Virginia Commonwealth University
May 23, 2011
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Chris Frawley, M.Ed.

The last student has walked out the classroom door and toward summer vacation. Your classroom materials are packed and the school check-out list is finished. As you and your collaborative partner walk toward your cars, you look at each other and say, “Wow! I cannot believe another school year has just ended.” After some rest and relaxation during your time away from school, undoubtedly you will begin to think about the coming school year. How can we better meet the needs of the diverse learners in our room? Are there some other things that we can do as a collaborative partnership? Then an idea comes to you: what about going to summer camp?

People canoeing

Teachers and their collaborative partners can use their summers to “go to camp” to prepare for the following year.

You phone your collaborative partner and say, “Let’s go to summer camp!” Understandably, he seems a bit confused. He replies, “Summer camp? I’m not sure I understand what you mean.” You continue and explain, “We’re going to summer camp to prepare for next year. We’re going to explore the themes of camp, participate in camp activities related to the theme and then finish the day by swimming in the pool. It will be fun!” Your partner is a little hesitant but trusts that know what you’re doing. He agrees to come along and you are on your way! The next week both of you arrive wide-eyed at camp and filled with excitement. Where do you begin?

Immerse yourself in the camp’s theme

Many summer camps select a theme as a focus for the activities, games and events for the duration of the camp, usually one to two weeks. Camp counselors plan their curriculum around the theme and the campers learn about the theme by participating in activities, playing games, singing songs, etc.

As teachers, you develop different themes/units to organize your content and instruction throughout the school year. Take a minute to talk with your collaborative partner about the units you taught this past year. Ask yourselves, “How did we communicate the content of each unit and the unit expectations to our students? Did some of our students struggle to learn the content, to make connections with the knowledge within the unit or to recall information at the conclusion of the unit?”

Here at summer camp you and your partner are presented with two suggestions to help plan and prepare for the upcoming school year:

  • Review the Standards of Learning (SOL) Curriculum Frameworks for the course or grade level you teach. The Curriculum Frameworks are excellent resources to assist with planning instruction of the essential content all students must learn. This past school year saw the full implementation of the 2008 History and Social Science Standards of Learning. Revised Test Blueprints and released SOL assessments included the updated SOLs for all grade levels. In addition, the revised 2009 Math Standards of Learning will be implemented in the 2011-12 school year and the SOL assessments will reflect the revised Math SOLs. The Math SOL 2009 documents are available to assist teachers with the changes. Another document, the Enhanced Scope and Sequence for Math, will be available in the fall of 2011. It will be an excellent resource for you and your partner because the lessons for every SOL will include suggestions for differentiating for the diverse needs of the students in your classroom.
  • Learn the Unit Organizer Routine.The Unit Organizer Routine is part of the Content Enhancement Series from the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. The Unit Organizer Routine helps teachers introduce and create a unit in which students:
    • Understand how the unit is part of a larger course or sequence of units
    • See how the content of the unit is organized
    • Explain the relationships that exist within the content
    • Understand what must be done within the unit
    • Monitor their progress with learning the content
    • Use self-questioning to recognize what they have learned (Lenz, Bulgren, Schumaker, Deshler, & Boudah, 1994)

    Students participate in the co-construction of a Unit Organizer visual device that represents the unit. You and your collaborative partner can contact your local Virginia Department of Education’s Training and Technical Assistance Center (T/TAC) to ask about the next professional development session for the Unit Organizer Routine. After learning the routine, decide on one content area to which you will apply what you have learned and begin to develop a unit for this coming school year.

Seek out camp activities

Wow! You and your partner have been introduced to the theme of the summer camp experience. Now it is time to explore the camp to discover activities that support the theme. You turn to each other and say, “What should we do first? Maybe we should head over to the arts and crafts building to see what everyone is creating. Or we could walk down to the open field to sign up for a couple of afternoon games. There is so much to choose from!” All of these camp activities enhance learning about the theme and are designed to appeal to and include everyone.

How does this relate to teaching? Think of the camp theme-related activities as methods for the two of you to plan and deliver instruction to support the diverse learning needs of your students. Teachers use different instructional strategies to deliver the content, as well as teach learning strategies to students to assist them to acquire, manipulate, integrate, store and retrieve information (Access Center, 2006).

As you and your collaborative partner look ahead to the coming school year, think about the instructional and learning strategies that you used this past year. Take some time to discuss which strategies successfully assisted students in accessing the general education curriculum and supported their learning. Then ask yourselves, “Are there other strategies that we haven’t used that we could teach our students this year?” Here are a couple of ideas to consider incorporating into your teaching this year:

  • Teach mnemonic strategies to your students. Mnemonic strategies help students to remember important information. They help students more successfully encode (take in) information so that it will be easier to retrieve (remember). Mastropieri and Scruggs (1998) describe three types of mnemonic strategies: keyword method, pegword method and letter strategies. The key element of each method is for students to connect the new information to what they already know. If a strong connection can be made, then the information they learn will be remembered for a long time.

    A useful resource to assist in your planning is “Using mnemonic instruction to facilitate access to the general education curriculum.” You and your partner have just finished developing a unit to use this coming school year. The knowledge and skills included in this unit were taught last year to your students. Take a minute to discuss the content within this unit that your students struggled to learn last year. Next, work together to create mnemonic strategies to assist your students to remember and recall this information. You can teach the strategies to your students as you teach this unit next year.

