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?

The 3rd Annual Joy of Literature and Literacy Conference

On October 11th, more than 160 educators, librarians, literacy specialists and administrators from around the Williamsburg area participated in the College of William and Mary’s third annual Joy of Literature and Literacy Conference.  With a focus on non-fiction this year, the conference offered sessions from award winning children’s book authors Don Brown, Steve Sheinkin, and Susan Stockdale.  Additional sessions were provided by literacy experts Joan Kindig, Beth Estill, Wendy Lucy, Katie Plum, Pam Griffin and Annyce Maddox, covering an array of instructional tools and techniques for incorporating non-fiction books across curricular areas. Participants were treated to captivating stories, resonant art, and powerful new ideas for engaging and teaching students with non-fiction books.

In addition to the conference sessions, attendees were treated to book signing opportunities with all the children’s book authors.  Speakers’ books were available for purchase, courtesy of the campus bookstores.

Planning for next year’s conference is already in full swing, and promises to be equally successful with the theme of reading and writing across the curriculum, featuring children’s book authors Candace Fleming and Barbara O’Connor! For further information, contact


Author Steve Sheinkin shares primary sources that he used in researching and writing the young adult nonfiction book, “Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon”

SURN’s Summer Successes

Participants in SURN’s Summer Professional Development offerings benefited from a wide range of opportunities to connect, learn, and grow.


Over the summer, SURN’s Williamsburg headquarters at the College of William and Mary were a destination for teachers and administrators across Virginia who invested in summer professional development opportunities that would positively impact their schools and students throughout the upcoming academic year.  SURN-hosted events included the Leadership Academy on June 20th and 21st, and Principal Academy on July 17th, both of which provided participants with opportunities for connecting around ideological and practical issues emerging in field of educational administration and leadership.  The Leadership Academy in June featured speakers John Hattie, Deb Masters, and Valerie Gregory, who discussed the principles and practices involved in promoting Visible Learning in schools.  Participants attending the second day of the year-long Principal Academy series in July focused their energy on learning and practicing observation strategies and using observation checklists to promote Visible Learning practices in their schools.  Overall, participants of both Academies left energized and prepared to motivate and support teachers in integrating Visible Learning practices in classrooms across the region.

In August, the College and Career Readiness Institute (CCRI) provided finished a year-long workshop series for high school English teachers who are striving to integrate the College and Career Readiness standards into their teaching through the use of best practices in literacy instruction.  Teachers left the most recent CCRI workshop held on August 29th with many practical strategies for integrating CCRI standards into their teaching, including lesson planning materials and research-based resources to inform instruction.  These teachers also received valuable resources, in the form of fiction and nonfiction trade books, to support CCRI practices in their classrooms.  On average, each teacher received $50 or more of books, which were provided by the SCHEV grant that supports CCRI programming.

Not all of the participants in SURN’s summer professional development opportunities remained in Williamsburg.  For 14 days in August, SURN took eager educators and administrators to Australia and New Zealand to observe first-hand the impact that Visible Teaching and Learning strategies have on student learning and achievement.  Participants spent time in classrooms where Visible Teaching and Learning practices have been fully integrated and invested time and energy exploring how to integrate these same principles school-wide in classrooms closer to home.  Participants also took advantage of opportunities to network while experiencing the culture and beauty of Australia and New Zealand.  Attendees of the 2013 Study Tour returned stateside ready to embark upon an exciting school year filled with Visible Learning in schools.

Getting Started with Text Sets

Getting Started with Text Sets

Follow this link to a lesson plan on introducing text sets to students: