Free classroom resources for Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15- October 15) is a time to recognize the many contributions of Latinos to life in the United States and learn about the cultures and traditions of those who can trace their roots to Spain, Mexico, and the Spanish-speaking countries of Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.

To help you celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month we’ve compiled some of our favorite activities and collections featured on

Bring Hispanic Heritage Month to Life: A Collection of Resources. Teach your students about Hispanic history, art, and music using these lesson plans, book lists, crafts, and biographies.

Compare and Contrast Countries During Hispanic Heritage Month. Students develop an understanding of the diversity that exists within Hispanic culture.

Frida Kahlo and Self Expression Through Self-Portraits. Famous Mexican painter Frida Kahlo is introduced and students create self-portraits while considering the question, "What is important to you?"

Understanding Characters and Cultures. Students learn about the influence of culture as they read and respond to Pat Mora's The Rainbow Tulip.

Can raising expectations help students build a growth mindset?

We've blogged several times about the importance of students having a growth mindset (rather than a fixed mindset) about their intelligence -- helping them understand that effort and practice, rather than a fixed intelligence trait, lead to success.

But what happens when you raise expectations and raise standards? You might think that would be de-motivating to students, especially the ones who are struggling.

In this video, Carol Dweck, the researcher behind the growth mindset theory, makes an interesting point about raising expectations.

You might have heard the need for higher standards presented like this: "We're raising expectations because students aren't achieving at a level high enough to succeed beyond high school." What if presented it like this? "We're setting these high expectations because we think you can meet them."

Students won't succeed unless they first believe they can.

Why you shouldn’t miss your state reading conference (and a giveaway!)

 What makes attending a state reading conference so special? The energy and enthusiasm. When you gather thousands of teachers who want to improve their craft you find professional conversations happening everywhere. You meet colleagues from across the state and get a chance to hear what they are doing.

Over the past several years, I’ve had the opportunity to attend and present at a number of state reading conferences, including the State of Maryland International Reading Council (SoMIRAC) and Missouri Early Learning Conference. Each time I go, I am inspired by the ideas and enthusiasm shared among the passionate, dedicated teachers who attend. In my mind, state reading conferences offer some of the best, most cost-effective and practical PD around, and I highly recommend that all teachers participate in their own state conference.

In just a few weeks, I’m going to hop in my car and drive down to Springfield, IL, to learn and share at the Illinois Reading Council Conference (IRC). The first time I presented at this conference was in 1992 when I was seven months pregnant with my daughter (who began her first year of teaching this year!). It takes a lot of preparation and planning to write sub plans, organize everything at home, and get ready to present to my colleagues, but I do it every year to give back just a smidgen of the knowledge that I’ve gained at IRC over the past two decades.

I have my Northern Illinois University professor, Pam Farris, to thank for introducing me to IRC. Over the years, I’ve tried to “pay it forward” by inviting many of my colleagues to join me on my trek to the state capital. Once they’ve been there, they are hooked and return year after year.

Just imagine: Long before Elephant and Piggie books were in every primary-grade classroom library, I saw Mo Willems draw the pigeon in a room with less than fifty people in it! You never know what amazing experiences await at these gatherings, but I can assure you that you will leave refreshed and revitalized.

So, once again, I’ll be sitting together with my fellow Illinois teachers in packed rooms to hear Dick Allington’s common sense thinking, learn about all the latest and greatest picture books from Becky Anderson Wilkins, and spend time with two of my favorite author/illustrators Steven Kellogg and Tom Lichtenheld. We’ll laugh and cry with Steven Layne and welcome many new faces to Illinois like Margo Southhall, Pam Allyn and Sharon Zinke. Now that the conference has been moved to October this year, I will have more time to implement the teaching strategies I will learn.

To help give a handful of teachers the opportunity to attend a reading conference this year, Scholastic is hosting a series of giveaways in the next few months to cover the registration fee for select upcoming conferences. Stay tuned for a chance to win a seat at your state's conference!

