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Summer Institute 2018: Student Inquiry in the Secondary Classroom (June 6-8)

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

I’m happy to announce this year’s Summer Institute – Student Inquiry in the Secondary Classroom (June 6-8).

You may notice we are scheduled for directly after this year’s Tech Camp, which is focusing on student agency. That’s on purpose.

We’ll be examining your current standbys, things you’d like to build, and units you’d like to refresh for how we can build toward learning driven by student inquiry.

Also, I’ll be facilitating this year along with Diana Laufenberg who led professional learning for district principals during 2017’s Tech Camp.

So, come join us. June 6-8. Just like last year, this class is open and relevant to any 6-12 teacher and will be about building resources for your classrooms relevant to latest research and practices. You can find the course here – http://www.solutionwhere.com/stvrainopd/cw/showcourse.asp?3706

As a taste of why this is important, check out this wonderful read on “What’s Going on Inside the Brain of a Curious Child” from KQED’s Mind/Shift. Plus, here’s a great piece from Diana on “Crafting Learning Experiences.” Okay, one more, Diana’s post on “Speed Learning: A Classroom Activity.”

Master’s in Literacy Cohort Starting in SVVSD Fall ’18

We are happy to announce SVVSD and the University of Northern Colorado are teaming up to host a UNC cohort of their Master’s of Literacy program here in SVVSD. The five-semester program will be starting Fall 2018. To provide more information, UNC Program and Enrollment Manager Jon Shaw sat down to interview Program Coordinator Dr. Jim Erekson. Their interview is below. Space for this cohort, so sign up not. More information can be found on the program page here.

Interview with Jon Shaw and Dr. Jim Erekson

Shaw: What is UNC’s MA in Literacy?

Erekson: It is an education master’s program designed primarily for teachers who are looking for additional expertise in classroom literacy. Most of our graduates continue to be classroom teachers and use their knowledge in the classroom. However, this degree also qualifies teachers for the Reading Teacher endorsement that means graduates are also qualified to teach literacy intervention at the building level.

Shaw: Who enrolls for the program?

Erekson: It is a K-12 endorsement, so although elementary teachers we do have some middle and high school teachers enroll in the program. Special education teachers, Culturally & Linguistically Diverse teachers, and school librarians all have benefitted from this program—even people who already have a master’s degree enroll to earn this specialization!

The people who usually enroll want to know how to help more kids at their school succeed with literacy—they want to be part of the solution. Even teachers who have only been teaching for a year or two understand the importance of literacy and how it contributes to a child’s overall success in school.

Shaw: What kinds of courses are in the program?

Erekson: One of the main bonuses is that our program does not require a generalist core you have to take before the literacy classes’ start. It is 30 solid credits in literacy taught by faculty members with doctoral degrees specializing in Literacy. We have courses in elementary literacy, content literacy, literacy assessment, and writing. We focus on best practice, which means that when we dig into research and theory, it is always to discover and practice what to do in the K-12 classroom. We have a great mix of the practical how-to, and the theoretical to help teachers know why so they can make their own decisions.

Shaw: The faculty recently updated the program. What kinds of changes did you make?

Erekson: The program is now 30 credit hours instead of 33. This means not only is the program less expensive overall, but because the program now takes only five semesters instead of six—fall spring summer fall spring.

Shaw: What kinds of updates did you make to the courses?

Erekson: We added a couple of key courses. Our course on family & community literacy focuses on what teachers need to know about home and family literacy, and what kinds of programs exist in the community to support both families and schools. That course is also largely about oral language, and what teachers can do to even out the differences students bring to school from a variety of backgrounds. The second course we added is one on New Literacies. Teachers may feel behind as the literacy landscape becomes increasingly entwined with the audio and visual literacies we all experience digitally. Nevertheless, there is already a great body of practical research on teaching and learning with multi-modal literacies. This keeps us current with the field nationally, and offers key knowledge teachers need right now.

Shaw: Why offer a cohort at St Vrain?

Erekson: We did this a few years ago in the district and it was such a benefit to have a whole group of people sharing similar experiences, similar professional development agendas, and similar district vision and goals. We have been lucky to partner with Zac Chase in district literacy curriculum to find ways to make this program something the district values as well as helping teachers with their own goals. There is unity in a group when teachers from the same district decide to pursue a master’s degree in the same specialization. People develop a vision for the career and broaden their sense for who their colleagues are locally.

Shaw: So does the district partnership mean the classes will be in Longmont?

Erekson: Yes, absolutely. Zac Chase is working with us and we will teach at sites in St Vrain district. However, most of our courses are hybrid-online delivery.  This means we save those face-to-face meetings in Longmont for content we really want to have people in the same room for demonstration & practice, discussions & other group projects. For most of the courses, this means two weekends (Friday night and then Saturday) of face-to-face, with the rest online. This is another reason we are partnering with St Vrain—as the national market for masters programs shifts toward online only, with a local partnership like this we can afford to preserve some of the great value of face-to-face interactions while making the best use of online course tools. Our past program completers have often said they prefer learning face to face, but they are also okay with learning the ins and outs of an online course system. We think we have a great balance and the added benefit of partnership with Zac and the curriculum office. They see this as a valuable academic and professional development opportunity.

Program Page Hyperlink:


Program & Enrollment Manager:

Jon Shaw



Program Coordinator:

Dr. Jim Erekson



March ’18 Elementary Literacy Show: Technology and Literacy Learning

Classroom Recommendation: Using iPads to Build Fluency

In the Classroom: Using Nearpod in the G4 classroom with Courtney Groskin of Mountain View Elementary

Interview: Making the most of Nearpod in elementary classrooms with Instructional Technology Coordinator Jennifer Peyrot.

