Somebody Else’s Kids

I recently finished reading the book, Somebody Else’s Kids by Torey Hayden. The book was a vivid and enthralling account of Hayden’s role as a special educator in the lives of four exceptional children. The story took me through a spectrum of emotions from laughing out-loud to at times being gut-wrenchingly painful to read.

While this may not be a surprising accomplishment for any good summer read, this text happens to be required reading for my current graduate program at Stevenson, as part of my Principles of Special Education course. Our class assignment focused around the text was to engage in “the fictional exploration of a special education classroom, the dynamics within the room, and varying needs of the students” by writing this blog post. I was to “ pick one of the students featured in the book and assess their needs and how they could be met in the classroom…as if the student is in your current or future classroom.” The following is my narrative for this assignment.


Boo is a student coming to my middle school math class. I am trying to glean knowledge from his school records to help me prepare for him. Accordingly, he demonstrates many of the same symptoms as students who have been diagnosed with Autism, but has not been evaluated by a physician to determine the presence of any disability. Boo presents as nonverbal. However, he does have episodes of echolalia and makes intermittent patterned sounds or syllables, which are not well interpreted in oral communication. His records show several occurrences where he engaged in direct communication such as choosing specific words in a response rather than just repeating and where he has demonstrated some level of understanding in a verbal response. In addition, his records indicate he has good receptive language, and will respond to some verbal instruction.

Boo is unlike any other student in my classes. Our small private school mostly consists of children who experience above average affluence and have highly educated parents. The school weighs heavily toward a Caucasian population, leaving Boo as one of the few minority students in addition to being the only student with obvious intellectual differences.

The school awards several scholarships to qualifying families in need one of which Boo is a recipient. It was a difficult decision for the administration to grant him admission knowing that he was not going to perform on the level of his peers, and teachers would need to make significant accommodations to include him in class. However, I think it was also obvious that there was no other cause to deny admission other than the undiagnosed intellectual differences, and that was not an acceptable reason to obstruct a student’s access to our school.

Meeting his mother, you could tell that she has been struggling all of Boo’s life to find an environment both tolerant of him and able to meet his educational, social and emotional needs. You could see an almost equal balance of love and fear in her as she described Boo and her expectations of him and us at our school. She was proud of the growth Boo had accomplished through elementary school, which made me curious about what his past relationships with his teachers and the activities he in engaged were like then. She was concerned about his transition into middle school, especially with regard to the changing social dynamics of this age group. Despite her reluctance, she valued him being fully integrated with his peer age group, even while knowing their goals and achievements would significantly differ.

I was uncertain how to prepare for Boo coming to class. I felt obligated to precondition my ‘normal’ students and establish ground rules to ensure appropriate treatment of Boo. However, this approach felt so uncomfortable I opted rather for a simple announcement that, ‘We’ll be welcoming a new student to class. You may recognize that he is different in ways you haven’t seen before, and its okay to be curious and I’ll answer questions as best as I can. Though, just as I’ve done for all of you I am also trying to get to know our new student, and I won’t always have the answers for you. I do know he feels joy and sadness and other emotions just the way we do, and that kindness and friendship are important to him the same way they are to us.’

I invited Boo and his mother to visit the class after school hours before his first day, so that when he joined the class maybe he’d have fewer new things to process. During that visit, he took great interest in a clear plastic ball I have where the object is to move a small ball around a maze by turning the outer plastic ball. He was not interested in practicing the skills or strategy involved in meeting those objectives, but he seemed to enjoy the sounds he could make with it by gently turning it back and forth. I asked his mother to help me choose a seat in the class for him where he’d be most comfortable. I, also, needed to orient him somewhere that afforded me the flexibility to get to him quickly and limit distraction to the class. We chose a seat nearest to the door and my teacher area. We agreed this would allow me the best access to him and allow him the easiest access in and out of the room.