Today, we are offering an Illinois teacher one free registration to attend IRC on October 2-5, 2014, in Springfield, IL. (You must be an Illinois state teacher to qualify). This is a registration only—no travel or housing expenses are included. For a chance to win the registration, please leave a comment below about what you are most interested in learning about at the conference.(Must be a U.S. resident, 18 or over; complete legal rules available here.)

Do you remember when you were 11?

Through the magnificent documentary “I AM ELEVEN,” I was recently reminded of how amazing being 11 years old can be.

Australian filmmaker Genevieve Bailey celebrates the truths of childhood, and what makes everyone different. The documentary also does a wonderful job of showing the similar personal concerns 11-year-olds have, no matter their location or culture. From an orphanage in India to a single-parent household in inner-city Melbourne, “I AM ELEVEN” provides viewers with a firsthand look at what it truly means to be 11 years old for children across the globe.

During an interview with CBS Los Angeles, Bailey says, “I remember being on top of the world when I was 11 and feeling really hopeful about the future. At 11 your blinkers are off and you are seeing the world around you. There is a sense of clarity about [being 11]."

“I AM ELEVEN” hits theaters today. To find a theater near you or to share your memory of being 11, click here.

Watch the trailer below:

Five memorable soundbites from the NYT Schools for Tomorrow conference

This year’s New York Times’ Schools for Tomorrow conference focused mostly on higher education, but there was plenty of chatter about hot-button K-12 issues such as overtesting, tenure, and the importance of college rankings. In case you weren’t at the stylish midtown TimesCenter, here are some soundbites you missed:

  • My favorite moment of the conference came during lunch when a conversation about testing was snapped back to reality by a question. Martin West of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education pointed to polls that showed the public favored more testing than is already being done, while fellow panelist Richard Barth, KIPP’s CEO, said students were undertested. Jere Hochman, superintendent of New York’s Bedford Central SD, was incredulous, saying, testing “has taken over everything we do.” He said testing and pre-testing have crowded out arts and other subjects, and responded to Barth’s estimation that testing only occupied 12 to 24 hours for students, by saying, “There’s an entire other side to your story."
  • Martin West’s research turned up one dichotomy that might not be surprising. Polls showed the public wanted teachers evaluated more by using student test scores, while teachers themselves favored having their principal’s evaluation count more than test scores.
  • Michelle Rhee, the now ex-CEO of StudentsFirst, surprised the crowd by declaring, “I don’t have any problems with unions.” Rhee, who famously fired a principal on camera while she was running Washington, D.C.’s schools, did admit that she opposed layoffs due only to tenure. But she also pointed out that a contract she hammered out with the union changed tenure and the pay scale to reward the most effective teachers. Years later, the district is keeping effective teachers at twice the rate as ineffective ones, she said.
  • "Technology has allowed us to change every industry in America for the better, except for education,” said Robert Mendenhall, the president and CEO of Western Governors University. Western Governers is a private, online school based in Salt Lake City.
  • The conference kicked off with the Times’ David Leonhardt unveiling the paper’s new college rankings, focused on the most economically diverse top colleges. The next day, Leonhardt hosted the DOE’s Ted Mitchell, who promised that the federal college ranking, version 1.0, would be released this fall.

In New York City, a push for pre-K

On September 4, the doors of New York City's public schools swung open to a new crop of students—more than 1.1 million in all.

Because of Mayor Bill de Blasio's push for universal prekindergarten, 51,500 4-year-olds are now awakening to school bells each day, as compared with 20,000 last year. An additional 1,500 children, the city promises, will have seats by the end of the month.

On the first day of school de Blasio told reporters: "Today is a huge step forward for getting education right in the city."

Many more steps will be needed to get education right for New York City's 4-year-olds. Here's a look at where the city stands at the start of ambitious efforts to extend educational opportunities to its youngest residents, particularly to children living in poverty.