  • Learn more about the use of graphic organizers to support your instruction. Why should you learn about graphic organizers? Many students with learning disabilities have difficulties understanding and organizing information presented within a unit. Graphic organizers can assist students’ learning by helping them see how ideas within a concept or text are organized. Consequently, students will experience more success with understanding the relationships between complex ideas and how to organize the information they are learning (Baxendell, 2003).

    Graphic organizers are chosen by considering the content of each unit. There are several types of graphic organizers available to you and your collaborative partner, such as hierarchical diagrams, sequence charts and compare-and-contrast diagrams. Select graphic organizers that will effectively support your students’ diverse learning. You and your collaborative partner can use the unit of study that you created earlier in camp to create a graphic organizer to support the expected level of understanding for your students (e.g., summarization, main idea/supporting details). The graphic organizer can be added to the other strategies you will use throughout the unit.

Take the swim test

Your partner looks at you and says, “Whew! I am worn out. Today has been a lot of work. We have done some fun activities but I am feeling tired and warm.” Not far away you hear the sounds of fun at the pool. “Let’s head over to the pool to cool off,” you suggest. The two of you change into your swimsuits and walk over to the pool.

The camp counselor at the pool explains that everyone has to take a swim test before being allowed to swim in the pool. Each camper is assessed on their ability to dive into the pool, tread water and swim one length. Your partner dives in the pool, treads water and swims one length. You jump into the pool after he finishes and take your turn.

After several minutes, you and your partner are informed if you passed or failed. Your partner passes the test and can swim in the pool. However, you are told that you did not pass the test and that you will have to participate in lessons to improve your performance. No feedback is provided regarding how your performance measured to the standard for the diving, treading water or swimming one length of the pool. You are told, “Sorry, you did not pass the test. We’ll need to see you at 1 o’clock for swim lessons.”

Does this scenario sound familiar? Students take frequent assessments in school (e.g., quizzes, chapter tests, benchmark tests) that are reviewed by teachers and returned to them with a grade. Typically, students look at the grade, glance over the paper to see their errors and then place the paper in their backpacks. How does this experience help them know what they need to do to learn what they do not know? Does it help to close the gaps in their understanding of the content?

As you and your collaborative partner plan for next year, it is important to discuss formative assessment. Formative assessment — assessment for learning — includes students in the process of understanding the gap between their actual and desired level of performance, as well as ways to close the gap (Shepherd, 2009). When teachers use formative assessment, they monitor and diagnose students’ responses, provide feedback based on the diagnosis and allow class time for students to use the feedback to learn. A grade is the typical feedback students receive.

What if you and your partner think about using different types of feedback to communicate to students how they are doing in relation to your instructional goals? Written, oral, nonverbal and technology feedback can be given to students. As you look to the opening of school, consider incorporating written feedback into your planning. Written feedback can be writing comments on assessments and/or assignments or the use of rubrics.

The two of you have started to plan for the beginning of the school year. As you plan assignments for the unit of study that was developed, consider creating a rubric for one of the assignments in the unit. The rubric, when introduced before the students begin the assignment, provides the expectations for the assignment as well as a description and grading criteria for each component. Students can reference the rubric throughout the completion of the task.

Gather around the campfire

It’s hard to believe that summer camp is coming to an end. You and your collaborative partner have had a great deal of fun! Like most summer camps, everyone gathers around the campfire to roast marshmallows, talk about the day and sing a few favorite songs.

The two of you join the other campers by the campfire with a couple of marshmallows to roast on your sticks. The camp counselor asks each person to share a favorite camp experience. You and your collaborative partner turn to each other to discuss everything you did at camp. “Gosh, what was our favorite experience?” you ask.

The two of you planned the content you will teach this year by reading over the Curriculum Frameworks and learning the Unit Organizer Routine to create a unit to use at the beginning of the year. You engaged in unit-related activities by creating mnemonic strategies and graphic organizers to assist students with understanding the knowledge and skills of your grade level or course. Finally, you planned how students will be informed of their performance toward your instructional goals. A couple of rubrics have been developed for use this fall. Whew! A lot was accomplished and it is hard to choose your favorite one.

Time to refocus; the songs have started and your marshmallows are burning. You can’t wait to return to camp next summer!


Baxendell, B. W. (2003). The 3 C’s of graphic organizers. Teaching Exceptional Children, 35(3), 46-53.

Lenz, B. K., Bulgren, J. A., Schumaker, J. B., Deshler, D. D., & Boudah, D. A. (1994). The unit organizer routine. Lawrence, KS: Edge Enterprises, Inc.

Mastropieri, M. A. & Scruggs, T. E. (1998). Enhancing school success with mnemonic strategies. Intervention in School and Clinic, 33(4), 201-208.

Shepherd, L. A. (2009). Commentary: Evaluating the validity of formative assessment and interim assessment. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 28(3), 32-37.

The Access Center. (2004). Using mnemonic instruction to facilitate access to the general education curriculum. Retrieved February 21, 2011 from

The Access Center. (2006). Strategies for accessing algebraic concepts (K-8). Retrieved February 9, 2011 from



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