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Background Information

Background Information

Marlyn Guillen
August 18, 2017
Background Information and Teaching Experience
            Presently, I am not teaching. I have taught in three school districts, two urban school districts and one rural county. I taught English/Language Arts to middle school students in two of the school districts and I taught in a self-contained Special Education Mild/Moderate classroom.
New Orleans Public Schools
            My first teaching experience was in an urban school district in 1997. This district, New Orleans Public Schools, was a unique school district to be employed with as a professional. Many of the schools posed a congenial atmosphere.  Quite often during the school year, the central office would post professional development activities for teachers and para professionals to attend. Each year we would be asked to attend several professional development workshops pertaining to our areas of concentration. Many times various departments would meet in teams (English/Language Arts, Social Studies, Science, Physical Education and Elective) to prepare, plan and deliver effective lessons for students of all levels, exceptionalities, and learning styles.
            The school system utilized a reading program entitled: Target Teach. Students were exposed to reading, writing and spelling. These skills were embedded into the curriculum. It was a hands-on approach to teaching.
            In the spring of 2003, the superintendent provided principals with two types of literacy programs to select from at their school. The schools utilized a variety of reading programs. The schools had ninety minutes’ literacy block in which the students received literacy instruction. All faculty members were teaching literacy to the students. The students were exposed to a variety of strategies and texts. Before Hurricane Katrina, during the 2003, 2004 and 2005 school years, there were Direct Instruction Schools and Success for All Schools. The superintendent wanted the principals’ input and buy in from the staff. The two literacy programs were Success For All and Direct Instruction. There were consultants of both literacy programs presenting the program to the staff. The principals along with the staff met to discuss and vote on the researched-based program. The school system was flourishing with resources and students functioning at higher levels in literacy. Teachers were highly trained in Direct Instruction or Success for all Reading Programs. Both of these reading programs are researched based programs. Direct Instruction is a general term for the explicit teaching of a skill-set using lectures or demonstrations of the material to students. Success for All is a primary literacy program, but it is also a school-wide reform initiative in which specific instructional process, curriculum enhancements and improved support resources for families and staff come together to ensure that every student acquires adequate basic language skills in pre-K through 2nd grade and that they build on these basic skills throughout the rest of elementary school. In Success for All there are several stages based on the students’ grade level. For example, Preschool: Curiosity Corner, Kindergarten, Kinder Corner, Grade 1: Reading Roots, Grades 2-6: Reading Wings, Middle Grades: Reading Edge and Middle Grades Power Teaching Math.
            Teachers were also trained in manually and also using the palm pilot DIBELS (Dynamic Indicator of Basic Early Literacy Skills). Teachers administered this assessment three times a year (Fall, Winter and Spring Semester.) DIBELS is a series of short tests to assess early childhood learning in grades K-6.
            The reading textbooks were basal textbooks. Basal readers are textbooks used to teach reading and associated skills to schoolchildren. Commonly called "reading books" or "readers" they are usually published as anthologies that combine previously published short stories, excerpts of longer narratives, and original works. In addition, the book company would provide the school with one hundred novels each year. Teachers would have assigned their students novels to read. In addition, teachers would also have assigned their classes several types of projects to complete such as power point, alternative book reports and dress like the character presentations.
            Most of the middle schools were departmentalized. Each class period was one hour and thirty minutes each day. Students would cycle from one class to the next class in intervals of one hour and thirty minutes.
