Ways to help parents understand the Common Core

Many parents are eager to take a proactive and productive role in student learning.

To help you out, we hosted a conversation between Eric Westendorf, CEO and co-founder of LearnZillion and Greg Mullenholz, former teacher, coach, 2013 Dream Team member, and current principal in Montgomery County Public Schools, to discuss some practical actions teachers can take to engage parents. Highlights include 5 tips on how best to share resources and specific ways to support student learning in light of identified gaps or advanced student needs. We’ve summarized some of their main points in the blog post below.


How can LearnZillion help Parents?

  1. Help them understand the standards
  2. Help with homework
  3. Support struggling students
  4. Accelerate bored students

For more, check out this blog post: Parent Resources: 4 Ways to Support Your Child’s Learning with Instructional Videos.


What’s the best way to share?


1. Email:

Send parents the Common Core content their child needs to master via URL, Quick code, or use the assign feature.

On LearnZillion we’ve made resource-sharing easy. You can simply copy and paste the URL or quick code of a video lesson and email it to parents. You can also directly assign math content or ELA content to students to complete for homework; parents can help their child complete this work at home.

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2. Letter Home:

Tell parents HOW they can use the resources available on LearnZillion.com

Sometimes paper is still the best medium to communicate with parents. Simply download this letter, customize the yellow portion to the standards your students learned that day and voilà, your students’ parents are ready to access the content online.

Click this image to download the parent letter and customize it to your class

Click this image to download the parent letter



3. Text:

Use a service like Reminder 101 or Edmodo to text parents video lesson quick codes

Quick codes – short six digit number attached to each lesson – allow teachers and parents to easily access lesson content by typing the code into any search bar on LearnZillion.com. Remind 101 allows you to text these codes to parents with the click of a button. We’ve seen parents watch these videos on their phone while waiting to pick up their children at school, or during a quick 5-7 minute break in the middle of the day. It’s a great method to bring parents closer to their children’s education amidst their already busy schedules.

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4. Create a context:

Make it easy for parents to take action.

It’s not enough to just give parents resources. Ease of use matters; the directions you give to parents should be as bite-sized and targeted as possible. Give parents a specific lesson that will best help with homework. Suggest how they can use the video with their child. Creating context can give parents confidence that they are supporting their child in the right ways.

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5. Use as basis for math or ELA night:

Share this information with parents through an in-school educational session.

Consider using LearnZillion content as a basis for a math and ELA night. These nights – organized for parents, students and teachers for topic-specific support – are a great way to demonstrate effective practice of parent involvement. Model what it looks like to find a lesson, talk about a lesson, work on homework using the lesson, and take notes. You can kickstart a habit so that parents and students can feel comfortable using the resources without the teacher present.

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These are some good steps to consider the next time you try to engage parents. Have any other ideas? Leave a comment below. And thanks for forwarding this post along to your friends and colleagues.

4 ways Coaches can use LearnZillion videos

This post was written Lisa Bernstein who has spent the past fifteen years working in schools, both in the classroom and as a literacy coach in Washington D.C.

Teacher Collab

Build your teachers’ confidence and capacity by using instructional videos in these four ways:

1. Anchor a discussion on effective lesson content

Despite our best intentions, teachers sometimes perceive coaching as mere criticism. Anchoring a coaching session around video lessons makes it easy for coaches and teachers to sit on the same side of the table (both literally and figuratively) and evaluate a lesson together. Whether a teacher decides to emulate or avoid the choices shown in the video, teacher and coach can make a deliberate choice about instruction based on a model. TIP: Ensure that your lesson has well-researched content; learn about our rigorous research method in making LearnZillion lessons here.

Payoff – enriches the coach-teacher relationship around content through collaboration

2. Search for specified content

A vast library of video lessons gives teachers and coaches the ability to explore granular content areas segmented by subject, grade, topic, and even specific standards. On LearnZillion.com we enable this type of dynamic searching with our 3 ways to find resources.

