Global Contexts With VersoApp

We have Google, Quizlet, and now Trivia Crack, so finding facts and practicing to remember is easy and fun. So, what are doing about questioning and developing argument to keep pace with the world of immediate feedback that our youth has come to enjoy and demand?

Last year, I tried VersoApp. It's a learning tool with a simple format that supports learning content through challenges and engagement. It starts with a content piece, followed by a provocative prompt, and finishes with student response and discussion that includes a number of ways to contribute through helpfuls (i.e., like, maybe, flag).

The best part is that the students experience anonymity throughout the discussion. It becomes about the ideas, not the person. Try it. Click the link above or below for more information.

What Does Engagement Look Like?

When a VersoApp activity is designed well, it looks like students reading, thinking, writing, contemplating, evaluating, proving, supporting, agreeing, disagreeing, considering, and holding classmates accountable for keeping the discussion academic.

I could see engagement becoming one of those words that rarely receives definition yet is thrown around by educators as if we are all in agreement about what it means. Although it includes items from the laundry list above, engagement means students are putting themselves into the work, into the learning, and into the class. It's evident by the personal investment present in what they make and share.

VersoApp facilitates engagement by design. You'll see, if you try it.

MYP Global Contexts For Questioning Strategies

It's time for me to take it to the next level by using VersoApp for a lesson activity that we will do consistently in the spring semester. I decided to start with my sophomores. These classes are IB Middle Years Programme world history. They are proficient with VersoApp and will do well using it to conduct global context discussions.

Here's a few ideas I'm working with to put the learning in the hands of my students. It's organized by global context. "Students learn best," according to IB, "when their learning experiences have context and are connected to their lives ..."

Global Context: Identities and Relationships
Who am I? Who are we?

Content: The students read a short selection from The Travels of Ibn Battuta. It's about his time spent with the sultan of Mali. This selection raises questions about how we present ourselves, how we are treated by others, and how outsiders are treated when faced with vulnerability. Sounds perfect for teenagers, right?

Provocation: Why are we friendly?
When writing a question or prompt, think about stuff that interests and challenges your students but can be related to the content. I'll set the response on VersoApp to 2 per student and ask the students to respond to the question one time with their general ideas about the value in friendliness and another with a response that draws on examples from the reading selection.

When students finish, they respond to other students by commenting or simply clicking in agreement or concern. When the time is right, I'll project the student view of the responses, which displays all of the responses without compromising anonymity. 

Global Context: Orientations in Space and Time
Where and when?

Content: Video with an image a Fertile Crescent map and about 5 minutes of me comparing how location impacted the development of early civilizations in Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Provocation: Think about how where you live (or have lived) has impacted how you have grown as an individual. Relate your experience to either Egypt or Mesopotamia. Remember to provide your reason for relating to one or the other.

I want the students to connect with their own roots as they learn about the nature of the foundations of civilization, such as Egypt and Mesopotamia. Since we have already done this unit, my students will do this during our AP exam review.


Global Context: Scientific and Technical Innovation
How do we understand the world in which we live?

Content: This reading is about the development of the camel saddle and its hand in facilitating movement in the Trans-Saharan trade network. Before the response provocation is introduced, I ask the students a few questions to prime them for the reading and their responses.

Provocation: Respond with an issue traders would face crossing the Sahara and relate it to an example of your ability to move from place to place sans bicycle or automobile (or whatever primary mode of transportation).

An extension during this discussion might be to ask questions about ship designs in the historical period of study or perhaps other trade routes and trade goods. 

The difference between using VersoApp and not is evident in those students who participate because they feel safe from detrimental judgments. You'll see students come to life, sharing ideas.

Thanks for reading. 

4 Apps You Can Sign Up With Google

Teachers need another thing to do like a dog needs a cat's tail. What we do need, however, are tools that make the work we do more efficient. And I don't think you'll find anyone who disagrees.

One of the things that drives me crazy is having too many users and passwords. Since Google Apps For Education (GAFE) has become more popular, many educational web tools and apps have provided account setup and log in access through your Google accounts.

As long as you are logged in to your Google account, you can enjoy one-click access to many apps and tools. Here's four of my favorites that I use almost everyday.