            Chambers County Schools
            Two weeks after Hurricane Katrina, I began working in Chambers County. The county was a rural area in East Alabama. The students I taught in a rural county were in Valley, Alabama. The school was composed of African American students and Caucasian students. In addition, there were a small percentage of Asian students. The school is a Title I. School. The racial breakdown was approximately fifty percent Caucasian, forty percent African American, and ten percent Asian students. I have taught eighth grade, seventh, and sixth grade students. The principal always informed the staff to utilize the Alabama Course of Study. Each quarter, we had to submit the skills, lessons, and stories that we covered based upon the Alabama Course of Study. The activities had to address Speaking and Listening, Language, Reading Literature, Reading Informational Text, Reading Foundations, and Writing. My first year, I taught English/Language Arts. The following years I taught English Enrichment/Reading, and my final year I taught sixth grade English/Language Arts. I have had a lot of memories preparing the students for high stakes testing, meeting with teachers to plan for lessons that will assist students in achieving their goals. Prior to testing, the team along with the department had to create a plan of action that would assist the students in building their test taking skills. The assessments that principals, teachers, and support staff had to help prepare students for were SAT (Stanford Achievement Tests), ARMT (Alabama Reading and Math Test) and ADAW (Alabama Direct Assessment of Writing).   For the ADAW, I used the Four Square Method of teaching writing. The Four Square Method of teaching writing is a method primarily a visual framework for assisting students with formulating ideas in an organized manner prior to writing an essay. The students use a four square graphic organizer to respond to the writing prompt. In the center of the graphic organizer, the student must write the main idea of the topic. In the next square boxes, the students must write reasons, and transitional words above those reasons. Students would be exposed to the four different modes of writing. Those modes are as follows: Expository, Narrative, Descriptive and Persuasive. An expository essay explains the topic. A narrative tells a story. There is a beginning, a middle and an ending to the story. A descriptive essay describes the person, place, thing, or topic. A persuasive essay changes and convinces the reader’s perception of the topic. The students enjoyed responding to the writing topics.
            In addition, meeting with the principal, support staff and parents helped move the students in the right direction.
            I taught seventh grade English Enrichment in a middle school. One class period in particular I had fourteen students enrolled in my sixth period class. There ages ranged from 12-15 years of age. This class was my inclusion class. I had a diverse group of learners ranging from special education, regular education and gifted education.
            I have had students with Individualized Education Plans (IEP’s) that encompass modifications and accommodations ranging from additional time on assignments, preferential seating, peer tutoring, assignments read aloud, and behavioral contracts. I also have had gifted students in the classroom. The students in the classroom are diverse in ethnicity, gender, learning styles and learning abilities.
I determined instructional strategies in my lessons based on the needs of the students. I review all necessary documents such as the IEP (Individual Education Plan) provided by the collaborative teacher in the special education department. I also provide my students with important documents to complete.  In the beginning of each school year I have asked my students to complete Reading and Interest Inventories. This information became extremely helpful, because students were able to share with me how they learned reading. I used the information gathered to plan lessons tailored to the needs of my students. I planned lessons by reviewing the state’s English/Language Arts Course of Study, technology standards both at the state level and national standards, also reviewing data from students’ state’s assessments, and missed items on teacher made assessments to determine if I need to reteach a particular skill that students have not mastered. I also utilize projects both in and out of the classroom to promote synergy within the classroom.
            Effective Teaching and Learning strategies are essential in the classrooms. It is imperative for teachers to become well trained through professional development, enrolling in course work and researching various strategies that will help all students to become productive citizens in today’s democratic classroom.
            Orleans Parish Schools
            In 2011 I started working for Orleans Parish Schools. I worked at a high school my first year and for the next four years, I worked at a seventh through twelfth grade school. The school system organized several programs that would help students to grow and excel in school. The following programs and initiatives were promoted: STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), High Schools that Work, Really Great Reading, Achieve 3000, Compass Learning Odyssey, Performance Series, Write to Learn, SRCL (Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy) and Literacy Design Collaborative. The administration, support staff, and teachers were involved with additional professional development entitled: PLC (Professional Learning Community). A group of educators that meet regularly, shared their expertise, and worked collaboratively to improve teaching skills and the academic performance of students. The presenters would address information such as Annotation of reading text, analyzing data of specific grade levels in reading and math, reviewing a variety of data from three sources and comparing the data, reviewing growth and progress. In addition, many of the PLC’s required the participants to read educational articles, jigsaw with a partner to read certain segments of the article, and discuss important points.

