January 5

Getting Back Into The Swing Of Things

Over the holiday break I noticed several ideas and suggestions for lessons on setting goals and making resolutions and choosing one little word.  Some were even focused on creating lesson plans which guided students through setting goals and making resolutions like this one and this one.  While I’m not really one for making new year resolutions, I did find value in the concepts put forth by these aforementioned blog posts.  I gave each of them some thought.  I pondered and I jotted down ideas and I pondered some more.  Then, I seriously tried to set some goals for myself.  If you clicked on one of the previous links, you noticed that I did wind up setting a few personal goals.  Then, I took a wee little bit of time and considered how I might approach this concept if I were returning to the classroom in a few days.  What would I do to help my students settle in and get focused to persevere toward the end of the school year?  Here are the concepts I landed upon:

  1.  Set a couple of professional goals for myself and commit to them by writing them down.  I wouldn’t just write down a word or a phrase, I would use some of the suggestions I saw in the blog posts I read and flesh them out a little bit.
  2. I would not only write these goals down, I would probably also write down my thoughts and ideas for where I brainstormed so that I could share that process with my students.  I would want to have my thinking be visible in order to model what takes place for my students.
  3. I would do a bit of reflection and make a list or two relating to my reflection.  List one would be, what have I done in the past that made me successful to achieving my goals?  List two would be, what do I think I need to do to make me successful toward achieving new goals?  I might even make a third list; whatop20bottom17t risks would I like to take at this time?
  4. I would create a couple of planning templates to share with my students to help guide them if they feel they need a graphic guide.  One of them could be something like Orman’s Top 20/Bottom 17.  If you would like a ready-made template example of the one shown below, just click HERE.  Of course, I would work through the template or something similar to model such planning for my stuidea-plan-actiondents.
  5. I would ask students to follow up with brainstorming and creating a plan.  Encouraging students perform a bit of deep thinking and refining of their goals.  Again, they might need an organizer to guide their thoughts.  HERE is an example you might offer if they do.  It expounds on the ideas offered from one of the blog posts linked above and encourages students to carefully consider and brainstorm to come up with a plan for making a limited number of their to-do goals a reality.  I would also encourage students to do the same with a couple or three of their not-to-do goals a reality.  Again, I would certainly model this practice.

Since goal-setting is a natural focus for the beginning of a new year, guiding students to do some thinking and planning for making their goals a reality might be a good way to transition back into thinking and writing.  Happy New Year and happy goal setting and planning!

December 21

Send Students Into The Holiday Break With Questions!

You’ve spent months building a learning community, pre-assessing, teaching, formative assessing, re-teaching, and wrapped the semester with a cumulative semester exam.  So, what did  your students leave your classroom with to bridge them through to the holidays?

When I was in the classroom, I always liked to send students out with two things:

  1. A gift for somebody else that was a piece of themselves
  2. Encouragement to continue learning by interacting with others

You know those writing genres that you studied this semester in your ELA classroom?  Why not ask students to use that as a springboard for a gift of writing to share with somebody else?  My students were encouraged to be creative and come up with a unique gift that only cost them some thinking time and a bit of writing.  Here are some examples of what my students crafted:

  • Recipe for a Great Mom, Dad, Sister, Grandma, Grandpa, etc.
  • I Am From poem describing family, home, gift, pet, etc.
  • Word Cloud of adjectives/adverbs which describe family, home, person, etc.
  • Lab Report for the creation of a favorite holiday treat (cooking from a science perspective instead of a recipe)
  • Personal narrative describing family gathering from pet’s, house’s, car’s, etc. perspective
  • How-To for the perfect gift, parent, grandparent, etc.
  • List poem such as Knoxville, Tennessee by Nikki Giovanni

I would model how I created a gift using one of the examples above and have it focused on my Granny, sister, parent, or grandchild.  Then, I just provided encouragement, a sounding board, and time for them to create.  Often, I would find that my students would get going and create a written testament for several family members!

Students were also encouraged to step outside their comfort zone and interact with folks with whom they might not normally converse.  I mentioned that we would be performing research and would also have an opportunity to perform personal interviews after the holiday break.  So, we would look at some examples and I also would share some Story Corps broadcasts as examples – I  usually would choose those which were both audio/video and had the script to read.  Story Corps provides a wonderful bank of questions from which students can draw to be the basis of their interview or to get some conversations going with a family member who isn’t so familiar to them.

So, instead of ending your time with your students embroiled in a test, why not send them off with a bit of creativity and some questions to learn more?