Most students communicate regularly through text messages. Remind provides users a way to send mass messages to groups without losing phone number confidentiality. Messages can be scheduled, attachments (and links) can be included, and an RSS feed is available to be posted on a teacher website for easy access or for those few without text messaging on their phones.

Be careful to not over do it, though. There is a happy medium between effective communication and so much that you're ignored.

Building background is critical to the success of every classroom. I started making card decks on Quizlet to help students study vocabulary. Now, I use it for any set of facts I need them to learn.

The study and practice tools are helpful and engaging for students, while the assessment making tools are convenient for teachers. Plus, many of the card decks that you might need have often been created by others.

Play with it a little. You will be pleasantly surprised about one feature or another. If you still like print materials, check out the print options.

This app allows teachers who use a lot of articles from the Internet to keep a version in one place. If you have the Chrome extension in your browser, it's as simple as clicking the button in the upper right.

One of my favorite features includes being able to tag an article for organization. I use the mobile app more often than not and like to tag my articles based on the unit of study.

I also like that the articles are saved as a text-only version without ads and extra site clutter (on my iPhone). This is helpful when printing or mirroring my iOS device to the projector screen.

My students do a lot of sharing through paper posts, either to a tack board, sticky note, or dry erase. Padlet is basically a digital version of a tack board, only this one allows students to add links, images, and experience viewing as a group.

A transcript can be downloaded as a PDF for formative assessment, and each wall an be shared via link or embedded into a website.  

Try these apps and extensions. I only shared a few of the features, so play around a bit without having to make another account (you'll see). They might facilitate a classroom routine more efficiently than otherwise. 

3 Power Strategies That Work For Social Studies

Many of the meetings in our social studies department focus on content, strategies, and assessment. We spend the bulk of the time reflecting on whether our choices are preparing the students to achieve the learning goals.

In the past, we've attempted to focus the use of strategies by choosing between two. This year's conversations have been about dialing in the must-use strategies, the ones that we know work. 

 ... Here's what I think.

Note-Taking and Summarizing
Social studies, in Texas anyway, has the most standards out of the core subjects. The students need to learn a lot of facts and develop context schemes to understand new information conceptually and use it beyond memory recall.

Teaching kids the importance of organizing notes is crucial if they're going to learn how to do stuff with the notes they make. It doesn't matter whether its tables, drawings, half-page, or Cornell notes, the students need to learn to leave room on the page to add analysis and thematic labels.

Regardless of the note-taking format students use, summarizing notes is critical. Some teachers have the students use their notes to respond to the lesson question on a half sheet, which is turned in for a formative check. Others, like myself, prefer the one-sentence summary to be posted anonymously on a tack board or to a Padlet (image below) or TodaysMeet room. When I use one of these discussion web tools, my students receive specific feedback on

Both Padlet and TodaysMeet provide many share and access format options, including downloadable PDF transcripts.
Find Five Facts is another one of my favorite activities. The title and the directions are one in the same. Students list five facts based on a civilization and theme, for example. The picture below shows my five facts for a Persian Empire explanation. Once the students are better at finding the five facts, I will have them make five facts videos, slide shows, Quizlet decks, infographics, etc. 

We talk about note-taking activities without including ABC notes (also called alphabet soup). I like to have students make an ABC list while watching a video (like Crash Course). This is a particularly fun activity to help them think about what they've learned in a lesson cycle. This example shows a list one of my classes made collaboratively on Google Docs.
Whether notes come from lecture, reading, placard activities, or sharing content with peers, the students will retain more from their work if they bring it all together at the end. Something as simple as the one-sentence summary or a list, group, label is quick and doable. Students will be especially confident if confidentiality is kept and only commentary feedback is provided.

Similarities and Differences
I don't use the words "compare" or "contrast" much in the classroom. It's not that the students don't know what those words mean, well most of them, anyway. They just learn more comfortably when they hear more commonly used words like "similar" and "different."
I recently assigned this comparative analysis activity after two classes of Classical Empires background building and a five fact explanation: (1) Internal vs external forces, (2) Overproduction, (3) Corruption, (4) Invasions, and (5) Social institutions. This was enough to prime the students to complete the tasks. 
If my students are summarizing their notes about types of constitutional governments, for example, I would have them write a one-sentence summary that includes one similarity and one difference between two of the examples from their notes. This could also be down with causes and effects or continuities and changes. Keep it simple by requiring one of each.

