Category Archives: Learn

Focus your efforts: Identifying what matters most to close learning gaps for back-to-school student success

The following blog was contributed by Dr. Gene Kerns, Chief Academic Officer at Renaissance Learning, Inc.

Note: This is an excerpt from a blog series on using assessment data to address learning gaps during the 2020–2021 school year. To read the series, click here.

As you reflect on the many unknowns around Back-to-School, you may feel as if you’re facing another “first year of teaching”—but with one key difference. This time, you know exactly what to do. Identify the most critical skills for learning, and focus instruction there. But how do you know which skills are most critical?

The “backbone” of Renaissance Star Assessments is an empirically validated learning progression for reading and math. Our experts take each state’s educational standards and break them down into discrete, teachable skills, then organize them into the ideal teachable order, so educators can help students move along the pathway to greater mastery.

During this process, we identified a subset of skills that are fundamental to students’ development at each grade level—Focus Skills.

When you can easily identify the most critical skills, you know exactly where to focus instruction to move students forward. You also know the most critical skills from prior grades, which help determine what to review and—when needed—what to set aside. For BTS 2020, Focus Skills can become your “vital few,” with intense work on these skills producing the greatest returns in student learning.

So, where can you see Renaissance Focus Skills?

They’re highlighted on the Instructional Planning Report in Star Reading, Star Math, and Star Early Literacy. Teachers can generate the Instructional Planning Report at the class level to identify the “vital few” for core instruction. Likewise, teachers can create instructional groups based on students’ Star data and the report for each group. Finally, teachers may choose to run the report for individual students.

Additionally, you can see Focus Skills in the Renaissance Planner, which enables you to view more details about each skill (related academic vocabulary, prerequisites, state standards alignment, and grade-level domain expectations).

Educators who use Star have multiple options to access Focus Skills. But given the urgency around reversing COVID-19-related learning loss, we’re making the full list of Focus Skills available to all educators, parents, community members, and students in an interactive, engaging format.

We encourage you to explore the reading and math Focus Skills for your state and review the distribution of Focus Skills across grade levels. Equipped with this knowledge, you can reasonably infer the grade levels with the greatest potential for student learning loss, as determined by the number of Focus Skills. You can also use these lists to identify the most critical building blocks of learning for each grade, so you know where to focus your efforts for the greatest return in student growth.

Now that you know the power of Focus Skills and how to access them, we hope you see why these skills will be critical in the new school year—and the key role they can play in helping students make up lost ground resulting from this spring’s unexpected school closures.

We encourage you to explore the reading and math Focus Skills for your state and review the distribution of Focus Skills across grade levels. Equipped with this knowledge, you can reasonably infer the grade levels with the greatest potential for student learning loss, as determined by the number of Focus Skills. You can also use these lists to identify the most critical building blocks of learning for each grade, so you know where to focus your efforts for the greatest return in student growth.

About the Author

A third-generation educator, Dr. Gene M. Kerns was born with a passion for learning. Over the past two decades, he’s served as a public school teacher, adjunct faculty member, professional development trainer, district supervisor of academic services, and academic advisor at one of the nation’s top edtech companies. Dr. Kerns earned a doctor of education in educational leadership from the University of Delaware as well as a master of science in secondary curriculum and instruction and a bachelor of arts in English education from Longwood University in Virginia.

Authentic Identity in Catholic Education

The following blog was contributed by Emma Ladwig, a senior majoring in marketing at the University of Notre Dame and a summer intern with the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA).

What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a common question, and one I have asked myself (and been asked) countless times. As a college student, I now hear it phrased differently, perhaps in questions like “what are your plans after graduation?” or “what jobs are you interviewing for?” or something else along those lines. No matter how it is asked, though, the crux of the inquiry is the same. The question is focused on what role I will play, what my title will be, and what responsibilities I will have.

This question of what we want to be is ever present in our conversations since early childhood—and it’s an important one. Our job and the responsibilities we have are often our means for providing for ourselves and contributing to the betterment of society. But I argue that there is another question, seldom asked and seldom answered, which is also important for us to ask ourselves and the youth with whom we work: who are you going to be when you grow up?

Beyond our titles and responsibilities, we are each called by name to be people who reflect Christ in our work. Whether we work as a CEO, school nurse, teacher, custodian, principal, secretary, superintendent or intern, our roles are what we do—not necessarily who we are. As a community that strives to cultivate minds and souls, our witness of living who we are called to be by God is essential. Ideally, our jobs should be extensions of our nature and purpose as sons and daughters, but fruitful membership in the body of Christ should always be our primary goal regardless of our occupations at any time.

As an intern at NCEA this summer, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing how employees across the association integrate their identity as Catholics with their roles within the workplace. Every morning, we begin with prayer to recall the importance of starting our day in the presence of God, realizing our entire lives and every part of the workday is ordained by Him and for the advancement of His kingdom on earth.

Throughout the rest of the day, I have the opportunity to learn from the people with whom I work. The individuals at NCEA have already taught me many lessons about what it means to be true to whom God has authentically created them to be, simply by working in accordance with the traits God gave them and the Christian identity that guides their lives. I have seen a servant leader who strives to listen and asks the important questions. I have experienced the joyful kindness of a long-time employee. I have learned from an incredibly knowledgeable individual who acts with humility and helpfulness. I have discovered nuances of the association because of a thoughtful coworker who followed up after working with me.

I don’t just work with directors, representatives, coordinators, and managers. I work with people of service, joy, humility, patience and peace. These differences may seem like small things, but living a Christian life is often about the small, silent things that pull hearts slowly and surely heavenward.

Though subtle, these small movements are not lost on students, and I posit that they are instrumental in creating an environment where children are reminded of the importance of using their distinct natures and qualities to glorify God. How wonderful would it be if they notice how a teacher has made them feel welcome and try to imitate that trait when a new child joins the class? How rewarding would it be if they witness their custodian’s positive attitude and think to emulate that when they work on a tough assignment? When we talk to children about their future, how wonderful would it be if they mention their desire to be saints, to be people of praise, and to be servants of their parish and community in addition to serving in various jobs or roles?

Although I doubt that the question of “what do you want to be when you grow up?” will change, I do have faith that Catholic education is asking the question, “who do you want to be when you grow up?” through the actions of school staff, parents, clergy and religious. As we seek to educate our children to be both citizens of our world and citizens of Heaven, then, it is our duty to continue walking in a way that fulfills the work God has prepared for each of us.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10 RSVCE

Sweet Spirit: Educating for Freedom in Catholic Schools

The following blog was contributed by Dr. Brandi Odom Lucas, principal, and Karen Chambers, director of campus ministry, at Verbum Dei High School in Los Angeles. Dr. O.L. earned a Doctorate in Educational Leadership for Social Justice from Loyola Marymount University. She is passionate about how faith and culture enhance education, is a mom of three amazing humans and a super fan of students, educators and gospel music. In addition to her role in campus ministry, Karen Chambers, M.Div. also teaches theology. She earned her Master of Divinity degree in 2006 from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley.

There’s a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place,
And I know that it’s the Spirit of the Lord;
There are sweet expressions on each face,
And I know they feel the presence of the Lord.

 The above lyrics are to the gospel song Sweet, Sweet Spirit by Doris Akers. It describes the feeling I have when I walk on my Catholic high school campus each day. Which is why it pains me to say what I am about to say.

There is racism at your (and my) school. Hard Stop.

It is lurking in your classrooms, your curriculum, your handbooks, your locker rooms, your faculty rooms, and even in your relationships.

It is sneaky and camouflaged in phrases like:

“It’s our tradition.”

“We’ve always taught it this way.”

“We can’t become political. We are just a school.”

“They (students) are hearing that from their parents. What can we do about it?”

It threatens to disarm you with beliefs like:

“If I say something the board will get upset.”

“That parent is a donor and we need them.”

“I am white. What can I do/say about it?”

And it gains strength through your denial which can sound like:

“This is an isolated event.”

“I know the student’s family…s/he’s a good boy. He didn’t mean it like that.”

“Racism doesn’t exist at my school.”

There is racism at your school. Your job, as educational leaders (administrators and teachers), is to measure it regularly and extinguish it immediately. Any racism occurring in an institution opened in the name of Jesus Christ, a Catholic institution, is an abomination of God.

From the very first chapter in Genesis we learn that “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). Scripture doesn’t say God created some people in God’s image. Scripture shows us that every human is made in the image of God, inherently has equal dignity, and that it is imperative to take action when that dignity is called into question. In 2018, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a pastoral letter against racism entitled “Open Wide Our Hearts, The Enduring Call to Love,” in which they remind the faithful that, “Every racist act—every such comment, every joke, every disparaging look as a reaction to the color of skin, ethnicity, or place of origin—is a failure to acknowledge another person as a brother or sister, created in the image of God. In these and in many other such acts, the sin of racism persists in our lives, in our country, and in our world.” This sin of racism rejects the dignity of our Black brothers and sisters, and it works against the consistent ethic of life that Catholics believe vital to the faith. We deny God’s greatest gift to us – life – when we devalue the life of God’s children.

Catholic Social Teaching, which is based on Scripture and tradition, revolves around the central theme of “Life and Dignity of the Human Person.” The personal and social sin of racism violates the central theme of our moral and ethical foundation. Pope Francis recognized this when he stated in his general audience on June 3, 2020 (following the murder of George Floyd) that, “We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.” However, simply “not being a racist” is not enough. When we stand by and watch it without taking action, we are complicit at best. The U.S. Bishops recognize this when they say, “Finally, too often racism comes in the form of the sin of omission, when individuals, communities and even churches remain silent and fail to act against racial injustice when it is encountered” (“Open Wide our Hearts”). To stand by and do nothing is a sin. Our faith calls us to be disciples of Christ who recognize the dignity of all people, who stand with those on the margins, and who fight for justice. If we are not taking action against the sin of racial injustice, we are failing in our Christian faith, we are missing the mark, we are sinning.

Sweet Holy Spirit, Sweet heavenly Dove,
Stay right here with us, filling us with Your love.
And for these blessings we lift our hearts in praise;
Without a doubt we’ll know that we have been revived,
When we shall leave this place.

In the past, the tendency has been for us to designate spaces in our schools where Black students and students of color are comfortable to be themselves. Most times these spaces are found in the relationships with certain faculty members. And many times, those faculty members are also persons of color. Many schools have allowed these relationships to shoulder the sole responsibility of responding to, comforting and healing students who are facing racialized experiences in and outside our school. Recent responses from alumni of Catholic schools to “Black Lives Matter” social media posts indicate that those safe spaces are not enough to counter the trauma caused by unchecked racist practices in Catholic schools. Catholic schools must be the safe spaces for its Black students and students of color.

In order to become safe spaces for our students, Catholic schools must educate for freedom. This involves:

  • Showing commitment to shifting the consciousness of their faculty and staff. This is accomplished through challenging racial biases and residual white advantage at our schools.[1]
  • Affirming and acknowledging the identities, cultures, experiences and perspectives of their students of color.
  • Identifying, addressing and protecting all students against racialized experiences occurring within the institution especially in areas of curriculum, policy and stakeholder relationships.
  • Strengthening student’s ability to name their oppression and those of other marginalized communities using both theory and experience.

The result of the above commitments is a transformed student who is free to interact with and change their world. The schools that educate for freedom are better positioned to work alongside the student’s family and community to transform their self-concept and view of the world. The institution’s shift from an inactive-complicit approach to an active-healing approach helps to better prepare all students, especially Black students, for the world they will experience and positions them as active participators in that world. The Catholic school then assumes a countercultural position through its commitment to an education that heals and restores the damage caused by a society that devalues the lives, histories, contributions and experiences of Black people and people of color. Teachers and staff members become “care agents” who, through their critical teaching, “provide opportunities for deeper reflection and affirm students’ lived moments”[2]. 2 Corinthians 3:17 reminds us that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. To what degree does the Holy Spirit dwell in your institutions? How will you answer God’s call for freedom?


[1] Singleton, Glenn (2015). Courageous Conversations About Race. Corwin. Thousand Oaks, California

[2] Odom Lucas, Brandi, “Sweet Spirit: The Pedagogical Relevance of the Black Church for African American Males” (2014). LMU/LLS These and Dissertations, 205.

