CREATE Conference

On October 2-4, 2014, SURN partnered with the Consortium for Research on Educational Assessment and Teaching Effectiveness (CREATE) at the School of Education for CREATE’s 23rd annual conference.  The conference topic for this year was Assessing Student Learning: The Impact on State, National, and International Accountability.

Over 200 researchers and practitioners came together to focus on assessment and teaching.  Dr. Jan Rozzelle, Director of SURN, presented with Amy Stamm of Middlesex County Schools and Tony Vladu of Newport News Public Schools on Visible Leadership and Action Research: Formative Feedback to Teachers Enhances Student Engagement and Learning.  Dr. Jennifer Hindman, SURN Assistant Director, presented with Amy Williams, SURN graduate assistant and doctoral student in Counselor Education.  Their session was titled, Empowering Elementary Educators in Nonfiction Literacy: Professional Development Program Design, Implementation, and Evaluation.  Julie K. Marsh, SURN graduate assistant and doctoral student in Curriculum and Educational Technology, presented on Design Thinking and Participatory Culture.  Kerrigan Mahoney, SURN graduate assistant and doctoral candidate in Curriculum and Educational Technology, presented on Transfer of Learning: Professional Development to Classroom Practice for Secondary ELA Teachers.

The CREATE conference was a wonderful opportunity to engage with researchers and practitioners of all levels in both K12 and higher education, especially current doctoral students.  While it was a larger conference, it still had an intimate feel that allowed more discussion during and between sessions that fostered scholarly engagement and feedback on research.


Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.15.23 AM

Elementary Nonfiction Literacy Workshop

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 12.15.42 PM

On September 23rd, 33 third through fifth grade elementary teachers attended SURN’s Elementary Nonfiction Literacy workshop.  Participants attended from across 14 different SURN school divisions.  In addition to the 33 participants, four teacher-leaders from SURN member divisions attended to provide leadership and support for participants.

During the first session of the three-event Elementary Nonfiction Literacy initiative, participants identified key components of student engagement, participated in a sample lesson that integrated content-area knowledge with nonfiction reading skills, and engaged in over 10 different activities that promote student engagement and learning.  Participants also learned more about SURN’s Visible Leadership model and how the Elementary Nonfiction Literacy workshops fit into SURN’s larger goal of distributing leadership from central office and into each classroom.  This distribution of leadership capitalizes upon a shifting focus toward student engagement by putting John Hattie’s research on high-yield teaching and learning strategies into practice in classrooms and empowering all faculty and staff to engage in dialogues surrounding these strategies.

In addition to a wealth of new ideas and opportunities to network with colleagues, participants of SURN’s Elementary Nonfiction Literacy session left with the Power Tools for Adolescent Literacy book as a resource to begin putting new ideas and strategies into practice.  Participants will reconvene in February and again in April to reinforce and add to strategies that increase student engagement.

Teacher Appreciation Week

The first full week in May is Teacher Appreciation Week (May 5-9, 2014). Instructional leaders, PTA, School Boards, students, and others often recognize this week in a myriad of ways from proclamations to tasty treats. Perhaps there are clever plays on words or use of candy bars such as “Don’t Snicker, you are worth $100 Grand, no you are really worth the entire Mint.” Perhaps there is a token of appreciation such as flashlights for “lighting up students’ learning.”

One school’s administration and PTA designated days to show their appreciation for teachers so that students were invited to bring items to school such as:

Monday: Smile big and say something nice to your teacher
Tuesday: Give your teacher an award-make a ribbon or a certificate
Wednesday: Pick a flower to bring your teacher
Thursday: Write a letter or draw a picture telling your teacher what you appreciate about him/her
Friday: Decide how you will honor your teacher – maybe bring a candy bar or donate a book you no longer need at home to the classroom library

For an interesting twist, consider reaching out to a memorable teacher in your life. Send the teacher an email or letter reminding them when they taught you and sharing how the teacher made an impact in your life.

Consider having your students write a letter to a former teacher. Use the intra-district mail to send the letters to the teacher or place letters in the faculty mailboxes.

Looking Back on Elementary Nonfiction Literacy

This year, SURN held its inaugural Elementary Nonfiction Literacy initiative.  Two elementary teachers in grades 3 through 5 from each of SURN’s member school divisions were invited to participate in a series of three workshops designed to enhance teachers’ nonfiction literacy strategies and skills.  Each workshop focused on specific strategies for promoting elementary nonfiction literacy, while the themes of student engagement and student choice in nonfiction literacy overarched and were integrated across the three workshops.


