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Meeting the complex needs of gifted learners…one student at a time

In January the Loveland Gifted Team sent a survey out to parents asking for feedback on What topics, questions or information would you be interested in hearing more about and discussed during the parent information night” in the spring. As I was looking carefully at the responses, there were many questions and points that came up that I know I address as a Gifted Intervention Specialist and an ELA teacher. I would like to devote this blog post to sharing what I do to meet these needs, why I use specific instructional approaches, and how I ensure I am not only meeting academic needs but unique learner needs.

First, why do I serve students in ELA only? Well let me start with explaining that the state of Ohio only mandates that school districts identify gifted students; there is no mandate for service or funding for services. The fact that we strive to meet gifted needs without the extra support from the state to as many students as we can says a great deal. This year I see 78 students a day. That is 78 8-10 year olds to get to know and meet diverse needs of. I work with more children than ANY OTHER teacher at LES. Therefore in order to do the best I can, my academic focus has to be narrowed. In fact, I am technically only focusing on 19 reading standards, although I integrate so much more. I am held accountable however for 100% of the ELA growth for 63 students. I get “one hour” on paper a day (in reality it doesn’t always work out that way…) Then for another 15 children I provide enrichment support through computer science/coding activities. As much as I would like to support/service more students in more areas, this is the reality. So again, why “reading only”? Reading is essential for all other content areas and so it is the area that I can have the greatest reach and impact.  (Note that we are working to meet math needs as well at LES, but that could be a whole separate post…)

Now “how do gifted classes differ from regular classes?” While I cannot speak for our other gifted specialists and how they run their classroom, I think I can say that one big difference is that we also incorporate gifted standards. For example, I know that I focus heavily on the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) and the standards they set. There are six programming standards outlined for meeting gifted needs specifically. In the area of “learning environments” alone, take a look at these few and how I address them:  

  • 4.1.1 “Educators maintain high expectations for all students with gifts and talents as evidenced in meaningful and challenging activities.” Expectations are key. I set a VERY high bar so that students have something to WORK TOWARDS. Everything is connected to a “life skill” as well. If students are easily meeting an expectation, then they need the bar raised. My students need work to push them outside of their comfort zone and tasks that diversify their learning “reportoire”.
  • 4.1.3 “Educators create environments that support trust among diverse learners.” Giving our gifted children time to be around like minded peers for a small part of their day helps ensure a “safe place” where they realize they aren’t the “big fish” and they learn they are “not alone”. I work on so many social skills through monitoring their interactions and practicing alternative ways to communicate with peers. They learn empathy for others as I design situations to interact so that I can model ways to respond.
  • 4.1.4 “Educators provide feedback that focuses on effort, on evidence of potential to meet high standards, and on mistakes as learning opportunities.” Feedback is essential and it needs to be constructive. I tell my 3rd graders first thing “I will not put a smiley face and ‘great job’ on work because that does NOT help you grow.” I will point out ways they can keep improving and I always find ways to point out my errors or how I am cultivating a growth mindset myself. Feedback is about working to a higher expectation; over time, my learners appreciate the way we grow over time and will always confess there is still more they can do to continue growing. I try to intentionally create moments for students to make mistakes because I can also be a safe learning environment. One motto is “own it and move on”. When tasks are “easy” or focus on a “cute or flashy” product, there is really not much opportunity for growth. We make learning a PROCESS that never stops.
  • 4.1.5 “Educators provide examples of positive coping skills and opportunities to apply them.” This is critical. I have to set high expectations to help students learn to cope with them. I cannot tell them how to cope; I have to put them into situations that will FORCE them to cope and then I work through it with them. They cannot apply skills without the opportunities to practice them authentically. This means I HAVE to design an environment to make them frustrated and uncomfortable so that I can help them deal with these feelings and cultivate strategies for success.
  • 4.2.1 “Educators understand the needs of students with gifts and talents for both solitude and social interaction.” I learn quickly who prefers to cuddle in a corner and work independently and who thrives on chatting it up. Therefore my routines incorporate and reinforce opportunities for doing what they prefer and how to do what isn’t ‘comfortable’. Routines like regular discussions of texts ensure that we practice and reinforce how to have real conversations because this is a skill needed for life.
  • 4.2.2 “Educators provide opportunities for interaction with intellectual and artistic/creative peers as well as with chronological-age peers.” This is what makes pull out into a specific “gifted class” so key. When I consult with the teachers I share students with it helps me coordinate to meet varied social needs. Often kids open up around intellectually similar peers so my room is a haven for them; however they also need to learn to interact successfully with chronological-age peers as a ‘real-life’ skill. This is why I work so much on discourse strategies for life.