Universal Pre-K Takes Off (The New York Times)

"Fifty thousand is a small city's worth of children, each getting a head start on a lifetime of learning. [But] it is not certain, of course, that the preschool liftoff will be entirely smooth. Mr. de Blasio has promised not just big numbers, with enrollment projected to reach 73,000 next year, but high quality. That will require rigorous oversight and monitoring of preschool programs scattered widely among hundreds of privately run vendors."

In U.S., 70% Favor Federal Funds to Expand Pre-K Education (Gallup)

"Many education experts view pre-K education as especially important for economically disadvantaged children, whose parents may not be able to afford quality preschool programs. Poorer and minority children often lag behind other students in academic achievement, and early education is seen as a way to close these gaps—perhaps preventing them from emerging in the first place."

It's a Boon to Politicians and Parents, But Does Universal Pre-K Really Help Kids? (The New York Observer)

"With over 60 percent of America’s 4-year-olds now attending some sort of program, the pre-K revolution has in large part already happened," argues author Will Boisvert. "Whatever pre-K is going to do for kids it is mostly already doing. But as it marches towards ubiquity, it seems to bog down in all the problems that vex the larger school systems: doubts about quality and effectiveness, and controversies over how to improve them; yawning gaps between good and bad programs; dogfights over budgets, resources and governance. Whatever the benefits pre-K holds for kids, it will replicate rather than resolve the perennial discontents surrounding education."

De Blasio Promises Better "Foundation" With Pre-K (CBS New York)

 “What we’re doing today will be felt in the city not only a decade from now—[but also] two decades from now, three decades from now, as we have more kids graduating from high school on time; more kids getting into college; more kids going into work productively,” de Blasio said.

As Prekindergarten Expands in New York City, Guiding Guided Play (The New York Times)

"Teachers in the kind of classrooms that the administration aspires to build need more than patience and certificates. They need worldliness and quick intellectual reflexes. And they need engagement from parents who may not have had the time to expose their children to as many new experiences as they had hoped. [Chancellor] Fariña says that parents will be regularly invited into classrooms and that their involvement is highly sought after. She recently wrote new parents a letter. She asked them to have dinner with their children and to talk to them. Because that, in the end, is some of the most important training of all."


Practical tips for teachers: Strengthening relationships with parents

Educators know very well the importance of having strong partnerships with parents, yet building these can be one of the most challenging aspects of the job. Scholastic Instructor magazine has some advice for how teachers can avoid the pitfalls and strengthen relationships with parents. Here are a few:

1) No one reads your newsletters.

Problem:You spend hours compiling class information, and yet parents still have no idea that today is the class field trip!

Solution: Diversify and simplify. Pernille Ripp, a middle school teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, gives parents the option of receiving paper or e-mail newsletters. Also, she includes only the most important information in those weekly updates. “I try to be very picky with what I send so that people know if I’m sending something, it’s something they’ll need,” she says.

2) A parent thinks you’re singling out her child.

Problem: You make a phone call home about a problem at school, and the response is, “Why are you always picking on my kid?”

Solution: Send out general reminders to everyone. When Ripp noticed dress-code violations starting to pop up in her classroom, she didn’t call individual kids’ parents. Instead, she sent out a note reminding all families about the rules. The move saved her time, and ensured that kids didn’t feel they were being individually targeted. “It usually solves 95 percent of the problem,” Ripp says.

3) Language and cultural barriers.

Problem: You wish you could talk to all of your students’ parents in their native tongue, but you’re limited to English.

Solution: Embrace diversity. Even if you can’t become fluent in a half-dozen languages in time for ­parent–teacher conferences, you can still create a welcoming multicultural environment. Thomas Hoerr, aneducation author and administrator at a private school in St. Louis, recommends printing greetings in multiple languages, holding some school meetings in community spaces, and serving different ethnic foods at school functions. You’ll also want a translator on hand for important meetings.