When students come together to do cooperative learning activities, it's a great time to have them create a graphic organizer (Venn diagram, side-by-side table,Double Bouble, etc.). For example, if the students are comparing the influences of the Vikings and the Byzantine Empire on the development of Russia, students could be assigned either Vikings or Byzantine and two of each could make a group of four. This sets up two layers of analysis: (1) Students will compare what each of the two like examples wrote in their notes, and (2) Students will compare the two different examples to respond to the issue (influences on the development of Russia).

If possible, have a student make an explanation presentation with an app like Google Slides, Educreations (shown below), ShowMe, or Google Drawing. A student could even post to the classroom blog via e-mail. 

Follow these activities up with group presentations and discussion for formative assessment. Give them a quick quiz at the beginning of the next class to let you know whether the class needs to move forward or take a step back for a moment or two.

Achievement Tracking and Scoring Scales
It's one thing for teachers to know exactly how students are doing, but it's a whole new level of meaning when students can tell you to what extent they are meeting expectations or excelling relative to standards. Achievement tracking and scoring scales support development of this ability by providing feedback that correlates to a consistent set of achievement levels and descriptors. 

Self-tracking is powerful because learners can relate their classroom activities to a personal goal that will support their path to mastering a standard (examples below). And, it's not more work for teachers. Having the students do some of the evaluation puts the documentation mostly in their hands, I do the same for reassessment documentation.

These examples show the two types of achievement tracking that my students do after a major assessment. We use this information to review achievement for purpose of focusing remedial work before reassessment. This information is also helpful to present to parents when issues start to develop.

Achievement Tracking through Self-Reflection
This is completed by students immediately after the major summative. It is also reviewed when the marked papers are returned. Students, at that time, are asked to make adjustments to reflect achievement and write a goal to support learning.

Achievement Tracking through Assessment Items

Students circle the ones they missed and mark a check in the far right column if they answered a majority of the standard's assessment items correctly.  
This is a student-friendly adaptation of Marzano's scoring scale.

Thanks for reading. Please share comments, stories, or anything that might make these ideas stronger for myself and others.  

4 Activities With Google Drawing

Here's the challenge ... 
Take a critical thinking skill and a piece of content and make an activity on Google Drawing. Share it in the comments below.

Google Drawings
Three of the following examples below where edited from Will Kimbley's originals +Will Kimbley. The Classical Empires map was an adaptation of a map I already made with Drawing.

I usually have the students free draw and label a simple outline map on their own. The drag and drop could serve as a quick check for understanding.

Please view these in Drawing and remember to make a copy of the drawing to enable editing in Drive.  

1. Historical facebook

Another Brick in the Wall: Practice and Formative Assessment

I remember good days and bad days from my first year teaching AP World History. But the thing I remember most was when a student told me about how she felt when she took the practice test at another school, administered by a different teacher. 

"He was giving them all these reminders about things that I didn't even understand," she told me, just before the guilt of not preparing her made all my other worries that day seem insignificant. I had to address the problem students faced with the AP exam.

The Problem

The problem is often the same year after year: students don't do well on the essays. So we have them write more essays. Practice. Practice. Practice. And the results remain the same. Maybe the achievement levels are a little higher but nothing considerable. I think we shifted 1s to 2s with the added practice approach, but not many 2s to 3s or 3s to 4s or 5s. 

Last year, we started chunking the skills practice. It yielded the highest achievement gain since I started. In four years, we had assigned fewer reading pages in the book, reduced lecture-based instruction, increased targeted skills practice and assessment, and the passing rate had doubled. Now, it's time to take it to the next level because we're not even close to the national average. 

The name of the game, this year, is assessment design, frequent practice, and targeting skills based on last year's results and this year's needs. 