October 13


A message from this blog post called out to me.  The author said learning experiences are valuable when we “get comfortable being uncomfortable.”  I think the entire first quarter of this year has been about me learning to get comfortable with being uncomfortable!  After a couple of days off as a result of our district’s fall break, I think I can return to my post as an instructional technology coach with the attitude that education is a process of being comfortable being uncomfortable.

There is a stronger sense of growth when there is a struggle in the accomplishment.  Each day we are growing and moving toward and away from something.  We set high expectations for your students and they have high expectations of us.  These high expectations provide opportunities for growth academically as well as personally.  Yesterday I shared ideas about how Messy is an Opportunity.  As teachers, we are laying the foundation for student performance and success that will last a lifetime.  Our hope is that our students will apply what they learn in our classrooms to their life’s work and practices.  So, as I begin to lay a foundation for the folks I will be working with during this new quarter, I am looking at reliable resources and ideas to guide me and I think my uncomfortable self will be relying upon the concepts in 5 Ways to Lay the Foundation for Innovation as a means to encourage the strengths I will be finding in the group of teachers I encounter.  The theme for my husband’s favorite football team was ‘brick-by-brick’ and I think we will adopt that same theme to finish out 2016.  I hope you will be uncomfortable and lay a few bricks, too.

October 12

Messy Provides Opportunities for Revision

Yesterday I shared a Fresh Perspective.  I was inspired by a blog post and decided to share.

One of the concepts mentioned was a quote from George Couros, “Learning is messy and we have to be comfortable with risk, failure, growth, and revision.”  As a teacher of writing and a life-long writer, the word revision stood out to me.  So, I went back and read the quote again.  I chuckled a bit to myself because when I was in the classroom, things were often messy.  You see, I was learning (and still am) to be an educator and my students were learning to be…well, to be grown-up human-beings.  I hope they were learning reading and writin8-things-to-look-for-in-todays-classroomg skills.  I hope they were learning to love literature and the written word.  I hope they were learning to be life-long learners.

The chart included in the blog post is one that we need to keep in front of us as teachers to remind us when we are planning learning opportunities for our students.  It would be hard to see each of these eight things in a classroom every single day.  Over time, however, these things definitely should be a part of our classrooms.  Each of them contributes to the classroom being messy but they all contribute to good practices.  As I begin a new quarter with a fresh perspective, I plan to keep this chart where it is easily accessible and use it as a reminder to guide my work with teachers.  I hope you use it to guide you and your lesson-planning as well!



October 11

A Fresh Perspective

I read a blog post while I was on my fall break that really resonated with me and I decided to share some of the ideas here with you.  The author quotes Kara Welty, “we need to look for strengths in others, go in with an open mind, be patient and compassionate, compliment people based on their strengths, and be the fountain not the drain.”


Just wow!

Isn’t that a powerful statement?  I learned this a long time ago when I was in the classroom working with students.  I found that looking for student strengths so that we could build upon those made them more ready to take risks and learn something new.

The author mentions ideas about hand written notes and I know from experience how powerful that can be.  In my first year as a classroom teacher I bought a box of simple white note cards and printed on something representing me – my initials or something – and I wrote a note to at least a couple of my students on a note card each week and mailed it to their home.  I learned a few things from this exercise.  First, students don’t get much mail.  Second, some of them really treasure the individual attention.  Third, it can make a difference in how they cooperate and behave in class if it is a short, simple, positive note.  Chances are the parents are going to notice the note and will be more supportive and cooperative as well.  One of my students (or his mother) invited me to his high school graduation even after I had moved to another district and not seen him for at least four years and in the invitation was a note from his mother telling me that he had framed the note I sent him and it still hung on his bedroom wall.  Little forty-some-cent gesture, huge outcome.

As I face a new quarter and embrace a new list of teachers to work with for the next nine weeks, I revisit this idea of looking for strengths in others, going in with an open mind, adopting patience and compassion, compliment people based on their strengths.  I am making a conscious effort to be the fountain and not the drain.  I hope you will too!

October 3

Reflection and Feedback – Quick Exit Ticket Tools

A vital part of any lesson is reflection.  Reflection helps students realize what they have learned and what skills they have been sharpening.  Teachers can benefit from student reflections, too.  A simple question asking students to raise their hands in response to a “did you get it?” can be enough sometimes.  But at other times, a wee bit of data helps to inform the next steps.  Here are a few tools that can be used for collecting data via exit tickets:

Google Forms

This is a fast and easy way to gather student feedback.  So, even if you simply reuse questions asking  students to respond to “what did you learn today?” and “what questions do you have for next class?” the feedback can be essential in helping to plan next steps.  Of course, with all the options available in the newly updated Google Forms, why not go for something more – include pictures, links, and more to get more specific and detailed feedback along with open-ended questions to get broad, general information.