When Boo finally joined us, I was very nervous. I did my best to balance recognition of my current students curiosity and his not feeling like an alien landing on foreign planet. I did not want to make him feel the center of attention, but wanted him to feel welcome and give him an opportunity to learn about his new classmates. I showed him his seat (the one that his mother and I chose earlier and had previously introduced him to), where I had placed the ball that he had taken an interest to in our earlier meeting. He seemed to recognize the ball, but was reluctant to get that close to his peers. I suggested he sit when he was ready and that he was welcome to get the ball.

My students’ desks are arranged in a series of groups of four. Throughout a class, my students may change desks several times while transitioning to different activities. My first significant accommodation for Boo came in the form of modifying this transition. Boo had his own seat, and it would remain his seat unless he chose to move. He would not be expected to shift groups with the rest of the class, and others would not occupy his seat while he was there (even if he wasn’t sitting at the time). I hoped that this would provide some consistency and security for Boo, and maybe allow him to develop a sense of ownership in his new environment.

I modified the types of and access to the manipulative tools in the classroom. Some items that could withstand rough, unstructured explorations are always left within reach of Boo. Sometimes I could use the tools as opposed to smaller or more fragile ones that required greater dexterity. For example, Boo could use one-inch plastic unit cubes, as opposed to the smaller centimeter cubes in base 10 modeling sets. He could use this on his own or in 1-1 direct instruction with me; or he could use them while his classmates modeled with base 10 sets and possibly learn to mimic their modeling.

I had read about Boo’s exploratory behaviors in his records. I read that in addition to touch, he used his senses of taste and smell to learn about his surroundings, and sometimes in ways that were not easily accepted socially or at least not very hygienic. I wanted to give Boo as many sensory experiences in the classroom as I could. I knew he wouldn’t be solving equations or applying geometric formulas with us, but I wanted him to be immersed in the activity of learning even if not with the same content objectives as his peers.

I would implement or design projects that would involve all of my students in using their senses to engage with the content. We would prepare recipes while exploring fractions, scale and measurement conversions, and Boo would have specific tasks throughout the project including the ‘official taste tester’. We would take our learning outside and exercise large motor skills (e.g. measuring speed and velocity using distance and time formulas as students participated in relay races). Boo may not fully participate in all the activities, but he may enjoy the excitement with his peers and practice verbal and nonverbal communication through sportsmanship, while hearing the infused math vocabulary. Boo’s records indicated that at times he would self-stimulate through spinning with his arms outstretched, and that he saw being chased as a game. Our outdoor learning activities could include and allow these activities where they weren’t disruptive and needing to be shut down.

My goal was to create an environment for all of my students where Boo was just as much a part of the community as they were, but wasn’t going to hinder their academic growth or rob them of my attention. Boo had so many previous experiences where he was treated as ‘other’, including a time early in his childhood where he fell from monkey bars and required stitches to repair his tongue and the emergency room physician justified his refusal to administer anesthetic with the claim, “These people, they have no real feelings.” I knew meeting Boo’s needs in the classroom involved more than just lesson planning and required an approach that was cultural and valued engaging people with intellectual (or any type of) differences.

In this idealized narrative of how I would handle a Boo in my classroom, I’m not naive to the reality that there are possibilities (rather likelihoods) beyond my control that will require me to respond in ways for which I won’t be prepared. At one point in the story, Torey said “If I could get him to sit down and be quiet a few moments, he would calm down.”, and at the time I saw this as ‘good for him’ and while trying to process my approach I think that would really be ‘good for me’. I will need to be cognizant of the times where Boo is ‘behaving’ in the tasks or activities I’ve engaged him in that suit my needs, rather than learning and growing through meaningful activities that suit his needs.

There will be times when Boo will refuse to cooperate, behave disruptively and I won’t be able to buffer my other students from his expression. We will all have to learn this about him (similarly to how we already do with anyone we develop relationships with) and define and create boundaries for ourselves. Just as much as my original inclination was to protect Boo from the reactions of my existing students, I need to protect them from Boo’s. This needs to be done in a way that doesn’t cast judgment or define anyone’s response as wrong or bad.