Looking at the Data

My PLC partner and I met this past summer to review student work samples released by College Board. We looked at the student work to determine what a 7 out of 9 looks like, what a 5 out of 9 looks like, and so on. (1) We came to the conclusion that our students needed regular practice writing thesis statements according to the CCOT and comparative essay requirements. (2) We also concluded that requiring specific examples to support explanations must become a routine in our classrooms. 

Some of you might be wondering what a CCOT essay is. Don't worry about it. I won't even tell my students what it is until they've been practicing the essential elements for a while under more conversational labels.

Note-Taking and Summarizing 

My solution to the anxiety some students have to navigate when they hear "thesis statement," is the one-sentence summary. The students take a lot of notes, whether it's from reading activities, discussions, image analysis, or the occasional lecture, so they need a summarization piece that brings together their note-taking while practicing writing better sentences. It's also import that the summaries can be shared out regularly and more publicly. The answer was The Wall. 

The tack wall in the back of the room has been converted into our color-coded, one-sentence summary space. So far, students have been required to summarize their notes in response to a question based on the curriculum framework. We use red paper for political issues, blue for social, and green for economic. 

The Wall is my main formative assessment piece. It's designed to allow for many levels of knowledge demonstration. It has allowed us to merge a simple classroom routine with a critical formative assessment. 

Clear Expectations

The first assessment expectation was to write complete sentences with specific examples to support main points. This was preceded by activities that practiced analyzing for context and point of view.

Students are then asked to mark a few posts with a plus sign if they're okay with it or a delta sign if they think it needs to be changed. This helps guide our discussion about where the class is in terms of meeting the expectations.

The next AP essay expectation will be to have them summarize by including one thing that has changed throughout the period of study and one that has stayed the same. That's the CCOT part (continuity and change over time). Since the date range is required for the exam thesis statement, I will have them write it in the summary sentence, as well. But no mention of thesis statements will occur in my class until 
they're good at writing them. 


This assessment is for feedback, only. To provide this feedback to students as quickly as possible, I take pictures of a sample of the posts that represent a range of achievement and write commentary under each picture on our classroom activity blog,

Since the wall posts are anonymous, the students are encouraged to read all of them and the feedback to further focus understanding of the expectations. The next step is to have them comment on the strengths and weaknesses, provide examples to substantiate the statements, or find themes to organize the evidence they've collected.   

The Underlying Goal

The key is to build the skills one piece at a time, brick by brick, as our athletic department says. It's also important to leave out unfamiliar jargon. They don't need confusing labels to learn how to do things. Once their confidence and proficiency levels are high, I will teach them the labels, which will probably fix any thesis-statement baggage they bring to class. 

We will probably only write about three essays all year. That's one more than last year. I know that this might sound counter intuitive, but I am tired of doing the same thing with minimal results. Plus, I don't subscribe to the belief that we prepare students for college by throwing college-sized workloads at them. 

If you don't buy any of this, check out what the kids say about AP World History classes on Twitter #apworldhistory or #apworld. You can see the progression with some from complaining and stressing about workload to giving up and just wanting to get through the test to say it's done, not really caring much about the results. Is that really the culture we want to nurture in our academic programs?

Thanks for reading. Please leave comments, suggestions, disagreements, and, most importantly, stories. 

Mr. D's Rules for Marking

I've watched this video about 20 times in the past year or two. It's always going to be funny to me because when you get the message behind the exaggeration it's something we've already seen.

I thought that a list of rules based on Mr. D's approach would be a fun way to share my perspective on marking papers and assessment design.

1. Bill: "There goes your weekend, eh, markin'?" Mr. D: "Not really."

Trim the fat. Tests and quizzes that attempt to assess too much can wear out both teachers and students. Try to focus on one standard at a time. Try scaffolding the writing expectations throughout the year by looking closely at sentences for a couple months before looking at paragraph structure. Also, think about grouping standards into one learning target based on skills or background knowledge.

2. "These are essay questions. If I were to read these, it would take forever. So, I don't."

If students are not writing the stuff you're looking for, skip it. It sends two messages. (1) Don't waste time filling the page to gain a shot of dopamine from the appearance of completion. (2) We only have time for relevant work, and here it is. Mark the successes and have students rewrite the parts that didn't get marks so that all of their writing meets the level of the expectation. Try a feedback model like SE2R by Mark Barnes.