Of course am I not only working to deliver the grade level curriculum to students, but I am doing so at an advanced/accelerated pace AND I am mindful of these needs. Sometimes my focus isn’t always academic. There are days that I do more social/emotional coaching than language arts goals. Overall, this is how I try to plan intentionally to meet the two…

I use 2 very specific instructional approaches to set the stage for meeting hundreds of needs. They each center around a predictable, structured routine. They each integrate a homework component as well. I have written many a blog post on my homework views which I believe are age appropriate and clearly outline what I would expect. I am also reasonable about working with children and families to ensure this expectation stays age appropriate and reasonable. Homework expectations give me an opportunity to extend situations for parents  to continue helping their child work through needs. While this may not be “easy” or “comfortable”, the primary goal is to work as your partner to help your child take personal responsibility and let me guide them to build skills for independence and self-reliance. Therefore, I’ll address why my routines incorporating homework help meet these unique needs: anxiety, perfectionism, low self-esteem, motivation, organization, risk-taking, feelings of frustration or being overwhelmed.

Again, the best way to help a child learn to cope with issues is to put them into situations that force them to face these issues. They cannot apply strategies or learn them without authentic real-problems. Therefore I create some “stress” by having a high expectation that I help students work towards meeting. I will create a sense of being overwhelmed by outlining what I expect, which for 3rd and 4th graders ends up being the writing of a response to reading letter each week and assigned reading from a novel with the preparing of notes to come to class to discuss. The key to this is that it is a consistent expectation that I help children develop OVER TIME. In short, I scaffold to meet their needs and each week they build stamina and fluency. Think of it as training for a marathon…I tell them how “far” they are going to eventually be expected to run. Then we take small steps to get there. I ask parents to trust in this process because over the past 5 years the growth and progress children make is phenomenal. They see it when we self-assess and reflect; and look of pride in their faces is worth every hurdle they feel along the way!

What might this look like? Well it always depends on the child, but here’s a general idea by some common issues I see:

Anxious children will flip out because they will think they CANNOT do it. I will reassure them and offer to help at school. I will take whatever effort they give and provide small bits of feedback to steadily grow. How a parent can help: reassure their child that Mrs. Weber is not asking anything of them she didn’t think they could do. Remind them that they can and should ask Mrs. Weber for help. Tell them you will email me if they still can’t seem to handle it and let it go at home; I always email back telling you to tell them we will work it out together. I haven’t lost an anxious child yet!

Perfectionist children often either take excessive time or they procrastinate and put their expectation off. We’ve got that covered here too. First I reinforce that I will honor any effort they give me and they learn really quick that no matter how “perfect” something is, we all have room to grow. They will ask for constant reassurance “is this right?” My answer “well what do you think?” or I work them through the idea that most of what we do is objective, so there isn’t a right or wrong answer or way. Perfectionists need time to learn to trust me.  If they lean on the procrastinating end, then let them “fail” here and show up unprepared. They learn I am not mad. I work through it with them and we talk about what they can do differently for next time. Perfectionists need to experience “failure” more than anyone else so they can learn that the world will still turn and life will go on. Perfectionists need the homework expectation to help them learn how to “relax” and how to realize that in real life they are going to have obligations that they will just do their best to meet and sometimes they will “crush it”, sometimes they won’t, but always they will come out fine. I love my perfectionists because I get to help them embrace the ‘imperfections’ we all have. So for the parents of these perfectionists, let your child try and fail with me because nothing I would ever ask them to do is out of their reach. If necessary, set a timer and tell them they go with what they have in that time frame. We will navigate through it.

Low self-esteem children learn that over time they grow when they use and apply feedback. It is so exciting to pull out a child’s very first attempt at something and let them marvel in how much progress they have made. The best defense against an “I can’t do it” attitude is to prove it wrong. These are the children that I will provide small goals through feedback to build confidence. These are the children that will need to feel validation for any effort or contribution they make. Self-assessment and peer assessment are especially difficult for these children so I find that I spend more time building confidence through setting small goals together.

