TEACHING MATTERS -- November 8, 2012


November 8, 2012  |  Sign up to receive Teaching Matters

students performing a Chuck Berry song

"Can't stop the train...Gotta let it roll on!"

Beyond Blues Clues

Unleashing the Power of the "Music of Hardship"

Education Consultant Hal Portner (Florence, Mass.) turned us on to a unique strategy used by Jon Schwartz, a second grade teacher at Garrison Elementary School in Oceanside (Calif.). Schwartz turns the music of the blues into a thematic teaching tool to integrate all strands of the curriculum. Administrators report that his strategy helps English Language learners in particular become comfortable with common vocabulary and build fluency. Parents report that lessons springing from songs like the "Deep Elem Blues" motivate children who are shy and provide an avenue for them to fit in. Teachers at ED love how Schwartz presents the full range of a well-rounded curriculum, integrating the arts and 21st century skills into his classroom.

Check out his site: Kids Like Blues. Watch videos of his students' inspiring performances of songs like Chuck Berry's "Let it Rock" and see Schwartz and his students, parents and colleagues talk about how he uses the blues to teach content.

Teacher and Principal Exchanges

A number of Global Educational Programs are administered by the U.S. State Department and other agencies with the assistance of private, non-profit organizations.

Educational Seminars for Administrators: Open to elementary and secondary administrators and takes place in Brazil.

Teachers for Global Classrooms: Open to secondary teachers and includes a study tour to Brazil, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Morocco, or Ukraine. Other countries may be added.

Distinguished Fulbright Awards in Teaching: Open to elementary and secondary teachers and other educators who spend at least fifty percent of their time working with students. 

Educational Seminars: Open to secondary educators for two to five weeks in the spring (China) or summer (India).

Fulbright Classroom Teacher Exchange: Open to elementary and secondary teachers.

Ian Axford Fellowship in Public Policy: Open to mid-career (and later) professionals interested in travel, research, study, and practical experience in New Zealand.

Intensive Summer Language Institutes: Administered by American Councils for International Education, this program is for teachers of Mandarin including elementary and secondary teachers, community college instructors, and those enrolled in teacher certification programs.

Host Teachers of Critical Languages:  Schools with existing world language programs in Mandarin and Arabic can apply to host a native language teacher from China or Egypt for the academic year.

For more information, please visit the website, contact us at (202) 632-6338, or email: Teacherexchange@state.gov.

teacher exchange programs

My Favorite No

Our Favorite Lesson

Teacher Leah Alcala uses an innovative warm-up routine with her 8th graders every day that she calls "My Favorite No." Watch the 5:40-minute Teaching Channel video to see how Alcala turns lemons into lemonade and engages all levels of students in a dialogue as they look for what's working and what's not working in wrong answers.


Did you know?

The Department has established a toll-free Hurricane Sandy Hotline (1-855-385-9985), a Hurricane Sandy e-mail address, and a Web site that will be regularly updated with guidance and links to resources. If you are looking for ways to make a personal contribution to the recovery effort, FEMA offers suggestions to volunteer and donate responsibly at http://www.fema.gov/volunteer-donate-responsibly

question mark

Research on the Value of Great Teachers

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) recently published a review of a research study by Chetty, Friedman and Rockoff about the long-term effects of highly effective teachers. Highlights:

  • Study authors reported that when a high value-added teacher started to teach students in a cohort or a low value-added teacher stopped teaching students in a cohort, the event was associated with a statistically significant increase in reading and math test scores.
  • Conversely, when a high value-added teacher stopped teaching students in a cohort or a low value-added teacher started teaching students in a cohort, the event was associated with a statistically significant decrease in test scores.

The WWC is a division of the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences that reviews research on the different programs, products, practices, and policies in education, with the goal of providing educators with the information they need to make evidence-based decisions.

Read the report, “The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood.”

The "Principal" Effect on Teachers

A study published by Education Next validates what any teacher can tell us: “Highly effective principals raise the achievement of a typical student in their schools by between two and seven months of learning in a single school year; ineffective principals lower achievement by the same amount.”

The study also finds that “teachers who leave schools with the most-successful principals are much more likely to have been among the less-effective teachers in their school than teachers leaving schools run by less-successful principals."

The bad news? “Constrained by salary inertia and the historical absence of good performance measures, the principal labor market does not appear to weed out those principals who are least successful in raising student achievement.”

Green Gizmos

Resources for Environmentally Intelligent Classrooms

There are a number of free classroom resources about a wide range of topics available to teachers on the Green Ribbon Schools site.

Here's a sampling. (There are plenty more.) DOE Wind for Schools Project; DOE Energy Basics;  DOE K-12 Energy Curriculum; Keep America Beautiful; Green Up Our Schools; EPA Sensible Steps to Healthier School Environments; USDA Community Facilities Loans and Grants; USDA Forest Service Educator Toolbox; EPA SunWise Program; EPA Drinking Water in Schools Facilities; The Edible Schoolyard Project; EPA Student's Guide to Global Climate Change; Earth Exploration Toolbook; Facing the Future's Curriculum and Lesson Finder; Project WET; Project WILD; Project Learning Tree; Project Earth; Planet Connect; and Advancing Civic Learning and Engagement in Democracy.

TNTP Launches Year 2 Fishman Prize

TNTP is now seeking applications for the Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice. The prize is awarded to up to five public school teachers who demonstrate exceptionally effective teaching with students from high-poverty communities. Winners receive $25,000 and engage in a six-week summer residency that culminates in the publication of a short paper on the practice of effective teaching. Applicants who submit by the early deadline of December 3, 2012 will receive notification of selection for the next round a month before other applicants. The final deadline is January 14, 2013. Read the 2012 winners’ paper and learn more about how to apply at www.tntp.org/fishmanprize.