Ancora Imparo: Spiritual Reflections to Combat Racism in Catholic Schools

The following blog was contributed by Vincent Hale, music and theater teacher at Our Lady Queen of Angels School in New York, NY. For a more complete and in-depth understanding of Who, What, When, Where, and Why to respond to Racial and Social Injustice, check out his piece on the Partnership Schools blog.

As a Black male Catholic school educator and leader, ancora imparo—I am still learning. I am challenged to expand my knowledge, the capacity of my influence and the impact of my instruction, especially in the current state of our country, laced with violence, hate and systemic oppression. I have been wondering how I should respond to these heinous acts of police brutality against people of color and the requests of my white colleagues and friends for suggestions on how they support the Black Lives Matter movement.

In Start with Why, Simon Sinek prompts the reader asking, “Why did we start doing what we’re doing in the first place?” As educators we should ask, what policies, curriculum, systems, structures and routines implemented in my school advance or hinder racial justice? Scripture animates my educational philosophy. I get out of bed every morning to have a transformational impact on the lives of children and families through the power of music and theatre infused with love and joy. I encourage all Catholic school educators and leaders to return to their “Why?”

Through personal connections to scripture and individual relationships with God in prayer, He imparts infinite wisdom. The fruits of the spirit are the keys to overcoming the racism that devalues the image of God in others. We must access our faith to see people how Christ sees them. This process will require self-reflection, mindfulness, and being open to addressing all the thoughts and feelings that arise. Below you will find six scriptures with a probing question that support my version of “Why” to respond to racial and social injustice as it stands now, while ancora imparo.

  1. I Corinthians 12:15-26 NABRE
    “But as it is, there are many parts, but one body.”
    If I am in a position to hire, what practices do I employ to ensure diversity within my staff?
  2. Proverbs 22:6 NABRE
    “Train the young in the way they should go; even when old, they will not swerve from it.” Am I helping students learn from an early age that their voices, lived experiences and opinions are valuable?
  3. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 NABRE
    “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens.” How have I fed into the idea and perpetuated the effects of white privilege?
  4. Matthew 28:19-20 NABRE
    “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” How are my thoughts, words, actions, and character shaped by my environment?
  5. Colossians 3:13-14
    “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you.” How can I listen with the intention to understand without judgment?

I have been the victim and inflictor of racially charged biases on several occasions. White people, probably with good hearts, have unconsciously asserted microaggressions against me and I have done the exact same. The key is to acknowledge those missed opportunities for human connection and ensure we are prepared for an alternative response in the future. My hope is that this post points you in a clear direction of “Why” to commit to this work.

Student Voice Survey Series: ‘I can’t talk to my teacher in-person, so it makes my learning harder’

The following blog was contributed by Gretchen Guffy and Katie Gragnaniello.

What students are experiencing during the coronavirus outbreak while learning at home

This spring, we began the series on students’ perceptions of coronavirus with a blog summarizing the technological devices available to students at home as well as their internet access and quality. In this blog, we highlight students’ responses related to learning experiences at home.

Learning at Home

We asked students how well learning at home is going, online and otherwise, compared to when they attended school.

Overall, students expressed concern that their learning experience is not as effective as in classroom settings.

In late March, the majority of students (89%) reported a continuance of class-related work even when their schools were closed. And of those students, 95% reported receiving at least some form of instruction from at least some of their teachers.

However, the format differed depending on where students live. Rural students, in particular, reported receiving more printed learning materials and less access to online learning than counterparts in urban, suburban and other communities.

In all, 76% of students reported receiving online instruction for classroom materials, while 15% received printed instructional materials.

It was clear from their responses that students miss their access to informal, real-time teacher feedback and interaction with peers. Without this traditional approach, learning new material is difficult, particularly during the sudden shift to an online setting.

Comments from students reflect a range of concerns about learning without the physical presence and support of teachers:

  • “It’s a little harder to learn the material because the teachers are not actually present, and it’s all through the internet.”
  • “I feel like I’m not learning as efficiently and effectively at home rather than school. It is very hard to learn new topics at home without the instruction of a teacher right in front of you. I prefer learning at school than at home.”
  • “It is much harder to learn online especially when many teachers are not actually teaching, they are just dropping new materials. I am a person who needs physical interaction to be able to comprehend and learn well.”

