Learning-Focused Connections
Issue 39:  Week of  March 9, 2009
The LEARNING-FOCUSED Connections Newsletter is a weekly link to exemplary practice and ideas that will help you as an educator to increase achievement in your classroom and school. Some weeks there will be a mix of articles in the mailer; other weeks we will follow a theme. We are all working with the same goal in mind, continuous improvement in student achievement.
In This Issue
Is your budget keeping you from getting LEARNING-FOCUSED professional development and products that you need?
Using Interactive Word Walls in Science
Using the Strategies Wisely
Transforming the Student Learning Map into Instructional Practice
Past Connections Articles
Is your budget keeping you from getting LEARNING-FOCUSED professional development and products that you need?

We understand that many of you are experiencing budget difficulties as states slash their educational dollars. During this short term budget crisis, LEARNING-FOCUSED is going to do everything possible to help you continue getting the training and products so necessary for increasing achievement and teacher collaboration.  

Here are five ways LEARNING-FOCUSED is increasing our support to you during these difficult times!

1. Now through May 1st we are offering 15% off on all materials purchased with a credit card or check (not purchase orders) on orders over $100. This offer does not include the sale of discontinued item #800 which is already on sale for 50% off. Download our order form and complete the credit card information or include a check and either fax the form (with credit card info) or mail us the form and check. Be sure to deduct the 15% on your order form! You can also place a credit card order on our website. Type in the code "SPRING-09" when you are checking out. Remember, the code should only be used if the order is $100 or more and you are using a credit card.

2. If you are a Florida administrator or teacher leader, you can attend our Updating Florida Educational Leaders Seminar on May 7th and 8th in Orlando for FREE!
See the seminar advertisement below for details.

3. Attend 2 days of our Summer Institute (July 13 - 17 in Greensboro, NC) for FREE!
See the Summer Institute advertisement below for details.

4. We will provide a FREE day of professional development to 20 random clients!
To qualify, a school or district administrator must reply to this email by 10:00pm on Wednesday, March 11th and the school/district must have purchased at least 2 onsite professional development days from Learning-Focused since August 1, 2008.

So, if you are an administrator of a school or district that has purchased services from us since August, respond to this email by Wednesday night. Your email to us must include your name, title, what workshop you want, why you want this workshop, number of anticipated participants, grade levels participants teach, and several dates when you would like to have the workshop. Workshop materials are not included. Winners will be able to choose from our preselected dates for their workshop.

20 entries will be randomly selected and we will notify the winners in next week's Connections newsletter.

5. We have a new FREE service called Focus on Funding that we have created to help you locate funds for LEARNING-FOCUSED Professional Development and products. We have an easy-to-use database of over 600 specially selected grants available for you to select from to apply for funding. Most of the grants include example applications completed so all you have to do is change the information to your school/district and submit. We also have a full time Focus on Funding staff available to help you write grant applications and review grant applications to ensure the highest probability of your grant getting accepted! Visit www.LEARNINGFOCUSED
.com and click on Products and Solutions and then Focus on Funding.

Thank you for allowing us to work with you and your fellow teachers and administrators. We do what we do because of your support and dedication to increasing achievement for all students.

We hope to see you soon!

events logo

Updating Florida Educational Leaders Seminar
Read below to find out how to attend for FREE!

May 7-8, 2009
Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress
Orlando, FL

This seminar is for educational leaders (administrators and teacher leaders) who are experienced and for educational leaders new to LEARNING-FOCUSED.

Registration Fee: $50.00 per day or Free**
Visit www.LEARNINGFOCUSED.com for additional seminar information and to register.

May 7th: Leadership, Balanced Achievement and Accountability and our new Starting and Sustaining Exemplary Practices
Have you received your dose of Max lately? Have you developed an achievement game plan with our new Starting and Sustaining Exemplary Practices solution? Have you learned how other schools and districts are get (and keep getting!) results?

May 8th: Unlocking the Secrets of the new LEARNING-FOCUSED Strategies v.7 Model

Have you discovered the power of teachers collaboratively planning common assessments? How to plan standards driven assessment prompts? The secrets of distributing assessment prompts throughout lessons? The characteristics of quality lessons? The many uses of Student Learning Maps? Learn why the latest version of LEARNING-FOCUSED Strategies is the most powerful and highest regarded solution we've ever developed!

