Three Tiers of Words: Three Reading Strategies: Increased Personalization and Understanding

At the heart of great teaching is differentiation; this teaching tactic of differentiation inside of the teaching content area applies to language acquisition, stages of language, and academic language development; this work will help students across multiple content areas (P2).

In researching this teaching topic area, I reflected on two effective techniques for teaching academic language through a differentiated approach.

FIRST: Three Tiers of Words for Differentiated Instruction

  • Tier One includes vocabulary that the student already knows; teaching these words will help the student activate their prior knowledge.
  • Tier Two words are important over many years in many disciplines both your own and others; examples include parallel, theme, and base; teaching these words will help students make connections to ideas outside of the content and reinforce the meaning in the content.
  • Tier Three words are technical with narrow definition; these words should be taught for the lesson and looked up for further clarity; a student will engage the text at an analytical level.

SECOND: Three Levels of Reading for increased meaning and differentiated instruction

  • Level One, read for general understanding (identify words in all three tiers)
  • Level Two, making personal connections to other content areas
  • Level Three, extending the text to connect and converse with other texts

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Breaking the academic words into these three tiers allows both the teacher and the students to strategically approach the task of learning. By emphasizing the vocabulary early in the process of learning it can be reinforced at every step of the lesson.

In pre-reading students can identify words across tiers and note their meanings.

In connecting to personal experiences, a second stage of effective reading, students can connect their experiences of each word (especially Tier Two Words) in other classes to the text that they are examining and use the Tier One Words, words they already know, to build their knowledge and connection to the new text.

Finally as a student reads for deeper meaning, they are ready to ask bigger questions about the words and their interconnected meanings. By engaging in a process of inter-textuality, they will solidify the understanding and be able to comment on the text in relationship to other texts they have read.

Academic words in all three areas continually emerge in both Theatre Arts and English Language arts because both content areas examine texts from multiple sources with multiple narratives. I often tell my students that my class is not simply a drama class. Rather, my class is every class in the disguise of a drama class. Students must be prepared to speak about any topic that they know about. Because of this, they build their understanding of both of the first two tiers. Some common examples of these words are: inner-monologue, character development, and memorization.

The third tier words are then used most commonly through the language demand and are particular to the performance assignment. One simple example would be, blocking (the specific movement of actors on the stage).

Because of my research into the three tiers of academic language and three common phases of reading, my instruction has changed. I am more apt to point out academic words that make a connection between subjects and encourage students to read a text three times for increased clarity and deeper meaning. With each reading of the text I can guide the student by suggesting that they look for general understanding on their first time through a text, connections between the text and other subjects on their second read, and the conversation between one text and another in their third reading.

By using this three tier and three read through strategy, students are more likely to fully understand and personalize the text. Because a central practice of Theatre Arts is personalization and finding increased meaning, these strategies are invaluable to the students (and to myself). Further, different students will be reading at different levels. Knowing which level a reader is working on will allow myself to differentiate my instruction for that student.

One consequence of using this technique is lost time. It will take students three-times longer to complete any reading assignment. Because of this, reading assignments must be both shortened and be given in class time for guided completion. However, the benefits will outweigh the cost. Students will generate more connections inside of my content area and in content areas outside of my classroom.

Cross Content Collaboration

Collaboration within the school community can be an effective way to reach students across content areas and to help create new and renewed engagement for students and teachers; to do this teachers must collaborate across content areas and use appropriate communication to do so.

My most recent collaboration with a teacher outside of my subject area is an improvisation and health project. In the project, students must investigate and research health issues that are relevant to their lives and then use that research to build a character in drama. The characters then come together for a “community meeting” and discuss the issues of relevance in their improvised lives.

This project started with student research; this research was summed up in a inter-disciplinary meeting that shared the outcomes across content areas between drama and health. These pictures represent the research compiled by the students.



This information, generated by the students, was then summed up and shared with all the participating teachers so that it could be used in three ways. First, by using the foundational knowledge the health teacher is able to bring additional resources to the students so that their information that they use in drama can be more substantial.