Payoff – find the exact resource you need, quickly

3. Enable job-embedded PD 

Teachers can watch a 5-10 min video lesson as a form of micro-PD. Lessons provide both pedagogical and content to improve teacher practice and knowledge as well as increase student learning. Coaches can suggest this method so that teachers can efficiently digest their learning over time.

Payoff – effective use of time

4. Translate directly to practice

Video lessons can be directly adapted to classroom practice, or even used directly with students as whole class instruction, small group or individual support for a particular skill.  Video lessons can be the focus of an activity center or even assigned as homework.  (Link: post on 9 ways to use video lessons with students)

Payoff – translate your own learning into student results

Trying something new in any context can be tough!  For teachers, the opportunity to see a lesson taught in a different way oftentimes will increase his or her confidence to try something new in their practice.  So try our new Common Core Aligned lessons in your coaching.

Any other ideas for how coaches can use instructional videos? Share them with us at feedback@learnzillion.com

Save time and streamline your planning with LearnZillion Lesson Plans

Hear from LearnZillion’s own Eric Westendorf (CEO) and Boaz Munro (Content Lead) about how the site’s newest feature can help math teachers ensure their students master the essential standards across grades 3-8.

Literacy Office Hours with David Liben pt. 2

This is the second of three office hours hosted by David. View the first office hours here.

David Liben, of Student Achievement Partners, shares a wealth of tips and resources to help prepare your students for the Common Core ELA standards.


Reading Strategies and Close Reading

  • “Rethinking Reading Comprehension Instruction,”  by McKeown, Beck, and Blake, is a study that compared the effects of content instruction (using text-dependent questions) to the effects of strategies instruction, and found that content focused instruction had greater benefits.
  • Cognitive Scientist Daniel Willingham’s Blog,  presents research and describes the danger of excessive focus on comprehension strategies.

Examples of Rich Complex Text

Examples of good questioning technique:

Using Basal Readers

  • This lesson bank offers Common Core-aligned replacement lessons for basals published before the Common Core (pre-2010).
  • To learn more about or join the group that created these lessons, the Basal Alignment Project (BAP), click here.
  • There are lots of new resources that say they’re Common Core-aligned.  Use the Publisher’s Criteria to evaluate whether they are really aligned to the Standards.   If IMET is on atc we could use that as well.

Read Alouds

  • Model Read Aloud lesson for K-2 classrooms, based on the poem, The Wind, available here.
  • K-2, teachers all over the country are also working to create Common Core-aligned Read Aloud lessons, through the Read Aloud Project.  Access the resources they create or join the group through Edmodo, using the group access code: pkx52i

Volume of Reading and Vocabulary

  • Long-term reading success depends on not just close reading, but also on volume of reading.
  • This article by Marilyn Jager Adams in American Educator explains how a series of texts on related topics is the fastest way to grow the vocabulary needed to access complex text.  She also cites research by Thomas Landauer showing the powerful relationship between volume of reading and vocabulary growth.

Guided Reading

Like what you’ve seen? Sign up here for our next Literacy Office Hours on April 9th, 2014.

Also, check out our post on 4 tips for aligning your ELA lessons to the Common Core and 3 tips for approaching close reading.

Turbocharge whole group instruction with Lesson Plans

We’re proud to introduce an exciting addition to LearnZillion.com: Lesson Plans for essential math standards in 3rd-8th grade.


What Are Lesson Plans?

A lesson plan is a new resource that enhances whole-class instruction.  For each section of the lesson, lesson plans provide challenging questions that increase student engagement and build conceptual understanding.  They are aligned to a LearnZillion lesson video and include printable practice problems and next steps for students who struggle with specific concepts.

The structure of the lesson plans reflects our belief that students do best when given challenging questions and frequent practice, and when teachers personalize learning based on individual needs.


An example of simple, straightforward options for students who struggle with standard 4.NF.3d


An example of questions for testing student misunderstanding at each stage of the lesson, with notes for teachers on the right.


Why Lesson Plans?

Our Dream Team has created thousands of conceptual, grade-level video lessons, and we’re keen to make those videos even easier to use.  Many teachers have told us their favorite way to use LearnZillion is to weave them into their whole group instruction: pause them frequently to ask questions, give students an opportunity to check their understanding, provide practice problems aligned to the lesson, and assign more videos to students who need extra support.

The new Lesson Plan feature provide a guide every teacher can use to transform each of our short video lessons into a classroom period characterized by powerful whole group interactivity, actionable formative assessments, and targeted differentiation support.

What Should I Do?

We’re excited for teachers to download and use any of these essential lesson plans! Find a standard or topic you’re teaching soon.  Assign practice problems to your students.  Use the differentiation links when misunderstandings arise.

Start Using Lesson Plans

Thanks for sharing this news and, as always, please let us know what works and what else you’d like to see!

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 dreamteam.fluidreview.com.

Limitless Imagination

Nicole Roscoe is a Summer Intern at LearnZillion, focusing on education policy and market research.

Maybe I’m too mesmerized by the spunk and confidence displayed by the 12-year-old Adora Svitak, but I think she offers a really important message. Adora’s TEDTalk about the limitless imagination of youth reminded me of the hours I spent sketching designs for my dream camping tent and my fourth grade collection of poems that I added to every day after school.

(What memories of childhood projects did it stir for you?)

Without the inhibitions created by understanding realistic constraints, a child’s mind is able to develop thoughts that our adult brains would find difficult to entertain, let alone think of ourselves. This power to think without boundaries is the quintessential factor for innovation and great ideas. While these young minds are hungry for new knowledge and skills (building vocabulary, dividing with remainders, sight-reading music), they also offer a wealth of knowledge for those willing to listen. We all understand that you are never too old to learn; our next step is to understand that you are never too young to teach.

Watch Adora’s TedTalk at http://www.ted.com/talks/adora_svitak.html

The Importance of Collaboration

Jessica Pitts is a middle school English language arts teacher from Little Rock, AR and a member of the 2013 LearnZillion Dream Team. This post was first published May 24, 2013.

I have recently had the opportunity to be in the presence of some really great educators working on amazing things. I was able to attend the LearnZillon TeachFest in San Francisco and an Achieving By Changing Curriculum Huddle with the APSRC (Arkansas Public School Resource Center) in my home state. Attending both of these conferences was so inspiring and motivating because it gave me the opportunity to be a part of a larger community of educators with the sole purpose of improving student learning.
It has been so great to meet people in my home state of Arkansas that had the same need and want for a community of passionate teachers that I found at TeachFest. All of the teachers that I met were excited to hear about my experience with LearnZillion. I found myself repeatedly saying, “It was one of the best weekends of my life.” I explained to everyone that the best part was meeting so many intelligent, creative, and most of all, passionate teachers! Before attending TeachFest, I was nervous that I would feel inferior because I am only a third year teacher, but everyone I met was so welcoming and willing to share their knowledge. Through hard work and collaboration, we all became a community by the Saturday night dance party. I will never forget dancing to “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Living on a Prayer” on a tiny dance floor with 200 other teachers. That moment was definitely a perfect moment for me. I couldn’t stop thinking about how we were all working towards the same goal, and as long as we helped each other and refused to give up, we would all succeed.

One comment from my time at the Achieving By Change Huddle that stood out to me was from a teacher who has been teaching for a while. She said, “I didn’t know that teachers did this!” She was referring to working together to build the best units and lesson plans we can for our students. In that moment, I realized how fortunate I was to have attended these two conferences in the same week. Collaboration is what teachers need so desperately. We need to feel like we are a part of the solution. Just as we have found through research that our students need to be given the space to create, so do teachers, and we create better as a team.
All of these experiences have helped me to realize that we are experiencing a really great shift in education. We are building a community of educators with the overall purpose of being the best we can for our students! I am so happy and grateful to be a part of education right now, and I can’t wait to see the results that we produce as a community of educators.

The 3 Cs I Learned at LearnZillion TeachFest 2013

Andrea Lemon is a middle school English language arts teacher from Belmont, West Virginia, and member of the 2013 LearnZillion Dream Team.  This article was first posted May 21, 2013.

