go to work with purpose and passion for what you’re doing and happiness will find you. He talked about having a “rookie mind-set.” Have you ever noticed the young professionals in your building seem to enthusiastic and eager? On the other hand, the “veterans” (notice I didn’t call them “old” because young people can fall into this “veteran” mind-set too) always talk about the good ol’ days. You know before STAAR, or TAKS, or TAAS, or whatever state assessment they deemed to be less intrusive to their teaching. Jon talked about having the same passion and purpse as that rookie teacher. He encouraged all of us to come up with one word to focus on throughout the upcoming school year. One word to focus our attention, help us make decisions, and improve our attitude. He suggested words like: purpose, focus, perseverance, intentional, kindness…

What I learned from Jon Gordon’s presentation is to be more patient and positive. Sitting there, listening to his presentation, made me realize that the root of a lot of my negatively comes from my lack of patient. I want everyone to see my vision for our school or department and jump on board rightnow. Let’s go! Carpe Diem! So my word for next year is: patience. I need to be patient. I need to slow down and do a better job of building relationships before I expect my students, parents, or co-workers to jump on board with some new idea I’ve dreamed up.

I’ve got the rookie mind-set. Now I just need the veteran’s patience.

P.S. You can visit Jon’s website at:

Organizing Middle School ELA Curriculum: Part 1

Introduction to Curriculum Writing

A well sequenced curriculum gives order and meaning to what is being taught and improves student learning. Depending on the content area, different approaches to sequencing a curriculum could be applied.

There are six basic approaches for organizing curriculum:

Introduction to the TEKS for ELA Grades 6-8

In grades six through eight, the state standards do not place an emphasis on learning to read, but rather on reading, understanding, and producing a variety of literary pieces. In ELA (English/Language Arts), Texas organized the standards into four strands: reading, writing, research, and listening and speaking. Consider the message on the Texas Education Agency’s website explaining the middle school English/Language Arts strands:

Reading, where students read and understand a wide variety of literary and informational texts;

Writing, where students compose a variety of written texts with a clear controlling idea, coherent organization, and sufficient detail;

Research, where students are expected to know how to locate a range of relevant sources and evaluate, synthesize, and present ideas and information;

Listening and Speaking, where students listen and respond to the ideas of others while contributing their own ideas in conversations and in groups; and Oral and

Written Conventions, where students learn how to use the oral and written conventions of the English language in speaking and writing.  (Texas Education Agency, 2009-2010)

In Texas, the ELA standards taught within these strands are cumulative and simultaneous (Texas Education Agency, 2009-2010). Keeping in mind that students in the middle grades will have to build on previously learned concepts while learning new concepts in all the strands, an approach where reading, writing, research, listening and speaking skills are integrated into every unit of study, would be the best way to sequence an integrated ELA curriculum (Rakow, 2008).

How NOT to Organize your ELA Curriculum

  • A part-to-whole approach would not be entirely appropriate for middle school ELA. While some skills may lend themselves to a part-to-whole approach (for example, teaching sequential order before teaching cause and effect is appropriate because students need to understand placing events in time order) this approach is not appropriate for all of the standards. Teaching “author’s purpose” for example can be taught at anytime of the year because, depending on the genre, authors write for many different purposes. Students need to be able to determine the author’s purpose of multiple types of genres, therefore this particular skill must be taught or reviewed many times during the school year.
  • Additionally, there are too many ELA TEKS to teach them chronologically. Teaching the standards in “TEK order” (the numerical order in which they appear from TEA) would be time consuming. There are over 100 topics and subtopics in the seventh grade ELA standards. If a teacher decided to teach the seventh grade ELA standards in TEK order, then days, weeks, or months, of instruction for the remaining strands and standards would be lost
  • Teaching the standards in a non-integrated, isolated way in ELA can limit the depth in which a student can learn and understand the content (Rakow, 2008). An example would be: “Ok kids, today we are going to learn about main idea. Tomorrow we are moving on to author’s purpose. A major point of Margaret Kilgo’s research stresses that the standards in ELA will be tested at a higher Bloom’s level than ever before, starting in 2012 on the STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) test. The figure below explores the relationship between the levels of comprehension needed for the STAAR test identified by Maraget Kilgo compared to Bloom’s Taxonomy. Because the new standards and STAAR test assess students at a higher level, the curriculum being used must be written in a way that will address the high intellectual demands of the STAAR test. In order to get to the depth and complexity required in the STAAR test, Reading and Writing curriculum should be integrated and taught in thematic units (Kilgo, 2011 and Rakow, 2008)

Coming Soon in Part 2: Recommendations for Organizing your ELA Curriculum, What the National Council of Teachers of English Says, Tips for Getting Started

Rigor, Relevance, Relationships Conference: Day 1

A few months ago our district sent out an email inviting teachers to attend the upcoming RRR workshop in Cy-Fair ISD. I love learning and talking about curriculum, I aspire to be a school leader in some capacity one so day, so sign me up! And WOW! Let me tell you, this is exactly what I needed!

The keynote speaker for the opening session was Keni Thomas. If you don’t who Keni Thomas is, you’re missing out! Keni is a combat veteran, country music singer/song writer, and author. Keni is a renaissance man. He’s a worldly guy, with wisdom and experience beyond his years. Basically, Keni is a badass.

His speech was a combination of anecdotes about life as a Ranger (he fought in the battle of Battle of Mogadishu  which was fictionalized in the movie: Black Hawk Down), advocating for combat veterans, and words of wisdom about being a leader.

What I took from his presentation: I’m not ordinary. No one is really. It’s what you do with your life that makes you extraordinary. Leadership doesn’t discriminate. Sometimes responsibilities and leadership is thrust upon you when you least expect it. Embrace it, because you can make a difference in this world. I hear a lot of people say that teachers have the most important job in the world… but to hear this guy (who has jumped out of helicopters in third world countries to defend our freedom!) tell us how important our jobs are, that made me feel important on this first mundane week of summer vacation.

(I feel like I can’t do justice to his words… they were so much or elegant and meaningful than mine! However, I’ll definitely be purchasing his book, “Get It On!: What It Means to Lead the Way“.  According to his website, a portion of his book proceeds benefit the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which provides college educations to the children of our special ops personnel killed in combat or training.)

Other “honorable mentions” for the day include:

Georgia Heard, who presented on the importance of teaching poetry. With poetry being a new genre to our state assessment, the STAAR Test, her thoughful and engaging presentation was chalk-full of valuable insight into the standards and strategies for teaching poetry. Her book is called “Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School” and is also on my to-buy list.

What I took from her presentation: Teaching poetry can be easily implemented into your curriculum. She suggested a poem-a-week approach. Each day the teacher would guide the students through an actvity that added to their understanding of the poem. Below i’ve created a sample weekly lesson plan based on the information Ms. Heard presented, including the cooresponding TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledege and Skills).


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