Second, the students generate characters in an improvisational-based format that utilizes all of the research and gathered information. Based on the content from health class, students must create a back-story for their characters, character objectives and relationships, and character traits such as vocal and physical patterns.


Lastly, this information, in addition to the work in class and the additional research in health class, is used to create a joint rubric. Students will receive a single summative evaluation that addresses their learning in both classes.

Every piece of written information is shared via Google drive so that both of the associated teachers can easily add and adjust content as the unit progresses.

This project exemplifies collaboration within the school because it is a unit that has and will continue to grow together. It allows students to combine their knowledge across content areas; this project further demonstrates this standard because it requires both of the collaborating teachers to communicate professionally in both written and verbal forms.

In summary, this project created a powerful effect on my students. They reported that the best aspect of the project was the integration of multiple subjects. Placing the health content in an improvisational format allowed them to explore the issues in both meaningful and personal ways. Further, this project created an excellent template (in both communication and lesson planning) for collaborations that I am sure will follow between the health teacher, other teachers, and myself.

In future iterations of this project, I will be sure to communicate with other teachers earlier in the year. While we had ample time to complete the project, the planning late in the year gave us undesirable timing when it came to the shared class time for the initial collaboration and the community meeting that the students jointly participated in.

Personal Performances that are Developmentally Logical and Abstract, Reflection

Teachers should plan for and adapt a curriculum with a learner-centered strategy that engages students in a culturally responsive and developmentally appropriate way.

When it comes to developmentally appropriate instruction, planning can be informed by the study of the fourth phase of Piaget’s stages of development, the Formal Operational Period. As a part of this study I researched the importance of this important stage of development. As a part of coursework, I wrote, “students at the age of 11 are starting to think about the world in a way this is broader than themselves.”

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Course Research into Student Development: Piaget (

As Piaget’s fourth stage of development suggests, drama can help students to think both abstractly and logically. By studying a script they must both analyze the meaning of the text and interpret the meaning that is personally relevant. One example of this is a lesson I completed in the eighth grade. Students had to study a neutral scene and interpret the text by adding personal meaning in the performance. Students created a range of performances. By identifying the who, what, and where of the scene, students created a unique world from the abstract idea that was logically created. Student work included a daughter (One) and a mother (Two) after the daughter came home late from a party; another performance had a boyfriend (One) getting dumped by a girlfriend (Two); lastly, the most memorable performance was a rock-star (One) meeting a fan (Two) as the rock-star left a performance and unfortunately the rock-star disappoints the fan by not being everything the fan thought they were.

Picture of Neutral Scene

In this lesson, students had to imagine a situation that both logically fit the text and fit their own personal interpretation of the text. This exercise met both conditions found in Piaget’s fourth stage.

In summary, I have presented this lesson in the past. What changed this time was the insertion of personal meaning into the text. Students had to place themselves into the concepts that they were creating. The resulting performances were filled with significantly more meaning and emotional impact than I had previously seen.

Student learning in drama must include personal meaning. It is through this concept that students can personalize the work and create authentic performances. While this is typically a high-level skill that college students pursue, it is achievable in the middle school classroom through this tactic.

I propose that more of my work with text include personal meaning in performance. I will even add it to my evaluation rubric as a self-assessment component for all performances. I often talk about the symbiotic relationship between text and performer. This will bring that idea into reality; the performer must put their opinion into the text and bring it to life in a way that only they can. This key idea brought out new talent that was previously un-tapped by the students. These changes will both increase the artistry that the students produce and, more importantly, increase the student ownership of the work in drama.

ISTE5: Arts Teachers Connected By Technology

ISTE Standard 5 states that educators should always improve their teaching through lifelong learning, participating in global learning communities, and reflect on the learning of their students through applications of technology.

How can one demonstrate a continual development and improvement in one’s teaching practice, model lifelong learning, and exhibit leadership in you’re the school and professional community through the effective use of digital tools and resources?

