Posted in education


3 Apps to Make Differentiation Easier in Kindergarten

Short, developmentally appropriate sessions with educational apps can help students who start in different places academically make learning gains.

Kira Retana
Kira Retana

In a kindergarten classroom, there are usually more than 20 students on the roster. These students come from different backgrounds and have different academic and social needs. Some come in knowing how to read and write; some have never seen or held a book. Some have never even been in a classroom setting before, and teachers are left to figure out how to help all of them.

On top of having to meet the needs of all students, teachers are also expected to use available technology now more than ever. One of the challenges of implementing an innovation in technology, such as blended learning, is that teachers lack training and/or awareness of how to do this in their own classrooms. Yet using blended learning could help alleviate some of the stresses that come with having a kindergarten class with so many different academic needs.

Luckily for teachers and students, many of today’s classrooms are set up to integrate technology via student computers, laptops, computer labs, iPads, Chromebooks, and other devices. Through the use of these devices, students can produce work that they would like to share with their families, and fortunately there are a lot of resources available to help bring blended learning into kindergarten classrooms.


Seesaw: Educational applications such as Seesaw help students publish their work in a digital journal. That journal is not just seen by their teacher; it’s also something they can share with their families at home. Seesaw is developmentally appropriate to use in kindergarten, since it’s so easy to navigate.

The app has a plethora of activities in different subjects ready to use, so prep time for teachers is minimal. Additionally, it has personalized activities that can be assigned based on student needs. It also bridges home and school because parents are able to see things their child needs to work on. Seesaw is a tool that was used frequently to help students during distance learning, and it’s easily adaptable to in-person classes.

Epic: In kindergarten, foundational skills such as reading are taught. An application like Epic offers teachers and students access to thousands of books, videos, and quizzes all at their fingertips. This is another application that can be used at home to assist parents in helping their children read.

Epic is loved by educators because it has books in different subject areas, such as math, science, and social studies. It also offers books in Spanish. Students love it because if they are ready, they can use it to read books; if they are not ready yet, many books have a read-aloud option. In a blended-learning environment, Epic can be used in a station during small group instruction time.

Raz-Plus: Another resource that can be used when implementing blended learning is the application Raz-Plus. It also puts more books in students’ hands. Additionally, for teachers, Raz-Plus helps with the management of guided-reading books. Instead of managing more than 20 books daily, teachers can push leveled readers out to students via the Raz-Plus application. This is another tool that can be used during station time and also at home.

Blended learning does not happen overnight. Just as providing differentiation and enrichment to all students can be a hard task, blended learning takes a lot of trial and error. Adjustments need to happen along the way in order to meet all students’ needs.

In kindergarten, the station-rotation model seems to be the most practical choice, since stations are already in place during guided-reading blocks. While students at one station use Seesaw, another group of students can work collaboratively, and a third group can work with the teacher.

The last thing teachers need is more work on their plates. Adding blended learning to station time is an adjustment that can be made easily and results in helping students grow in areas of need. Utilizing tech tools as part of a station-rotation model also ensures that kindergarten students aren’t getting too much screen time during the school day.

Technology is much more​​ widely available to our students now. As educators, we need to figure out how to use it in a way that will benefit all learners. Blended learning has helped educators like myself find a good balance when trying to enrich and differentiate instruction for our school’s youngest students.

Posted in education

MEDIA LITERACY4 Strategies for Teaching Media LiteracyTeachers can support students in developing skills that allow them to effectively evaluate content from a variety of media sources.By Julia BoudreauSeptember 28, 2021

My current students were all born after 2005, into a world consumed by technology. Many are among the generation of scholars whose learning has been enhanced through the use of technology and the media. They have listened to it, interacted with it, and learned from it since early childhood. Yet, when it comes to evaluating its effectiveness, some are still in need of guidance.

When educators teach media literacy, they provide students with crucial skills to become knowledgeable and active participants in the media surrounding them. After I began teaching it in my own classroom, I saw students make connections between the class materials and media they consumed at home, use their new skills to better understand historical events, and produce media in inventive formats. Additionally, when given the skills to understand the media surrounding them, students become more aware of their consumption of it and can critically evaluate content they usually only consume in passing on their phones, in print, or on television.