**Want to attend for free? We are offering 2 different ways to attend for free!:

1. Submit a 3+ minute video describing why your school/district chose LEARNING-FOCUSED, the impact of LEARNING-FOCUSED in your school/district, success stories, highlights of implementing Learning-Focused, and what it is like to work with LEARNING-FOCUSED. Videos can be submitted on VHS tape, Mini-DV tape, CD, or DVD. To qualify for free registration, videos must be received by April 27th (you have plenty of time!).

Ship video to:
Attn: Video for Florida Registration
132 Laurel Chase Drive
Blowing Rock, NC 28605

2. A second way of attending for free is to bring a leader with you from a school or district that has not implemented LEARNING-FOCUSED as your guest. The leader must be a Superintendent, Assistant or Associate Superintendent, Director of Title 1, Director of Curriculum and/or Instruction, Director Professional Development, or Principal. Both you and your guest will be free.

Register today! The first 20 registrations we receive will all get a free copy of The Amazing Book of Connections for Learning!

Visit www.LEARNINGFOCUSED.com for additional seminar information and to register.
events logo

LEARNING-FOCUSED Summer Institute on
Sustaining Exemplary Practices
Read below to find out how to attend for FREE!

July 13-17, 2009
Greensboro, NC

Sessions include: Training of Trainers and regular workshops at the Institute:
  • LEARNING-FOCUSED Strategies version 7 (regular sessions and Training of Trainers sessions)
  • Reading Comprehension Strategies and Assignments (regular sessions and Training of Trainers sessions)
  • LEARNING-FOCUSED Math (regular sessions and Training of Trainers sessions)
  • Differentiated Assignments (regular sessions and Training of Trainers sessions)
  • Vocabulary Instruction (regular sessions and Training of Trainers sessions)
  • Catching Kids Up with Acceleration (regular sessions and Training of Trainers sessions)
  • Scaffolding Grade Level Learning (regular sessions and Training of Trainers sessions)
  • Leadership, Balanced Achievement, and Accountability with Max Thompson
  • Starting and Sustaining Exemplary Practices with Max Thompson
  • Toolbox Training
  • Toolbox Administrator Training
  • Actualizing your Power Curriculum
  • Unlocking the Secrets of LEARNING-FOCUSED version 7 - a new book and 1-day workshop to get those trained in version 5 or 6 the latest information and exemplary practices in version 7!

Early Registration Fee:  $140.00 per person/day
Includes all session materials except Training of Trainers Redelivery Kits and Support which are purchased separately.
Registrations after May 1, 2009:  $160.00 per day

Session and registration information now available at www.LEARNINGFOCUSED.com

Summer Institute Opportunities to Attend for Free!
We now offer all participants with an opportunity to attend two days of the LEARNING-FOCUSED Summer Institute for free!

All you have to do to attend 2 days of the Summer Institute for free is to submit a 3+ minute video describing why your school/district chose LEARNING-FOCUSED, the impact of LEARNING-FOCUSED in your school/district, success stories, highlights of implementing LEARNING-FOCUSED, and what it is like to work with LEARNING-FOCUSED. Videos can be submitted on VHS tape, Mini-DV tape, CD, or DVD. To qualify for free registration, videos must be received by June 1st (you have plenty of time!).

Ship video to:
Attn: Video for Summer Institute Registration
132 Laurel Chase Drive
Blowing Rock, NC 28605

Offer does not include Training of Trainers Kits and Trainer Support.
Just the Institute registration fee is free.
School and District Leaders: We have a second opportunity for you to attend two days for free!  Bring a leader with you from a school or district that has not implemented LEARNING-FOCUSED as your guest to the Leadership, Balanced Achievement and Accountability session and/or the Starting and Sustaining Exemplary Practices Session and you both attend for free. The leader must be a Superintendent, Assistant or Associate Superintendent, Director of Title 1, Director of Curriculum and/or Instruction, Director Professional Development, or Principal.

Session and registration information now available at www.LEARNINGFOCUSED.com

Using Interactive Word Walls in Science
by Toni Enloe

Flashback:  It is Monday morning, and the teacher has just finished a unit of instruction with a test the previous Friday. Students are told to turn to the back of the next chapter and locate the usually lengthy set of new vocabulary terms. Students look up each word in the glossary in the back of the book, write the definition and then either use the word in a sentence or find the word in the chapter and write that sentence. On Friday, students take a vocabulary test, even though the new words may not have been introduced within the context of the lesson. Sound familiar? Some of us have probably been guilty of this kind of vocabulary instruction or victims. This type of instruction is a "Dead Horse" that needs to be buried.

