Apply to Join the 2014 Dream Team

Watch this short video to learn how to apply to the 2014 LearnZillion Dream Team.


LearnZillion is looking for 200 exceptional educators to join the 2014 Dream Team. If you are a teacher who wants to broaden your impact, learn from content experts, and challenge yourself in new and exciting ways, then this is the professional development experience for you. Watch this short video to learn more. Apply today at

Austin’s Butterfly – The Transformative Power of Student Work Examples

One of our all time favorite videos is Austin’s Butterfly, Ron Berger’s incredible piece on the power of critique and multiple drafts in moving students toward excellence. In it, you see how persistence, feedback, and practice feed into one student’s drawing of a tiger swallowtail butterfly – allowing both the artist and his art to evolve into something more advanced than many of us would perhaps think a regular first grader could produce. And yet… if you watch the video, you will be amazed how possible excellence can be when examples of student work are combined with thoughtful feedback.


Austin's Butterfly.  The final draft was always within him. It just needed to find a way out.


To learn more about how to give good feedback, check out this video on coaching. To get some ideas about how to incorporate these ideas into your own practice, check out this fantastic post from the UK on Creating a Culture of Critique.

Delaware Names 34 Teachers to the Delaware Dream Team

We’re excited to announce that the 34 members of Delaware’s inaugural Dream Team have been announced!

(To recap – Delaware selected LearnZillion to lead the state’s professional development offering over several other much larger and more traditional companies last fall.)

Details of Delaware’s Press Release below – Stay tuned for news from Delaware’s TeachFest, to be held January 9-11, 2014.

For immediate release


Contact Alison May (302) 735-4000


Thirty-four teachers from across the state will join the Delaware Dream Team, helping to develop high-quality Common Core formative assessment items that will be shared with teachers throughout Delaware.

Members will collaborate in small groups with fellow teachers and Common Core coaches from across the country to create resources, receive feedback and learn together. They will share their professional development experience with colleagues to further broaden their impact.

“The 2014 Delaware Dream Team is both an opportunity to recognize some of the state’s most accomplished teachers and a challenge to those individuals to continue to grow, to make collaboration an integral part of their practice and to create high-quality materials that will help teachers and students across our state — and around the country — be successful,” Secretary of Education Mark Murphy said.

The team will convene January 9 to 11 for Delaware’s TeachFest, a unique celebration of great teaching and an intensive, structured working session. Following TeachFest, the Delaware Dream Team members will return to their 31 elementary, middle and high schools to continue working with peers and content coaches in online professional learning communities. During this process, the Dream Team members will translate their proven teaching methods and classroom expertise into formative assessment tools and resources for use by teachers in Delaware, and around the country, through a free Common Core resource library.

The Delaware Department of Education is partnering with LearnZillion on this project. This summer, LearnZillion worked with 200 teachers from 42 states to create more than 10,000 high-quality, Common Core resources in math and English language arts. They are featured on the LearnZillion website.

“We couldn’t be more excited about working with Delaware,” said LearnZillion CEO Eric Westendorf. “[Delaware leaders] really understand that teachers are the most important factor in student learning, and that the traditional model of ‘sit n’ get’ professional development doesn’t work. They are choosing to do what all the research on talent development recommends – namely, to support professional growth by providing deep practice of do-able, bite-sized tasks. We’re so energized to help make that happen.”

Members of the 2014 Delaware Dream Team, who each will receive a $500 stipend, were selected through a competitive application process evaluating both their understanding of the Common Core State Standards and their desire to “scale their impact” beyond the walls of their own classrooms. The teachers themselves represent a wide spectrum of grade bands, with 22 from English language arts and 12 from mathematics disciplines.

Members of the 2014 Delaware Dream Team

Members of the 2014 Delaware Dream Team


3 Tips for Approaching Close Reading

This post was written by Posie Wood, LearnZillion’s Director of Professional Learning and Community.

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Use these tips to help you analyze texts in preparation for close reading with students.

As teachers, we know that leading effective close reading with complex texts starts long before you’re standing in front of students. In order to guide students toward a deep understanding of a text, we first need to understand that text deeply ourselves. However, text analysis is a muscle that many of us haven’t flexed since our college or high school literature classes. Use these three tips to help you get started:

1. Take off your “teacher hat”: Read as an adult

Once you’ve selected the text for your close read (see these excellent resources on text complexity and selection from Student Achievement Partners and CCSSO), your first step is to read the text multiple times. We always encourage our teachers to start by “taking off their teacher hat” and enjoying the text and its offerings as an adult reader.

As you read, ask yourself:

  • What sections or moments of the text speak to me?
  • What choices did the author make about introducing information or telling the story?
  • Are there parts where I need to slow down or reread? What caused me to do this?
  • Why did the author write this text in this way?