3. "Sometimes their answers are better."

Leave students room to demonstrate what they know and can do. Write open questions that are more thematic and conceptual, allowing students to draw from a body of information with which they can more confidently show mastery.

4. "That way, I don't have to give her a 100."

Grades create enough anxiety. Inaccurate grades are just destructive. Using scoring scales and rubrics can help ensure "A" students are really the top of the class. This is not to say that you should design an assessment or scale that makes a perfect score unattainable. My scoring scales usually require students to exceed the expectation in order to receive more than a 90. I ask myself if the student went beyond the call of the task and cheer for them to produce great work. It happens, a lot.

5. "You just put marks on it."

If you put marks on the paper and write the score at the top, that's all the students will ever care about. When teachers do this, research has suggested that there is a zero percent achievement gain associated with writing scores on papers. In fact, according to this same research, the only achievement gain is 30 percent when comments are provided without a score. When both comments and the score are present, the achievement gain goes back to zero. So choose either score or comments. You'll save time with this rule and a couple of the others.

Thanks for reading. Please comment below on successes, troubles, agreements, disagreements, etc. 

Learning Through Assessment

Before he gives an assessment, the old sage grants his pupils hope for a fruitful learning experience. Maybe that's not exactly what he says, but whatever comes out that day, he communicates to his students the importance of keeping the learning process alive, always, and especially when taking a quiz.

I was reminded of this story while making the following two card decks for professional development. I thought Quizlet would be a different way to discuss some of our new district, campus, and department initiatives.

After studying the decks and practicing the games, try the quizzes by clicking the heading links.

Grading Beliefs and Practices

Targeted Skills (based on STAAR results) and Instructional Activities

Applying Marzano's Scoring Scale Rubric

As a second-year teacher, I struggled with the differences between teaching IB History of the Americas and AP World History. The most challenging part was switching between one essay rubric and the other. It wasn't until the spring semester when I started reading Marzano's Classroom Instruction That Works that I found the scoring scale, which I used to translate any amount of marks into achievement levels.

Scoring Scale
The scoring scale below can be used for almost any assessment. I use it consistently throughout the year and teach it to students so they know how to describe their achievement level when they see their score. It's important to design and use feedback tools that are simple and consistent so it becomes routine.

This is a student-friendly adaptation of Marzano's scoring scale. 

Another thing that helps students is converting their scores into a 100-point scale (below). I got the idea to convert marks into a 100-point scale from an IB history training. The variable that changes is the raw marks. I assign a number of marks that's reasonable for an assessment before determining the correlation between marks and achievement level, which is based on my adaptation of Marzano's scoring scale. In other words, (1) total marks, (2) convert to scoring scale, (3) convert to 100-point scale.

The important thing to remember is that no matter how many marks are possible for an assessment, the marks are always converted to the same scale before converting to the 100-point scale. This provides accuracy through consistency because the scoring scale becomes the constant.

Ideally, we would just stop at the scoring scale, but most students and parents are more familiar with the 100-pt scale. What difference does it make if the determiner is still the same, right?

Let's look at this from another perspective. What's the difference between an 86 and an 88? Can you really identify a difference in achievement? For some kids this difference is more about a week of getting enough sleep, or not. 

Using the scoring scale provides students with meaningful information. It develops a classroom culture of certainty when it comes to interpreting scores as feedback. 

High-Yield Strategies
The table below shows the gains for high yield strategies, according to Marzano Research. It used to be that similarities and differences was on top. Although it's a strategy that my students experience weekly, tracking and scoring scales have surpassed it, according to more current data than what was used for the first edition of Classroom Instruction That Works.

Source: Marzano & Haystead (2009). Meta-Analytic Synthesis of Studies Conducted at Marzano Research Laboratory on Instructional Strategies

Scaffolding the Scale
After using the scale for about three years, I've learned to scaffold the scale by expecting more marks as the months pass. This means starting with an expectation of 5 marks for a 3 on the scale and 7 marks to reach a 4. The second quarter marks will be raised to 7 marks for a 3 and 9 for a 4. After Christmas the marks will be raised to 9 and 13.

