Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Our District's KTL Initiative Is Grounded in Research-Based Best Practice

For the past five years, Burlington Public Schools teachers have been involved in ongoing Professional Development to implement the Keys to Literacy (KTL) Comprehension Routine in their classrooms.  The KTL Comprehension Routine, which has been implemented in hundreds of schools throughout the country, emphasizes the integration of comprehension, writing, and study strategies into existing content. The high school and middle school have been involved in KTL for multiple years and the elementary schools started KTL implementation during the 2017-2018 school year in grades 4-5 and this year for grades 2-3.

One of the aspects of KTL that staff has been focusing on with students is note-taking. With this in mind, I was thrilled to hear a recent educational podcast highlighting the research surrounding best-practices in note-taking. Jennifer Gonzalez’s Cult of Pedagogy Podcast shared eight takeaways from her review of three decades worth of research on note-taking. As I listened, I heard a number of the strategies from KTL that Burlington teachers are working to instill in students.

Mr. Conley utilizing two-column notes with his 6th Grade ELA students.

Here are a few of the research-based practices mentioned in the podcast that are part of our ongoing KTL work with staff:

Note-taking matters
“Whether it’s taking notes from lectures (Kiewra, 2002) or from reading (Rahmani & Sadeghi, 2011; Chang & Ku, 2014), note-taking has been shown to improve student learning. In other words, if we want our students to remember more of what they learn in our classes, it’s better to have them take notes than it is to not have them take notes.”
Explicitly teaching note-taking strategies can make a difference
"Although some students seem to have an intuitive sense for what notes to record, for everyone else, getting trained in specific note-taking strategies can significantly improve the quality of notes and the amount of material they remember later. (Boyle, 2013; Rahmani & Sadeghi, 2011; Robin, Foxx, Martello, & Archable, 1977). This is especially true for students with learning disabilities.”
Adding visuals boosts the power of notes
“Compared with writing alone, adding drawings to notes to represent concepts, terms, and relationships has a significant effect on memory and learning (Wammes, Meade, & Fernandes, 2016).”
Scaffolding increases retention
“Teachers can build scaffolds into their instruction to ensure that students take better notes. One very effective type of scaffold is guided notes (also called skeleton or skeletal notes). With guided notes, the instructor provides some type of outline of the material to be covered, but with space left for students to complete key information.”
If you are interested in seeing more on the ongoing KTL work in Burlington, check out our Keys in Burlington Blog!

Monday, September 17, 2018


A lot of times, we think that KTL has to be used in this elaborate, detailed way. WRONG! You can use KTL for quick activities at any time. Below are a few examples.

This web took an everyday example (me) and listed some of my own strengths and challenges. Then the students came up with their own webs of strengths and challenges. I used a word bank for the first one, so they have ideas of words to use under strengths and challenges, and explained how we organized information from the top down, with different symbols and colors. Here is a link to a digital version: strengths/challenges web.

Later, I carried this idea over to evaluating students’ own progress reports or report cards. It is another quick way to use KTL that won’t take up a ton of time, and will help students be more reflective on their academics. Here is an example:

The small square listed the grade, effort and conduct they received. The big square would allow for them to explain how to improve or maintain their grade. This is a quick, easy way to use top down webs while helping students to become better at self-monitoring their grades.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Two-Column Vocabulary Notes

One of the benefits to Keys to Literacy is consistency across assignments and classes. My co-teacher and I don't need to create a different notes sheet for every lesson; we can use generic two-column notes handouts or have students create their own.

Our freshmen are introduced to new vocabulary words through videos that they take notes on. They take notes using a two-column format: the word and image are on the left; the definition and an example are on the right.

In giving students a consistent note-taking format (a major KTL goal!), we can help students focus on the quality of their notes instead of the format. We are trying to teach our students to record the short phrases and helpful hints that will be most useful to them. Later in the year, for some or all students, we will likely stop distributing charts and give students more freedom to set up their own notes.

Here is a link to the full template for these vocabulary notes.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Top Down Webs
By: Treacy Janis
FW, grade 4

Students read the core book “The One and Only Ivan.”  Students shared character traits of each main character in the story and evidence to support the trait.  Students shared their traits and evidence and posted it under the correct character throughout the novel.  At the end of the novel, students selected 1 character and wrote about the character’s trait using the evidence in their writing.

Main Idea Activity

Students were given a photo copied National Geographic article about pollinators.  The headings of each section were cut off and the article was cut up too; even the pictures.  The students worked in small groups reading each section, They had to decide which of the cut up headings matched each section.  Once they did that, students had to recreate the article from beginning, middle and end and glue them on construction paper with the pictures that matched each section.