New Normal

Students also expressed concern that they are not able to focus as well at home as they are in a classroom and feel less motivated. This creates challenges for maintaining academic success, which may impact further educational pursuits.

Thirty-seven percent of students said school closure will affect their academic preparedness “a great deal,” and another 51% said “somewhat.” Students clearly expressed strong preference for their traditional classroom setting.

  • “I feel more engaged and motivated in school than at home. It is harder to learn new topics at home.”
  • “Online classes do not take into account the attention span of teenagers and it is sometimes difficult to communicate with teachers outside of class or do online work when the internet cuts out.”
  • “It was better in school because it was easier to ask questions. Also, the school environment improved focus.”

Teachers are Essential

Our survey results highlight the importance of instruction and the significant role that teachers play in students’ ability and willingness to learn new materials.

For this reason, while CARES Act funding to states will potentially enable students to have greater access to technology (e.g., one-to-one devices and internet services), technology in and of itself will not wholly fulfill students’ academic needs.

Exploring ways to improve the delivery of online education—for example, funding professional development and support for teachers to conduct effective distance learning—will be a critical investment in our current environment as well as in the future.

ACT Student Survey Series

At least 55 million students are now learning at home after approximately 124,000 public and private schools have closed their doors due to the coronavirus.

ACT wanted to hear from students about their experiences during the pandemic. We invited 130,000 college-bound high school students who registered to take the national April or June 2020 ACT test to participate in an online survey. A total of 13,000 students participated between March 26 and April 1, resulting in a 10% response rate.

We sought to gather students’ responses related to…

  • the technological device and internet quality that they have access to at home for school-related activities.
  • how well they are learning at home and online compared to when they were in school.
  • whether their basic needs (e.g., housing, food) are being met during the pandemic.
  • their current living situation, including whether they are employed, need to care for others, or are home alone.
  • the types of health behaviors (e.g., eating healthy, exercising) they are engaged in during the pandemic.

Our Shining Moment

This blog post with a video was submitted by Frank Donaldson, author of 25 Lessons Learned in 25+ Years in Catholic School Development and the 25 Lessons Learned in 25+ Years in Catholic School Development WORKBOOK and his recent new publication, 15 More Lessons Learned in 30+ Years in Catholic School Development, available in the NCEA bookstore. Frank is the founder and president of the Institute for School and Parish Development (ISPD).

As a tribute to Catholic schools, the Institute for School and Parish Development (ISPD) has released a seven plus-minute video titled, “Our Shining Moment: Catholic Schools, March 2020 – June 2020.” From the time many Catholic schools switched from on-site to online education was like the blink of an eye – we never missed a beat. The mission of bringing Christ to people and people to Christ never faltered.

Our schools connected, taught and built stronger relationships. We educated our students and their families. Catholic school teachers and administrators – although challenging – stood up to the task and took on the mantle of true leaders. March 2020 – June 2020: this has been and will continue to be OUR SHINING MOMENT!

Watch the video at

Identifying the Gifts of the Crisis

The following blog was contributed by Clare Kilbane, Ph.D., a faculty member, senior learning designer, and Catholic school liaison at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame. Follow her on Twitter @ClareRKilbane

2019-20, like all school years, was chock-full of learning experiences. But, what was learned and by whom was dramatically different! The conditions of remote learning presented many new challenges for Catholic school students, parents, teachers, and administrators. But the adjustment each made to new methods, tools and modes of learning generated many powerful “take-aways.” Catholic school leaders who take the time reflect on what they have learned and invite others to do the same, will enable the recognition of some of the gifts of the COVID-19 crisis. Although the methods (e.g., interview, survey, reflection) and modes (i.e., private or shared) by which these reflections will be best generated will vary across group (e.g., student, parent, teacher, administrator) and context (e.g., type of community, level of school, etc.), the new insights identified are certain to be a blessing that will enrich an uncertain future.