I haven’t, yet, had a Boo as a student, but I have had the honor of having Boo’s in my life. While I wouldn’t wish the struggles related to autism on anyone, I am fascinated by the individuals and the families who live with them everyday. Autistic children and adults still have not gained the understanding and acceptance they’re entitled to in society, and schools are vital in providing the needed advocacy toward this end.

History of Special Education Timeline

Archived: 25 Year History of the IDEA. (2007). Retrieved from

The History of Special Education Law – Wrightslaw. (2010). Retrieved from

Understanding Special Education Law (IDEA). (2009). Retrieved from

Literacy Web Tool Modeling

I just discovered and started to play with a web-based application called Creately, which has been kind of fun. Here I will model one potential application of this program with a literacy exercise I will be using with my students this week.

My students will be reading this brief article, How Mountains Are Formed, from Universe Today. The literacy objective is for them to identify the main idea and summarize the article using a bubble map technique on Creately.

The text is pretty low complexity and very neatly structured, so I don’t think my students will have a difficult time with it. The extension will be adding additional details from their research to include on their map, such as examples and features of each type of mountain formation.

First, students will be asked to do an initial reading of the text. We begin by ‘reading around the text’: looking at the title, images and their captions and any bold or italicized print. After briefly discussing predictions, students will number their paragraphs and independently read their text.

The text has nine paragraphs and a reference section. The last three paragraphs are not particularly relevant to the text, and I will guide the students into excluding them from our bubble map before beginning.

After a brief discussion on the ‘main idea’ and citing where it is found in the text, I’ll have students begin their maps by centering this main idea. Creately Main Idea

Then students will analyze the next paragraph for key details, and create a new connection to the main idea on their bubble map. Creately First Detail

Students will continue to identify the key details in each of the remaining paragraphs. Creately Details

Then draw lines to connect these details to the main idea on their graphic.

Creately with LinesAs an extension exercise, students will be given additional texts from which they will continue their graphic by finding and adding examples and special features of the identified types of mountain formations.

Creately Finished with Extension

Students could use this graphic as a study tool or a drafting device for a more formalized writing assignment.

Maryland Teacher Technology Standards

Maryland Teacher Technology Standards (MTTS) is a set of seven standards, outcomes and indicators to instruct teachers in integrating technology in their classroom teaching and professional development. Standards I (Information Access, Evaluation, Processing and Application), II (Communication) and V (Integrating Technology into the Curriculum and Instruction) are most often represented in my teaching.

The primary electronic source for information in my school is the internet. We have multiple types of devices, both for teachers and students use, available to access the internet. I have both a desktop and a laptop computer for my use and to deliver content via a SmartBoard to my students. My students frequently utilize ChromeBooks in my classroom. In addition, they have access to iPads and a computer lab which hosts a series of desktop PCs.

Our school does not have a bring your own device (BYOD) policy, and use of personal devices are prohibited in the classroom. While I would think this unfortunate in the comprehensive school classroom, it has a logical purpose in our alternative school setting. Further, with a high population of low socioeconomic status students, uniform distribution of technology devices creates an atmosphere of equity that may not be easily achieved in a BYOD school. However, it does create some limitations to technology integration in instruction. For example, students cannot access devices outside of school and most do not have their own at home; and therefore, I cannot incorporate internet-based activities in homework. Also, social networking services that students already make use of for communication are difficult to incorporate on shared devices, and this seems in ways a lost opportunity.

Beyond having the devices to put into students hands, you must know what you want them to do with them. Enter the infinite world of educational software products (or if you really want to geek out with me we can venture into editing and creation software). My favorite reference for classroom software is this handy Padagogy Wheel from Allan Carrington of Designing Outcomes that has organized a collection of web-based programs based on the target domains of Bloom’s taxonomy.Before continuing further, I cannot emphasize enough my feeling that technology, in any context, is simply a tool used to compliment the functions of human ingenuity. I must caution anyone whose expectations for the 21st Century student is that they may grow wholly when devoid of the physical, social and emotional experiences attributed to traditional learning environments, which are NOT afforded by digital technology. Some educators may comfortably claim that simply having the above referenced devices or directing their students to the mentioned media might satisfy several MTTS standards and outcomes. In fact some of the written indicators may support that notion. (IE. Standard V, Indicator 7 Manage a technology-enhanced environment to maximize student learning.) However, I do not share this ideology and I seek to find a greater sense of purpose and authenticity in the implementation of classroom technology.