High Schools That Work
          This initiative is the nation’s largest school improvement initiative for high school leaders and teachers. Its goals and key practices are to raise student achievement and graduation rates. In addition, it is to prepare students to become college bound and career ready in the twenty-first century. Teachers would attend professional development activities with this initiative. The conferences were extremely extensive and enjoyable. There were teachers from the southern and northern region presenting to the audience various lesson plans, activities, and strategies.
Achieve 3000
          Achieve 3000 is an Internet-based learning system that improves reading skills for students in elementary, middle and high school. It uses a proprietary software engine to deliver differentiated instruction directly to students. The program’s primary focus is on reading comprehension and vocabulary acquisition.
Performance Series
          Performance Series assessments are entirely web-based. The students take Performance Series testing in Reading and Math three times a year (fall, winter and late spring).
Compass Learning Odyssey
          This program includes lessons and activities that are built upon current and confirmed research about the way students actually think and learn. Odyssey software for elementary and secondary students makes differentiating and personalizing instruction easier, and its formative assessments and reporting tools help educators use real-time data to drive critical instructional decisions.
Pretests to assess strengths and needs and pinpoint skill gaps for each student
Automatically generated individualized learning paths
Engaging yet rigorous instruction delivered through reading passages, virtual manipulatives, videos, and animations
Alignment with Common Core and state standards
Full integration with Scranton Performance Series Assessments
Robust reporting tools to generate reliable data for instructional decision making
24/7 web access for desktop, laptop, or mobile device
Write to Learn
            Write to Learn is a fully automated online literacy tool for building writing skills and developing reading comprehension for students in grades 4-12. This innovative program provides engaging, cross-curriculum writing activities that students use to draft responses that are automatically scored. Students receive immediate, detailed feedback on their writing and have the ability to revise and resubmit drafts as they work to improve their writing skills. Write to Learn also provides students with reading passages to summarize and then evaluates their written responses for reading comprehension.
21st Century After School Community Learning Program for Students
          This program provided a linkage to learning. The after school tutorial program that intervened and enriched students. The program was designed to demonstrate that the trend of poor student achievement can be reversed and that all students can master academic standards if they are given time, support and instruction that focuses on their academic needs.  It will serve as an extension to the school day. Students that scored low average below average on Performance Series testing in reading and math are required to attend after school tutorial on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 3:30-5:30 P.M. The benefits of the after school tutorial sessions:
Student attitude and behavior will improve and self-esteem will be enhanced.
Student achievement and motivation for learning will increase.
Appropriate student behavior will be modeled and reinforced.
Tutors will develop an appreciation for the educational process.
Community awareness of the school and its needs will increase.
Tutors will derive personal satisfaction from becoming a significant person in the life of another person.
Enrichment Intervention for Above Level Students
          Students that score from High Average and Above Average Level in Reading and Math will utilize higher grade level workbooks and supplementary materials to enrich and enhance their skills in those areas.
Virtual Thesaurus and in Class Interventions done by Teachers in the Classroom
          Teachers will have students to utilize Virtual Thesaurus and in the classrooms. These tools will assist students in using antonyms and synonyms in their writing. This tool also provides definitions of the words. These virtual online web-based websites will enrich the students’ vocabulary.
          Jefferson Parish Schools
          During the fall of 2016 until the early spring of 2017, I worked in Jefferson Parish Schools. I was placed in a high school. I was exposed to another curriculum and testing format. The program that was implemented was Unique Learning. This program provided users with a plethora of resources. The program is theme based and interdisciplinary, which encompasses English, Reading, Math, Science and Social Studies. Unique Learning Students is online, interactive standards based curriculum especially designed for students with special needs. The students enjoyed reading the stories and responding to the questions.
Professional Development/Faculty Meetings
          The administrative team organized faculty meetings on a weekly basis along with Professional Learning Community meetings. The teachers would become actively involved with the activities planned. In addition, departments would meet to discuss effective classroom strategies that promote critical thinking for the students prior to testing. In addition, the presenters along with the facilitators would organize activities centered around preparing students for high stakes testing and spring testing. The types of standardized tests the students would prepare for are as follows: End of Course (EOC), American College Testing Program (ACT), and LAA 1. The LAA 1 is the Leap Alternate Assessment, Level 1 which was developed for students for whom there is evidence of a disability or multiple disabilities that significantly impact cognitive functioning and/ or adaptive behavior.