After the “Pollinator Parade,”  Students sorted notecards to create the Top Down Topic Web.  This can be used as an assessment. Facts about pollinators were written on notecards,  Students worked in groups to create the TDTW.
Students used an ice cream parlor menu to create Bloom’s Taxonomy questions about the menu.  They used a “Cheat sheet” to help familiarize them with the correct vocabulary for each question.  Once each group wrote a question for each level, they were dispersed among the groups so each group had 6 new questions.  Once everyone is done, the group would read aloud their question and share what level the question is and the vocabulary they used to make them decide what level Blooms the question is.  I shared the Bloom’s questions with another teacher to introduce Bloom’s to her class.

Students read an article in National Geographic about different kinds of giraffes.  We did this activity as a whole group. We discussed how we could organize the information and facts we read in a TDTW.  The class decided the heading is giraffes because that’s what the article is about. Then they discussed what the next level should be and they decided the types of giraffes.  Then students worked in small groups to find details about each type of giraffe and they shared the details on the rug and I wrote the details down. We also discussed the different shapes and colors to use in the TDTW.
Sentence Sort

Each student wrote 4 sentences (one of each kind of sentences) without an end mark.  The sentences were then put into a pile. Each student got 4 new sentences. They had to read each of their sentences aloud and then they had to add the correct punctuation and place it under the correct heading, either exclamatory, declarative, interrogative or imperative.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Nicole Mondello

Memorial, Grade 2

Students sort and categorize pictures words and objects across the curriculum and from the very start of Kindergarten. This year’s KTL training gave me a deeper understanding of how learning to organizing words and discussing the connections between and among a group of words is the beginning of implied main idea. When a child can articulate the connection within a group of details they begin the process of finding a main idea.

In this activity, we asked a second grade group of students with experience in categorizing words into previously labeled buckets, (labels) to sort then identify the labels for the buckets. The discussion groups got right to work sorting and determining how to organize the words. At first glance kids impulsively sorted into two clear categories, winter and summer then hit a roadblock with nouns that were places, like TD Garden and Fenway Park.

Eventually paired groups brought their category labels to the rug where our larger debate happened. The final two labels given were Bruins hockey essentials and Red Sox Baseball essentials. This was engaging and only took about 15 minutes.


Friday, June 8, 2018

KTL and Literature Circles
Nicole Mondello, Mary Kathryn Conceison

Grade 5 ELA

Main idea, categorizing, top down topic webs, summarizing and more, what a year of trying to use KTL strategies to build comprehension for our fourth and fifth graders! As the eleventh hour of June rolls around ELA teacher, Mary Kathryn Conceison, and I planned a final exercise for students. We decided that Literature Circles seemed like an exciting and interactive way to maintain engagement, release responsibility to students as they become independent middle school students. What we weren’t expecting- how easily KTL strategies fit into almost every literature circle role.

You get the idea…

Word Wizard, uses two column notes for recording and defining new vocabulary.
Bloom’s Question Generator, generates a question from each level of Bloom’s Taxonomy at the end
of specific chapters.
Note Taker, keeps track of the plot of the story using Two column notes.
Summarizer, “Goldilocks” the main idea of a section of reading.
Connector Leader, keeps track of the accountable talk.

The point, KTL fits into what we already do. Here is a link to the packet.Literature Circles

Margie Johnson

Grade 3

I have been working with third grade students on KTL strategies for a few months now. They have had numerous opportunities to categorize, starting with everyday, familiar vocabulary such as sorting appropriate vs. inappropriate behaviors in reading class which we used as a review of the class behaviors they had generated, as well as types of food, basic vocabulary to review nouns, verbs and adjectives, and so on.

Students have also had experience using top-down webs to organize their ideas for writing a paragraph, and have also been guided through generating details for scaffolded 2-column notes on short stories and Newsela articles.

One of the core books for third graders is Helen Keller. This book is a challenge for this group of students, so using KTL strategies was certainly helpful. First, we did an adjectives word sort to describe Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller. We read the the words to them and discussed their meaning. Then, students worked with a partner to sort the words. The discussions that evolved around this word sort led to a much deeper understanding of the characters particularly since several words could have applied to each of the characters for different reasons. Students were able to support their reasons with examples from the test.

After reading a chapter, students worked with a partner to sort sentences from two paragraphs which told about two different events in the text then wrote the main idea of each paragraph.

Most students were able to write what the paragraphs were about but some needed more discussion...a work in progress.