Here are some of the questions that would stimulate reflection and growth for each group:

Students: What did you miss about school while you were learning remotely? Are there things you took for granted that you will value more when you return? What are they? What did you like/dislike about your remote learning experience? What was most memorable about the experience of learning from home? What experience(s) did you have while learning from home that made you feel a part of the school community? How did learning in a more individualized, self-paced environment work for you? Are there aspects of it that could be incorporated into a face-to-face learning environment that would benefit you? What made it difficult? What did you learn about how you learn? What works for you? What difficulties do you have learning? How did you grow in your ability to get what you need to be successful? What did you learn about yourself, your character and the unique person God made you to be? What role did your faith have in this experience? In what ways did you benefit from prayer or quiet reflection during this time? What other activities/experiences were beneficial to you? How might you incorporate all of these new understandings in the months and years to come?

Parents/Guardians: What did you miss about school while your child(ren) were learning remotely? Are there things you took for granted that you will value more when you return? What are they? What did you not miss about school or perhaps enjoy about remote learning? What would have helped you gain more reward and benefit from the time of remote learning? What knowledge, skills and others supports would you like to acquire to better support learning at home? What did you learn about your child while he/she learned from home? Specifically, what did you learn about his/her character, gifts, strengths, and weaknesses as a person? What did you learn about your child as a learner? What seemed to be helpful/challenging for him/her? What would you tell a teacher that could assist him/her in the future? What role did your faith have in this experience? In what ways did you benefit from prayer or quiet reflection during this time? What other activities/experiences were beneficial to you? How might you incorporate all of these new understandings in the months and years to come?

Teachers: What did you miss about school while remote learning was in place? Are there things you took for granted that you will value more when you return? What did you miss about face-to-face, classroom learning? What did you not miss? What did you like about remote teaching? What did you not like? How might you have been better prepared for this experience? What more would you have needed with regard to professional knowledge, skills, tools, etc.? What professional development would help you do better addressing social and emotional learning? What was difficult about planning, implementing, and assessing learning in this setting? What were the contributions of technology to remote teaching? What technology or skills were you surprised to be good at? Which do you need help building? How did technology affect relationships communication and community during remote teaching? What did you learn? How could this influence and improve future teaching? What will you do differently as you prepare for next school year? What did you discover about yourself, your abilities, and the unique person God made you to be? What role did your faith and prayer play in your perseverance through the crisis? What will you celebrate as you recover and move forward?

Administrators: What did you learn about the different members of the school community (students, parents, teachers, others) during this experience? What individual and collective strengths come to mind? What differences are there? What might be done to connect the community members in ways that strengthen and allow them to work together in positive ways? What were some of the surprises in this experience? What were some of the comforts or graces to be thankful for? What are some of the problems that surfaced to address moving forward? What will you do differently as you prepare for next school year? What will you incorporate into your direction and leadership for the future and what old practice will you discard or adapt for the new challenge of online schooling? What did you discover about yourself, your abilities, and the unique person God made you to be? What role did you faith and prayer play in your perseverance and success? What would you change if you were to do this again? What will you celebrate as you recover and move forward?

To be sure, the 2019-20 school year will be one long remembered. But in the future, maybe it won’t just be remembered as the year schools “pivoted” to remote emergency teaching due to a global pandemic. Perhaps, by engaging in thoughtful year-end reflection and incorporating the lessons of this analysis in planning for the future, we will remember this year as the one that transformed Catholic schools, students, families, and educators, for the better.

Every Student Deserves to Learn Something New Every Day

The following blog was contributed by Janette Boazman, M.S., Ph.D., associate professor of education at Constantin College of Liberal Arts, University of Dallas, and author of several NCEA Briefs on exceptional learners.

The last three months have been challenging, to say the least. I want to take this opportunity to commend the awe-inspiring work of Catholic educators and Catholic education leaders. The dramatic shift from in-class learning to distance learning forced upon teachers, students and families in March is unprecedented. Yet, as a collective body, Catholic school communities quickly orchestrated the change with determination, fortitude, resourcefulness, creativity and kindness. Catholic educators are beacons of hope for students and parents across our nation.

The summer months are upon us. As the summer season progresses and the carefree days of your well-deserved respite fade into planning for teaching in the fall, I challenge you to think about and plan for teaching and meeting the needs of the gifted learners in your Catholic school classrooms. During the recent shutdown, many students with exceptionalities, including gifted learners, have been without appropriate attention to their special needs. Not to anyone’s fault, these have been challenging times and there is a myriad of reasons educators and parents have had difficulty fully meeting all of the academic needs of all students.  Nevertheless, as a new school year begins in the fall, teachers must get back to attending to the various learner needs and meeting the needs of exceptional learners who have disabilities, who have gifts and who are twice exceptional.