Socrative has been one of my favorite tools for formative assessment for several years.  It allows for prepared activities such as quizzes to check for understanding or mastery.  It also provides opportunities for asking open-ended questions where students can answer that simple “did you get it?” question or a question where more-in-depth or critical thinking can be encouraged.  Socrative says that you can quickly assess students with on-the-fly questions to get immediate insight into student understanding.  I’m a firm believer in careful planning but this does allow for asking a verbal question to which students can respond.  It is quick and easy and students could log in to the teacher’s classroom as the teacher is posing the question and inviting students in less than a minute which preserves instructional and learning time.


I’ve been a fan of Padlet for a long, long time.  I used it even before it became Padlet!  The real beauty of Padlet is that it allows for the sharing of text, hyperlinks, and more.  When researching, students could share a hyperlink that relates to the over-arching topic and other students have quick access to the same links.  When creating products, students can use a variety of creativity tools and simply share a link to theirs on a Padlet and their peers have access to their product.


Who doesn’t like playing a game?  End class with a Kahoot! and make providing feedback fun.  This requires for a little bit of front loading by the teacher to create meaningful questions to students for responding but the questions can be specific and the results could even count as a formative assessment score in the gradebook.


This is one of my newest go-to-tools.  I like that Nearpod allows for import of a slide presentation that teachers might already have created.  Then, simply add an interactive activity to check for understanding.  Open-ended questions can also be added to allow for that broad, “what did you learn today?” type question as well.  The import makes it easy for teachers to use what they already have and ease into integrating interactive, online tools into their repertoire.

We know that reflection is important to clarify and draw attention by making student learning mindful.  Why not also let it provide feedback for you to direct your next steps in lesson planning?

September 26

Resource Highlight: Grammarist

When I was The Teacher in an ELA classroom, one of the things I hated most was the struggle to develop strong writers with their need for grammar instruction.  Traditional grammar instruction seems to require the use of worksheets and tasks such as circling the noun and underlining the verb or, even worse, diagramming sentences.  Plus, I hated those things when I was a student.  So, I knew my students were not going to jump for joy if I used that with them.  I settled on mini-lessons as the way to work through grammar instruction teaching my students in snippets without turning them off to writing altogether.

I think the biggest problem with teaching grammar for me was that there were so few resources available at the time.  That certainly cannot be said now!  Resources are simply a click away for everybody meaning that there is no need for those circling and underlining worksheets when something far more interesting, intriguing, and motivating is right at our fingertips.

One of my favorite resources to share with teachers who are developing student writers is Grammarist.  It offers blog-type posts about word usage like this one on the words overtake, take over, and takeover.  Included is an explanation, a definition, and examples of usage.  Part of the beauty of the examples is that they are real-world, authentic examples from actual publications.  The posts would provide perfect mentor texts for students which could serve as a springboard for their own similar creations about local colloquialisms, tricky words or phrases, homophones, idioms, etc.words-and-phrases

The Grammar tab offers links to in-depth explanations and definitions of parts of speech and punctuation.  The comma link alone could have been bookmarked by my students and referenced every day!  There are pertinent examples included within the explanations as well.  I use this as a reference tool but I can see where it would be a wonderful teaching tool as well.  For example, if I was back in that classroom, I would simply take one piece of the comma page and share it as a mini-lesson to teach the different ways of using commas correctly.  One day might be focused on separating items in a series and another day might find us looking at linking clauses.  Then, students would be searching through their textbook or outside reading book for examples and finishing the mini-lesson by finding (or writing) examples from their own writing.

The Words and Phrases tab could be a go-to resource on its own.  As a teacher, I might ask students to learn more about each category listed in this tab and create a blog post defining, explaining, and providing examples.  They might draw their examples from in-class texts, from online text sets, or from sources of their choice.

Check out Grammarist and let me know how you integrated it as a tool or resource in your classroom!



Category: writing | LEAVE A COMMENT
September 23

Comic Strips: More than the Funny Pages

A comic strip is a genre of writing and expression that is often overlooked and underused in classrooms. Check out this post to see how simple it is to create a comic strip using Google Slides.slide-cartoon

Then, think about asking your students to create a comic strip:

  • a political cartoon portraying an issue addressed in past or current campaigns
  • a quick summary of an outside reading selection
  • an illustration of a term such as irony
  • an explanation of a biology lab experiment
  • a concept in math that is part of everyday life and we don’t even realize it
  • a health issue
  • a comparison of another country or another language to our community

There are loads of ways to integrate the creation of a comic strip to report and explain student knowledge and understanding. Why not give it a try?