TNTP Logo: reimagine teaching

Students' Corner

Tools for Students

MAKING CAREER CHOICES. The Youth Connections Community of Practice offers students resources to help prepare for their careers. Students can discover professions that will be in high demand, are growing rapidly, or may be emerging careers when they graduate at this site. They can also investigate steps they can take to attain credentials in high demand occupations by using labor market information.   

INFO FOR STUDENTS INTERESTED IN COLLEGE. Five Things to Know About Your Student Loans, published by Federal Student Aid. 

How to Evaluate Teachers of Students with Disabilities

In a new position paper, the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) shared its recommendations for how to evaluate teachers of students with disabilities. The CEC recommends that evaluations: be based on an individual teacher's specific role and responsibilities, which may vary from year to year; consider the population of children a teacher works with and their range of disabilities; be conducted by those with expertise in special education and training in evaluation; consider, potentially, teachers' development of students' individual education plans and their implementation, their skill in providing access to general education classrooms, and measures of student growth that are a fair and accurate representation of student growth and the special education teacher's contribution to that growth; and never be based solely on student growth. Read the CEC position statement.

Just the Facts:


  • The National Center for Education Statistics has released data about the characteristics and preparation of beginning K-12 teachers during the 2007-08 school year.
  • The Institute of Education Sciences recently published Learning from Recent Advances in Measuring Teacher Effectiveness, a detailed summary of a meeting with members of the educational research community and the U.S. Department of Education.
  • The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) reviewed a study by Tran of "Help with English Language Proficiency" (HELP), an Internet-based supplementary curriculum designed to remove language barriers from the learning of math skills and math content. WWC found that students in HELP had scores that were statistically significantly higher than students in the comparison condition on the math achievement posttest.  Read the study.

Teachers' Notes

  • INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION WEEK, November 12-17. This year’s theme is “International Education: Striving for a Healthier Future Worldwide.” Watch Secretary Duncan's YouTube message about International Education Week and the legacy of Title IX. 
  • The Big Read, a program of the National Endowment of the Arts, is accepting applications from non-profit organizations to conduct month-long, community-wide reads between September 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014. Roughly 75 organizations will be selected to participate and receive a grant ranging from $2,500 to $20,000, educational and promotional materials, and access to online training resources. Organizations select from 27 book titles (including three new titles for 2013-14 programming) and three poets. The deadline for all applications is February 5, 2013. Click here for applications and program information.   
  • APPLE FOR THE TEACHER. Apple is offering a series of three webinars for teachers on Teaching with iPad and iTunes November 13, 27, and December 4.

Recommended Reading

  • GETTING TO THE (COMMON) CORE. In Meet the Promise of Content Standards: Investing in Professional Learning, Joellen Killion and Stephanie Hirsh argue that if they are serious about meeting the results promised in Common Core State Standards, states, districts, and school leaders "must make smart and new investments in the capacity of educators.” Read their Learning Forward professional advice about how schools and districts can design a professional learning plan that helps teachers understand and implement the new standards. A hint from page 6: “Traditional professional learning will fail."
  • The NETWORK FOR COLLEGE SUCCESS is a partnership that has graduation as its focus. Read this piece in the ChicagoTribune about how the partners work with low-income Chicago schools to ensure that more students graduate from high school and enter college ready to succeed. 
  • EVALUATING TEACHERS 2.0. A senior fellow and a senior researcher at Mathematica Policy Research published this insightful primer on value-added measurements. The article by Gill and Chaplin in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describes the strengths and limitations of using student growth measures in teacher evaluation and outlines prudent strategies to use them effectively.

Report Card Released on Tennessee Teacher Prep

Tennessee’s 2012 report on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs includes interesting findings about the state’s 44 teacher preparation programs, including which ones are best equipping teachers for classroom realities. Among the findings:

  • Teachers prepared through traditional and alternative certification programs passed the Praxis at the same rate (97%).
  • Five teacher prep programs in Tennessee had a tendency to produce teachers with higher gains in student achievement data in the endorsement areas in which adequate value-added data are available for that program: Freed‐Hardeman University, Memphis Teacher Residency, Teach for America Memphis, Teach for America Nashville and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
  • Two programs had completers with higher student achievement gains than veteran teachers in the subject areas in which adequate value-added data are available for that program: Freed‐Hardeman University and Memphis Teacher Residency.
  • Teacher retention continues to be a struggle both nationally and in the state. In Tennessee, only 48% teach for three consecutive years.

Read Stephen Sawchuck's article, Residency Program Tops Tennessee Teacher-Prep Report Card, in EdWeek (Nov. 5).

Classroom Resources

  • BUILDING SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE. On Edutopia last month, Terry Heick provided an interesting summary of the "16 Habits of Mind" to promote social and emotional learning in students, and he urges fellow teachers to continually integrate them into lessons. Taken from Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick's Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind, the habits cover a range from "Listening to Others with Understanding and Empathy" to using stem questions like "What do you remember about . . . ?", "When have you ever seen anything like this?" or "Tell me what you know about . . . " to help students "apply past knowledge to new situations."

Top 5 Teacher Quotes

Wisdom from educators heard by ED

5. "We are teaching the nation’s future! Why is there even a discussion of our importance?" (Teacher, Boulder, Colo.)

4. "More research needs to be done on how to better support those teachers who work with severely disabled students in order to better help their students." (Debbie, on the ED.gov blog)

3. “Consensus means that all voices have been heard and the will of the group is apparent.” (Wyo.)

2. "Why can’t more government grants require a certain amount of that money be used to build teacher capacity?" (Sarah, on the ED.gov blog)

1. “I believe education is the only way out.” (Educational Assistant, Deming, N.M.)

teacher at Thomas Jefferson in Virginia