It is not uncommon for gifted students to begin a new school year already knowing much of what will be taught in the months ahead. Teachers who find themselves with gifted students in the traditional Catholic classroom may have a tendency to subscribe to the myth that gifted students will be fine without attention to their special academic needs because they are smart. The truth is, when gifted students have to wait to learn because they already know what is being taught, or they learned what is being taught with little or no repetition, a window for potential motivational decline, development of poor academic habits and negative behavior opens for them. Moreover, when teachers observe students who are unmotivated, lack appropriate self-control and seemingly don’t study or do homework, they question and doubt the giftedness of the student. A gifted student’s potential can be permanently impacted if they lose motivation for learning, don’t acquire good study habits or get in trouble for acting out in school.

Another myth surrounding education for the gifted is the idea that it is more important to meet the needs of struggling students than it is to meet the needs of gifted learners. The truth is that it is important to meet the needs of both the struggling learner and the gifted learner. We strive for equity in Catholic education as schools increasingly work to meet the needs of diverse learners. An equitable learning environment is one where all students receive what they need to move forward in their learning. In an equitable learning situation, every student has opportunities to have new learning every day. There are common practices among teachers of having students who finish their work quickly read a book or help students who are struggling. We certainly want students in Catholic schools to develop a spirit of helpfulness, patience, acceptance and understanding of others but when gifted students spend most of their time in free reading, searching for something to fill their time or helping others in the class, the gifted student’s learning and development is not being advanced in a way that is equitable.

You are one teacher with limited resources, time, and energy. How do you rise to this challenge and meet all of the needs of students in the classroom? As you incorporate new teaching and learning practices into your work, especially if the practices may have some controversy attached, it would serve you well to share your plans with your principal so he or she can support you among your colleagues and in the greater school community.  It is beneficial to have coworkers who are like minded about differentiation and meeting the needs of gifted, not all of those around you will see things the same way. Seek out those people who have similar thinking and goals for their students, develop a support network for yourself and others, and share the information you acquire. Your colleagues will be appreciative.

Research based information and practices about teaching and serving gifted learners can be found at the websites for the National Association for Gifted Children, the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, and Hoagies Gifted Education. Lesson plans and teaching ideas for teaching gifted can be found at the Educational Resources and Lesson Plans page. Finally, NCEA has two briefs on gifted education and a large selection of books on topics surrounding gifted individuals is available at Prufrock Press.

7 things educators can do right now to support student growth and achievement

The following blog was contributed by Brooke Mabry, strategic content design coordinator, and John Cronin, PhD, senior research fellow, at NWEA in Portland, Oregon.

The coronavirus has turned the world upside down—especially for educators and the kids who count on them. As noted in a recent NWEA brief, students may return to school in the fall with only 50–70% of typical learning gains.

Dire as the situation is, there’s a lot we can do to mitigate the damage. Here are seven recommendations. Learn more about them on the NWEA blog, Teach. Learn. Grow.

1. Know your students before next year starts

Many students and families are experiencing trauma, from the loss of a loved one to the loss of a livelihood. Even for students lucky enough to avoid major trauma, these uncertain times won’t be forgotten easily. All these things may impact students’ ability to learn.

Authentic, supportive teacher-student relationships provide a strong foundation for learning. Encourage teachers to connect with their students and ask how they are.

2. Identify what standards and curriculum are interrupted by school closure

What content would students have been exposed to if schools hadn’t closed? Review each grade level’s scope and sequence from the time your school closed to prioritize the key standards, concepts, and skills to formatively assess and plan for in the coming year.

3. Make a plan to integrate priority standards and curriculum into next year’s scope and sequence

Decide how you’ll integrate important content from prior grades into the coming school year for those students who need it. Establish how you’ll continue to advance learning for students who are ready for grade-level instruction and beyond.

4. Assess priority standards as soon as the year starts

Have formative or teacher-developed assessments ready to go that are designed to identify the key skills and concepts from the prior grade that students are likely to have missed. Paired with prioritization of standards and adjustments to scope and sequence, formative assessment will help educators and students partner well.