Learning Theories
            As an Educator of teaching and learning, I find that it is imperative to be knowledgeable of learning theories and theorists for the betterment of students’ success. According to research,
‚Äúlearning theories are the conceptual frameworks describing how knowledge is absorbed, processed and retained during learning. Cognitive, emotional, and environmental influences, as well as prior experience, all play a part in how understanding, or a world view, is acquired or changed and knowledge and skills retained.‚ÄĚ In education, superintendents, central office personnel, school administrators, teachers, teacher leaders, and support staff must incorporate innovative methods to help students learn. Innovative strategies that will build the students‚Äô cognitive skills, critical thinking skills, analytical skills, and conceptualizing a variety of texts.¬†
            There are a number of educational theorists that have made a large impact in today’s society. Those theorists are as follows: Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, and Howard Gardner. Each of these theorists have contributed to the field of education.
Lev Vygotsky
            Lev Vygotsky’s specialty was scaffolding. In scaffolding it is changing the level of support to meet the ability of the child. As a Reading Specialist, I would scaffold students in asking questions in chunks and breaking the level of questions for the students to understand. In addition, I would guide the students into thinking at a higher level. In addition, I would have them to think and look deeper into the text. 
            An educator by the name of Mrs. Houser provided eight helpful strategies and tips of building scaffolding. These are extremely effective for second language learners. Those tips are as follows: Visual and Realia, Modeling/Gestures, connect to Background Knowledge, Graphic Organizers, Sentence Structures/Starters, Read Alouds, International Small Group/Partner Work, Use of First Language.
Jean Piaget
            Jean Piaget was known for building schema. Schema is what a child already knows. Students connect new knowledge to an existing schema. Jean Piaget is also known for constructivism. In constructivism students learn by doing than by being told. When teachers deliver a lesson to students that activates the students’ knowledge through past experiences. According to research, building schema will help the child to comprehend the text (Navarro, 2008).  As a reading specialist I would build students’ schema prior to reading the assigned text. Students would easily become engaged prior to reading the text. In addition, I would have students engage in activities that promote learning by doing. Students would engage in hands-on activities that would stimulate their thinking.
B. F. Skinner
            B.F. Skinner is a theorist that is well known for positive reinforcement (praise, rewards and etc.)  which strengthens behavior or increases the likelihood that the behavior will be repeated. Negative reinforcement pushes a child away from a behavior.
            On many occasions, teachers have attended professional development activities pertaining to classroom management, giving students immediate feedback both verbally and in writing. The classroom management professional development activities dealt with providing students with positive feedback. It is imperative for students to receive positive feedback and recognition. Many behavior systems encourage teachers to have a token economy set-up for students to earn tokens and receive special rewards for displaying good behavior. In the past, I have used Banana Bucks System. If students displayed being responsible, resourceful and respectful in the classroom they would receive a banana buck. Also, if students submitted assignments and projects in class, they would receive banana bucks in the classroom. Once every other week students would be able to cash in their bucks. The big reward would be for students to earn a Banana Split. Students enjoyed receiving their special rewards, gifts and prizes. In addition, during the summer, if the class read an assigned novel, the students would receive a special designed cake in respect to the novel studied such as Standing Against the Wind and Chinese Cinderella. One year, the culminating reception entailed a congratulations cake, Mrs. Loretta’s Pralines, and Dominoes Pizzas.  This culminating exercise was extremely beneficial to the students. They had completed their summer program and their Performance Series Assessments.
Jerome Bruner
            Jerome Bruner is a theorist known for Spiral Curriculum. Children can tackle challenging topics in age appropriate ways. These topics can be revisited and expanded upon later years. 