So, how then do you address the MTTS standards effectively and maintain an authentic and comprehensive learning environment? Well, I start by asking 1) what do I want my students to be able to do (fellow NGSS groupies can replace this thought with what are my students’ ‘performance expectations’), and 2) how can technology assist in achieving that task? Simple, right?

Let me give you an example:

Right now, my students are studying geology, so my indicators are centered around concepts such as the rock cycle, fossils and geologic time scale. Our County has provided the essential question, “How can we use the structure, sequence, and properties of rocks, sediments, and fossils to reconstruct events in Earth’s history?” Here is an outline of me hitting some NGSS Earth’s Systems and MTTS standards during this unit.GeoJAAA

Step One: Engagement

  • What this looks like: Present a video clip focused on the content concurrently with presenting our artifact for exploration (which in this case are two sedimentary rock specimens from the same region of Appalachian Mountains: one displaying 300mya sea bed fossils remaining from the uplift forces which created the range, the other a 65mya sandstone containing visible plant fossils and a vein of coal). The artifacts provide a focus for this unit, and students will complete a visual narration explaining the origins of these and their own local artifact as a final product. The video is presented in chunks throughout the unit as a bridge to introduce, analyze and synthesize new learning.
  • Web-based resources I am using:
  • Tasks:
    • Students begin hypothesizing the origin of the artifacts citing preliminary evidence from the video clip to support their hypothesis. Students compile this as a first draft of their exposition. This may be a Word document completed in Word online and saved on their OneDrive account. (OneDrive allows students to share their work with me digitally, and allows me to provide feedback through commenting.)

Step Two: Exploration

  • What this looks like: If time and money were no obstacle, this would really look like my class on a bus headed to D.C. to visit the Smithsonian with digital devices in hand to assist in research and data collection. In lieu and via modern technology, the next best thing is a virtual tour. In the virtual tour, students would freely navigate the museum with the purpose of developing questions about the topic to explore. Some students will need more guidance and so I may provided them inquiry prompts or a task such as mapping the exhibit. You can’t really see much of the artifacts in the virtual tour, which is where the second site becomes extremely valuable in providing depth to the virtual tour. Students would refer back to both of these sites through the duration of the unit.
  • Web-based resources I am using:
  • Tasks:
    • Students use new information to revise their exposition. This may be a Word document completed in Word online and saved on their OneDrive account.
    • Students procure text and graphic references and support to include in their narrative.
    • Students develop a series of questions to focus research, and a list of resources to assist in research.

Step Three: Explain

  • What this looks like: Provide students a selection of websites containing interactive information about the concepts. Students navigate around and explore the content. This can be aided with the use of driving questions or ‘search and find’ tasks. Prerequisite concepts are explored here to enable a deeper understanding of the artifacts students are viewing in the Smithsonian. These sites allow a differentiated approach to allow students to attain this prerequisite knowledge and achieve higher order thinking. Here ideally, I would incorporate outside professionals or resources to further clarify basic concepts in context and provide relevance toward our goal of finding an accurate narrative to describe our artifacts. Students may engage and communicate with these individuals through technologies such as email, video conferencing or asynchronous messaging.
  • Web-based resources I am using:
    • Annenberg Learner Rock Cycle: I start here for my average students.
    • Brain Pop Rock Cycle: For students who may be challenged by the complexity of text or overwhelmed with the volume of reading, I would offer this as an introduction to the content.
    • Mineralogy4Kids Rock Cycle: For more advanced students or those with a deeper interest, I would offer this resource to begin their ‘research’.
  • Tasks:
    • Students organize data, research and visual aids for inclusion in their exposition final draft.
    • Students complete research through various resources, which may include communicating with geologists, museum curators, or other professionals.