Annotate the text as you go, noting significant craft moves, the message of the author, the impact of characters, setting, symbols, words, key ideas, the relationships between ideas, and the way in which the author shared information.

(Check out these examples of how our Dream Team teachers annotated their texts: The Tell Tale Heart, We Grow Accustomed to the Night, Play Ball!, and My Name is Alex)

2. Put the hat back on: Read with your students in mind

Now that you’ve had a chance to process the reading on a personal level, it’s time to see the text through the lens of your students and the Common Core ELA standards.

Reread the text, this time, asking yourself:

  • What is the big takeaway you would want a student to understand after studying this text?
  • Which parts of the text are most challenging? Where will students struggle the most? Why?
  • What moments or ideas in the text are worthy of further exploration? Why?
  • What is left unsaid in the text? Are there voices that are missing?
  • Are there opportunities to teach academic vocabulary? Are there domain-specific terms critical to understanding the text?
  • How does the author’s word choice impact the tone and meaning of the text?
  • What choices did the author make about how to convey information or tell the story? What is the effect of these choices?
  • What does the text simply “scream” for you to teach?
  • What Common Core ELA standards seem particularly well suited to teach using this text?

3. Two heads (or more!) are better than one: Do a “Text Talk” with your colleagues

Understanding text is hard work and, as you’ll remember from high school and college-level English classes, discussion and exchange is a critical part of making meaning of text. “Text Talks” with colleagues are a fantastic way to kick off your close reading planning process. Reflecting on the questions above as a group will spark conversation, debate, and allow you to see new perspectives, which will set you up for leading a nuanced close reading with your students.

And there you have it: our 3 top tips for approaching close reading. Wondering what next? Now that you’ve marinated in your text, your next step is to develop a list of text-dependent questions worthy of exploring with your students – more on that in our earlier post on creating great text dependent questions.

Common Core Lesson Plans: Crafting Great Text-Dependent Questions for your students

This post was written by Posie Wood, LearnZillion’s Director of Professional Learning and Community.

Common Core Lesson Plans, Text Dependent Questions, Common Core

This blog post outlines steps you can take to write powerful text-dependent questions.

Text-dependent questions are one of the cornerstones of close reading. You can see them in action in our close reading lessons, each of which model asking and answering a text-dependent question. But crafting questions that are text-specific, that help your students understand the text more deeply, and that create opportunities for them to master the Common Core ELA standards is challenging and takes practice.

But first things first. What are text-dependent questions?

Text-dependent questions are questions that can only be answered by referring to the text itself. They do not necessitate outside experiences or background knowledge to be answered but they do require students to use evidence from the text to support their answers. But more than that, text-dependent questions are written in carefully sequenced sets with the goal of shepherding students towards a deep understanding of the text. Along the way, text-dependent questions should focus students’ attention on the challenging sections of the text, ideas or moments that warrant more time and exploration, major craft moves, and critical vocabulary words. For more on text-dependent questions, check out Student Achievement Partners’ text-dependent questions guide.

Here are a 6 steps you can take to craft text-dependent questions on your own:

1. Understand your text

Before you dive into writing questions, your first step is to make sure that you understand the major ideas or themes in your selected text. We’ve found it’s important to actually put this into writing to help crystalize the big takeaways that you want to make sure students get from the text. You should also identify key vocabulary words, significant craft moves, and sections of the text that are challenging or worthy of further study. Check out this post on how to analyze and understand your text in preparation for close reading.

2. List your questions (all of them)

By now, you’ve spent a lot of time with the text and are ready to start writing questions. We like to start by simply generating a long list of questions. Initially don’t worry too much about getting the exact wording or perfect number of questions. Rather, focus on capturing your ideas.

3. Answer your questions

Crafting a text-dependent question alone is not enough. Knowing what constitutes high quality response to that question is equally important, but too often, we see teachers skip this critical step. Why does it matter? Frequently, answering your own question will unveil additional layers of meaning in the text or new levels of purpose behind the author’s craft. And forcing yourself to write the answer may reveal that the ideas you really want students to explore are in fact different from, or not addressed by, the original question you wrote. As you answer your questions and get more clarity around what you actually want to ask, you should begin to revise and refine your questions.

Answering your text-dependent questions is also important because it allows you to fully experience responding to the question and will give you a window into what you’ll need to teach. As you write your answer to the question, track your own metacognition by asking yourself, “What are my students going to have to know and be able to do in order to answer this?”

4. Align and revise your questions to the ELA Common Core Standards

Next, it’s time to compare your questions and responses to the Common Core Standards for ELA to determine which standard(s) they address. See our earlier blog post on analyzing the Common Core ELA standards here. As you complete this alignment, you may see that certain questions need to be tweaked in order to really meet the standards for your grade level. You might also notice that some of your questions are too sophisticated or too simple for your grade. That’s okay. While these questions may not make the final cut, you’ll want to hold onto them in order to provide extension and scaffolding to students in the future. Make sure that your list of questions covers a range of standards and includes questions that both focus on specific parts of the text as well as consider the text as a whole.