Fast Forward:  Based on skills that you acquired in your LEARNING-FOCUSED Strategies and Vocabulary Instruction workshops, you have designed your Student Learning Maps and identified key vocabulary. Now what? Word Walls! In addition to what you learned in your Vocabulary Instruction workshop, there are several other things you might want to remember, as you begin to design your Word Wall.

1. Encourage students to take ownership by identifying their own unfamiliar words to include on the
2. Constantly add new information to grow your wall.
3. Make sure the vocabulary is curriculum based and content driven.
4. Make sure the design encourages students to see and make connections.

The use of interactive Word Walls in science enhances the learning experience for your students. Not only are they relatively simple to design and use but also beneficial to vocabulary development.
Science is a vocabulary-intense subject that is dependent on students learning new and often times difficult vocabulary to increase comprehension and help them make connections between and among concepts. When science students are given the opportunity to interact with the vocabulary, they are more likely to remember it.

What makes a Word Wall interactive? It becomes interactive when students are allowed to "do something" with the vocabulary. By posting the words in the classroom, students automatically have visual cues. Other things to consider include are:  auditory processing through pronunciation, using their own language to define the words and using games as a form of summative assessment.
For vocabulary development to occur students need multiple visual and auditory exposures to the words, kinesthetic experiences, relevant connections, opportunities to play with the words, and time to write and use the new words in the appropriate context. Interactive Word Wall activities can:

1. Increase vocabulary
2. Help students make connections between and among concepts and units
3. Provide opportunities for productive and meaningful interaction among classmates
4. Make students accountable for their own learning
5. Facilitate student directed learning
6. Serve as either formative or summative assessment

Suggestions for when to use Word Wall activities in science include:

1. Activating strategy for a lesson
2. Part of classroom instruction
3. Summarizer for a lesson
4. Unit launch activity
5. Follow up after science lab to help students connect to concepts
6. Review for test

Ideas for using the words on your wall are only limited by your imagination. Some examples include:

1. Students categorize and sequence from largest to smallest (cell, bacteria, yeast, tissue, ribosome, organ, organism, organ system, protozoa, virus)  Variation:  Students are given vocabulary words,  and their classmates must arrange them in the correct order and justify the placement.

2. Students remove words from the wall and make connecting statements about the words. The class can then create a summarizing statement. Ex. Cells make up tissues, and tissues make up organs.

3. Students can select words from the wall and create a cheer or chant for new vocabulary words.
Ex. anticline, syncline, dike and sill

Anticline - Students move their right hand from left to right in an upward arch
Syncline - Students move their right hand from right to left in a downward arch
Dike - Student's right forearm is vertical
Sill - Student's right forearm is horizontal and parallel to the front of the body

4. Teachers can use the system of classification for seat assignments. It keeps things lively and is a
    clever way to create new collaborative pairs.

Ex. animal kingdom classification - One student might have the word "Platyhelminthes" and another "Planaria";  those students would sit next to each other. "Chordata" and "Fish", etc.

Varying the activity that you use with your Word Wall wordskeeps things interesting and students motivated. To vary activities vary the difficulty of the words; let students help you generate words based on their knowledge.  Make it a silent activity. Pull vocabulary from several seemingly unrelated units, and see if students can make and justify their connections. Once students are familiar with the new vocabulary, they have the flexibility to make new connections. When actively engaged in their own vocabulary development, students begin to understand how words work and see relationships.

Increased understanding = Increased competence=Increased confidence = Increased effort = INCREASED ACHIEVEMENT!

For more ideas on Word Walls see Vocabulary Instruction.
Focus on Funding
We are pleased to offer a new service at no charge, helping you locate sources and acquire funding for professional development and materials. Follow the links from the website to information about current federal initiatives and assistance as you seek funding to help you meet the requirements. Free services include reviewing your grants, grant writing assistance, and assistance with locating funding sources. The Focus on Funding grant database contains over 600 carefully selected grants that match with school improvement initiatives. For many of the grants we have provided example applications! Whether you are seeking $100 or $100,000, you will receive the highest quality service and support. Our focus is yours...to increase student achievement.
Visit the Focus on Funding website today!

Using the Strategies Wisely
by Debbie Cargill

One goal that I have for students is that they are able to organize learning for themselves. When they have the tools and strategies to do that, they become more responsible learners and, consequently, take control of and ownership of their learning.

Recently, a high school student reported that some strategies were actually "impeding a student's ability to truly learn." That comment made me stop to consider the 'whys' of teaching students the LEARNING-FOCUSED strategies. The November 2008 issue of Educational Leadership focuses on creating a sense of learning for students. Most of the articles in that issue focus on teaching students to make responsible choices, maximizing student potential, and empowering students to choose more challenging tasks. When students reach that level, they are more engaged and more accountable.