A future blog post will include a more in-depth look at how I translate my marking system and the scoring scale into the AP World History essay rubrics.

Thanks for reading!

Cooperative Learning is Not Group Work

The look on his face is still burned into my memory. He's still standing at the board without a word to contribute. I thought he was a safe bet. He always raised his hand to respond to discussion questions. What was different?

That was five years ago, and it's apparent to me, now, that his speaking skills were better than his writing. Throw in the fact that I put him on the spot in front of his peers, and it was a recipe for embarrassment. 

Most unfortunately, making him share without ensuring that he has something to contribute could have led to a loss of confidence. It definitely compromised the trust we built during the first weeks of school, even if for a moment. 

Something to Contribute

Since my choice to place a good participator at the front board wasn't working, I had the class work in smaller groups. That would be better, right? Nope. 

They stared at each other long enough for me to lose half of them right away while the other half of the class poured their pity looks in my direction. This all but discouraged me from trying group work, again. 

I think it was the week before Thanksgiving when I realized that if each student responded to a problem on their own, they would have something to share with the group. This wasn't necessarily cooperative learning, yet, but it was a start. 

We Want to Share

We all want to participate and not ride the coat tails of our peers, right? If you don't believe that, like I do, then you at least agree that we want respect. 
Working individually before working together gives every student the opportunity to bring something to the table. 
The beauty and magic of cooperative learning shows itself when you can see the students become excited that they learned something from how some responses are similar and others are different, even though they might all be plausible.  

Another thing to consider is how well certain students perform alone as opposed to in groups. Susan Cain's TED talk on introverts is a must watch. It got me thinking about how we all have a little introvert in us and that working individually before working together differentiates for introverts, both mild and extreme. 

Not "Group Work" 

Some of us had group work when we were in school. You know – when one kid did the work and we all got a good grade. 

I actually never base grades on cooperative learning, practice, or homework. Grades are always based on individual assessments done in the classroom.

Lastly, cooperative learning does not have to be done in groups of three or four. It can be the whole class doing a choral response, think-pair-share, line-up games, carousels, gallery walks, or synthesis writing (writing one part before passing the paper). It's about thinking beyond what a group produces and focusing on what individuals are learning with others. 

5 More Literacy Activities that Work

This a second post of my favorite literacy activities. Think beyond English language arts and social studies. Try some of these in math or science. 

1. List, Group, Label

Students write a list of words from memory that are related to a particular topic or problem. It's important to give students the opportunity to share their knowledge with others and add to their list based on what they learn from their peers. Then, students group the words according to concepts and themes. When it comes to labeling the categories, they should be interesting and not too broad or too narrow. I provide my students with a list of themes and challenge them to customize the label based on theme and the commonalities of the grouping. This is great to prepare students for thesis statement writing.

2. Diamante Poem

This poem starts with a single-word topic, followed by five lines, each with specific criteria for the type word and amount. The fourth line is a summary of the topic.

critical thinking, writing practice, creativity

3. Stream of Consciousness 

Write for 7 minutes, non-stop, to combine fact dumping and writing fluency. Underline pertinent details. Circle major ideas. Use one idea to write a one-sentence summary in response to the prompt that guided the stream of consciousness. Share with class on the board, sticky, notes in a basket, or, my favorite, on the tack board.

4. Synthesis poem

Students make a bubble map with at least three levels of details. Start with a concept or topic in the middle, write three details, and three more details for each first level of details. The fun part is when students pass their paper in a rotation every 15 seconds, or so. They get to make something together and share ideas in a sort of game setting. Lastly, students write a poem with the  implored bubble map. 

5. Analyzing Political Cartoons

Using cartoons to learn about symbols, audience, and voice is fun for students, especially if it's used to change things up in a non-social studies class. Also, think of it as a conceptual excercise that can be applied to a text or more sunstantial piece. Math and science cartoons can be, as well. 

Thanks for reading. Write comments about ideas, variations, or stories. I like stories. 

5 Social Studies Games

Making time for games and fun practice activities are a great way to get kids up and moving and learning. As we use Google to find information in our daily lives, remember that developing memory skills are still essential to nurturing the youth. 