What resources and tools exist for arts professionals to connect through digital networks so that they can participate in local and global learning opportunities and exhibit leadership in an arts curriculum that integrates technology?

There are many groups geared toward teachers of the arts. Many of these groups can be found on Google+ Communities (Arts Education and Google Art Projects are two such groups). There are also arts education discussion boards on LinkedIn that have proven to be highly valuable (Arts in Technology is one such group). However, arts teachers are not known for their technological resources. The arts are more about human and in-person connections. Teachers in the arts must re-train how they connect with each other. One resource to do just that is Learn North Carolina ( This page takes the user, step-by-step, from the in-person conference meeting to building an online PLC. It is not exclusive to teachers in the arts. This resource is valuable for any educator that wants to build a PLC from scratch. Teachers that have been in the field for many years or who have been reluctant to adapt new ways of connecting with other educators may need to receive professional development just to embark into the world of digital networking. Social media and networks can be an essential part in todays workforce to provide educators with the tools they need to succeed in the classroom of today (Transforming American Education, 2010).

Another potential resource is Edutopia. Heather German posited that can provide discipline specific resources and connect educators from across the globe. This is a valuable resource for educators in marginalized disciplines such as the arts.


Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology. (2010, January 1). Retrieved March 11, 2015, from

Parent and Teacher Conferences for Effective Education

Teachers must utilize effective relationships with parents to maintain effective educational practices with each student. Effective Teacher-Parent Relationships are characterized by:

  • A partnership based model.
  • Shared values and goals, with the parent and the teacher agreeing on the desired outcomes of the education along with the academic path that will be most effective.
  • Mutual respect for time and expertise. Communication between teachers and parents is most effective when both people have an equal voice in the shared goals for the student along with an appreciation for the amount of time that either can attribute to the academic or social progress of the student.
  • Mutual accommodations to compensate for deficiencies on either side of the relationship. For example, a teacher may benefit from providing a translator to the parent of an English Language Learner (ELL) student and a parent may benefit from providing relevant developmental information and history about the student that the teacher would not otherwise know.
  • Regular communication from both the teacher and the parent so that the partnership can be ongoing rather than exclusive to a crisis or intervention.

Conferences with parents are an essential tool for effective communication between parents and teachers. These conferences happen in a variety of formats and are essential to developing positive relationships that are focused on the academic and social growth of the student in question. Conferences may or may not include the student. However, it is a best practice to bring the element of student voice to the conference, regardless of the student being in attendance. The two most common formats of a conference are casual and formal.

Casual Conferences occur spontaneously. Characterized by informal meetings, these conferences may occur at school, on the phone, or even in the broader community setting (Jordan, Reyes-Blanes, et. al. 1998). Research shows that frequent, early, and positive communication from teachers to parents is a consistently effective way to build productive partnerships between parents and teachers (Gregory and Ostrosky, 2013).

Formal Scheduled Conferences typically have an intended purpose. These purposes can include, but are not limited to, an academic check-in to evaluate student strengths and challenges, an academic intervention to address specific student challenges, and academic assessment of learning abilities to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP). All three types can occur commonly. Addressing general academic strengths and challenges is a good practice for every student. Interventions are more effective when both the parents and the teachers agree on the purpose, plan, and goals of the intervention; which is why a conference can be valuable. Also, developing an IEP must include input from the parent of the student so that, like an intervention, the purpose, plan, and goals of the IEP are clear and agreed upon (Jordan, Reyes-Blanes, et. al. 1998).

When preparing for a conference the teacher must allow for ample time for the conference to occur. At a minimum conferences last 30 minutes when everyone involved has time to participate in the discussion. However, the teacher must also respect time restraints so that the conference does not last too long and create a scheduling conflict for any of the participants.

Parents can feel uncomfortable and vulnerable around teachers and other education professionals due to their own experiences in education (Jordan, Reyes-Blanes, et. al. 1998). Teachers should be advised to create a family centered environment so that families are comfortable at the school (Gregory and Ostrosky, 2013).

