Attendance Awareness Month: A focus on outcomes in Gainesville, Ga.

How can students benefit from effective classroom teaching if they are chronically late and often not in the classroom at all?  Research continues to demonstrate the direct correlation between academic achievement and school attendance as well as how excessive absence in the elementary years leads to truancy and school dropout in middle and high school.

Marking September 2013 as the first-ever Attendance Awareness Month, The Grade Level Reading Campaign and other partners have put together some very useful resources and tools for leaders, educators and families.  They have also gathered some of the latest research that further highlights the need to address the wide-range of barriers that lead to chronic absence rather than treating it in isolation. These barriers, as we know too well, often have more to do with the complex issues related to poverty and community/school/home environments, then individual students simply not wanting to go to school.

While many schools have a variety of student supports in place to address issues like attendance, their implementation is often fragmented and marginalized. Scholastic is working with UCLA professors Howard S. Adelman, Ph.D., and Linda Taylor, Ph.D., whose 40 years of research demonstrates the need for unified and comprehensive systems of learning supports to address barriers to learning and teaching. Their framework delineates how to maximize use and effectiveness of resources by fully integrating them into—and giving them the same attention as—classroom instruction and school management.

As part of our work together, Scholastic and UCLA along with AASA started a Learning Supports Lead District Collaborative in 2007 to help learn from and share best practice. Gainesville City Schools in Georgia has been involved since the beginning and has seen some remarkable outcomes related to both school climate issues as well as student achievement including: 

  • Percent of students absent more than 10 days decreased from 21 percent to 5 percent
  • Tardies declined by 11 percent
  • Disciplinary tribunals decreased by 27 percent
  • Bus referrals reduced by 49%
  • Graduation rate increased from 73.3 to 87.2 percent.
  • At each school, more students than ever before scored in the "exceeding expectations" category in state testing.
  • Students scores improved on SAT, ACT and AP tests.
  • Teen pregnancies declined by 40 percent.
  • Parental satisfaction increased from 78 percent to 93 percent.

Regarding how this approach helped improve attendance, Dr. Dyer shares a bit of a before and after:

Prior to having a learning supports system in place, we addressed attendance by placing expectations in parent/student handbooks and reinforcing them through parental notification and referrals for chronic absentees and tardies. Now, we identify and address the root causes of 'why' students are missing school while at the same time are continuously working on our preventative strategies to reach all students. We are focused on important “transitions” such as having a welcoming and inviting start to the school day as well as improving the ways we engage students and families who are new to the district.  At the high school level, we’ve designed flexible schedules with blended learning for students who need to balance school and work. Most importantly, we have shifted from 'compliance mode' to a unified and integrated system of learning supports that addresses all barriers to learning. By doing so we’ve created a positive school climate where children and families not only feel safe and welcomed but are present and fully engaged as learners and partners."

Efforts like Attendance Month provide an important opportunity to share examples like Gainesville’s and others.  In the weeks to come I’ll be highlighting some of the other states and districts that are embracing this integrated approach.  And, I look forward to hearing from others…how are you comprehensively addressing inter-related issues such as attendance, bullying and family and community engagement

Encouraging young, creative teens in art and writing

More than 90 years ago, only three short years after founding Scholastic, M. R. Robinson created the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards to encourage our young creative minds and give them a fraction, if not more, of the encouragement for their minds as athletes receive for their bodily skills.  Still a relevant message today, the Awards program lives on and in last year's call for submissions received more than 230,000 submissions!!  Today, the nonprofit Alliance for Young Artists & Writers which know runs the initiative opens the 2013-14 Call for Submissions for all students grades 7-12.  I'm still encouraged by today's quote from 1928 and I hope that you are too - enough to spread the word and encourage a teen that you know to submit.  To find out more and to see how winners of the Scholastic Awards are recognized and given the opportunity for scholarships, publication and exhibition, visit

Four instructional moves to get kids talking in math class

With so much attention given to the Common Core State Standards for Mathematical Practice, what has risen to the surface for math instruction is the need for students to talk about their mathematical thinking and reasoning. Here are four instructional moves to get kids talking in math class:

1.      Provide rich tasks. There’s not much to talk about when students are filling in blanks or doing simple computation problems. The first step in getting kids to talk is choosing a nice open task like the one below from About Teaching Mathematics, by Marilyn Burns:

Number Sorting

You need:     30 cards or slips of paper, numbered 1 to 30 (these numbers can change depending on the grade level of students)

Sort the numbers in these ways:

-        Into two groups

-        Into three groups

-        Into four groups

Record your sort and trade your paper with another classmate. Each of you tries to figure the rule the other used for sorting.

For more on open tasks see my previous post called, “How to make doing math inviting.”

2.      Use a variety of student groupings. During a whole group discussion, only one person talks at a time, using strategies like Turn and Talk and Think-Pair-Share allows for more student participation. Before teaching a lesson, consider how you will group students for mathematical conversations – partner? small group? whole group?

3.      Set expectations for talk. Sharing with students that there will be time to discuss their mathematical ideas informs them that this will be a regular part of math class. Establishing with students what that will look like and sound like helps create norms and sends the message to students that sharing their ideas is valued.

4.      Utilize prompts/questions. A good prompt/question posted in the classroom will generate rich discussion. Here’s an example of some prompts to use before students begin Number Sorting:

  • Predict another number that belongs in each group and explain to your partner why you think each belongs there.
  • Convince your partner that your thinking makes sense with examples from your sort.
  • Without giving away the answer, provide mathematical hints to your partner if they get stuck.

Using these instructional moves in the classroom takes purposeful planning. The rewards are great for students because when they talk out loud about their thinking, students typically reach a new level of understanding. The teacher is rewarded by observing where students are in their mathematical thinking as they listen in on student discussions. What stumbling blocks have you encountered when trying to get students to talk in math class?

Persons of Pinterest

Teachers have established a strong presence on social media site Pinterest, which allows users to virtually “pin” photos to categorized boards. Whether you seek book suggestions, anchor charts, or literacy centers, Pinterest contains a wealth of instructional ideas. Since the beginning of the school year is prime time to get “pinspired,” I've listed a few of my favorite pinners and boards:

Classroom Organization” by Melissa Alonzo-Dillard shares tips for creating systems to label and organize paperwork, supplies, and classroom spaces.

Library Spaces for Kids” by Andrea Knight makes me want to curl up in one of these beautiful spots with a treasured book.

Bulletin Boards and Charts” by Miss Kindergarten shows visually appealing ideas for displaying student work.

Alphabet” by Maria Manore (Kinder-Craze) has creative ideas to promote alphabet knowledge, including letter names, shapes, and sounds. 

Literacy” by Nicole Rios includes resources for reading comprehension, book lists, and anchor charts.

Science” by Jennifer Findley compiles creative and engaging science experiments, projects, activities.

We have our own page here at Scholastic too.

Teachers, are you using Pinterest in your classroom? Feel free to share your ideas or favorite boards in the comments!

Books and resources to help children learn about 9/11

Today marks the 12th anniversary of the attacks on 9/11. For most adults, it’s hard to believe that so much time has passed since that terrible day. For some older kids, this day brings back fear and anxiety. However, others may be learning about the attacks for the first time this week if they were born after 2001 or are too young to remember.

Here are some resources for parents and teachers to use with their kids today as the nation remembers.

  1. Today’s Scholastic News top story: Remembering 9/11.
  2. A collection of books for children and resources for parents.
  3. A collection of teacher resources and classroom activities.
  4. A guide to talking with kids about war, violence, and natural disasters.

We welcome any advice or useful links you'd like to share in the comments!


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