Motivation… this is tricky. For most children holding them accountable is motivating enough. I typically only give a few “oops” I forgot or “I didn’t because…” excuse moments before I put consequences in place. This is where life expectations come in. I share regularly how if I pay my electric bill late, I still owe a fee; and I don’t get rewarded for doing what is expected of me (“when is the last time your mom or dad got pulled over for stopping at a red light like they were supposed to?”) I’m that teacher. I do not reward students for doing what I expect. In life our motivation to come to time to work is that we want/need to keep our jobs. Homework to me is their job, and so I will hold them accountable and point out when they come unprepared. Usually it means we work out why that happened and how we can plan to make sure we correct it for the next week. Don’t like it? Well I don’t like paying my taxes. I hate filling out the forms…but I do it because I value what my tax contribution means to myself and society and I do it because it is the law. I try to show each child how the assignments I give translate into some skill for life therefore I find that motivation isn’t usually too much of a problem. For the few that it becomes an issue for… then they start to lose privileges in my classroom, which also relates into how not doing what is expected causes a loss of “privileges” in the real world.  (On a side note, my oldest child is/was gifted and UNMOTIVATED, so parents, I feel your pain! She’s 25 now and is starting to get that her lack of motivation has caused her grief. The hardest thing I have ever had to do is not give in and enable her for her decisions to not do what was expected of her.)

Organization skills are hard to teach because I could set a system up for students and it work for about ⅓. Therefore I help students learn ways to be organized that work for them. Furthermore, the best way to get students to learn to cultivate a system that works for them is to give them real reasons to be organized. Traveling between my room to a homeroom to a home means they have to keep many things straight. One of the biggest reasons why I give “homework” is so they can have some practical application here. I count on and expect “oops” moments. My children learn over time to find ways to make sure they bring the book or paper I ask of them. I keep my system simple: everything due on Friday. They can always turn in early, but by Friday they know I am looking. I hold them accountable and will call them out if they are “unprepared”, but it is never to embarrass. Usually it goes like this… “I didn’t do my letter because I was really busy last night.” I answer “well you knew about it Wednesday, and Tuesday, and Monday… hmmm… how might you make sure this doesn’t happen next week?” And then we talk about a plan.  My favorite… “I don’t have my letter/book because my mom didn’t put it in my backpack.” This gets a quick “It is not your mom’s job…it is yours. You need to make sure it gets into your backpack.” We work through the excuses and usually it comes down to executive functioning needs for those who are most in need of extra help. I’m always willing to help a child here, but find that most of the time they just need to be expected to have something to be responsible for outside of class and then accountability for when they “fail” to help them work on systems they can use. Usually when a child is part of developing the system they take more ownership in it and they are much more successful with it. The key is to keep the expectations high and the accountability in place, as well as make the accountability reasonable…relate this to real life too. I’ve been caught many times not having what I needed when I needed it. These lessons have stuck with me more than any other. These years are perfect for letting your child make mistakes and learn. They realize that I will be disappointed, but never mad and always, ALWAYS willing to help them figure out how to make it better next time.  

Risk taking occurs when the reluctant child starts to see that the small steps we take pay off. I give focused, specific feedback to get the process started and then gradually release the supports so that these types of children no longer seek the reassurance they needed initially. When getting the opportunity to work with children for two years, I find that once they trust the feedback I give, the more confident they become. I also see students start to really take risks in the discussions we have weekly on the texts they read outside of class. Shy, quiet students start to shine through the practice and routine over time.

Frustration/feeling overwhelmed is something I intentionally create. I make this happen so that children can experience this with me and I can help them work through it. Learning to cope with a high expectation in a safe environment helps prepare them for the challenges they will face later in life. Dealing with not meeting an expectation lets them experience disappointment that we can easily overcome through talking about feelings and “re-prioritizing” what is really important. We work through lots of tears! Tears now help create stronger, more resilient souls. However, I depend on parents to help me adjust and gage the level of frustration their child goes through. If it feels like too much, we communicate to adapt. A quick email lets me know how a child is responding at home and I can then customize to meet that child’s needs.

These are just some of the ways more common needs are met through my expectations to extend learning beyond the classroom through homework. As a reminder, I NEVER expect more than 10 minutes per grade level (30 for 3rd; 40 for 4th) TOTAL for all subjects. I advocate working to fit family needs and even suggest things like setting a timer to ensure a healthy balance.