1. Ethics: I introduce the term ethicsand discuss the importance of media ethics in journalism. I explain that the public expects journalists to tell the truth. For example, the Society of Professional Journalists publishes a set of ethical codes to assist in this endeavor. This one-page document is a great jumping-off point for high school students to understand the expectations of journalism in society today.

Teachers can encourage students to examine the codes and ask if anything should be added or changed. I’m continually impressed by the variety of opinions that students have when it comes to things such as journalists denying special treatment to advertisers or avoiding conflicts of interest during their coverage of events. They evaluate each piece of news coverage and assess whether or not journalists have followed, or need to follow, certain codes.

This exercise teaches them to balance their subjective opinions with the objective ethics of the profession. Although many haven’t seen the list of ethical codes, their background understanding of advertisements, news coverage, and social media influences allows them to form strong opinions. Access to the ethical codes equips students with a new evaluation system of understanding the content they see. Instead of simply taking a news story, social media endorsement, or talk show as fact, they can evaluate the potential ethical implications of media content.

2. Timeliness: Tying media literacy to a current event helps students understand how to decipher the news in a relatable context. For example, when teaching about bias in the news cycle, I presented my freshmen with a story about the midterm elections from three separate news sites. This activity can easily be coupled with other objectives such as highlighting, annotating, and classroom discussions to allow for a multi-learning lesson within one.

The timeliness of the story allowed students to see the real-world implications of biased coverage during a time when the public relies on accurate information. Students observed that the same story was different at each outlet and discussed what would happen if a viewer interacted with only one source. We discussed the importance Kira Retana of fair and accurate coverage when the public is faced with making a decision and evaluated the usefulness of media as a means for learning new information.

3. Guest speakers: During our research and discovery period of exploring media sources, I reached out to my journalist friends to see if they would provide their first-person perspective on media today. I connected my class with a guest speaker from The Wall Street Journal via Skype. She provided a firsthand account of what it means to be a journalist in a rapidly changing world.

Posted in education


Introducing Students to the Anatomy of Nonfiction Books

When students understand the various parts of nonfiction texts, they’re more prepared for college or work after high school.By Benjamin BarbourAugust 19, 2021

Kira Retana
Kira Retana

Today’s high school students, often called “digital natives,” generally feel comfortable navigating the internet or learning a new app. On the other hand, these same students may have less familiarity using physical nonfiction books. Many teachers grew up around books and may not realize that students don’t share the same level of proficiency navigating nonfiction texts.

Students will need to be able to use books for research and academic assignments, especially if they plan on college. By teaching the parts of a book, educators can help students become more efficient at reading nonfiction texts.

Hand a student a scholarly book, and two questions pop into their head or out of their mouths: Isn’t this online, and do I have to read the whole thing?

The answer to both questions is “not necessarily.”

Teaching students the anatomy of a book is a lesson that will serve them well in the entirety of their academic and professional careers for several reasons:

  • Not everything is digitized. In college, students may have to enter the library stacks for research.
  • Books have information that the internet doesn’t always provide.
  • Learning how to use a book for research and academic work will help students work smarter and not necessarily harder in any number of professions.
  • Students who prefer hard-copy books cannot search for a term or word with the click of a button and need to know how to expeditiously find information.


Review the anatomy of a book with your class. I have found including this lesson before a writing or research project to be most beneficial. Students then feel there is a relevant purpose to learning about the parts of a book, and they can employ what they have learned when starting the assignment.

In a brief lecture, I have covered the following: title page, edition notice or copyright page, table of contents, appendices, notes, bibliography, index, and author’s bio. This lecture typically takes the form of a PowerPoint with images of each part of the book.

Give a quiz on the material after the lesson, when the material is still fresh in the students’ minds. The assessment can be straightforward with multiple-choice, true-or-false, and fill-in-the-blank questions that fall under the Webb’s Depth of Knowledge level 1 category. Some examples:

  • Where might I find out the author’s credentials?
  • If I wanted to know the titles of each chapter, which section of the book might I want to read?
  • Which section of the book would give me information on what edition I am using?
  • If I wanted to discover the page numbers on which a term or name was located, what section would I want to flip to?

