ESL Presentation – FCRC

Thank you for letting me join you in learning tonight!

Link to Presentation



National Donut Day 2016

I have written previously about how Liam enjoys helping others with math.

Kieran’s fifth-grade year was a great year to see that help in action.

Kieran does well in math, but when he doesn’t initially understand a concept, he shuts down.

Liam was consistently able to “bring him back” to an understanding and calmness so that he could finish his nightly homework.

He is still doing so to this day.

Around the end of second grade, we asked him to help Mea, at least to check her work.

She understanding math in a very different way. There were many times that her dad could not help her understand the “new math.”

Liam has always been able to.

Now he’s been helping both Kieran and Mea with their instruments, although different from his own.

He will play a song for Kieran so that he can hear the notes and rhythm.

Now, he is actually helping Mea play two instruments that are different from his own.

Last night, he held her music for bells for her, and kept time, humming along as she played. She actually practices for about 40 minutes with his help, replaying a song until she gets it right (she just picked up bells, so is about six weeks behind her peers).

While he once said that he thought that teaching was too hard a profession to pursue, I see him having the heart of a teacher, nevertheless.

15 seconds…

In seventh grade, Liam performed well in his local MathCounts competition. He even made the newspaper:


He was the first place seventh grader and second place finisher overall.

“Top 10 individual, after the written exam: 1. Cassidy Bolio, Southern Middle School; 2. Liam Hower, Emory H. Markle Intermediate School” – his 15 seconds of fame.

He seemed calm and excited about his work. He prepared diligently for regionals…

Where he came in 11th place.

One place out of the top ten, where competitors go on to compete in the countdown round.

In his quiet, humble way, he noted how he had done so much better than the year before locally and was up three places from regionals from the previous year.

He said he enjoyed his first try at countdown round (locally), which he had not been able to the prior year.

He was proud of his team. He congratulated them all, as his arms were full of awards.

And that was it.

Time to turn his attention to track.

He replaced the previous year’s medals and certificates hanging in his room with the new ones and was happy.

He taught us a lesson about how to be content with hard work and effort too, despite the results (which were much to be proud of).

Reflecting on #NCTE17

Visiting with dear virtual and close friends.

Making new acquaintances.

Listening to inspiring speakers.

Learning from the best!

Eating fabulous food.

Trying out some firsts (martini and Uber).

Finding encouragement and kindred souls.

Planning for the future.

Thank you to Stacey Shubitz and the Slicers, Stenhouse Publishers, Rose Cappelli, Lynne Dorfman, Clare Landrigan, Tammy Mulligan, Paula Bourque, my PCTELA family, and many authors and speakers for making this year’s trip to St. Louis an incredible learning and inspiring experience.


Adding to our Teacher’s Toolbox for Inferencing


Inferencing is a literacy skill that students on the spectrum find particularly challenging because they have a difficult time with tasks that ask them to consider associative meanings or recognize relationships and common features.

To help, just like with main idea and detail questions, teachers should use explicit modeling, scaffolding, and providing direct feedback to reinforce correct answers.

Teachers, likewise, want to place a student with ASD in a reading group where they can hear a “more knowledgeable other” infer aloud in a conversation. Again, teachers should use the think-aloud strategy to model their own inferencing process.

Students on the spectrum are not used to thinking about larger constructs or themes. They need a teacher or peer to help them learn what to notice, understand how to consider all of those details, and to decide how they all fit together.

Returning to graphic organizers, there are many that will support readers who struggle to identify the key pieces of information that would help them make an inference.

The Common Core Standards in this section ask that students do a lot of comparing and contrasting.  There are many compare/contrast and similarity/difference graphic organizers available. The teacher should choose ones that she likes to work with best.

A unique one shared with me by Eric Shipman, a third-grade teacher ( – see Compare/Contrast with Summary). He appreciated it for the same reasons I am mentioning it here: it explicitly identifies the categories that are to be contrasted. Being able to target specific information to contrast (i.e. food, habitat, predators), is more beneficial than just tasking a learner to compare and contrast two animals. In what ways? About what? This way, the teacher can provide additional guidance for how the students should organize their thinking around the task.

This graphic organizer caught our attention because it added an additional layer of support to the typical compare/contrast strategy. In reality, Mr. Shipman and I found this to challenge students because it deepened the thinking beyond comparing and contrasting appearances or other lower level information. Then, it helps the student with ASD because of how explicitly it directs them to categorize the information garnered from the reading.

Graphic Organizers to Scaffold Thinking

When students gain the capability of discriminating the main idea from a detail, they can use a three column system that categorizes “topic,” “details,” and “responses.” Alternatively, they could use an FQR worksheet.

These scaffolds explicitly categorize the information contained in the book and allow the student to reflect on the information being presented in the text. This supports executive functioning as well, in that there is a support system for noticing various aspects of a text and organizing them for the student to analyze.

Additionally, graphic organizers support a student on the autism spectrum’s ability to filter out extraneous information.

They “teach children to give the main topic more weight than secondary themes and secondary themes more weight than details” (Fein & Dunn, 2007, p. 178).

Graphic organizers support a student’s central coherence, as they lead the student away from unimportant details, to highlight what the main or essential ideas were in the reading.

Some graphic organizers that seem to work especially well are ones that scaffold students’ understanding of the difference between the main idea and the details that support it.


When I use this with students, I first read the “definition” of the terms: main idea and details. I share the “Ask Yourself” box next to help students know what questions we will answer by the end of our steps. I also draw their attention to the “Look for these Words” box, so that when we start to follow the steps, they can be on the lookout for any of those words.

Then we “Follow These Steps.” In a book that the students can write in, we use highlighters. In a regular book, we used highlighter tape. I think aloud as I notice words we were looking for and text that connects to our prediction.

At the end, I record our evidence from the highlighted parts of the book. Then, we return to the “Ask Yourself” questions to determine the main idea.

Most importantly, I explain that the topic (or title) of a book is not its main idea. It can be part of it, but the main idea is going to share more about why the author wrote the text.

With each practice, especially with other types of thinkers in our small group, I release more of the responsibility of noticing and answering to the students.

Finally, I have them practice “independently,” in strategically grouped pairs, then truly independently, by themselves.

Depending on the difficulty of the text, I might have to re-support a student in figuring out which portions of a text are key details versus just interesting information (see above), or re-model how to take the details and synthesize them into the main idea.

This type of protocol supports students in taking steps toward understanding how to identify the main idea.