Parents may have their own concerns about their relationships with a teacher, in addition to the experiences of their child (Jordan, Reyes-Blanes, et. al. 1998) and may have either a positive or negative impression of teachers because teachers can be seen as self-appointed “experts” (Gregory and Ostrosky, 2013); when this occurs communication becomes a teacher monologue, rather than a dialogue between teachers and parents (Guo, 2010). One way to avoid this is to approach the meeting from a team-building perspective.

In part because of this perceived monologue effect, teachers must be aware of their potential attitudes toward parents; this is especially important when the parent comes from a different demographic (cultural, economic, geographic, etc.) than the teacher (Jordan, Reyes-Blanes, et. al. 1998).

Some of the issues that teachers may encounter, when addressing demographic differences, are:

  • The concept of family and family roles.
  • Expectations for student behavior.
  • Expectations of teacher behavior.
  • Expectations of parent involvement.
  • Socio-economic resources, especially as they apply to schoolwork that occurs outside of the home.

Of particular note are parents that speak little or no English. One of the greatest under-represented cultural demographics in school communities is that of ELL parents (Guo, 2010). These parents need to have a translator present at the meetings; the school should provide a translator as a part of creating an accessible and fair education for every student. The translator can provide a comfortable and welcoming element to the meeting in addition to explaining school specific content that is culturally contained, such as what Social Studies or Science may courses include (Guo, 2010). Without a translator the teacher risks alienating the parent and consequently eliminating any potential supports that could occur outside of school.

In a formal conference setting, the teacher must also work to ensure the physical comfort of all participants. The physical arrangement of the conference can facilitate or inhibit the progress made in addition to the relationship between parent and teacher (Jordan, Reyes-Blanes, et. al. 1998). The area must be comfortable for adult sized bodies, maintain privacy and confidentiality, include a seating arrangement that is non-hierarchical, and a seating arrangement that is focused on eye contact without physical barriers between participants (Jordan, Reyes-Blanes, et. al. 1998). One common seating arrangement is with adult sized chairs placed in a circle.

Student Portfolios in Conferences are an excellent way to exhibit student work, academic progress, and engage student voice. By integrating a student portfolio into the conference the conversation can be targeted to a qualitative and quantitative discussion (Juniewicz, 2003). Avoiding the litany of summative assessment scores, a qualitative discussion can highlight student achievement and student weaknesses in a non-confrontational way. While it does require teachers to assist in the creation of the portfolios, it can be student-centered. If implemented early in the school year, students can be held accountable for maintaining a student portfolio that is kept in the classroom. The student should be instructed to include work that features their strengths, academic growth, and academic challenges. It should be noted that parent reactions to a portfolio-based conference will vary. Some parents will assert that the qualitative description from their child is extremely helpful for their understanding of their child’s academic abilities. Other parents will complain that the conference does not allow for private communication between teacher and parent (Juniewicz, 2003).

While teacher and parent schedules are busy, it is a best practice to utilize multiple conferences throughout the year, in both formal and informal formats. In doing so, the lines of communication will not be limited to a single meeting and the relative accumulation of data will give both teachers, parents, and students a valid and reliable interpretation of the student’s academic standing. Teachers should remember that parent communication is an essential part of effective education.


Gregory A. Cheatham & Michaelene M. Ostrosky (2013). Goal Setting During Early Childhood Parent-Teacher Conferences: A Comparison of Three Groups of Parents, Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 27:2, 166-189

Guo, Y. (2010). Meetings Without Dialogue: A Study of ESL Parent-Teacher Interactions at Secondary School Parents’ Nights. (Undetermined). School Community Journal, 20(1), 121 – 140.

Jordan, L., Reyes-Blanes, M. E. Peel, B. B., Peel, H. A., & Lane, H. B. (1998). Developing teacher-parent partnerships across cultures:.. Intervention in School & Clinic, 33(3), 141.

Juniewicz, K. (2003). Student Portfolios with a Purpose, Clearing House, 77(2), 73-77.