I remind teachers frequently that they are the ones who know their content and their students. They are charged with choosing the appropriate strategies for their grade level and content. They must also make decisions about when and if students need organizational tools. It is not just about the strategies. It is about making the strategies work for students. What makes sense for this content, this student, this situation? Remember - adapt, don't adopt strategies!

Note: We do ask you to try to stick with a lesson framework (don't adapt too much) because it is found that schools with common lesson plans have a higher increase in achievement and because the LEARNING-FOCUSED Strategies lesson framework connects exemplary practices creating a higher impact on student learning. 

Recently, a middle school principal reported that students love using graphic organizers. Sixth, seventh, and eighth graders would come up to her and say, "This makes it so much easier to understand!"  Another example is a fourth grade student who moved from a high implementation (LEARNING-FOCUSED) school to another school in the district. On his first day in the new school, the teacher made an assignment. He asked, "Where's my graphic organizer?"

The point is that when students see the value and recognize the need, we know we are making good, sound instructional decisions, and students are more likely to transfer that skill to other areas.  We know that, with enough practice and modeling, students will begin to make the strategies their own. Throughout the year, we increase expectations as students increase their proficiency and begin to make responsible decisions about their learning. In other words, initially the teacher will teach students how to use the organizer or strategy with familiar content. As students become more proficient, they begin to make the decisions about when and how to choose and use the strategies.

The high school student who wrote us about the strategies impeding his ability to learn was told by the teacher that he has to do them because LEARNING-FOCUSED says so (which is why he wrote us). We urge all teachers to use strategies that work in his/her classroom. If an activating strategy, graphic organizer, or summarizing strategy doesn't work, adapt it, pick a different strategy, or change how you had students use the strategy. But, you have to help students take ownership of them!

We had a teacher who told us a story about a high school student who thought that Student Learning Maps were a waste of time and thus impeding his ability to learn. Instead of blaming the use of the strategy on LEARNING-FOCUSED (or her principal), the teacher quickly responded to the student that he could stop using Student Learning Maps to organize their units if he could tell her what he learned in their previous unit. The student was astonished and quickly started to tell her about what they studied. While he was talking, his hands kept pointing to a location on the wall and motioning the order in which different lessons occurred. He stopped midway and said "you got me, didn't you?" She responded, "yes, I believe I did." He turned around and returned to his seat. While the student was responding he was picturing the Student Learning Map on the wall and in his mind so that he could recall the information to communicate it to his teacher. It didn't take him long to recognize that was what he was doing and the value of the strategy. Smart student! Smart teacher!

Transforming the Student Learning Map into Instructional Practice
by Cindy Riedl
The time has come for us to check for understanding and eliminate misconceptions concerning how Student Learning Maps are effectively implemented in the classroom. Student Learning Maps are an advance organizer that guides instruction and helps students organize what they are learning. They also are a communication tool for students, their parents and support teachers. Each Student Learning Map organizes the content and expectations of the state's standards for a specific subject and grade level. The Student Learning Map eliminates 'mystery learning', because the content and learning expectations are there for all to see. The question plaguing many educators is whether there is 'RIGHT' OR 'WRONG' way of displaying the Student Learning Map in the classroom. The Student Learning Map gives the 'Big Picture' of where we are going, connecting the lessons into a whole, and it can serve as a Word Wall for the unit. The point of the map is to facilitate learning. Each teacher should display it so it does!

There are no parameters or "rules" for displaying the components of the Student Learning Map, as long as the modifications meet the intended purpose - guiding instruction and organizing learning. Yet, during conferencing with teachers, we encounter many teachers who are concerned about whether there is a prescribed expectation about how the components of the Student Learning Map are displayed. The collective response is that teachers must make decisions based on the needs of their students and the availability of space. The goal is NOT to paper the walls with maps.

Our goal is to help you discover what works best for your situation and students. Doing this often involves making recommendations. For instance, in a classroom with limited wall space, you are often encouraged to focus on displaying only one Lesson Essential Question at a time and keeping it in view under the topic and/or Unit Essential Question, until students have met the criteria of response for the question. Meanwhile, students are maintaining a journal or Learning Log.