Handing out books to the class may seem overly simplistic, but students sometimes have little experience with nonfiction, hard-copy books (besides, maybe, textbooks). Some students might even be a bit intimidated by what seems to them a dense and daunting publication.

Ask students to make a quiz on their book that features questions concerning the anatomy of a book. Instead of generic answers, these questions would ask for specific information (e.g., “David McCullough,” “page 82,” or “Harvard University Press”). Here are some possible questions you might encourage kids to ask on the quiz they make.

  • Where would you find this specific topic? (using the index)
  • Who publishes the book? (edition notice or copyright page)
  • What is the author’s name? (title page or cover)
  • What is one source the author used? (bibliography)
  • What is the name of Chapter 7? (table of contents)

Then have students pair up and switch their book and quiz with another student. Each student takes their partner’s quiz using the book on which the quiz is based.


Once the students understand the parts of a book, explain how this knowledge can make research, paper writing, and other assignments easier and quicker. Stress, for instance, that they don’t have to read the whole book.

Demonstrate how the index and table of contents can help students pinpoint relevant information. Maybe students need only read a chapter or a few pages to extract what they need.

Remind your class that the bibliography, footnotes, and endnotes are gateways to further research—in many instances, their work is done for them. Consider requiring students to add a codex to their paper or research assignment in which they list several sources Kira Retana from the bibliography of a book they used that might help them conduct further research. This will compel students to comb the footnotes, endnotes, references, and bibliography.

Posted in education

SCHOOL CULTUREInterest-Based Events Can Boost Students’ Sense of BelongingMany secondary students pass on pep rallies and whole-school events, but smaller gatherings can help them connect to the community.By Dave EddyJuly 12, 2021

Kira Retana
Kira Retana

Many high schools across the country have student government groups, such as a student council, class board, or an associated student body, typically with the purpose of enhancing the culture and climate of the school.

When planning activities to engage students, for years the student council at my school created large events like dances and pep rallies with over-the-top, unrealistic expectations of their impact on the student body. As the student activities coordinator, I saw it over and over again: No matter how well intentioned and even well planned these events were and how many students attended, there were inevitably significant numbers of students who didn’t participate.

If the goal of these events was to engage the entire student body and establish a sense of community, we were missing the mark. The student leaders and I needed to collaborate to shift our approach to student engagement.


For years, our director of student activities, Dr. Ted Goergen, and I had worked together to increase student participation at dances and pep rallies, but none of our adjustments worked. One day, Ted landed on a metaphor to describe the challenge: The student government was overly focused on “bonfires” (big, over-the-top events) and paid far less attention to “campfires” (smaller, more personal events). Once I shared the metaphor with our student government, creating many small campfire events became a priority, alongside less-frequent bonfires. The metaphor has guided the student government’s work ever since.

When we framed our work as a transition from bonfires to campfires, the student government needed to back up and clarify why the group existed. After watching a TED Talk by Simon Sinek about starting with why, we sat down together and created a mission statement. Students researched what made a good mission statement and examined those of other schools and even those of companies like Apple and Facebook. Together we arrived at a mission statement:

Our student government exists as the steward of the school climate and to build a sense of belonging in our entire student body through outreach and engagement.

From there, the mission statement guided every action taken with respect to events: If the action served our mission, then it worked, and if the action didn’t serve that mission, then it needed to be reconsidered. With that framework established, student leaders could more clearly see how to diversify its offerings.


Our school invested in a student activity management system called 5-Star Students to determine which students were attending the large events, clubs, and activities regularly, and which students were not engaging with student events and organizations at all.

Posted in education

LITERACYRolling Text Sets Make Content Accessible for All StudentsTeachers can encourage critical thinking by giving students reading assignments that build their knowledge gradually.By Christine BoatmanJuly 13, 2021

Kira Retana
Kira Retana

As teachers, our goal is to see every student succeed. Students enter our classrooms with a wide range of reading skills, and it’s our responsibility to use teaching methods that meet their needs. I’ve found a strategy called rolling text sets to be very effective for all of my middle school students—and particularly those who may need extra reading support.