5. Sequence and narrow your list of text-dependent questions

Great text-dependent questions come in thoughtfully sequenced sets that guide a student through the text and build from simple to complex. The best way to start sequencing your questions is to identify the one or two questions that unlock the text’s big ideas, themes, or takeaways. These should address the culminating understandings you want to make sure students come away with. Next, backwards map your questions from these ending points, cutting a clear pathway of understanding from basic levels of meaning to the abstract subtleties of the text.

6. Evaluate your text-dependent questions 

Once you have your sequenced list of questions, it’s time to do a final review to make sure your questions are text-dependent and high-quality. We use Student Achievement Partners’ Checklist of Evaluating Question Quality for this step. While it’s great practice to review your own questions, it’s even better if you can swap with a colleague to get an extra set of eyes and additional feedback on your work.

Though challenging, writing worthwhile text-dependent questions is a lot of fun and, once you start using them to help your students access complex texts hugely rewarding. To see interlocking text-specific questions in action, check out LearnZillion’s close reading lesson built from the Common Core standards in your grade.

3 Steps to Understanding Your Common Core ELA Standards

Here at LearnZillion we’ve spent a lot of time with our Dream Team teachers digging into the Common Core ELA standards, and we hope this post can serve as a useful guide to you. Our three steps are:

Common Core Lesson Plans, ELA, English, Common Core Standards

Step 1. Do a vertical analysis of the standards

The ELA standards were written in a continuum, backwards mapped from anchor “College and Career Ready Standards.” In order to understand their expectations, you need to look vertically across that continuum to understand not only the foundational knowledge assumed from previous grades, but also the skills and understandings you’re setting students up for tackling in the future. It’s important to spend time both examining a your grade band (the grades immediately above and below your own) as well as a larger grade span (for example, kindergarten through fifth grade) so that you can really see how the standards spiral together. We like this version of the standards because it allows you to read the standards across three grades at a time.

Step 2. Notice shifts in key nouns and verbs

It’s important to look beyond just “what’s new” in your grade level to notice the language used in the standards themselves. Pay close attention to shifts in the nouns and verbs, as we’ve noticed that even seemingly subtle distinctions between grade-levels can reveal major changes in expected student outcomes. The language of the standards also provides a framework for the vocabulary you will use as you write objectives, lessons, and model for your students.

Here, for example, is an analysis that looks at Reading Informational text Standard Three in grades three through five. We’ve highlighted some of the key differences in each grade so you can see this for yourself.

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Learn how to analyze standards across grades and more in this post

Notice that third grade students must describe certain types of relationships using time, sequence, and cause/effect language. Whereas in grade four, students move from describing to explaining (including what, how, and why) key procedures, ideas, or concepts drawing specifically on what the text says. Meanwhile, in fifth grade students are expected to use all of those third and fourth grade skills to explain multiple relationships or interactions using specific information from the text.

The following questions can help guide you as do this for yourself around other standards:

  • What are the verbs and nouns in the standard?
  • How do they change?
  • What does that shift mean for teaching the standard in a particular grade?
  • What is the expected student outcome teachers will be held accountable for at that grade?
  • How might students demonstrate mastery of this outcome?

Step 3. Analyze examples of the standards in action

The goal of this step is to build an understanding of what the standard really “looks” like. It’s one thing to see a list of expectations on paper, but quite another to turn that into meaningful lessons, exemplar student work, and thoughtful formative and summative assessment tools. Luckily, you’re not on your own! Below is a list of some of our favorite places to find high quality examples of the Common Core English Language Arts Standards in action:

  • LearnZillion video lessons – LearnZillion’s reading and writing video lessons model how to approach close reading and crafting evidence-based written responses. For example, check out this series of 10th grade videos on The Tempest by Mark Anderson, watch Leigh Pourciau model analyzing a nonfiction article for 8th graders here, or see how Jennifer Reynolds leads a third grade close reading of The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
  • Student Achievement Partners’ ELA/literacy lesson bank—Founded by many of the authors of the Common Core, Student Achievement Partners has worked with teachers around the country to develop high quality ELA lessons and resources.
  • Examples of student work—Find annotated examples of student writing in all grade levels and genres in Common Core Appendix C and Student Achievement Partners’ student writing sample collection. You can use student work for your own study of the grade-level application of the standards as well as for an example to use to model with your students.
  • Literacy Design Collaborative’s template task collections— In order to accurately assess our students’ writing and understanding of text, it is imperative to craft assignments that offer students the opportunity to practice the skills you’ve taught. Use these collections of text-based prompts (which you can modify and adapt to suit your needs) to better understand how to craft creative and meaningful writing assignments that are anchored by text(s).