Twitter education chats: An astonishing source of professional development

I have recently discovered Twitter, and it has supercharged my professional development. The reason? Twitter education chats!

Two months ago I would have said, “No, I don’t have a Twitter account.” I may even have been able to vaguely explain why I really don’t have space or reason for Twitter in my life. It certainly did not seem relevant to my work as an educator. However, during the last two months, my perspective has completely changed. I now eagerly ask fellow educators, “Have you experienced Twitter education chats? They are amazing!”

If you have yet to experience one of these chats, you may be surprised to learn that there is a rapidly growing network of enthusiastic, welcoming educators who are sharing a wealth of resources on a regular basis through Twitter.

While there are many Twitter users with great expertise, today I would like to offer the voice of an educator who is new to Twitter, possibly just like you. This is my vantage point.

A Twitter education chat is a digital gathering of enthusiastic, passionate educators, often from many places around the world, who come prepared to share resources, ideas, practices, strategies and helpful insights. The conversation among educators, coordinated around a single hashtag (#), propels the growth of one another’s personal learning networks. Twitter education chats bring the clear realization that there is a strong, passionate, generous, and far-reaching body of educators ready to support one another, ready to share resources, ready to sharpen thinking, ready to connect. Nearly every Twitter education chat I have experienced has left me with a wealth of resources: classroom ideas, video clips, blog posts, learning posters, professional reading suggestions, information about emerging technology, advancing thoughts on how to effectively use technology in the classroom, and growing connections to educators around the world. The chats are powerful bursts of encouragement, and I leave inspired. 

No expertise is required. You can simply join.

Perhaps, you are reading this blog post because a fellow educator has shared it with you. It may be that you do not have a Twitter account, which means that taking part in a Twitter education chat seems out of reach to you, just like it was to me less than two months ago. If that’s the case, I’ve detailed a pathway toward experiencing a Twitter education chat in 11 simple steps.

Step 1:  Cultivate Curiosity

You may already be curious about how Twitter can help you grow professionally. I challenge you to cultivate that curiosity. Just try it.

Step 2:  Activate an Account

If you don’t have a Twitter account, go to You can quickly and easily create your own free account.

Step 3:  Plan a Profile

Take a moment to decide what you want to do with your Twitter account. Will your purpose be to share socially, or will it be to expand your professional practice? I made the decision to use my Twitter account for professional purposes. On my account, you might expect to find math instructional strategies or thoughts about education, but you won’t find any information about what I had for lunch. I recommend creating a Twitter account for professional purposes. 

Step 4:  Build a Bio

As part of the set-up process, you will have the opportunity to write a short bio. Writing your bio will take only moments, but it is very important. If you leave your bio blank, fellow educators will have difficulty identifying with you.  However, if you use a brief description such as “4th grade teacher” this will help other 4th grade teachers around the world to find you, which will develop mutual capacity for quickly and easily sharing resources, strategies, and ideas. The bio will not limit your reach in any way, and you can always easily go back and change it later.

Step 5:  Follow Fellow Educators

Choose an educator you admire. Find the author of a book you have read recently.  Follow some of those educators and authors. Douglas Reeves. Jo Boaler. Rick Wormeli. Eric Sheninger. Vicki Davis.  Then click to see who those educators are following. Read the bios of those people and choose some of them to follow. You can easily follow or later unfollow anyone with the click of a button. While this step is not necessary to participating in a chat, it will help to quickly familiarize you with Twitter and will also provide an initial body of educators to follow and learn from.

Step 6:  Enter #edchat

If you look at #edchat you will find a constantly flowing stream of ideas, graphics, and reflective blog posts. The actual #edchat takes place Tuesdays at noon (EST) and 7:00 PM (EST), and you will certainly want to experience this high-energy, fast-paced chat once you have become familiar with other chats. However, the advantage of #edchat for beginners is that even when the chat itself is not taking place, there is a constant stream of highly useful ideas. I recommend starting here at any time of the day. This is where you will begin to understand how ideas stream from educators around the world to a designated hashtag.

