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Small steps with big effects

Have you ever done something you considered to be insignificant, only to find out later that it had a much greater impact than you thought? A couple of years ago I posted a video of "The Opposite Song" on YouTube. It was a song that helped children learn the concept of opposites. The video was part of a television program I helped produce here at Imagine Learning called Imagine Island. The show was designed to help English learners and pre-K kids learn the alphabet, build vocabulary, and master the basics of literacy. We created 26 half-hour episodes -- one for each letter of the alphabet. In recent months I realized that "The Opposite Song"  had been viewed over 20,000 times. This was quite surprising, as I hadn't really emailed the link to anyone or promoted it in any way. As the total views for the video continued to increase, we began receiving comments from viewers who used the video in their classrooms.  It was exciting to know that teachers were finding our video and putting it to use. But that fact was really driven home last week when I received a video response to "The Opposite Song."
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Imagine Learning supports students with disabilities

Using four exemplary practices that support cognitive growth, Imagine Learning English is a great way to help students with disabilities expand basic and academic vocabulary, increase reading grade levels, and master literacy and vocabulary. Screen and monitor student progress. Identify students' instructional needs and regularly monitor their progress. Elaborate on and model instructional tasks. Present tasks explicitly and systematically, so students are more able to perform and understand task parameters. Differentiate instruction based on assessments and ongoing monitoring. Deliver intensive daily instruction. More time and more intensity is required when instructing students with disabilities--the amount of time spent on learning tasks is the single best indicator of academic gains.
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Thirty-one book recommendations for Read-A-New-Book Month

The start of the school year is all about new things—new classrooms, new students, new friends, and that newly-sharpened pencil smell come to mind. The back-to-school season is also the perfect opportunity to find a new favorite book. September is Read-A-New-Book Month, and it’s the perfect time to challenge your students (and yourself!) to pick up a good book and have a new adventure. There are a lot of great resources out there with wonderful suggestions of books for struggling readers, English learners, students with disabilities, and early childhood education students. I’ve gathered a few suggestions here just to get you started, including award-winners, picks from the American Library Association, and favorites from some of us here at Imagine Learning. I've included thirty-one books—one for each day of Read-A-New-Book Month, plus a spare, just in case. If you have a book recommendation, please add it to the comments section!
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Five essential components of an effective program for struggling readers

If you were tasked with creating a program to help struggling readers, what would your program include? That’s a question that two researchers (Crystal Kelly, a teacher practitioner, and Linda Campbell, a university professor) set out to answer by comparing several struggling reading programs and interviewing teachers and reading specialists. They found that these sources agreed significantly on both the reasons why some students struggle with reading and the components an effective reading program must have.
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Three back-to-school ideas for pre-K English learners

Over the next few weeks, more than one million early childhood education students will head off to their very first day of school. And while most of these students will be nervous about meeting their teachers, finding their cubbies, and making new friends, some of them will be apprehensive about something else entirely: learning a whole new language. English learners at the pre-K level need support from their teachers just as much as English learners in K–6 grades. In fact, supporting young English learners in preschool is critical to their success in later years. NAESP President Barbara Chester notes that “when kids come to kindergarten unprepared, they struggle and continue to struggle.” In other words, getting off on the right foot with your young English learners can make a big difference as they progress to kindergarten and beyond. So how can you help your early childhood English learners feel welcome in your classroom and get ready for kindergarten? One of the beset things you can do is create a positive learning environment. Here are three tips for getting ready for a new school year with your linguistically and culturally diverse (LCD) students:
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Five Twitter tips for your PLN

Recently, members of the Imagine Learning instructional design and writing teams have started using Twitter to connect with educational communities. In this way we have each developed our own personal learning network (PLN), and we retweet the best of what we discover through our @ImagineLearning account. By doing so we have found a powerful space in which educators can interact with developers. Here we learn about student needs and teacher challenges. These vital conversations allow developers to build pragmatic tools that can ease teachers’ burden of addressing individual student needs, ultimately translating into more effective learning environments. We’re grateful to you for allowing us to participate in these online communities and are excited about our future involvement and the new discoveries we will find together. Using Twitter has helped me stay connected to the educational community. Yet I realize the hesitancy some may have about using Twitter. This post’s aim is to help you maximize your Twitter experience and grow your PLN.
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Eight tips to make your student a back-to-school champ

Summer is winding to a close, and that means a new school year is just around the corner. But back-to-school time doesn’t always mean excitement. Both students who struggle in school and those who excel may be less than enthused about starting a new year. I remember having mixed feelings at the start of each school year: excitement to see old friends, eagerness to escape summer boredom, anxiousness at meeting new people, and fear that I might not know anyone in my classes. Many students face similar fears and apprehensions. As parents, how can you help your students focus on the positive and get excited about going back to school? Here are eight tips to get you started.
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The e-book debate

Working in educational technology as I do, I've observed the recent trend toward e-readers and e-books with keen interest.  Are e-readers truly the wave of the future?  Are printed books really going to die? Although I'm an avid reader, I'm also a technology enthusiast, so I have welcomed the advent of e-books. However, when I bought my wife an Amazon Kindle last year, I didn't know how she would react.  My wife adores books.  Since I first met her in college -- where she was majoring in English literature -- I have always loved that about her.   We don't have enough bookshelves in the house to accommodate her ever-growing collection.  She seems to always have a magazine or a novel in her hand.  She's probably read a book since I started writing this post.
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A game-changing teaching technique you might not be using

There's no secret formula to ensuring all your students succeed. Each student learns in a different way and benefits from different teaching strategies. But what if there were one thing you could do to significantly improve comprehension for all your struggling students, including English learners? In 2009's Quality Counts, David Francis of the University of Texas identified "mastery of academic language" as "arguably the single most important determinant of academic success for individual students." He went on to say that its importance "cannot be overstated." Why all the fuss?
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How to bully-proof your struggling students

During the move to our new building, our office plant broke in half. I was heartbroken, but I put the broken half of the plant into a container of water with the hope that the plant would grow new roots. For the first few snowy months, nothing happened. No roots. Then, spring came and the weather started warming up. Seemingly overnight, my struggling plant was thriving, and all because the conditions were finally right. My plant had to be comfortable before he could really start to grow. So what does a plant have to do with bullying? Like plants, students need the right conditions to really send out their roots and start growing. Unfortunately, many students hold back because they don't feel comfortable in the classroom. One of the big reasons for this is bullying. Bullying can happen to any student, but English learners, struggling readers, and students with disabilities can be especially vulnerable because they may feel out of place or have low self-esteem. Luckily, you don't have to wait for a weather change to banish bullies and strengthen your struggling student.
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