Shifting to the Common Core English Language Arts Standards will take time and practice. Use the three steps above to help you begin your journey or as a refresher before planning your next unit. And don’t forget another critical element for success: collaboration with your colleagues. Make your vertical analysis of the standards a group discussion—you and your colleagues will benefit by sharing your understandings, experience, and expertise.

9 Ways to Use LearnZillion with Students

We’ve built LearnZillion’s free resources to support teachers, students, and parents. To that end, here are the nine most popular ways LearnZIllion is already being used to drive student learning and maximize positive student outcomes.

Learn about the most popular ways to use LearnZillion with Students

Learn about the most popular ways to use LearnZillion with Students

Before class you can…

1) Review prerequisite knowledge

Use a Quick Code to jump start your introduction to new concepts or standards by assigning videos that address your lesson’s foundational knowledge and skills before students arrive for class. This not only helps to reactivate prior knowledge, but also preemptively addresses lingering learning gaps from previous grades or units.

Quick Code on a LearnZillion lesson page

Quick Code on a LearnZillion lesson page

2) Pre-teach concepts on an individualized basis

Rather than assign the next day’s lesson to the entire class, you can assign “pre-work” to certain students to ensure they have a leg up on tricky concepts. For those students with concept or skill-gaps, pre-teaching can help to increase student engagement and understanding of your lesson the next day. Plus, this “pre-work” can build student confidence (suddenly, they’re already familiar with what you’re teaching), and seed “peer experts” or helpers within your room.

3) Flip the classroom

Maximize the amount of time your students have for exploration, discussion, and project-based learning by front-loading your direct instruction. Select the LearnZillion lesson or lessons that address the key instructional concepts, assign them to your students, and center the next day’s plan around a meaningful problem, discussion topic, task, or project. Spend the first few minutes of class clarifying any questions students still have after watching the video, then dive into your higher-order activity.

It may take a while for students (and you!) to transition to this new routine, so you’ll want to provide them with plenty of modeling and empower them to come prepared to ask questions.

You may want to use LearnZillion’s notes template (which can be found on each lesson page) to promote strong study habits, focus, and accountability.

During class you can…

4) Drive whole group instruction

Switch-up your direct instruction with a LearnZillion video. As you play the video for the class, strategically pause or re-watch the video at key moments in order to check for understanding, solicit student reactions, and allow students the chance to solve problems before seeing the answer modeled.

Lesson videos do more than provide a change of pace for you, as a third grade teacher at Hyde Addison School in Washington, DC recently told us, “My students found it more engaging hearing someone else’s voice.”

Additionally, the videos enable dynamic visuals — such as the volume of melting ice pictured in this lesson — that can strongly articulate the concept and further engage students.

5) Focus small group work or centers

Turbocharge centers or small group instruction by anchoring student work with a relevant lesson video. Whether the goal is direct instruction, group review, practice, or extension, you can use quick codes to set a targeted group agenda and focus student work. For each Common Core math standard, we also have a library of practice problems that students can tackle independently online, or collaborate to complete via a paper handout.

6) Coordinate with colleagues 

Use LearnZillion to create a consistent and rigorous instructional environment for your students throughout your building. Find the LearnZillion lessons that support your instructional goals for the week, and share the relevant quick codes with other colleagues who work with your students. This way, you can ensure that regardless of whether they’re going to a pull-out class, physical education, art, recess, or an RTI block, your students will be getting con sistent reinforcement, support, and messaging from all of the adults around them.

After class you can… 

7) Differentiate your instruction

Respond to data from your formative assessments by creating customized playlists for the students or small groups in your class. After you’ve analyzed your formative data and identified learning gaps or areas that need additional reinforcement, use LearnZillion’s Common Core Navigator to find the target standard, and then narrow the list by finding the lesson objective that fit your students’ needs. Once you’ve assigned a custom playlist, students can log into their LearnZillion account to watch videos at home, during computer lab, centers, or study hall.

8) Support homework

Assign videos to provide your students with clear and conceptual scaffolds to help them tackle homework assignments or independent projects. Use these videos to clarify the key concepts or provide background knowledge or review to support your assignment.

9) Engage and empower parents

Increase parent involvement and engagement by providing a window into the standards and concepts you and your students are tackling in the classroom. By sharing the lesson quick codes for your current classwork or unit of study, you’ll not only provide your parent community with transparency around the Common Core Standards and your expectations, but also empower them with a useful tool to support learning at home.

So there you have it: the nine most popular ways to use LearnZillion with students.

Let us know how you’re using LearnZillion – we’d love to feature your success stories and share your tips with the rest of the LearnZillion community!