*The above is one of four ‘explain’ activities, which specifically addresses the rock cycle. During this unit, students will engage in understanding of other prerequisite concepts including plate tectonics, fossilization and geologic time scale. All of which are used to support their evaluation and creation of their artifact narrative.

Step Four: Extend

  • What this looks like: This unit would be extended to include a place-based application of new concepts. Students would use the tools and resources they have acquired to begin to explain the geologic “structure, sequence, and properties of rocks, sediments, and fossils to reconstruct events in their immediate surroundings including the campus grounds and nearby creek.
  • Web-based resources I am using:
  • Tasks:
    • Students identify local geologic artifacts to focus investigation.
    • Students conduct research including communication with local experts to explain the presence of the local geologic artifacts.
    • Students final exposition will be complete using a choice of digital media for animating, digital storytelling or screen/video casting.
    • Students publish and present findings and receive feedback from various sources.

While many of the MTTS standards can be identified as imbedded in the specific tasks students complete in this study, for general reference, the specific MTTS Standards regularly addressed and useful in ensuring a technology rich environment include:

  • I. Information Access, Evaluation, Processing and Application: Indicators
    • Identify, locate, retrieve and differentiate among a variety of electronic sources of information using technology.
    • Evaluate information critically and competently for a specific purpose.
  • III. Legal, Social and Ethical Issues
    • Analyze issues related to the uses of technology in educational settings.
    • Establish classroom policies and procedures that ensure compliance with copyright law, Fair Use guidelines, security, privacy and student online protection.
    • Use classroom procedures to manage an equitable, safe and healthy environment for students.
  • V. Integrating Technology into the Curriculum and Instruction: Indicators
    • Assess students’ learning/ instructional needs to identify the appropriate technology for instruction.
    • Evaluate technology materials and media to determine their most appropriate instructional use.
    • Select and use appropriate technology to support content-specific student learning outcomes.
    • Manage a technology-enhanced environment to maximize student learning.

You may notice, I use the 5e model for structuring my lessons. This model marries NGSS and MTTS standards very well in implementation. It is important to realize the steps are not entirely linear. Students will toggle back and forth between them and spend varying amounts of time at each step. I did not include a separate ‘step’ for evaluate since this component of 5e is ongoing through all the steps in the lesson. During engagement, I would be evaluating interest level and prior knowledge. While observing students exploration, I would be evaluating and coaching research skills and identifying interest, ability and engagement level to inform differentiation strategies. During the explain step, I am evaluating information processing and cognition and assimilation of new content. Here, I may implement a summative assessment to confirm acquisition of prerequisite skills. I evaluate a performance-based activity using a rubric designed to encompass all the outcomes of the content. In extension, I like to circle back to previous content in which case I am able to evaluate student recall and synthesis of previously learned concepts. Finally, while critical thinking is a component of all the steps in instruction, extension provides a concrete context for applying and communicating new knowledge at a high cognitive disposition.

Evaluating Online Learning Activities: Webquests

Here I will evaluate one type of online learning activity, the webquest. Webquests are teacher created activities that require students to navigate to various websites in search of information on a topic.

Webquests have recently been touted as the greatest thing since sliced bread. However, my reaction, thus far, has been…ehh. Nonetheless, my technology hungry students love to kick back and click, and these activities tend to satiate that interest for them.

Recently, while looking for resources to use in our upcoming unit on geology, I found this Rock Cycle and Geologic Time Webquest, which is very similar to other webquests I have viewed in the past. Below I have compiled my general thoughts on webquests, while in the context of using this specific resource.

Generally, and this one is no exception, my greatest complaint about webquests is that they are so often written as low level thinking activities. Webquests take too much time to be spent on low cognitive tasks, which to me equals BUSY WORK. My class time is too short and too precious to have zombified students click, copy and pasting their day away. Further, it’s the internet gosh darn it…with limitless opportunities for critical thinking and creativity in a convenient package. Why are we limiting kids as if they’re still using computers from the 1980s?