The next big routine involves social skills. I ask that my students read select novels outside of class and prepare for a weekly discussion (preparation depends on the text and the current standards we are working on in class). Every Friday we have small group discussion about the assigned text portion for the week. The goal is to have a common reading experience to build discourse around. I explicitly teach skills for reciprocal conversation (like eye contact, active listening, taking turns, respectfully disagreeing). Students become very skilled at collaboration, which is especially important for gifted children who need structured practice with how to relate to peers appropriately and effectively. This occurs over time with practice, feedback, and more practice. I hold the children accountable to themselves and each other by recording conversations so that I can review later when needed for students to listen to and reflect upon.

Through embedding discussion systematically and routinely, students get a chance to practice effective communication skills in a safe environment. This too addresses the unique social needs because again I create a situation where children have to develop and expand coping skills.

Clearly what I do in my classroom is way more than provide “ELA” instruction. Through ELA standards, I am growing gifted learners. I am meeting their unique needs using two core instructional practices that enable me to customize and differentiate learning. Furthermore these two practices build communication and critical thinking skills for life.

What am I looking for in a gifted 4th grade reader?


Gifted Reading Grading Scale

(Needing heavy support and adaptation)


(Working with guidance; working at grade level expectations)


(Satisfactorily achieving; working above grade level expectations)


(Consistently going WELL above and beyond)

Most of my 4th graders had me as 3rd graders and so my focus is continuing to build on the foundation we laid the previous year. This year as my students’ 4th grade reading teacher I am working to meet 4th grade reading standards while pushing and challenging as much as possible. Expectations are amped up quite a bit because I know that when I expect more, I get more. At this point however I also recognize that some of my readers are going to just do the minimum I provide. I am ok with that because the minimum I ask now is still advanced and accelerated.

  1. Advanced means that I stretch expectations. I ask my 4th graders to read a novel independently outside of class and come prepared with some basic notes for discussions in addition to weekly response letters. We spent a great deal of time learning how to have conversations as 3rd graders and that investment pays off. I also offer “extras” for those who want and need to strive for more.
  2. Acceleration means more than just “keeping up”. The instructional pace continues to be fast. Students have access to lessons online and digital options for extended learning experiences. I provide tools and resources for independent needs and “as needed access”. I’ve set the stage and given the props, now they have to step up and “perform” to the level I know they are capable of.
  3. Heavy written emphasis: I continue to expect written response to text both in weekly response letters and in class responses. With response letters, I expect students to attend to feedback and use it as they work to improve. Even better…when they ask me for ideas to improve! That shows such inititative! I expect response letters to show steady improvement week to week. Another layer now is developing stamina and fluency with typed responses. I strive to give an in class response essay question each week giving 20 minutes to type a response to a question connected to the novel we are reading. At first I do not expect “completion” but rather look for growth over time.
  4. “On the surface” vs. “below the surface” thinking also continues. In fact, we spend most of our time “living” below the surface with our novel. In 4th grade however I put more emphasis on reading informational text and reading for “life” skills. This means that often I have to bring kids back to the surface of the text to really examine what an author is actually saying. Reading with a skeptical eye is so important as well.
  5. Complete independence and responsibility: After having a year to release responsibility, I expect my 4th graders to be independent in the classroom and out. They know that I am clear about what I expect and they have grown to appreciate the little amount of time we have together. They are also working to explore new and exciting learning options that are only available if I can trust that they do what they need to do without my micro-managing them.
  6. Self-assessment and reflection takes center stage. Students are starting to rely on their ability to self-monitor and regulate as they set their own goals for improvement. While some still need advice and support, most of my 4th graders are able to accurately assess where they are and determine where they need to go.

