In honor of Teacher Appreciation Month, we are recognizing a New Jersey educator who really stepped up to enable his entire district’s transition to distance learning, and is already supporting summer continuity plans. James Yanuzzelli, Technology Integration Specialist, has been working at Old Bridge Township Public Schools for 15 years. This year, he became both a Newsela Certified Educator and a Newsela Teacher Trainer. In this interview, Mr. Yanuzzelli shares reflections on his path to becoming an educator and on remote teaching.
With everything happening in the world right now, what are the most immediate needs for your students and teachers?
Teachers and students need to experience learning that is assistive. When teachers work to guide the learning experience, students are more inclined to feel as if they are part of the learning.
In these unprecedented times, the work of a teacher is even more essential. Why did you become a teacher?
I was always fascinated with history, and when my high school teacher transformed the classroom to start analyzing history, it was a time I realized my calling. Mr. Cress was a great teacher who created a learning experience and broke away from the lecture and the textbook to actually immerse us in the content.
So after 15 years, what continues to drive you as an educator?
When students experience content that is relevant and it makes sense, I see how they become empowered to take learning into their own hands. When I stopped lecturing from the front of the room, I began to deliver experiences that challenged students to think and answer questions. They couldn't just search for the answer online. That's when the teaching and learning experience became what I was always hoping for.
Experiences are so important for deep learning and engagement. Connecting now to your own experiences with Newsela: How does Newsela fit into your district-wide initiatives?
Newsela is a great fit into our district-wide initiatives since it brings in content that is relevant and individualized. ELA, Social Studies, and Science curricular supports are easily integrated with lessons, Text Sets, and Collections that give students connections. Since Newsela is adaptive, it gives our district the opportunity to maximize learning and develop content that reaches all learners and meets their needs.
Let’s provide a visual for other educators. Can you describe an impactful student experience that involved Newsela.
I was working with a teacher who wanted to give students opportunities in her class beyond just writing a summary. We decided that we would give the students as many choices as possible. First, we created a Text Set with 10 articles based on happiness. The students were required to choose two of them. Right away, having a choice in the article engaged them in the content. When it came to the summary aspect, we gave them multiple choices. They could write a summary in Word, speak it in Flipgrid, cartoon it on paper or online, build it in “Minecraft” or come up with a solution on their own. This is where we saw empowerment and students taking hold of their learning.
That’s a great example of a really enriching student choice experience. Speaking of choice, why did you choose to become a Newsela Certified Educator and then a Newsela Teacher Trainer?
In my role as a Technology Integration Specialist, I want to make sure that all teachers and students get the most out of their learning experience. I highly recommend taking the time to become a Newsela Certified Educator to not only learn more about Newsela, but join a great community of learners that connects and shares our experiences to help each other grow.
We’ve been amazed at how educators have really come together to support one another and share their learning in this time of disruption. How are you enabling continuity plans for your team of teachers?
I am working to support distance learning by helping teachers create Text Sets, find Collections, and use Newsela to continue learning as if we were still in the classroom.
What would you want to say to other educators who are wrapping up the school year in a remote setting?
Find content that can still engage your students. Develop collaborative practices and support them to let students know that we are all still working together, even though we're apart.
Make sure to check Mr. Yanuzzelli’s published Teacher Trainer resources on our Educator Center which includes a short video on how to set up Newela with Microsoft Teams. Plus, follow him on Twitter @MrYanuzzelli for more great examples.
From all of us here at Newsela, we appreciate everything you do. Check out our video messages from our leadership team, as well as custom virtual backgrounds, for your video lessons and social media profiles.