The first workshop, held in December, focused on integrating Power Tools strategies in the elementary grades, both in content areas and in literacy instruction through the use of nonfiction texts.  Also occurring during this session was an introduction to Edmodo, an online platform that participants used for between-session networking and assignment submission.  Participants were introduced to current research on elementary nonfiction literacy that highlighted the importance of helping students to develop nonfiction literacy skills.  Participants left the session charged with the task of constructing a text set and energized to begin integrating Power Tools strategies for nonfiction literacy into their classrooms.

When SURN Elementary Nonfiction Literacy participants returned for their second meeting in February, they arrived with shining examples of texts sets.  After sharing these with peers, participants engaged in a full-day workshop focused on the importance of student engagement and choice in nonfiction literacy.  During this session, participants were introduced to John Hattie’s work on high yield teaching strategies, and participants were provided with a framework for assessing student engagement through the use of SURN’s observation protocol.  The importance of student choice in nonfiction literacy was emphasized through an experiential book sorting activity, following which each teacher received approximately $100 worth of nonfiction trade books to keep and use in their classrooms.  With these new resources, participants were tasked with creating and teaching a lesson that integrated nonfiction literacy strategies and skills.  Participants were also asked to observe their co-participant teaching her lesson using SURN’s observation protocol, and to provide each other with formative feedback based upon the observation process.


Participants returned for the final session with high-quality lesson plans to share.  The final session focused on developing classroom procedures conducive to student choice and engagement.  Presentations highlighted real-world classroom practices modeled by SURN member school teachers that provide clear structure and organization to promote student engagement and choice.  Additional information on differentiation strategies for nonfiction literacy was shared with participants to ensure teachers could begin the 2014-15 academic year with a clear plan for integrating nonfiction literacy practices across the curriculum from the first day of school onward.  The remainder of the final session focused on affirming the work of the teachers throughout the Elementary Nonfiction initiative.  A Gallery Walk allowed teachers to describe changes they’ve made and would like to continue making to promote student engagement through nonfiction literacy.  Teachers left with an invitation to apply for one of several SURN Elementary Nonfiction Literacy book grants, which will provide teams of teachers with $750 in nonfiction books for their classrooms.

Between each session, teachers were actively engaged in submitting assignments, providing feedback to peers, and exploring connections between workshop content and real-world classroom practices via Edmodo.  The ongoing dedication and commitment of the teacher participants was evident and impressive, particularly given the impact of multiple snow days on the teachers’ classroom schedules and plans.  The teachers were supported throughout the process by the Power Team, a group of three teachers and one SURN staff member who shared first-person reflections and feedback on the importance of topics addressed throughout the Nonfiction Literacy initiative.  Additionally, the Power Team members served as allies for the teachers, validating the challenges encountered and providing ideas for overcoming obstacles inherent in trying something new.

Next year, the SURN Elementary Nonfiction Literacy initiative will embark on year two.  The capacity, motivation, and enthusiasm of the elementary teachers who participated this year makes SURN eager to continue to support elementary teachers in channeling their motivation and excitement toward promoting student success in and engagement with nonfiction literacy!

SURN Book Recommendations

DONE_book recommendations MIRIAM infographic

Cross-Curricular Connections: Using Nonfiction Texts Before, During, and After Field Trips

All students get excited when they hear the words ‘field trip’.  Here are some ideas for using this excitement to connect field trips to nonfiction literacy before, during, and after the big day!
Invite students to choose nonfiction texts to read that are related to the field trip.  Help younger students focus by providing bins of books that connect in some way to topics or themes that relate to the field trip.  Encourage older students to make predictions about what they might experience on the field trip and have them self-select nonfiction texts based upon these predictions.  Students can create text sets based upon their reading choices and present these to the class prior to the field trip.

Encourage students to take a notebook and camera (or paper for sketching) to document exciting or new information or experiences while on the field trip.  Groups of students can share a camera and be giving specific things to capture while on the field trip.  Nonfiction texts such as field guides (for field trips related to science) or historical journals (for field trips related to social studies) can be shared with students prior to the field trip to model information-gathering processes and products.

Upon returning to school, have students write thank-you notes to the field trip location/staff, highlighting specific field trip experiences and making connections between these experiences and one or more nonfiction texts.  Encourage students to synthesize learning from both their text sets and their field trip notes.  Have students create a written field guide based field trip experiences.  Model for students how to integrate factual information into observations using mentor texts.  Students can create a final product using drawings or photos and written or typed text depending on student preference.  Additional options include creating a multimedia field guide in PowerPoint, Prezi, or iMovie.  Encourage students to share their final projects with the class or invite parents in for a whole-class field trip debriefing.  Students can create Exhibit Guides for the location they visited by working alone or in groups.  These exhibit guides can be shared with the field trip site and with future students to build anticipation for the field trip.

Helping Students Beat SOL Testing Anxiety

As winter draws to an end and spring approaches, state standardized testing is on the minds of educators. In helping students prepare for the content of these high-stakes tests, it is important that we advise them on test-taking strategies, as well. Further, as educators, we can incorporate motivational tactics into classrooms to increase students’ self-efficacy and confidence upon beginning the test. Below are several strategies that teachers, administrators, counselors, and all educators can use to enhance state testing experiences of all students, young and old.

1) Let them move Often times students have trouble sitting still for long periods of time because they haven’t been given the opportunity to get up and move around. During standardized testing, teachers can utilize break times to help students get rid of their jitters. Teaching a few yoga moves or turning on dance music are two ways to encourage students to make the most of their break.

2) Concoct a Peppermint Brain Potion While going over practice tests with students in the weeks leading up to the tests, allow students to suck on a peppermint candy. Peppermint has been found to help memory and alertness, so the smell and taste can help them with test preparation. Then, on the day of the test, give each student a drop of peppermint-scented hand lotion (which can be labeled as “Peppermint Brain Lotion”). Having associated the smell of peppermint with the practice tests can increase their performance and sense of calmness while taking the state test. Of course check for allergies first!
*From Amy Williams, SURN Graduate Assistant

3) Book a Classroom Guidance Lesson Sometimes the most difficult part of standardized testing is style and formatting of the test. Similarly, some students worry because of all of the pressure that comes with passing these high-stakes tests. School counselors can work with classroom teachers to inform them about what the test will be like and teach them valuable test-taking skills. In addition, counselors can meet with students individually to ease their worries and fears about standardized testing.

4) Create a Test-Taking Tips Bulletin Board Hearing about older students’ experiences with testing can be extremely valuable to current students. Previous students can provide insight on lessons they learned while taking the test, what they wish they would have done differently to prepare, and other helpful testing techniques. To help current students, educators can compile a number of these test-taking tips into one list to share with students as they prepare for the test. One way to display these tips is by making a bulletin board to put on display in school hallway. For examples and more information, visit:

5) Facilitate Fourth Graders Sharing with Third Graders As another option or an extension of suggestion 4 is to have fourth graders write letters to third graders in their school that can be delivered. Consider having a panel of fourth graders come to the class to answer questions from the third graders.
*From Dr. Jennifer Hindman, SURN Program Coordinator

6) Invite a Message from Parents Encouragement from parents can be extremely helpful to students as they enter standardized tests. Educators can employ students’ parents to provide motivation and encouragement to their students. To do so, schools can send home a letter to parents asking them to write supportive messages to their child that teachers can give to students immediately before beginning the test. This idea was found on the following blog:

7) Motivate, Motivate, Motivate Motivational tactics on the school’s end can be used on the day of standardized testing. One suggestion is using chalk to write motivational phrases on school sidewalks and walkways for students to see as they walk into the school. Another thing teachers can do is provide students with “survival kits” for the day of the test, which might include things such as candy and other goodies. Visit for more ideas and information.

8) Organize an SOL Pep Rally To boost students’ moods about standardized testing, have an SOL pep rally at school a few days prior to testing. Students often respond well to sporting events, so making this connection can lift their spirits about upcoming tests. Including the school’s cheerleaders and band to create a mantra or cheer to encourage SOL success is another idea that can be incorporated into this motivational tactic.
*From Dr. Kim Evans, Assistant Superintendent, Hopewell City Public Schools

SURN Reads

book recs blog post

Power Tools: High Yield Teaching Strategies for Success

John Hattie’s research on Visible Learning highlights the impact of using high-yield teaching strategies on student learning.  Power Tools strategies include high-yield practices such as setting goals and establishing student expectations for learning, using classroom discussion to promote learning, providing feedback to students, using reciprocal teaching, teaching study skills, and instructing using specific reading and writing strategies.

Power Tools strategies align with observation ‘look-fors’ emphasized on the tools that Principal Academy participants use to observe in classrooms within their schools.  The use of small group options for student learning, allowing student access to a variety of text sources, assessing and providing feedback to students throughout the learning processes, affording students choice in learning and assessment processes, and providing and reinforcing instructional clarity throughout the lesson can all be accomplished through the use of Power Tools strategies for literacy instruction.

If you were able to attend one of SURN’s Power Tools workshops on November 21st or 22nd, you were likely engaged and inspired by the activities discussed during the session!  In the event that you were unable to attend, here are the highlighted practices demonstrated:

  • Incorporating literacy skills and strategies into all content areas
  • Using memory pegs as a teaching and learning strategy
  • Relating literature to one’s own life to promote comprehension and create powerful connections
  • Promoting student learning and ownership through reciprocal teaching
  • Influencing learning through knowing oneself and one’s learning style


Consider these questions as you reflect upon your own teaching practices:

How do I promote student ownership of learning?
How do I incorporate literacy into my teaching of content-area subjects?
How can I tell that a student really ‘gets’ something?  What teaching practices do I use that promote this level of understanding with my students?

How do I prefer to learn?  How does this impact my teaching?  How might I flex my teaching practices to promote learning for students with learning styles different than my own?

Reviewing the 2013 Horizon Report for K-12 Education: What do you need to know about technology trends in education?

The Horizon Report identifies and describes emerging technologies likely to impact education in the coming five years and is produced in collaboration with the New Media Consortium (NMC), the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). The Horizon Report highlights technologies “with considerable potential for our focus areas in education and interpretation.” The technology trends identified by the Horizon Report may help educators to assess their school’s current place in the technology landscape and help to create a vision for the future of technology in the school. Each of the technologies identified in the report are currently being used in education to some capacity but have potential for widespread adoption in the next one to five years.

The Horizon Report: Up and Coming Technology Tools and Trends for Widespread Adoption

Near Term Adoption: One Year or Less

  1. Cloud Computing: “Whether connecting at home, work, school on the road, or in social spaces, nearly everyone who uses the network relies on cloud computing to access or share their information and applications” (p. 11).
  2. Mobile Learning: “These tools, ranging from annotation and mind-mapping apps to apps that allow users to explore outer space or get an in-depth look at complex chemicals, enable users to learn and experience new concepts wherever they are, often across multiple devices” (p. 16).

Medium Term Adoption: Two – Three Years

  1. Learning Analytics: “The essential idea behind learning analytics is to use data analyses to adapt instruction to individual learner needs in real time” (p. 20).
  2. Open Content: “The movement toward open content reflects a growing shift in the way scholars in many parts of the world are conceptualizing education to a view that is more about the process of learning than the information conveyed” (p. 24).

Long Term Adoption: Four – Five Years

  1. 3D Printing: “Enables more authentic exploration of objects that may not be readily available to schools” including print models of fossils, artifacts, proteins, and molecules. It also allows students to create their own 3D models (p. 29).
  2. Virtual and Remote Laboratories: “Reflect a movement among education institution to make the equipment and elements of a physical science laboratory more easily available to learners from any location, via the web” (p. 32).

It’s All About Context: Trends and Challenges

Technology in education exists within the contexts of K-12 schools and our local and global community. The context includes trends that impact teaching and learning and the challenges faced in efforts to integrate technology into pre-existing structures. The key trends identified for 2013 focus on an increase in access to devices, data, and communication across digital platforms and the change role of educators in the face of online learning initiatives and collaborative models. Current challenges address the conflict between tradition or status quo and the potential for different approaches to teaching and learning that may better meet student learning needs, including formative assessment and social media. Whose responsibility is it to take on the risks of experimentation with educational technology? What supports are teachers getting to help them integrate new technologies in meaningful and appropriate ways? Are we maximizing the potential of the technologies we already have access to?

Read the 2013 Horizon Report for specific examples of how the six technologies identified are relevant for teaching, learning, or creative inquiry and how they are currently being used in schools.

Do these technologies have the potential to fulfill needs in your school? What challenges would need to be overcome for adoption? What are you already doing that is working well?