In Pennsylvania one of our Instructional Specialists had a conversation with a middle school teacher, and they talked about different ways to display the Student Learning Map. After their conversation, the teacher decided to have her students build the Student Learning Map in their Log Books as they go. At the beginning of each lesson, students would write the Lesson Essential Question and then complete assignments and vocabulary work in their Log Books. At the end of the lesson, they would respond to the essential question. "I thought that this was a very effective way to handle the Student Learning Map, as students had a reference in their own words with their work samples to support the learning on specific topics and bodies of information," our Instructional Specialist explained. She continued, "Teachers need to understand that there is definitely not a right or wrong way to display maps! Our goal is that the expectations designated by the map are addressed during their lessons. We DO NOT dictate how they do this. Those decisions are part of their craft as professionals!"

While some teachers gradually display the components of the Student Learning Map as they are addressed during the Acquisition Lesson, others present the entire map at the beginning of a unit, because doing so does not intimidate their students. Often, high school students want to see the complete journey that they will be taking during the unit of study. For other students, this undertaking would be overwhelming and, in some cases, would actually "blow their fuses" before even beginning the unit. Again, the choice of how the Student Learning Map is displayed is dependent upon knowing your students, how they learn, and what the best approach is, whether part to whole or whole to part.  Primary teachers who discover that building the complete map on the wall, from the beginning to the end of the unit, is too much for their students' young minds to handle should not do it. The Lesson Essential Questions represent "chunks" of learning. Display the chunks individually, and remove them as you move on to the next instructional chunk.

As a firm believer in vocabulary instruction, I highly recommend that all teachers find ways to highlight key vocabulary of the Student Learning Map by making it visibly connected to the concepts of the unit. Adding visuals and graphics to the displayed vocabulary creates the "mental Velcro" students require to retain knowledge of words at all grade levels. Requiring that those words are used and spelled correctly in writing assignments will increase student achievement.  Another possibility for 'map management' is to provide students with a manila folder where they can add the components of the Student Learning Map and keep their work in it during the unit as an advance organizer. Writing rubrics can be attached to the folder and used as a guide during writing to inform or to respond to assignments. This management strategy is especially effective for grades three through high school. Students are held responsible for their learning, and structure is provided for those students who have difficulty with organizational skills. Other successful Student Learning Map organizers include Post-it-Notes for adding new vocabulary, with visuals and pocket files for students to add their assignments and responses to Lesson Essential Questions. All it requires is a little practical imagination with a focus on how students learn best at your grade level.

Another Instructional Specialist responded to a client, "I have asked the middle school teachers in a district to not put up all of the Lesson Essential Questions for a unit at once, since it has become distracting for many of their students. Instead, I encouraged them to cover the components that have not been addressed and uncover them during specific instruction."

Other teachers, who are using sentence strips for their Lesson Essential Questions, concepts and vocabulary, put them all up but turn over the ones they have not addressed yet. Also, these teachers have created arrows or hands with a finger pointing to the Lesson Essential Question they are addressing on the map.

A third grade teacher in Florida explained how she previewed the components and uses of a Student Learning Map at the beginning of the year before using it for instruction.  She insisted that previewing the format made a difference as to how her students interacted with the map during instruction. She also had a clever idea about how to store maps on pants hangers when they were not in use. When it was time to use the information on the Student Learning Map and add the new Lesson Essential Question and vocabulary, the map was removed from the hanger and displayed during the lesson. Students also had access to the maps that were arranged for easy access during assignments.
We had a trainer once ask what she should recommend to teachers using the technology of interactive white boards. In the same way as the third grade teacher who used a storage system for maps, the teachers using the interactive white board can build their maps gradually, recording new Lesson Essential Questions, concepts and vocabulary words during instruction. The map stays in view during the lesson. Vocabulary can still be arranged in an area of the classroom designated for that topic, making connections to concepts and recorded by students in their journals or notebooks. The intention is that the teacher and students are consistently using the topic related vocabulary in their writing and during discussions.

So what is the issue? Is everyone operating with the same understanding about how Student Learning Maps can be transformed effectively into student learning without plastering the walls of classrooms with their components? No doubt that there are supervisory members of the educational community that are looking for evidence of learning. The best evidence is student work, but how Student Learning Maps are used will provide clues to your supervisors about how you are using Student Learning Maps with students. Think about how student work might be displayed with a Lesson Essential Question in the hall, on a door, or in a designated area of the room for 'Celebrating Learning'. Have student notebooks and folders ready to showcase how your students are learning from the Student Learning Maps. Think Smart! But, most of all, make what appears on the walls of your classroom 'student friendly' and useful interactive tools of learning.

Find out more about Student Learning Maps in Transforming Standards into Learning.

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