Rolling text sets allow students to build deep knowledge while keeping the cognitive load manageable for them. Many readers who do not feel confident in vocabulary and background knowledge are intimidated by long, complex texts. Mary Ann Cappiello, a professor of language and literacy, explains that text sets make “texts at higher reading levels more accessible for all students” because they intentionally build student vocabulary and background knowledge before introducing students to more complex texts that stretch students to think critically about a topic.


Rolling text sets are a short series of articles that allow students to build content knowledge and vocabulary in a way that is very attainable. Essentially, a rolling text set contains five to 10 articles that are taught during a one-to-two-week unit and that sequentially increase in length and complexity. The articles in the beginning of a rolling text set are very short. Cappiello says that “shorter texts have the greatest potential for building prior knowledge on a topic so that students can later tackle longer, more complex texts.” At the end of a text set, students are reading very complex, high-level articles.

Text sets can be adapted to fit any grade level or for any topic. Here is an example of a rolling text set I use with my sixth-grade social studies students.

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CURRICULUM PLANNING4 Ways to Enrich World Language ClassesExploring complex cultural issues with students provides a sense of meaning that can inspire improvement in the target language.By John Paul Obillos Dela RosaJuly 14, 2021

Kira Retana
Kira Retana

World language instruction offers a natural opportunity for students to learn about social responsibility and international understanding. Teaching Tagalog has shown me how to use language instruction as an inroad to complex cultural issues that add meaning to life both inside and outside the classroom.

Over time, I’ve landed on several engaging strategies that go beyond grammar and vocabulary to build my students’ compassion and empathy and enrich their appreciation of the issues facing the Filipino community.

These approaches can easily be adapted for any world language classroom.


I routinely turn to age-appropriate documentaries to uncover details that lie behind what’s typically written in textbooks. A good documentary can help students learn more about the way of life in a particular culture, including its values and belief systems, and be entertaining at the same time.

For example, my Tagalog class follows the YouTube channel of a local TV station in the Philippines called UNTV: Istorya (“Story” in English), which features personal narratives of Filipinos that are both educational and inspiring. I’ve had my students watch the story of a jeepney artist, for instance, which explores how jeepneys (open-air public vehicles in the Philippines) came about as one of the national symbols of arts in the country. Through the documentary, students learn about the life stories of jeepney artists who struggle to make ends meet for their families and pursue their creative passion. By watching documentaries, students also strengthen their viewing and listening skills.

To inspire social responsibility, I usually ask students to participate in an activity called Paano kun (“What if…”). I ask them two hypothetical questions, such as “Paano kung ikaw yung jeepney artist—ganoon din ba ang gagawin mo?” (“What if you were the jeepneyartist—would you do the same?”) and “Paano kung may pagkakataon kang tumulong—ano ang gagawin mo?”(“What if you had the chance to help—what would you do?”). Then, the classroom discourse becomes more dynamic and meaningful as students justify their answers based on the details of the documentary.


World language teachers can also distribute news features or articles written in the target language that can nurture social responsibility and international understanding. The challenge, of course, is to share articles that explore compelling issues that require solutions.

In our class, students read about the issue of fauna endangerment, such as the diminishing number of haribon(Philippine eagle) in the country. From there, they can identify deforestation and exploitation of natural resources as root causes for the dwindling populations of these birds, and explore solutions like environmental education and reforestation.

I sometimes ask students to do role-play using Model United Nations (MUN) simulations; they act as panel members, mimicking the job of UN representatives. Once they have read the articles, they present their resolutions on environmental issues by modifying procedures from Model UN.

First, I encapsulate the procedures into four simple steps to make the activity easier to digest. Then participants introduce themselves to the class and provide a one-sentence opening statement. That second step allows students to present and expound their drafted resolutions in no more than five minutes. Then, their classmates ask the speakers relevant questions. Lastly, the students deliver one-minute-long concluding statements.

This activity works well with students who have advanced knowledge and fluency in the target language, as they need to produce more sophisticated discourse to support their reports and claims.


Amid many social issues in many countries, inspiring individuals work as advocates to make a difference in their communities. Once they’ve done research to identify important social issues (e.g., climate change, poverty, illiteracy) in the target culture, my students set to work identifying who those advocates are in the Philippines so they can learn from the individuals themselves.