In January, I received an email from my state’s department of education listserv with the subject line: Summer Job Opportunity. Like many teachers, especially those of us raising families, I opened the email with an interest in earning a little extra money this summer. Little did I know that what I would receive from LearnZillion would be worth more money than any job I’d ever had. What I received was a personal and professional journey:
From the moment I clicked “apply here,” my professional understanding of how to teach literacy skills began to grow. I’m over half-way through a doctoral program in reading and literacy, so my mind is already pretty full of theories and best practices, but the application process to become a LearnZillion Dream Team member gave me the opportunity and the guidance to turn all that research into a product students and teachers could use to enhance their learning. It was a process that forced me to dig deep into the Common Core and into my own literacy practices. The emphasis on metacognition in the application process alone made me a better teacher for my students. I created, revised, sought feedback from colleagues, revised again, and finally, in late February, submitted three lesson plans and one PowerPoint lesson – grateful simply for the growth I had already attained – not really imagining that in a nationwide competition my application would be worthy of selection.

In late March, I got another email. I made it! I’d been selected – one of 200 out of 3,000+ applicants! My heart soared. My pulse raced! I was ecstatic to say the least. I clicked the link to accept the invitation and in doing so, saw something that I’d overlooked in my initial haste to earn a little cash this summer. Being a member of the Dream Team meant attending a conference called TeachFest – in San Francisco. My heart sank to the pit of my stomach. I felt ill. I almost backed out. I’d never flown. I’d never even been in an airport, and this trip would mean a transcontinental flight. I’d also never been to a big city by myself. I didn’t know anyone else who was going. I was paralyzed by self-doubt. I didn’t think I could overcome so many firsts and fears.

My husband, always my biggest supporter, looked at me that evening and said, “If you don’t go, you’ll regret it for the rest of your career.” It sounds dramatic, like a line from a movie, but he was right. I clicked “accept” and a couple of days later, I got a call from Posie Wilkinson at LearnZillion. She called just to welcome me to the team, and the warmth and enthusiasm in her voice made me feel so accepted that I knew I’d made the right decision. A month later, after receiving endless amounts of encouragement from my fellow Dream team members on Facebook, I found my COURAGE and stepped on that first, very tiny plane, navigated a second airport alone, and then stepped on a much larger plane to California. I learned that it’s okay to be afraid as long as you keep moving forward. At the SFO airport shuttle dock, I saw a woman wearing a LearnZillion t-shirt, jumped on the shuttle right behind her, and instantly struck up a conversation with five perfect strangers also headed to TeachFest and my Dream Team experience began.

Once at TeachFest, I looked around at the other Dream Team members, listened to their stories, and thought to myself, “Maybe my application was chosen by mistake. Maybe I’m not good enough for this.” I was filled with self-doubt until LearnZillion co-founder, Eric Westendorf, stepped on the stage beaming with energy and shared that the Dream Team only had a 6% acceptance rate. I realized that I had been selected to an elite task force and my CONFIDENCE began to bud. Next, entered Liz Striebel coaching me through my Lesson Set Outline with praise followed by a little push to go farther, do more, be more. My confidence exploded.

Most important though, in that four day crash course known as TeachFest, I learned the value of COLLABORATION. Digging into the Common Core Standards and uncovering how to teach with text-dependent questions and close reading is no easy feat. Without the professional development provided by the LearnZillion staff, and the encouragement and feedback of all of the other Dream Team members, I couldn’t have come this far so fast.

Now, back in my small school in West Virginia, I have the right tools to make a big difference. As I work with my school’s Literacy Leadership Team, I have the Courage and Confidence to provide support for my colleagues as they learn and grow in the Common Core and to push our school forward toward a brighter future for our students, our community, and, should the road get bumpy along the way, I know that I have amazing educators all across the country that I can reach out to for a little Collaboration. TeachFest 2013 gave me the tools to find solutions, make a difference, SCALE MY IMPACT! I never would have dreamt that something so simple as the click of a mouse would open so many doors, or lead me on such an incredible journey. Thank you LearnZillion for having faith in me and helping me find faith in myself.