In Practice: Capturing learning with Seesaw in Lisa Mercier’s literacy class at Thunder Valley Pk-8

Teacher Panel: Allison Marshall (G3), Erin Cynkar (G2), & Rachel Dickens (G3) from Sanborn Elementary School.

Reflection Questions:

  1. If someone was to ask you what “good” technology use to support literacy looks like, what qualities would you recommend?
  2. What are some problems you’re trying to solve in your classroom?
  3. How might you use technology to solve that problem?
  4. To whom do you turn when you need help with technology in support of learning?

Feb. ’18 Elementary Literacy Show – Vocabulary

Interview: Dr. James Erekson, University of Northern Colorado Professor of Literacy

In Practice: Ellen Mackey, G2 Teacher, Red Hawk Elementary School

Teacher Panel: Courtney Groskin (G4), Kris DeBuse (K), and Jennifer Merideth (G2) from Mountain View Elementary School

Reflection Questions:

  • What is the importance of teaching vocabulary and why do we teach vocabulary?
  • How do we intentionally plan for vocabulary?
  • How do you integrate vocabulary into other contents of the curriculum.
  • How might you integrate technology with vocabulary?


The resources mentioned and shared by Dr. Erekson can be found here.

Jan. ’18 Elementary Literacy Show – Foundational Skills and Mid-Year Diagnostics

Interview: Kim Wiggins (District Assessment Coordinator)

Segment: Julie Butrick (K – Fall River Elementary School)

Panel: (Lyons Elementary School) Sara Pike (Literacy), Andrew Moore (Principal), Sara Barone (G2), Darcey Pierce (G3)

Reflection Questions:

  • What data sources do you use?
  • How do you prioritize the data?
  • What resources do you use to work with students? How do you collaborate with your colleagues on analyzing the data, a goal, and creating an action plan?
  • How do you differentiate in your classroom based on the student mid year diagnostic data (technology, platforms)?


Nov. ’17 Elementary Literacy Show – Backward Planning & PBAs

Panel: Lisa Petersen (G2), Stephen King (G4), Dr. Shirley Jirik (Principal)

Taped Segment: Cathy Digsby (K)

Reflection Questions:

  • What did you learn?
  • How did the content of the episode shift or support your understanding of backward planning?
  • How will you know the students are learning? What are your desired results for reading or writing in the upcoming module?
  • What materials and resources would be best suited to accomplish these desired results?


Ep 010 – Inquiry in Increments

Executive Director of Inquiry Schools Diana Laufenberg talks about how teachers can engage students in inquiry and make learning more student-centered without completely overhauling all that’s already working in their classrooms.

Ep 009 – Libraries at the Heart of the School

Sunset Middle School Instructional Librarian CeCe Balman talks about the road to transforming her school’s library and her continuing efforts to make the space the heart of the school.

Considering Text Complexity Across the Curriculum

Happily, I’ve been having more conversations this school year about text complexity and considering the mix of extended texts and shorter pieces we ask students to consider as readers. Below are a few key considerations of “text complexity”.
Text Complexity Triangle

Three aspects to consider when thinking about text complexity.

1. The recommended extended texts in the curriculum resources are meant as one component of what students experience as readers over the course of a quarter. Think of this as a balanced reading diet. These extended texts are selected for students to be able to read them independently outside of class and then complete more complex tasks and conversations, ideally thematically-related to the other shorter pieces they are reading as a class. The expectation would be that students are reading at least 4 extended texts over the course of the year and 3-5 shorter texts each quarter. Again, at least.

Those shorter texts (coming from Collections or CommonLit) are where students would be asked to repeatedly tackle reading that is increasingly complex from a quantitative measure. What can they do with a short story, an article from The Economist, a primary source speech? These are the pieces they should be encountering in all classes with teacher scaffolds and supports, moving toward gradual release. They are also texts that give students exposure to the type of reading they will encounter in PSAT and SAT settings.
2. Lexile is a measure of text complexity based on vocabulary and sentence variety. It should be taken as a consideration of text complexity along with other factors – oftentimes as the final consideration. As an example, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close would fall in the fourth-grade lexile range, based on recommendations in the Colorado Academic Standards, but the subject matter, text structure, and theme are all components that are more appropriate for older students. This rubric from CCSSO is helpful in thinking about multiple factors when considering about text complexity. Hopefully, a class where (some or all) students are studying this text might also be reading articles on Asperger’s Syndrome, understanding the biological effects of trauma on body systems, and other readings that cross domains.
3. My last piece would be a question as to what kinds of trans-disciplinary approaches a school is taking to ensuring students are working independently and scaffolded with cognitively-demanding texts. While helping English teachers select complex informational texts will give students a wider breadth of experiences in class, keeping that conversation in English misses a tremendous opportunity. Science, history, math, and world languages are all subjects that offer opportunities for students working through grade-level texts and requiring students to deal with domain-specific vocabulary and concepts. Having a student in U.S. history deeply examine the effect of writer’s craft on historical context when looking at The Gettysburg Address requires students to activate deep reading skills across their day, rather than one block.
Want more about text complexity? This thinking from Achieve the Core offers a thoughtful approach to considering qualitative and quantitative measures in concert with reader & task. Additionally, this piece from Fisher and Frey helps unpack this new understanding of complexity of texts. Finally, this article from Psychology Today pokes some important holes in how we might think about “reading levels.”
As always, I hope this is the beginning of the conversation, and I’m happy to continue it with you and your teams.