Just to get off of the read/regurgitate wheel, I would amend the prescribed tasks with activities requiring some application and analysis of the content. Depending on the breadth of the content, I may use it as a starting point for more evaluative tasks or as a reference for something they’ll need to create. One approach I had attempted in the past (with mixed results, but believe strongly that could be successful with some tweaking) was to have the students themselves create the webquest and then evaluate each others resource by completing them. For the webquest I’ve cited here, I will likely rearrange the order (I don’t want to teach geologic time scale before sedimentary rock layers and the rock cycle…I’m a little linear that way) and chunk the activities, so that I can have students work in groups to ‘share findings’ and ‘make connections’ after completing a section. Rather than having them all follow the same webquest, they’d each work a section and then work together to make relationships between the content they uncovered.

Despite having been found on a blog that appears to have been abandoned early in its establishment several years ago, I was very pleased with the quality of the linked web resources (and the fact that they actually worked!). Often I find webquests that link to poor quality or non-functioning websites, which is absolutely frustrating. This could easily derail an entire class in short order, if a teacher failed to diligently scrutinize every click and scroll before handing it over to their students. Of course, that would never happen in my classroom, less I forgot that the students have stronger content filters when they’re logged in and half the links are blocked because of the banner commercials 😉

All in all, I think webquests are fine…just fine. They can be awesome when manipulated in such a way that leads students to collaborative problem solving or the creation of a product born of critical thinking. However, unless and until then, they make for great substitute plans, if your sub isn’t afraid to let kids touch computers!

Grouping Students

Student grouping consists of a variety strategies used to foster collaboration between peer learners and facilitate a a diverse learning environment where all students can contribute to and learn from each other. The two main classifications we discuss in student grouping are heterogeneous and homogeneous groups. There are very good arguments to support the use of both at times in the classroom environment.

When considering grouping students there are a number of factors that influence my decisions. Primarily, I must consider my learning goals and use them as the basis for structuring my groups. Here are a few scenarios where I would use different types of groups:

  • If my students are beginning to explore new content, I like them to share background knowledge and gain new perspectives about their current beliefs on a topic as they prepare to study. In this setting, I find a diverse heterogeneous mix of students provides the variety of perspectives needed to broaden students’ thinking.
  • If my students are engaging in a project or task, I might take two separate approaches. One would be to create homogenous groups of students based on interest or learning style and allow them some autonomy in customizing the activity to their taste. Whereas another group strategy I might use would be to carefully create heterogeneous groups of students with differing strengths who would then have specific roles in the group.
  • If my students are at a stage where we are beginning to synthesize and analyze new content, I am more inclined toward ability grouping. Admittedly, this is somewhat an attempt to satisfy management issues. It is easier to meet the needs of students who require more support and to ensure they are active participants when they are grouped together. Whereas higher ability students grouped together can accomplish more complex tasks without students checking out of the process or feeling lost or inferior.

Ability grouping like in the last example, also, plays a part in developing students reading and writing skills. I like to create diverse environments for students to brainstorm and participate in meaningful conversations, and most students are able to actively participate in this type of dialogue and communication with little obstruction due to literacy abilities. However, reading and writing can be difficult if high ability students feel burdened by average or lower ability students or when struggling students are insecure or need significantly more support to achieve the learning goals.

During reading and writing tasks, I like to incorporate groups for the benefit of analyzing a text or peer editing and other tasks. I heavily consider their reading and writing skill-level and tend toward ability grouping at the onset of these tasks. As students gain confidence and comfort with the concepts, I revert back to more diverse groups where they exchange their new ideas and defend their positions. This provides some scaffolding for the students in need, while other students can continue on to deeper content without stalling out.