Step 7: Choose a Chat

The map shown here was generously developed by Sean Junkins. This sampling clearly illuminates the prevalence of Twitter education chats even just within the U.S. The designations are in no way exclusive. For example, I am an Oregon educator who participates in chats from Montana, Kentucky, Florida, Texas, California, Iowa, and Oceania, as well as themed-chats such as parent & teacher chats, grade level specific chats, and chats for teachers who are new to Twitter. In addition to Sean Junkin’s graphic, this link to an extensive list of chats developed by Jerry Blumengarten is extremely helpful.

Begin by simply choosing a chat, using a hashtag (#) and following that chat. An early favorite of mine is #Nt2t (New Teachers to Twitter Chat) where there is helpful information for educators like you and I who are just beginning to step into this practice. Another great chat for beginners is #teacherfriends which provides extensive support for those of us who are new to Twitter using “Twitter Practice Chats” Tuesdays at 9:00 PM (EST).

Step 8:  Listen and Lurk

It is perfectly acceptable to simply listen to the conversation, to simply read the chat, and to gather resources as they are tweeted. Don’t feel obligated to comment or tweet. Eventually, you will be excited to contribute and will want to try out a tweet, but don’t feel that it is a requirement.  “Lurking” is the accepted term for simply watching the conversation. Lurking is a great first step and a common practice. As you watch, you’ll notice that the chats typically feature a series of questions. The questions are often prefaced by an indicator such as “Q1” and the responses are followed by “A1” to help keep track of the conversation. After several minutes, there will be a “Q2” followed by several responses beginning with “A2.” As the chats unfold, you may discover that there are additional educators whom you wish to follow and you can easily do so.

Step 9:  Respond to Resources

Chats frequently last 1 hour. During that time, you will likely see an explosion of resources come across your Twitter stream. Make it your goal to gather and use at least one resource that will make a difference in your professional practice. It may be an infographic, a professional book recommendation, an instructional strategy, a vivid statistic that will challenge your thinking, or a new digital resource tweeted by the very person who knows how to use it and is now within reach, ready to answer your questions as you consider putting it into practice.

Step 10:  Try out a Tweet

At some point, you will want to share a tweet of your own with others. This will help you to connect to others in the Twitter chat and may help to grow your personal learning network. A simple beginning point is to respond to one of the questions in a chat. You won’t be alone. Many others will also be answering the same question.

Step 11:  Try Tweetdeck

The first time I watched ideas racing through the chat, I wasn’t sure how I was going to keep up with the potential resources sliding off of my screen. Then I followed a tweeted suggestion to try Tweetdeck. I quickly found it online, and suddenly the Twitter chats became much more manageable for me. Tweetdeck is free and takes only moments to set up. Once you see the clarifying power of Tweetdeck, you may also be drawn to Hootsuite or other options that suit you better.

That’s it.  11 steps.

I eagerly encourage you to test the waters in a Twitter education chat. If this blog post has been forwarded to you by a fellow educator who already uses Twitter, simply ask that person for tips and insights or even to sit alongside you during a Twitter education chat. Or you can feel free to contact myself.

Just one more note: If you take the 11 steps suggested here, don’t be surprised if you find yourself in a future conversation with an educator who is not yet using Twitter. You might just find yourself sharing your enthusiasm about the remarkable potential of Twitter education chats. You may find yourself back at step 1: Cultivating Curiosity. You may be the one asking fellow educators: “Have you experienced Twitter education chats?”

Steve Wyborney can be found on Twitter @SteveWyborney

Back-to-school book recommendations for kids

The experts at Scholastic Instructor magazine have curated a great list of "Back-to-School Reads" for the latest issue. The list includes books for kids in grades PreK-8.