These are things I look for and work on in gifted reading. Students who are successful are performing “satisfactory” and considered a “level 3” on their report card. For the most part, even if a student is just doing the “minimum” for me, it is a 3 because I have such high and advanced expectations. A score of “4” is rare and reserved for those few that strive to go consistently above and beyond; please see the criteria in the “4” category on this rubric: Gifted reading rubric 4th

Routines and Expectations (again…)

To ensure a successful school year, routines and expectations must be taught carefully in the first weeks. While I have the advantage of working with 4th graders I had already as 3rd graders, my biggest challenge is getting routines and expectations into place with my new 3rd graders. Adding to the challenge is the fact that I only get to see my students barely an hour each day and I get fewer “days” than their homeroom classroom teachers due to scheduling conflicts.  Translation… it takes much longer to get routines into place. (See “part 1” of this topic for more info)

We have added Vocabulary and Poetry stations to our set of choices. Vocabulary consists of a set of QR codes the children can scan to get a special word. They then have sentence cards (many are pretty funny) to use with the word they scan in a sentence. Most of the children love this station and it gives me a chance to hold students accountable for correct capitalization and punctuation (which should have been mastered in 2nd grade and should be done consistently in written work). For poetry station, I showed the children how they can choose a poem and ‘sketch’ their thinking about parts of the poem. The focus here is on recognizing poems have a different structure and so we use the language “lines” and/or “stanzas” to refer to parts in the poem.

Word WizardA “side” activity that we learned is called “being a word wizard”. The focus is to work on inferring the meaning of words IN CONTEXT using context clues. Therefore I encourage the children to keep this in mind whenever they are doing any reading work so that they can jot down words as they come across them. (Some of the children have been trying to just find words in isolation and look them up, so I’ve had to clarify that the point is IN CONTEXT).

The next routine/expectation that I brought in was expectations for the novel we are reading together. In a previous post “The Why Behind The What” I explain why I use a few novels for us to read together. I have selected Clementine by Sara Pennypacker because it is not a challenge to read but works beautifully for various goals I have.

For 3rd graders, I start with just getting them adjusted to the expectation of having homework, as it is a new concept for many. With only 1 hour to do so much work, I think it is more than reasonable to expect some level of outside effort/preparation. Getting into the habit of doing what is expected and coming prepared to class is the first target. I want 3rd graders to take ownership and learn to be responsible on their own; that is without reminders from mom and dad. To help make this simple, Friday is our “book club” day and so every Friday we devote to novel work. Here’s a break down of what we have learned in regards to expectations so far:

Week 1: read the chapter and “annotate”. Then show up with your book and some annotations. Of course there were many “I forgot” or “My mom didn’t…” I put my hand up to the excuses and clarified: ‘This is the expectation and so you need to own the fact that you came unprepared. I am not mad. We all forget things in life however excuses won’t solve our problem. Let’s learn from this how we can try to remember next time.’ I also clarify that it is their responsibility to make sure they bring their materials (not mom or dad). I want parents to let me help their child learn to take personal responsibility now in a safe and secure environment. This is a LIFE skill. I have even used this comparison: “the electric company doesn’t care if I had the money in my account and forgot to pay because they still expect me to take care of my responsibility”. In life we deal with forgetting things and we just move on. That is what I want to instill.

Week 2: Again I asked the children to read the chapter and “annotate”. I added on an additional expectation and clearly outlined it in the “directions”:  Clementine ch 2

It just so happened that less than 1/2 of the children actually followed the ‘read like a detective’ part in the directions, and so I worked on pointing out how we need to read directions when they are given to us and not just automatically assume we “know what to do”.

Week 3: I started by giving each child specialized feedback so they could evaluate how they met the expectations in weeks one and two: clementine-feedback.jpg

It was eye-opening for many of the children. Again my goal is to help them step up and take personal ownership and plan to adjust what they do to meet the expectation.

Then after a group mini-lesson I gave them the next discussion guide:  Clementine ch 3.png

They had some time in class to get started, and right away many did not read the directions. Reinforcing this will be a re-occurring theme…

Week 4: Coming with their book and some annotations seems to be a habit now. We are still working on following special directions. The guide they were given is based on the Talk About Text lesson we did for the week (more on these in a separate post). Clementine ch 4 discussion guide . We also had our first lesson about how as 3rd grade readers, we are expected to respond to text in writing. I find this is a new concept for the children even though if they are tested at DRA level 28 or beyond, a written response component is expected at those levels. We did our first ACE response (which stands for “A” answer the question “C” cite evidence to support your answer and “E” explain how the evidence supports your answer.

Our Friday “book club” or novel work also serves another purpose: discussion. I am spending time to directly teach the children how to have conversations because this is another LIFE skill. We have started with how to make eye contact with each other. These are the “rules” we are learning: (1) Make eye contact with the speaker (2) Wait until others finish speaking (3) Listen for the pause then speak (4) Be empathetic to others’ ideas (5) Respectfully agree and/or disagree (6) Support your claims with evidence

So while it is taking a LONG time to get everything in place, know that our routines are solid and even though expectations set are high, we are working towards them!

