Category Archives: Social Studies

Teaching tragedy


As an educator I have learned over the years that I am my best with students when I am not part of the story.  A skill which I know is not easy to come by or keep up as all to often my colleagues will look at me and almost seem confused how I do not  cry or break down when something tragic has happened.  This is not to say that I don’t dread a breaking news update because I do, especially when that update either directly impacts my school community or when it is on a global scale like the situation unfolding in the Ukraine and Gaza.

For those of you who my think , how can she call it a “situation” I say it  purposefully because my personal feelings on the event remain my own and I rarely if ever impart my own feelings on my students so I tend to avoid words like tragedy, horror,  horrific, terrible, awful, criminal, etc.  When you students from 8 – 10 different cultures sitting in a classroom, my political and socio views are simply that and to me the classroom is a place to form ones own views based on ones own moral and ethical belief system.

Facilitating such discussions can be difficult and I often find myself agonizing over exactly how to do it, how much information needs to be shared with students,  how much should be shared with students, and at times if should be discussed at all.  However, over time I have learned that ignoring local and global events only leads to ignorance and stifles change instead of fostering it.  Therefore, I urge my staff to teach these events responsibly and with as little bias as possible, letting the students form their own opinions by encouraging them to say what they think and talk about what they have heard.

Conversations like these are never easy.  Emotions can run deep.  You never know a student’s past.  I vividly recall someone casually making mention of the events in 2012 Aurora Shooting thinking the event was to far removed to have an affect on anyone she was speaking to.  Little did she realize my family was directly affected with a relative surviving the mass shooting.  It’s one of the many reasons I always encourage staff to proceed but proceed with caution as conversations tend to take their own direction.  Case in point – I recently had a staff member call me  to debrief after she allowed her math class to go often tangent completely to discuss cultural differences between her students.  The tension in the room grew difficult as some of her students have some very strong anti-American beliefs which she herself was quite surprised by (and certainly not the direction she was planning), but she supported each of her students, including the outspoken ones, in speaking up and provided a safe environment to do so.   The conversation allowed her students to see each other in a different light and to appreciate  each other differently.  Even if it meant agreeing to disagree.

The reality is global events like, the downing of flight MH17, the conflict is Gaza, weather related disasters like tornadoes, typhoons, and earthquakes, as well as more local ones personal to ones hometowns are probably not being overlooked by every child in your classroom.  They will have questions, concerns, and feelings.  They will seek answers when many times there are none and while many students may have parents or family to give them the opportunity to explore these thoughts and feelings, school provides a  platform for those who have not had the opportunity to do so and another platform for those who have to continue to develop their own opinions.

This infographic from The Helpful Counselor  puts a lot of the data surrounding global situations into perspective;


To support this kind of teaching, below are some links to resources that provides strategies and ideas.

The video below also touches on some ideas for teaching tragedy;


I have found that I have learned more about dealing with difficult situations from students then from anyone else I have discussed it with.  Often times their opinions are raw, unbiased, and filled with deep thought and honesty.  As an educator who promotes social justice and seeks to bring about  change providing a safe platform for students to explore the world around them, especially the difficult moments is a teachable moment indeed.

Special Populations

As an educator I find that more students are coming with to me with unique situations filled with roadblocks that challenge their learning. Whether it be a learning disability, sexual identity, language roadblock, or socio-economic disparity,  It seems like when I was growing up there were two kinds of students – general education students and special education students – and these two populations of students rarely mixed.  Nowadays, students with all kinds of classifications come together in a classroom and sit before a teacher, some vested in learning, others completely disinterested and others desperate  to learn but can’t for one reason or another.

The more I talk to other educators, the more I find that they have to consider so many factors when planning a lesson, not just the standards that their given districts are expecting their students to master by the end of the school year.

FInd resources to support the diverse needs of these special populations has become a focus of mine this summer as I begin to plan PD for the upcoming school year.  In the past, I have simply picked a topic to focus on, like engagement or assessment.  And while that has served me fairly well, I have come to realize that it has not met the needs of all the students that walk into my school each day.  Therefore, I have decided to dedicate a new page to following special populations which will include links to the resources I have found.  Hopefully others out there will be able to use these resources to support their own individual learners within their classrooms and schools as more and more of these students continue to need our attention and support.

Transgender Youth
English Language Learners
Students with Disabilities
At-risk Youth
Addressing the varying needs of boys vs. girls


So please feel free to click on a picture above, it will take you to one of the pages under my new tab on special populations and will have more links, websites, videos,  and strategies to support students that are classified in these special populations.  As I come across more resources I will continue to update these pages, so check back often.

I do believe every child is unique.  Every child wants to learn.  It’s just a matter of figuring out how to help them overcome their roadblocks so they can.  Sometimes we need to learn from them, we need to have our own teachable moment so we can give them successful teachable ones each and every day!

On an aside: As make sure you check with your local district or state for their most current policies regarding protected classes.  In New York Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) went into effect December 31, 2013. DASA training is now mandated for all educators.  Many districts now publish their policies under DASA or laws similar for their protected classes.  For example, NYC policy for transgender youth can be found here.

Supporting DoK (and Bloom’s)

If you have read any of my earlier posts on Bloom’s and DoK you know by now that I have long since filed Bloom’s taxonomy under the section in my brain as antiquated. Long since replaced along side some other education strong holds such as;

  • Differentiation (replaced with Entry Point into Learning)
  • Rigor (replaced with Stamina)
  • Aim (replaced with Learning Objective)
  • Questioning (replaced with Scaffolding)

The irony of these changes is that regardless of the word or phrase the goal is the same – in some way, shape, or form – supporting students in learning.  Which is why it could be very easy for someone to argue that DoK is just a new way of presenting Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Its just a new circle, with less words, the goal the same to take kids from the lowest level and bring them to the highest.  In the case of Bloom’s its to move from the bottom of the famous triangle to the little section on the top.  While in DoK it’s moving from one side of the circle all the way around to the other side, again moving students from the basic to the advanced.  And while I could spend hours and write paragraph upon paragraph on why I push my teachers to support instruction through the lens of DoK rather then Bloom’s, I rather post documents and resources that support teachers in the transition and or implementation of Webb’s Depth of Knowledge, especially when they hear their supervisor ramble on and on or quickly mention that the school is not going to use ” this wheel” instead of “that wheel.”🙂

So to that end and without further ado – some DoK resources (which I find are not as abundant on the web as material to support Bloom’s)

Hess’s Cognitive Rigor Matrixes – The matrixes (which are subject specific are a great tool to support lesson planning and development when implementing DoK)

DoK Descriptors Descriptors for subject areas outside of the ones on the Matrix (though I am including a descriptor for writing that is too good to ignore.)

Blooms and DoK (side-by-side) and more thisis a great visual to support transition from Blooms to DoK (from the website

Visual Supports – while I am sure there are many video’s this one is easy to follow and to the point

NYC DOE’s website has a lot of great resources beyond this video on implementing DoK

One of the best quotes that I keep seeing over and over about DoK is that DoK is not a “target” its the “ceiling.”  As educators, we want to push all our kids to reach the ceiling, not just aim for a target.  By doing so every moment becomes a teachable one and every moment becomes great.