            Back in 2014, a group of teachers for the Orleans Parish School system wrote  English/Language Arts Curriculum Catalogs that embedded the Common Core Standards. There was an Elementary, Middle School and High School component. Each of the curriculum catalog guides promoted critical thinking skills. Many of the teachers were impressed with the level of lessons, activities, and strategies for the teachers to use as they instruct the students. 
Benjamin Bloom
            Benjamin Bloom is well known for Blooms Taxonomy. In Blooms Taxonomy there is a hierarchy of learning objectives starting with knowledge base and growing to the complexity of evaluation. Every college of education exposes their prospective teachers to Blooms Taxonomy. It is imperative for teachers to become knowledgeable of Blooms Taxonomy because of the levels of questioning. In addition, the verbs are used in the objective component. Teachers need to be aware of the levels of questioning as they build the students’ schema and provide scaffolding in their lessons.
Howard Garner
            Howard Garner is an educational theorist that discusses multiple intelligence. Humans have several ways of processing information (musical, visual, verbal and logical). It is important for teachers to provide their students with activities that build their multiple intelligence.
            According to research, Howard Garner provides learning activities that promote multiple intelligence for English/Language Arts. Those activities (Cornell, D. 2017)  are as follows: Completing crossword puzzles, Playing games like Scrabble, Scrabble Junior, or Boggle, Writing short stories for a classroom newsletter, Writing feature articles for the school newspaper, Writing a letter to the editor in response to articles, Writing to state representatives about local issues, Using digital resources such as electronic libraries, desktop publishing, word games, and word processing, Creating poems for a class poetry book, Entering their original poems in a poetry contest, Listening to a storyteller, Studying the habits of good speakers, Telling a story to the class, and Participating in debates (page 1).
Cognitive Learning Activities
            According to research, cognitive learning theory is a broad theory that explains thinking and differing mental processes and how they are influenced by internal and external factors in order to produce learning. As an educator, it is imperative for teachers to utilize strategies that will transcend the learning of all types of students and be able to differentiate instruction with all learners.
Cognitive Learning Activities are essential for students to gain and retain concepts. Each student learns at a different rate and is able to attain information based on his or her learning styles.  It is essential for teachers to employ a variety of cognitive learning activities in the classroom to increase student learning. As a former English/Language Arts teacher, I have implemented a variety of teaching strategies that would build the students’ cognitive learning in the classroom. For example, building awareness of figurative language I would introduce to the students’ various forms and styles of poetry. While introducing the different styles of poetry, I would have the students analyze, interpret and synthesize the poems. I also would have the students look for poetic devices in the poem, the meaning of the poem and how would this poem connect to their personal life.
Building Community in the Schools
            Back in 2003, the school principal, faculty, and staff orchestrated a technology night. Prior to technology night, the students received flyers to give to their parents. This technology night was outstanding!  The students were truly engaged in broadcasting their technology connected work. Yellow balloons and favors were available on the first floor for the parents. The students’ work was out on display in the hallways and the classrooms. A group of students were actively engaged on the computers. In addition, parents were able to sign up to receive email addresses. The outcome was extremely great! There were parents, students, faculty, and staff along with community members at the technology night.
            To conclude, I have utilized a variety of methods and best practices previously based on on the district’s initiatives, research based practices from educational literature, professional development from the school district or offered through the county. All of the programs mentioned above have enhanced students learning, increased students’ academic achievement and improved students’ scores. The Success For All, Direct Instruction, Four Square Writing, Play Doh Writing, High Schools that Work, Achievement 3000, Performance Series, Technology and, Unique Learning have been essential in the schools to promoting students academic growth.

            Navvaro, A. 2008. Building Schema for English Language Learners. Retrieved at and available online at:
            2017. Cognitive Learning Theory. Retrieved at and available online at
Learning Theory Education. Retrieved at and available online at
            Eight Strategies for Scaffolding Instruction. Retrieved at and available online at
            Connell, D. 2017. Clip and Save Checklist: Learning Activities That Connect With Multiple Intelligences Retrieved at and available online at:

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