Framing Our Reading: Part 4 (Vocabulary and Concept Development)

In this blog, I’m revisiting the three texts used in the previous posts in the Framing Our Reading series with a focus on using graphic organizers to teach vocabulary and concepts from text. Amanda, Juanita and I are each using a different graphic organizer to analyze the terms: ‘chemoreceptors’ found in the article Artificial Sweeteners: Friends or Foes? , ‘repel’ found in the article Why Metals Have A Blast in Water and ‘oxidation’ found in the article Rewritable Paper: Prints with Light not Ink. I am modeling these vocabulary words using a Semantic Map graphic organizer. McLaughlin (p. 58) suggests using Semantic Maps as a tool to “activate prior knowledge, introduce content-specific vocabulary, and organize information about a topic”.

For this exercise, I solicited the help of my 6th grade daughter to brainstorm from a perspective not already familiar with the text and not tainted with 30 years of prior knowledge. Coincidentally, the background she lacked in the content was remedied tenfold in with her familiarity with this strategy.

FullSizeRenderWe began by brainstorming a list of words and phrases that we related to the target word based on our prior  knowledge before referring to the text for additional details. Then we grouped the items from our list into categories. We found that for each word we had some similar categories such as: definition, opposites, and examples seen here in our map for ‘repel’.

The process was not immediately obvious to me, and I found myself grasping for more structure in the brainstorming and categorizing aspect. I think it would be helpful for some students (particularly, those who tend to be trigger shy like myself) to have some predefined categories as suggestions to guide their brainstorming.

My old school sensibilities are still tugging me towards lists and outlines, but when we finally created the visual structure of the Semantic Map and began filling in the results of our brainstorm, it immediately became easier to populate it with more information.

FullSizeRender(1)In my first attempt at creating a map, my daughter suggested that I was making it “too complicated”. I’m not sure if it was because of the disparity in our experience with the word (which would be something to consider when using this in groups) or because I was struggling to find more generic categories. While it makes sense to me, you can see in our map for oxidation the pattern is a little more ambiguous than  for repel and chemoreceptors.

I like the Semantic Map as a quick tool to organize information. My daughter seemed to grasp the process easily enough to explain it me, so I see it being very useful for those kids who benefit from the visual organization. Buehls’ Word Family Tree (pg. 221) has a similar purpose and I actually prefer the depth and structure of that tool, but this one is definitely more convenient and time efficient in the classroom. There are also similarities between this and the Magnet Words strategy discussed in part 3, but again the Semantic Map provides the advantage of being a free form (potentially impromptu) device to implement when, as a teacher, you become aware that more focused attention is needed on particular vocabulary or concepts.

Check out what Juanita did with these words using the word root/prefix/suffix chart, and how Amanda approached them with the vocabulary self-collection strategy.


Buehl, D. (2014). Classroom Strategies for Interactive Learning (4th ed.). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Kowalski, K. (2015). Rewritable paper: Prints with light, not ink. Retrieved from        ink?mode=topic&context=104

Marr, I. (2012, February 1). Artificial Sweeteners: Friends or Foes? Retrieved from

McLaughlin, M. (2015). Content Area Reading: Teaching and Learning for College and Career Readiness. (2nd ed., pp. 63-64). Boston, MA: Pearson Education Inc.

Ornes, S. (2015). Why metals have a blast in water. Retrieved from:

Framing Our Reading: Part 3 (Extending Thinking)

Text Citation or Link Rationale for Choosing Text Frame(s) Strategies Used and Resource
Extending Thinking Example Why metals have a blast in water Investigates the nature of chemical reactions using new technologies and revealing a greater understanding of the process. Concept/Definition Magnet Summaries (Buehl, pg. 141)

A magnet summary is a strategy used to guide students in connecting the concepts and key terms in a text and manipulating them to synthesize new learning into a meaningful summary. Buehl uses the analogy, “just as magnets attract certain metals, magnet words attract information.” to describe magnet words. The process consists of first identifying the key terms, or magnet words. Then searching the text for supporting information. Buehl suggests the students organize their findings on an index card with the magnet word at the center and the supporting words and phrases surrounding it. Each individual card would then be used to construct one or two succinct and coherent sentences summarizing that portion of the text. Finally, the sentences developed for each card are organized and edited to represent a clear narrative, summarizing the main ideas presented in the text.