5. Collaborate with colleagues to develop creative schedules that support flexible, small-group instruction

It’s highly likely assessments will reveal widely variable student learning needs. Plan to address differentiated instruction to maximize the targeted support students need.

6. If you are an NWEA partner, look to MAP Growth for help

The Learning Continuum linked to MAP® Growth™ can identify key concepts and skills students are ready to learn. Educators can also use it to connect student RIT scores to the likely missed skills and concepts from prior grades.

7. Reflect on and lean into what is already working

Hold steady, take inventory, and reflect on what has worked, both across the school year and now. Teachers, students, and families need an anchor, and holding firm on using the resources, products, and materials that are tried and true will provide just that.

About the Authors

Brooke Mabry has more than 17 years of experience in education and joined NWEA in 2016 as a professional learning consultant. She now serves as strategic content design coordinator of the Professional Learning Design team. Brooke began her career as a high school English teacher in Asheville, North Carolina, and holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in education from Western Carolina University. She also holds national board certification in adolescence and young adulthood English language arts. She’s deeply committed to fulfilling the NWEA mission, Partnering to help all kids learn.

John Cronin’s work focuses on helping teachers, administrators, and school board members improve their presentation and use of data in schools. He provides consultation related to testing issues and the use of data to the US Department of Education, Texas Association of School Administrators, New York State Council of School Superintendents, Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, and District Administration Leadership Institute. Dr. Cronin is an expert in data application and design, accountability and teacher evaluation policy, and issues related to testing ethics and integrity. He’s published articles on these topics in Phi Delta Kappan and NASSP Bulletin, and has been a featured blogger for HuffPost. Dr. Cronin holds a PhD in educational studies from Emory University.

Teachable Moments with Jesus: Using the TV Show The Chosen with Elementary Students

The following blog was contributed by award-winning author, speaker and teacher, Amy J. Cattapan. Follow her at

A few weeks ago, I shared how middle school and high school teachers can use the TV show The Chosen to introduce students to Lectio Divina. However, this new viral show about Jesus also offers ripe lessons for elementary students.

In particular, Episode 3 (which works as a standalone and can be viewed for free on YouTube) lends itself to many teachable moments applicable to young children. In that episode, we see Jesus just prior to His ministry. He has a small camp outside Capernaum where he is working as a craftsman when a group of children find and befriend Him. They assist Jesus in His chores while peppering Him with questions.

Jonathan Roumie, the devout Catholic actor who portrays Jesus in The Chosen and who taught first and second grade catechism years ago, said that the biggest lesson he hoped children would get out of Episode 3 is to not be afraid of God. “Our God is a loving God. He’s not an angry God,” said Roumie. “Children should feel that they can approach God with any questions that they have or anything that’s on their mind or anything that they’re unhappy about.”

After viewing Episode 3, kindergarten teacher Kathy Leisten from St. Maria Goretti School near Chicago loved the scene where Jesus sits down with the children in a setting reminiscent of a classroom. “The part where Jesus is teaching all the kids while they sit and ask questions is very powerful,” said Ms. Leisten, “and I loved the messages He sent.”

Part of that scene focuses on how a boy responded to a bully. The boy is upset that he was punished for pushing a bullying, and Jesus takes the opportunity to teach the children an alternative way to respond without resorting to an “eye for an eye.” When faced with a bully, Roumie explained, “Our first reaction is to get angry and to shove somebody. That’s where Jesus is calling us to a higher place. He’s calling us to a much greater attribute within ourselves that is often difficult to access, especially as a kid.” Roumie suggested that this scene could be used to teach kids to find ways to bring compassion into conflict and to find the fine line between defending yourself and being compassionate.

Ms. Leisten found several other scenes that offered teachable moments for history lessons. “I liked the part where the two kids first saw Jesus and how he was working on his wood projects,” Ms. Leisten explained. “It was an excellent visual on how people traded for goods. I would also show the scene where Jesus has work to do and how they help him—another excellent visual resource on what kids would have done back then for play and chores.”

Whether you’re using it for religion class, history lessons, or anti-bullying curriculum, Episode 3 of The Chosen will introduce children to Jesus as a loving and gentle teacher and help us all remember that we have a loving and merciful God.