What would be YOUR recommendations? Comment below, and we'll tweet out a few of your ideas later today!

Here is Instructor's list. And click through for a Q & A with one of the authors!

1 | Planet Kindergarten
By Sue Ganz-Schmitt, illustrated by Shane Prigmore
Blast off to Planet Kindergarten—a mission both exciting and a bit scary: “We’re aliens from many galaxies....” Grades K–1.

2 |My Pet Book
By Bob Staake
Staake follows last year’s affecting wordless picture book Bluebird with another boldly graphic story that follows a boy and his beloved pet book on their adventures. Grades K–2.

3 | Little Elliot, Big City
By Mike Curato
Being big is relative. Little Elliot the spotted elephant intrepidly navigates the big city—and gets the object of his desire, with help from an even smaller friend. Grades PreK–1.

4 | If Kids Ran the World
By Leo and Diane Dillon
Get kids thinking about community with this multicultural imagining of a world where kids are in charge—and end up doing the right thing. Grades K–3.

5 |Some Monsters Are Different
By David Milgrim
Even though “some monsters like to talk and talk” and “some are quiet,” this book affirms that all are wonderful just the way they are. Grades PreK–1.

6 | Dog Days: The Carver Chronicles
By Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman
New kid Gavin wants to prove he’s cool, but it’s tough when hauling around a yappy, bow-wearing Pomeranian. First in a series. Grades 1–4.

7 | Justin Case: Rules, Tools, and Maybe a Bully
By Rachel Vail, illustrated by Matthew Cordell
We join Justin in fourth grade as he chronicles friendships, bullies, and taking tests. Third in a series. Grades 2–4.

8 | The Question of Miracles
By Elana K. Arnold
Reeling from the death of her best friend, Iris is miserable at her new school until a friend who’s a “medical mystery” helps her realize miracles can happen, too. Grades 4–7.

9 | The Brilliant World of Tom Gates
By L. Pichon
Fans of Wimpy Kid should thrill to the first Tom Gates book (of seven) to cross the pond. Winner of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize—need we say more? Grades 3–7.

10 | Villainous
By Matthew Cody
An “ordinary” kid just might be the one to stop the sinister Supers from taking over the Academy for the Extraordinarily Gifted. Last book in a popular middle-grade trilogy. Grades 5–8.

Advice to help you personalize professional learning this year

One of the best parts about embarking on a new school year is the ability to start fresh. It’s equivalent to grabbing that first blank piece of paper (or more likely opening a new Word doc), to begin an important project. A new year brings the promise of changing last year’s misfires, tweaking your successes, and creating new traditions.

If you are involved in planning the professional learning for your district, you know change is good. The old method of professional development (PD), where content was dictated to teachers, has proven ineffective. The new model of professional learning (PL), where teachers are active participants, holds promise. But how exactly can you transform your district’s PL?

Three experts in the field offered plenty of advice in a recent virtual event, Personalizing Your Professional Development. Here are the three top points they made:

  • The four key components of “teacher-centric PL,” according to Duncan Young of Scholastic, are a shared vision for great teaching, robust content, progress monitoring and adaptation, and teacher choice and voice. The emergence of digital tools, blended models of teaching, mobile devices, and constant connectivity for both teachers and students is driving this change, adds Young.
  • Jason Flom, an ASCD faculty member, agrees with Young. District leaders need to offer learning that is teacher or site specific and learner focused, he says. And no matter how good your new model is, don’t forget to debrief, evaluate, and revise frequently.
  • “As leaders, we need to be modeling differentiated PL,” says Ann Cunningham-Morris, ASCD’s director of professional learning. To make sure your new learning programs meet the mark, leaders must ensure it includes awareness of needs, skill development, implementation, and eventually the institutionalization of practices.

All this advice and more can be heard in the virtual event. You can review the session on demand anytime.


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