August 21

Write Along With Them

As I was cleaning out my email inbox recently, I stumbled across some posts from blogs I follow.  Two Writing Teachers had a reflective post about a student conference held at the end of the last school year.  They learned that the most important aspect of the student writers’ confidence as writer stemmed from the fact that their teacher writes with them.  Their justification ranged from the fact that the teacher set the bar high for them to the concept that the teacher provided inspiration, made them feel as if she were part of their community of learning, and validation that the assignment was not just an assignment for the sake of assigning.

Student WritersAs teachers are beginning the year with their students and establishing their classrooms as communities of learners, I want to encourage folks to do the same.  I know that students in my classroom always appreciated the fact that I made the effort to write to the same assignments I posted for them.  They were curious and inspired by things I wrote.  They were pleased to offer suggestions to me for improving my writing.  I heard those very same comments from students as Two Writing Teachers.

I love to write and it helps to clarify my thinking and makes my mindset far more positive when I write.  I began writing with my students as a result of sitting in a workshop facilitated by Kelly Gallagher about 15-20 years ago.  I left the workshop and went to the bookstore and bought his book, Teaching Adolescent Writers.  My copy is dog-eared, highlighted, and annotated in the margins.  It is full of sticky notes marking important concepts to share with students and teachers.  It still is a valuable resource as I work with teachers who are teaching young writers.  I later added many more of his books.

Years later, when attending a conference, I sat in on a workshop facilitated by Penny Kittle.  Again, I headed for the bookstore after the workshop and bought Write Beside Them: Risk, Voice, and Clarity in High School Writing.  Once again, I also added several more of her books to my collection and both sets are some I will never be able to part with so long as I consider myself a teacher!

Even though I already wrote with my students and often used my work to model expectations or as an example when sharing a mini-lesson for grammar or craft, it was reaffirmed that I needed to continue the practice of writing along with them.  Sometimes I even found that my assignment needed a bit of tweaking or revision after attempting it!

So, as you begin your school year, please set aside time and make the effort to write along with your students.  The benefits are multi-fold!

August 16

Taking Steps Toward More Tech-Rich Teaching and Learning

So, you say you would like to expand the use of technology integration in your class but just don’t know where to start…

Well, one of the keys to successful blended learning is to just take the first step.  Waiting for the ideal may put it off forever.  One may never have all the devices desired, the perfect content may not be already posted for your students to access, and your classroom set-up may not be exactly as you want it.  Taking the first step and planning a tech-rich lesson is really all that is required.

Another key concept is to be prepared for failure.  Just like anything new, there will be glitches and hurdles to overcome.  Even traditional lessons have been known to fail at times but planning is the key to success.  Plan with the end in mind – think about what you want students to know or produce  or create; how you want them to prove that they have mastery of the skill or knowledge.  Collaborative planning is encouraged because what one teacher doesn’t think of, a colleague very well might consider.

cardwell picture 1

Remember that blended learning is a balance between digital, classroom, and experiential.  It is nearly impossible to be all digital all the time.  By the same token, without blending, we are short-changing the students and not providing them with the best opportunities.  Teachers might use a combination of self-created and existing online videos to provide introductory or extended instruction for students as well as facilitate face-to-face collaboration.

Just this morning I observed a highly effective blended learning environment in an advanced placement calculus class.  Students came into the classroom and sat in small Cardwell picture 2groups of three or four.  They discussed problems, worked out calculations using pencils, paper, calculators, and collaboration.  They applied the concepts to open-ended questions relating to real-world data usage/application.  The instructor circulated the room asking and answering questions and offering what-ifs and encouragement.  After twenty to thirty minutes, students transitioned to using calculators and Chromebooks for an online, multiple-choice assessment – calculations were still required.   Data was automatically collected and reports will be generated for students to track and improve their performance.  Upon completion of the asessment, students used mobile devices – phones, tablets, and Chromebooks – to preview an online mini-lesson explaining the next day’s assignment.  The teacher as well as the students were successfully blending online and traditional teaching and learning methods.

Students use every resource available to them to learn about something that is pertinent to them – things like new hairstyles or video games or upgrading and installing a chrome-plated exhaust pipe on their car.  They don’t distinguish between traditional learning using a hardbound book, pencil, and paper and using a mobile device.  So, why do we?  There really should be no boundary between traditional learning tools and techniques and digital learning!  Take your first step.