Follow along below, where I have implemented this strategy using the text, Why metals have a blast in water.

First, I identified these magnet words and related important words and phrases found in the text:

Alkali metals

  • elements in the first column of the periodic table
  • very reactive, easily sometimes violently react with other materials
  • naturally occur in combination with other elements

Metal-water reactions

  • metals release electrons that generate heat
  • break water molecules releasing hydrogen
  • hydrogen reacts with heat resulting in explosion
  • incomplete explanation
  • old assumption


  • missing puzzle piece
  • spikes appear to grow on metal before explosion
  • negative electrons released leave behind positively charged atoms
  • like charges repel pushing the atoms away from each other exposing more electrons
  • chain reaction occurs leading to explosion
  • deeper understanding

Then, using these magnet words and their related information, I’ve constructed these sentences:

  1. The alkali metals are elements residing in the first column of the periodic table, and known for being highly reactive. In nature, they are most commonly fond bonded to other elements, which inhibits the sometimes violent chemical reactions that occur when these unstable elements are isolated.
  2. It had been believed that during metal-water reactions, heat generated by metals losing electrons broke hydrogen bonds in water molecules and the freed hydrogen ignites in an explosion.
  3. After the negatively charged electrons escape the metal molecules, the remaining positively charged atoms repel each other forming spikes. The increased surface area exposes more electrons that are released creating a chain reaction, which builds enough heat to ignite the hydrogen.

Finally, I’ve reorganized my sentences and edited parts to improve fluency. The completed summary reads as follows:

Recent observations offer a deeper understanding of the sometimes violent reactions that occur when alkali metals come in contact with water. The alkali metals are elements residing in the first column of the periodic table, and known for being highly reactive. In nature, they are most commonly fond bonded to other elements, which inhibits the sometimes violent chemical reactions that occur when these unstable elemental compounds contact some other substances. It had been believed that during metal-water reactions, heat generated by metals losing electrons broke hydrogen bonds in water molecules and the freed hydrogen ignited in an explosion. This explanation, however, was incomplete because it didn’t  account for the amount of heat energy needed to ignite the hydrogen. New research reveals a more complex process in the metal-water reaction. After the negatively charged electrons escape the metal molecules, the remaining positively charged atoms repel each other forming spikes. The increased surface area exposes more electrons that are released creating a chain reaction, which builds enough heat to generate these famous explosions.

Generally, I am one of those students that could be classified as a ‘reluctant writer’ and this strategy really helped me feel more confident about the structure and level of detail I was able to provide in my summary. I have witness many of students struggle with writers block, when asked to write a summary, and I found this strategy to be extremely helpful toward getting started. It help me to sift out the important information and construct a more substantial summary than I would likely have come up with simply by free writing.

I struggled for a bit trying to choose the vocabulary, because I wanted more ‘sciency’ words. However, I settled on the very un-‘sciency’ word, spikes, as it and the related details seemed to capture the main idea best. This might be a problem for some of my students, too. Though, I have observed a heavy emphasis on using context clues to identify supporting (not necessarily content specific) vocabulary in PARCC, so this could be seen as an advantage with explicit instruction in choosing magnet words.

In the classroom, I think this strategy offers a lot of versatility for differentiation. For example, I could jump start low-ability students by providing specific words, and for high-ability students I could set a higher minimum number of magnet words. Also, the chunking of the writing process-phrases from the text, paraphrasing in sentences, constructing a cohesive summary-provides a useful scaffold for learners at multiple levels and a checkpoint to provide additional support when needed. I look forward to testing this strategy with my students soon.

Explore this text using the QuIP strategy modeled by Juanita and the Sketch-to-Stretch technique modeled by Amanda.


Buehl, D. (2014). Classroom Strategies for Interactive Learning (4th ed.). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

McLaughlin, M. (2015). Content Area Reading: Teaching and Learning for College and Career Readiness. (2nd ed., pp. 63-64). Boston, MA: Pearson Education Inc.

Ornes, S. (2015). Why metals have a blast in water. Retrieved from: