Scheduling the Integrated Block

I am passionate about providing the optimum learning environment for my students. I read professional literature and stalk teacher forums and blogs, constantly on the lookout for new ideas. So, creating a daily schedule should be easy, right? Not so much.

I have tried it all – scheduling separate language arts and social studies time, creating integrated projects. doing some integration while maintaining a separate independent reading block. I haven’t been able to completely reconcile what I know constitutes best practice in reading instruction (student choice! time to read!) and the equally important need for students to experience connected learning (integration) until now. Two things have made this possible – the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and accepting that a schedule should be flexible.

The CCSS are elegant. There are ten anchor standards that are reflected in both literature and informational text, and that is providing the base for my schedule. Each day we will have two independent reading sessions, one focusing on literature (student choice!) and the other focusing on informational text. I am planning on bundling the standards and looking at the same standard through the lens of both literature and informational text. For example, I will start with the elements of literature and the features of informational text, then move to the structure of narrative text versus the organizational patterns of informational text, and so on. The standard provides an automatic integration based on skill/content. The informational text choices will be based around the social studies content, providing a bridge from skill integration to content integration.

My typical schedule then, would look like this:

  • Mini-Lesson for the CCSS – Literature
  • Independent Reading/Conferences
  • Mini-Lesson for the CCSS – Informational Text (this could be very short as it builds on the previous mini-lesson)
  • Independent reading/Conferences
  • Work on Writing (this would be attached to either the Literature reading session or the Informational text session depending on the type of writing we were working on)
  • Social Studies Mini-Lesson
  • Independent Work/Conferences (Choice Board)

The entire day then has a fairly seemless feel where all learning is either integrated by skill or content, which is my ultimate goal.

The other thing is that I have made peace with the fact that this will be a “typical” schedule, but that doesn’t mean every day. I have accepted that no one schedule will meet the varied needs of either my curriculum or my students!  I have approached this year building in time for performance tasks, because sometimes a learning opportunity cannot be confined to a 30 minute block or an hour.  If a performance task meets multiple standards, and we need the day to work on it after our independent reading, then we can take the day or two days or whatever is required. I am sketching out my curriculum so that I have available “blocks” of time for my students to have those experiences.

What sort of schedules have worked for you in integrating your subjects?

On student note-taking and determining importance

I was walking around our media center, excited to read over my students’ shoulders as they worked on an integrated project. Within five minutes, both my teaching partner and I had lines around us with students waiting for conferences. A hum fell over the space, but not the hum of productivity – the hum of frustration! Our students had no real idea of how to research or take notes, at least not independently. I used their frustration to hook their interest in learning how to take notes, and spent most of the next nine weeks teaching them how to take notes. I used the Q-Notes strategy that I describe in this post. The rest of the year we focus on reading and taking our own notes versus using the handouts I had used as a single subject teacher, and it was good.

The next year, I started out with note-taking strategies and found that my students struggled with the Q-Notes. My teaching partner found a different strategy, Boxes and Bullets on Learnzillion, and we tried that with the students and still they struggled. The root problem was not the note-taking strategy, but that these students had a real difficulty in determining what was important and what was not in the text. Their difficulty was in creating a filter for the onslaught of information, something that they will need to do for the rest of their lives. I thought a great deal about how we read informational text as adults, and realized that I was going about note-taking in an inauthentic way. I have never taken notes on an entire article, chapter, or nonfiction book in my adult life unless it was an academic assignment; however, I read nonfiction text all the time as most adults do. I read to be informed about issues that matter to me, or to solve a problem that I might be having – in other words, I read to answer questions. The fault was not in my student’s note-taking skills, so much as it was in their questioning skills.

Aha! Students were trying to take notes for me, and not themselves. This is possibly the root of all school problems.

At the beginning of the next unit, I put the standards students were supposed to master up on the Promethean Board. We discussed what they meant, and any unfamiliar words. I then asked students what questions they would need to be able to answer to prove that they had mastered the standard. I modeled the first one, and then had students work together create questions for the rest of them while I circulated. We had a great conversation about thick versus thin questions and answerable versus debatable questions. During sharing time, we agreed upon a set of questions we would use for our note-taking/research for the unit. We then discussed what resources were available in class, and that students were to focus their research on these questions – this is what we agreed was important to know. Students not only used the class resources, but they shared helpful internet resources on Edmodo. It was an amazing, student centered experience.

Once I switched my focus to teaching my students how to create good questions, their notes became more focused and their research improved dramatically.  It did require some scaffolding, and practice over the next several units but students really responded and it had the added benefit of creating student ownership of the content. I continued to expose them to different styles of note-taking, and then encouraged them to use the methods that worked best for them. We would meet about their notes throughout the unit, having them compare with other classmates and discuss what was working for them and what was not. It was better.

This year I’m going to start with the idea of generating questions to frame the research/learning that we will do over the course of a unit. I plan to use the QAR framework to create a common questioning vocabulary and to use Webb’s Depth of Knowledge chart and these stems to help students develop more meaningful questions. I want to help students to recognize that the structure of informational text can also be used to determine if a piece will be useful in their research and how that might change or guide their note-taking.  I will continue to expose students to a variety of note-taking structures until they find what works for them. The last piece to implement this year is a note-taking conference that will happen during each unit or project, where students will select their best example of notes so that we can evaluate their progress together and set goals.

How do you help students take good notes, independently?

Common Core, Standards Based Grading, and Integration – oh my!

It has been awhile since my last post, and that has been because my head has been spinning with new ideas and new opportunities. For the last two years, I have had the opportunity to work on a two person team teaching Language Arts and Social Studies in a gifted magnet program. I have moved from teaching a 100 students, one subject, four times a day for an hour to teaching 50 students, three subjects (reading, writing, social studies) twice a day for two and a half hours. The push towards the Common Core, and the need to help students make the most of their learning time has led me to focus on integration and differentiation. This in turn led me to standards based grading as a way of facilitating these things and keeping my students focused on the learning they were doing. There has been more than a few changes in my thinking over this time, and I have grown tremendously, but I have been so busy reading, thinking, discussing with my awesome team mate, and just doing that I haven’t taken the time to post. I also wanted to wait until my thinking was clearer, but as I tell my students “writing is THINKING”, so I’m going to think out loud here and hope that you will give me feedback and help me become clear. Tomorrow I will start with the one skill that launched the most changes in my thinking – note-taking.

Edmodo – My Class Online

Edmodo is an amazing service, and it is free. I’m going to write in this post how I am using Edmodo in my classroom as you can easily Google it to find out anything else.

Assignments: Every assignment I give is on Edmodo. You can actually assign tasks to individual students or whole groups. You can attach handouts, links, or videos to the assignments – no more lost instructions. Students can comment on the assignment asking for clarification. These assignments then show up in student notifications, and can be turned in online. When I grade them I can use Edmodo’s annotate feature, or I can type feedback directly in to the student’s turned in assignment. They can continue to revise until the assignment is graded.

Calendar: All assignments show up in the student’s calendar, and they are clickable. This has been amazing for parents. Also, you can add dates for quizzes/tests/events. My teaching partner is on Edmodo too, so we can see each other’s assignments and coordinate due dates.

Updates/Announcements/Pictures: I can share what we are doing in class, and I can choose what to make public – Edmodo is a closed, safe environment but you can choose to make certain things public – no more double work on the school webpage. Also, students can interact with this content – asking questions or commenting.

Quizzes – you can create all types of assessments in Edmodo – short answer, fill in the blank, multiple choice. These can be graded within Edmodo and show you at a glance where the class is and where understanding is breaking down.

Parent Involvement: the absolutely best thing about Edmodo is parent communication. Parents receive everything you send the the student – every assignment, every direct message, the calendar, the quizzes – everything.

Slow shift to paperless – my district wants us to become 90 percent paperless in three years. Edmodo has allowed me to start that – I don’t print copies of study guides for the entire class anymore, only those without access to a printer. Edmodo also plays nicely with any Web 2.0 service you use via links or embedding – projects are completed, submitted, and graded online.

Students use Edmodo at school and home, and it is leading my class to a more blended environment.

Learning Contracts and Interactive Notebooks

My student’s success in taking good notes from text using the Q-Notes strategy lead me to wonder how I could apply that to my interactive notebooks. I was approaching my World War I unit and had access to ten copies of America Enters World War I. The book addressed most of the I Can statements my students had to master for the unit, so I decided to jump in and see what happened.

The process:

I created a chart to represent left side/right side assignments. The left hand assignments were all Q-Notes from the book, and I chose appropriate right hand assignments from the list I put in the front of their notebooks. I then decided what I would supplement with whole class experiences, and planned to meet with them individually about their notes. Then they had a week and a half to get it done – using combined school/homework time.

The results:

  • Students were very capable of taking the notes to met the I Can statements.
  • During class discussions/review I found more of my students participating and seeming to retain more content using this method.
  • While the notes were fabulous, right-hand sides seemed to suffer – either not getting completed or students misunderstanding the instructions – even though I purposely kept it to assignments we had completed before in class.
  • My “go-getters” were constantly conferencing with me as they finished their notes pages, and some children I never saw individually as they were late completing assignments.


Summarizing and note-taking are part of Marzano’s nine instructional strategies that work, and the students did seem to retain more information. I am excited as the I Cans become the student tasks and I help them find resources – articles, websites, nonfiction books to meet them. For my next contract, I’m going to try the following:

1) Provide one task at a time and provide short term due dates. I believe some of my students were simply overwhelmed, and others kept thinking that they would have class time tomorrow without realizing that time was going to run out eventually. This still allows students to work ahead, while providing a safety net for those still developing their time management.

2) Use checkpoints. I was re-reading How to Teach Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom to refresh my memory on learning contracts. The author used a “study guide” format which seemed similar to my I Can statements, and every 1 – 2 objectives there was a “checkpoint”. For me this is a small quiz that I create on Edmodo – I am not going to allow students to progress to the next task until they pass the checkpoint.

3) Meet in small groups by informational text RIT band. I want to meet with everybody in small group, twice a week. This ensures that I will see all of my students and have an opportunity to question them and lead small group discussion on the content and to troubleshoot right hand assignments. Since I am their Language Arts teacher as well, it is a great opportunity to work on their informational text skills while working on the content.

Note: a great deal of my growth this year is due to my risk-taking teammate, who is flipping her classroom this year. While I’m not doing that, I have admired the self-pacing and individualized instruction that is happening in her classroom. You can check out her blog here.

Q-Notes: Note-taking strategy

This year I am teaching a combined LA/SS block, so I decided to teach note-taking when it came time for the informational text unit. It was incredibly successful and I’ve been using it as a building block to other things since.

The strategy is very simple, and easy to use on any text with sub-headings.

  • Write the name of the lesson, the article, or chapter at the top of the page.
  • Draw a vertical line about a third of the way from the left of a piece of paper or notebook page.
  • Each sub-heading is turned into a question matching the main idea. Write the question on the left side of that line.
  •  The section is read with the question in mind and the student takes 2 – 5 notes to answer the question on the right side of that line.

That’s all there is to it. I taught a mini-lesson on how to turn the headings into questions, and then we did a practice session using a section of the SS textbook. I read over the students notes and made a list of the mini-lessons they were going to need (summarizing, main idea). After the lessons, we did another set. Repeat.

It took three sets over three weeks, but my kiddos are note-taking fools. Next year, this is the very first thing I will teach them how to do.

This method seemed kind of common sense to me, but I was asked to look for some research and I found this handout. Do you have any note-taking strategies you would like to share?

Update: The explanation handout is no longer online. There is an explanation that could be used for this strategy or Cornell Notes (as they are very similar) here:


There is a template available here

Standards – Yes, “I can”

At the beginning of a unit, I give my students an “I can” sheet of everything they need to be able to do by the end of that unit. The “I can” statements are grouped under student-friendly questions based on the indicators.

For example:

5-3.5 Summarize the reasons for the United States control of new territories as a result of the Spanish American War and the building of the Panama Canal, including the need for raw materials and new markets and competition with other world powers.


Why did the United States control new territories after the Spanish-American War?

  • I can explain how the need for raw materials and new markets lead to imperialism
  • I can summarize the causes and effects of the Spanish-American War on the United States
  • I can explain the reasons the United States controlled new territories
  • I can summarize the reasons for the building of the Panama Canal
  • Vocabulary: imperialism, Spanish-American War, yellow journalism, U.S.S. Maine

Notice that the actual Spanish-American War is not mentioned in the indicator, just the result. I think in order to understand the effect of something, you need to understand what the something was – hence the “I can summarize the causes and effects of the Spanish-American War. This idea is based partly on Marzano’s setting goals and objectives. In the workbook, it suggests that you create a guide for each unit with the essential vocabulary and concepts that students will be expected to understand.

Ways to use:

  • I use this sheet to plan out my interactive notebook handouts/activities to make sure I don’t “miss anything” – I also use it to review my tests to make sure each indicator is represented.
  • I project this at the beginning of each class instead of writing objectives on the board.
  • I have the students read over the statements after we have finished our lesson and rate themselves on their understanding.
  • It is a goal of mine for this to become their study guide for their tests.

#edcamp + classroom = #classcamp?

I’ve been reading a great deal about #edcamp on Twitter. At an #edcamp, the participants are the conference. The schedule of sessions is created the morning of the conference by the people who are attending. The goal is to create as many different sessions for each time slot as the space will allow. Presenters are more facilitators, collaborative documents are created about the topics, attendees include their social network in the experience by tweeting. If a session isn’t meeting your needs, you are free to walk out and choose another one – this is called the “rule of two feet”. Teachers seem to love this concept because it respects their voice in their own learning, and their ability to choose what will be most beneficial to them.

We wouldn’t be teachers if our own excitement about learning didn’t make us wonder “what if”. What if the rule of two feet applied to our classroom? What would school look like if our students had more choices, more ownership of their learning? What if kids could look forward to learning the way we do?

I’m thinking #classcamp (or # ____camp depending on the topic.

I teach younger students so I know I would need to provide considerable scaffolding, at least at first. I’m largely thinking out loud here, and I would really appreciate thoughts or ideas, especially if you have implemented something similar

My thoughts – give students (even parents or other teachers) a broad topic, such as World War II, Immigration, etc. See how many spaces in the building could be co-opted for sessions then create a schedule within the school’s schedule for sessions and allow students/parents/teachers to sign up to present in a googledoc. This would have to be done ahead of time, which I know is not true to the #edcamp model, but maybe that’s something we could work toward over the course of the year.

Students would initially “sign up” for sessions, also in google docs, but I think it would be important to preserve the two feet rule. If you knew your audience, your peers, were free to leave if your session wasn’t meeting their needs, I can’t help but feel it would make you step up your game. For students, it makes the research/ presentation/involvement more authentic – they choose and know their peers choose to stay or go as well. I know the etiquette would have to be taught/modeled but I still think that could be powerful on both sides.

I also would want to require reflection – #edcamps lead to active participation from its attendees.  Again, I’m just thinking out loud. Comments/suggestions would be appreciated.

Cowboys – A History Lab

Children just don’t see a lot of westerns, and when I taught about cowboys last year it was an uphill battle. This year I decided to do a “Cowboy Lab” – a hands-on experiential activity.

There will be three stations, where students will spend 15 -20 minutes.

Station 1: Roping and Vittles

This is a two-in-one. For half of the time, students will be practicing how to use a lasso (with a chair as the target) and for half the time they will be sampling cowboy vittles – chili, beef jerky, and trail mix. I sent home a letter asking for donations and was overwhelmed with my parents’ generosity.
Station 2: Cattle Drive Creation

Students will have play dough and an assortment of plastic figuriness
Station 3: Make a Western

Facts Questions Response (FQR) – a note-taking/connections strategy

 One of the great challenges of nonfiction text for students is the constant barrage of facts.

Names, high end vocabulary, dates or sequences, fast transitions – students have to learn, as we all do, how to take note of what is important. A large part of that is having a purpose for the reading, but an equally large part is having a personal filter – what information causes you to question or reflect.

 Enter the FQR strategy.

 The basic premise is that students take notes in a three column format.

Facts Question Response

As students read, they make note of important facts. For each fact that they note they must either write a question and/or a response. Students are shown through a gradual release of responsibility how to use the form. It is modeling intensive, because students have to learn to not only determine important information, but to ask questions that can guide further reading/research and to make connections that help them understand the text.

This was the recommended sequence:

Day 1: Teach background information about the reading. In the example I saw, the reading involved Andersonville, so the the first day was a brief background of the Civil War with a focus on the Andersonville prison camp.

Day 2: Pass out the reading (it focused on the plight of two young men who were incarcerated there), and the teacher models the strategy through the first few paragraphs. What I liked was that the teacher didn’t spend a lot of time explaining the strategy, she launched into using it, thinking out loud and helping the students make sense of it as she was modeling. Students had to write what she wrote so they got a good “feel” for what went where and then had a model on their own paper to follow.

Later in that day she also gave students a chance to make verbal responses with their peers, to get used to the idea of making a thoughtful response.

Day 3: Partner reading/responding to finish the FQR while teacher circulated.

It seems time intensive, and it is, but I feel that this would be an “investment strategy”. Something that you would take the time to teach well once, and then be able to utilize often, re-teaching areas that seem to need it as the year goes by. I loved how it made students reflect on the material they were reading, and how it provided a guide to make sense of their notes.

I’m including links to more information on FQR as well as some forms. I like the columns versus the chart, because I think that a kid might feel they need to “fill in every space” and that isn’t necessary. I also think that for my younger students I would need to be a bit more specific in my modeling. For example, “If you’ve read two paragraphs and haven’t taken a note, you need to write something”. I also believe I would want to stress the purpose of the reason and how that can help determine importance.

I know I’ll be using this strategy this school year, I hope its given you something to consider!


  • FQR using picture books: This is a five page pdf lesson plan for implementing FQR. Nice discussion of modeling types of questions, not crazy about the FQR sheet style.
  • FQR Sheet from Amy’s Activities: This is a three column pdf with lines for the students to write on, but is less “chart like”.