Establishing Routines and Expectations

As I get to know my new 3rd graders and we start to build relationships, our first weeks together are mostly about establishing solid routines and expectations. We have finished 3 weeks of school, but I have only gotten to spend around 7-8 hours with them. (Students spend the first week in their homeroom classrooms and then have at least 2 days of MAP testing that most likely overlapped their scheduled time with me). This means it takes me even longer to get our classroom running smoothly.

First and foremost, I help the children adjust to the very different environment. Not just a physical difference, but a MINDSET difference. In order to challenge the needs of gifted learners at a variety of levels, I have to do things very, VERY differently. I have to provide choices and learning OPPORTUNITIES. I know that not every child will take every opportunity (and I would not expect them to), but they exist for those that have the drive to seek more or for those with different learning styles and preferences. I know that gifted doesn’t necessarily mean “strong” in language arts as well, so while I offer tasks that really stretch and push students as readers and writers, I also let students know that doing the “minimum” is OK (because my minimum is above and beyond typical grade level expectations) but the minimum will be done very well to the highest level of quality for each student.  (Parents concerned about “handwriting” note that I focus on spacing between words for legibility and correct letter size use; capitals vs. lower case letters used correctly. I am not going to stress any student out about beautiful “penmanship”).

I set a HIGH bar and guide students to reach it. I will give tasks that have a standard to work towards. This often throws off children who are used to being “perfect” or having something be “just right” or “acceptable” the first time. We are going to learn and grow by doing.  I told one of my students yesterday, it is like when people start learning to drive a car. After being given lessons or learning about driving from reading about it, you learn by just doing it, with support and guidance. I don’t expect students to do something “perfect” right away, and quite honestly, if they did, then the task wasn’t challenging enough.  This mindset is different for parents too, as they are expecting their child to get “full credit” or “top marks”.  Please do not expect that of your child in my classroom. How can I push and grow your child if we seek to have them do everything perfectly the first time? Again that means the task was too easy.

When it comes to grading… well, what matters is the progress a child makes and where they are at the end of a “grading period” so to speak.  I look at growing and progressing an individual child’s skill set, and while I have some standards in mind of where a child should be, I never compare children. Nor should parents. Each child is going to have different needs and I’m going to work to meet them. We will have goals that we set and adjust as we go.  (If you are concerned about “grading” note the “scale” I use; I put one number on your child’s report card 3 times.  This number is the result of my considering your child’s overall work ethic, skill development, and progress over time).

Gifted Reading Grading Scale
1 (Needing heavy support and adaptation) 2 (Working with guidance; working at grade level expectations) 3 (Satisfactorily achieving; working above grade level expectations) 4 (Consistently going WELL above and beyond)

Points… in my room I use “points” to track visible effort. Simply put, I cannot figure out what is going on in a child’s mind unless they note it. Some children are more inclined to share their thinking in a visible way than others. When you see “+10” on a piece of student work, it is NOT a grade! Feel free to ask me anything about something your child does and what goals I might have for your child; not “how can they get more points on this or that”? POINTS ARE NOT GRADES.

Feedback…This is CRITICAL to growth (and if you are interested I wrote an advice column for teachers on using feedback for OCTELA). I have already told my 3rd graders that I will put comments on work intended to help them grow and do better. As much as possible I try to make comments on work and if I take the time to do so, I expect students to read them. This will become very important as we move into specific aspects of our routine intended to build and develop written response skills. Screen Shot 2017-09-09 at 11.07.54 AM.png

Now routines… I have an extremely complex routine structure in my room because I have to account for learners who do the minimum and learners who strive to take on any challenge they can find. It takes time to unpack and introduce each individual component. Right now I’m focusing on independent choices students have through “stations”. These are tasks that focus on different types and styles of texts and give students choice.  So far we have learned “Metacognition”, “Listening”, and “Newsstand”. Stations are more about giving students a structured opportunity to interact with and think about texts in the classroom. Eventually we will learn about our full “menu” of learning options.

Metacognition is “thinking about one’s own thinking” and it is pretty flexible…choose any text of interest and annotate part of it.  We started the year learning about how we can “leave tracks of our thinking” behind when we read.  Of course we talked about how we do NOT do this for everything we read! By teaching the children to start annotating when they read, I am starting to build some “note-taking” foundations as well as help students pay attention to their “inner voice” when they read. The goal is to share what we are learning to be “quality” thinking. I want students to really pay attention to smaller parts of text or images that resonate with them in some way. There is no “correct” way to do this. However I do encourage and develop more “thoughtful” responses.  The children then use SeeSaw to take snapshots of their annotations in texts and upload them for me to review.  Parents can request access to their child’s annotations on request.  

Listening is specifically targeted at listening skills. I have iPods with short stories and the text is NOT available. I find that my gifted students have learned to tune out or “turn off” their “auditory” receptors because they get bored with repetition or when something they have already learned is being presented. In addition, they often do not listen attentively because they have learned their natural abilities often serve them well to just “figure things out”. I focus on building active listening skills. For this station, students listen to a text and during or after they are to retell or recount it. (This is a 3rd grade standard). This means that they tell the events of the text again with many details and it differs from a summary, which is short and sweet. In 1st and 2nd grade, students should have been given DRA assessments and prior to “level 28” they are asked to orally retell the text to their teacher. (Level 28 and beyond requires students to write in response to a text read). If they do not give many details, they are prompted to “tell more” orally. I take this skill and push it a bit differently.  Here’s is the student “tutorial”: Note that the video was made before I started making “sketching” an option. Many of the children have preferred this! Bottom line, it is about listening for details!

Newsstand focuses on nonfiction texts through the use of periodicals. I have a collection of child-centered magazines as well as a large collection of National Geographic and NatGeo Traveler (for those that need a “vocabulary” challenge). Here is the student tutorial:  Through this station we are learning what a publication is and how it contains “articles”.

This brings me to some expectations I have. I taught 2nd grade for 10 years (and 1st three years) before moving to a year in 3rd grade ELA and then into gifted reading. I know that conventions of capitalization and punctuation have been taught; I was firm on holding my 2nd grade students ACCOUNTABLE for applying these skills in all written work and would return work until correct conventions were applied so that these skills became a HABIT.  There is no reason for a 3rd grader to use capital letters within words in sentences. There is no reason a 3rd grader should not capitalize the first word of sentences, the word “I”, or their own name! Yet I see happen with alarming frequency. When work is returned to children to correct these things, they are learning to make these conventions habitual. Therefore, my students are starting to learn that I will give them work back to “correct and return”. Here is a “checklist” of expectations that are in our ELA standards by grade levels:

ELA conventions checklists.JPG

Therefore I will hold students accountable for K-2 expectations and start guiding their use of conventions beyond. It is my goal to reinforce that self-editing means you take pride in your work before you turn it in!

As we learn more of our routines, the expectations will steadily increase. That bar will be raised. I will help children reach the high goals I set for them by giving them feedback and holding them accountable.

Curriculum Compacting with Comprehension Connections Notebooks

In order to compact instruction and advance/accelerate the pace of our learning, I have set up 9 video lessons for students to complete independently as homework. These lessons provide needed background knowledge and information about literary terms and concepts. Students cannot analyze a protagonist if they do not know what that means. They cannot examine the plot using the correct terms and elements without a lesson on what “exposition”, “rising action”, etc. is. In order to apply these types of terms to texts, students need to learn about them. The series of video lessons provides this instruction without taking up valuable class time.

The 9 lessons need to be completed by the end of the 1st trimester. Students can complete these at their own pace. I highly recommend students set a comfortable pace and get started right away as additional expectations for homework will be coming by the end of Sept/beginning of October with book club novel reading and response to reading letters. (4th graders have already started their novels).

Students will need the following to complete these lessons:

  1. Access for viewing the lessons. Please let me know ASAP if this is a problem. The link for the lessons has been placed inside their notebook to type in, they can find in their Google Classroom (4th graders) or here:  
  2. Liquid glue, scissors, and crayons or colored pencils (no markers please or glue sticks; glue sticks do not hold what students insert well overtime and this is a resource to be used all year; markers bleed and make the info hard to read).  If you do not have any of these at home, let me know and I can lend supplies.
  3. Lesson packets: I will copy one packet per child. If they lose pieces, I will email the file. I am already making almost 80 packets, so it is wasteful and time consuming to duplicate. (This is a great way to start learning responsibility… a natural consequence).


  • WATCH THE VIDEOS! Be prepared to pause or replay parts if you missed a direction. The goal is learning and following directions. Students who just put pieces in the notebook are cheating themselves out of the full learning experience. Sometimes I give a specific direction for a task.
  • Take time to be neat. This is the student’s resource, not mine. If it is sloppy or hard to read information then it becomes useless.
    • Be careful when cutting out pieces so important info isn’t lost
    • If coloring over words, color LIGHTLY. It should still be legible
    • Use tiny dots of glue; puddles of glue cause pages to stick and then the resource is useless
    • Trim info to fit on the page; if it hangs over the edge it will get damaged, ripped, or torn.
  • USE THE SCORING guide; only one will be given when the first lesson is checked: General Score Sheet for Comp Notebooks

When a lesson is finished, students should return their notebooks to be checked and to receive their next lesson packet the next class meeting day.

The why behind the what…

I prefer to be transparent. That is, I want all of the families I serve to have access to what I am doing with their children and WHY. Often I make instructional decisions for very specific, targeted reasons.  One of those decisions is to have my students read a few novels together.

Sounds like a “one size fits all approach” but I disagree. I am a huge advocate of student choice in reading and I try to help children find texts that they love and can’t put down. Yet here I am telling all of my 4th graders they HAVE to read Ella Enchanted. Yes I know; not a text many would pick up by choice and the audience it appeals to is limited. So WHY?

While we will build reading/thinking strategies with student selected texts, there is something about having us all read the same text as well that builds a sense of community. We have a shared experience of reading the same author’s words. We can discuss the same events and characters. We can have the same reference points for literary analysis. What is different is HOW we each will read it.

Each individual brings his or her unique set of experiences and thinking to any text. What I might see in a passage could mean something different for one of my students. I find that often if I ask more ‘open’ questions like “What surprised you?” or “What do you think about _____?” I hear insights that would have never occurred to me.  For this reason, I encourage students to read through their own unique lens and share any thinking the text gave them. (On a side note, as a teacher I facilitated a fantastic book study on Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters)

Here’s the introductory video I made for students:

That being said, I will direct attention to specific aspects about a text to notice and note. For instance, our first “assignment” is to read chapters 1-3 of Ella Enchanted for discussion. I have a “task guide” that allows students to have direction to their thinking, but leaves room for unique interpretations.

Ella chap 1-3

My approach is also to let students choose their level of engagement. If they wish to just to the minimum, they can. But I hope that I will inspire them

to strive to do more. In this way, I can meet my responsibility to meet curricular goals and standards, but still give students freedom and a level of choice.

The key part in all of this however is the weekly discussion where we come together and students get time to just TALK about what they have read.  It is very powerful.


Finally, why Ella Enchanted (as boys tend to groan)… well one of our goals is to examine traditional literature and fairy tales as a genre and I love to challenge students to consider basic motifs. By reading the longer novel, comparison to shorter versions of a similar plot are easier. I have around 30 different versions of “Cinderella” from many different cultures, including Bubba the Cowboy Prince and The Irish Cinderlad so comparing and contrasting takes the experience to an even higher level. Motifs


I cannot wait to listen to the conversations and for the great thinking to begin!



Passion Projects!

Screen Shot 2017-02-18 at 2.00.21 PM.pngIndependent study projects offer students a great deal of choice in their learning. The challenge however is when do I fit it all in? Since Passion Projects focus primarily on research and presentation standards (which fall under writing and speaking/listening standards), they are not part of the curriculum that I am responsible for. For this reason, I do not include these as part of the in class work we do.

Needless to say, they hold so much value and in the past students who have taken the initiative to do one have found them to be VERY rewarding! Check out our Green Room Virtual Museum to see! (note that some projects load VERY slowly!) Here are a few where video was used in sharing what was learned as it is a popular choice:

Please note that Passion Projects are intended to be done independently and at home. (If a student wishes to use Green Room resources or materials they will need to schedule a time during their recess to come in and work). Class time will not be devoted to these projects, however I will be virtually available for students to ask questions so access to their school Google accounts from home is a must.

To be eligible for a passion project as a 3rd grader, students must have earned at least a “Level 5” responding to text badge and must sign a contract. 4th graders are always welcome to do one on their own!