Line Up
Give each student a card with content and ...
  • Order geographic locations in order from East to West. Students can get creative and move forward or back to establish relative North or South. 
  • Place events in chronological order.
  • Make a cause-effect chain. This could also work for similarities and differences, especially if students have to work from a mid-point outward by placing the characteristics by theme (see below). 
  • Place leaders or governments on a continuum, like communism to capitalism.
learning game, analysis, similarities and differences

The first exercise is a warm up that works on general memory. Try not to underestimate the importance of warm ups like this one that do not contain specific lesson content.
  • Knees-knees-clap-clap as a group of ten or so, each student is numbered, say 1-1-3-3 and so on until someone makes a mistake. The goal is to remember who is out and who is not while those who are out continue clapping as to not signal their status.
  • Sit in a circle of five or seven and say a vocabulary term, make a current event analogy, and finish with a personal analogy.Provide five minutes to research before the game so everyone knows their term and analogies. Each student says theirs and the previous students' back to the first, who says all of them at the end. Students can help each other upon request. Fun way to practice creating analogies and repeated review. 
  • Students are given a theme and have to say one continuity and one change before reciting the continuities and changes of previous students, Groups of five work well. This can be followed up by a note-taking and summarizing activity (expected accuracy of three themes with one continuity and one change each).
Drawing Conclusions
This activity addresses teamwork and clarity. Students have to be specific and accurate from one perspective and use clarifying statements from the other. 
  • Project a simple arrangement of shapes and symbols all in black outline on white background (see image below). One student faces the screen and tells the student facing away how to draw what is on the screen. Debrief about what was accurate or not and why. This one is from Jacob Clifford. Check out his AP Boot Camp.
  • Describe a painting or photo and student facing away has to make notes and ask clarifying statements. If you time the students, they can practice identifying important details quicker.But make sure they can do the activity well before you add a time limit. 
  • This sort of activity can be done as a vocabulary game with about five words, increasing in difficulty. The student facing the screen can use any words except the five in the screen to help the student facing away guess. 

Global Connections 
Students have a theme and say a specific example. Another student thinks of an example that fits with both the previous theme and their own theme before coming up with a new example for the next student to make a connection. Groups of five work well. The first group to connect all five examples wins. If no connection is made, students need to start over. Each student needs to make a connection but they don't have to follow an order like clockwise, for example.

30-Second Story 
Give students an event, person, or concept to prepare a thirty-second story that includes five facts and the significance to a particular turning point or theme for the unit if study. Make two equal lines and have students face one another. This can be done with groups of ten, five in each line. After each student shares their 30-second story, the last person in one line rotates to the beginning and everyone shifts to meet a new partner before repeating the storytelling. The debrief is supposed to require students to be back in their seats while the "specialists" of each event, person, or concept stand together and contribute one detail at a time until a strong story is compiled. Seated students make notes, which will be easier after hearing the 30-second version.

These are review and practice games that I don't hesitate to use during a lesson cycle as opposed to waiting to until the end. 

Please comment and add a description or link to your favorite game.

Google Sites and PLCs

The Problem 

This year, I'm facing an important problem. Many of the teachers in our department know what PLCs (professional learning communities) are all about, but I'm not convinced that they have a clear vision. I'm not convinced that they know what it's supposed to look like. Perhaps I am being impatient, but let's act like I'm not.

In our district, the problem of collaboration is supported by Google Apps for Education. This means teachers can make folders for PLCs and work on documents simultaneously. Not many, however, have realized the power of using Google Sites to merge the curriculum objectives with the material.

Google Sites 

This year, I'm not scheduled with a particular PLC, so I'm working with the 9th grade teachers because they meet during one of my conference periods. This also helps move forward with my plan to strengthen our department, which starts in the 8th and 9th grades. Additionally, since my time is limited with them, I made a Google Site to demonstrate what it looks like when the district curriculum is merged with instructional resources.

Home Page (click or touch for site)
The first image shows a general homepage with access to two of the most important resources the students will need in 9th grade: vocabulary and current events. The second is an example of a lesson page with student-friendly directions, guiding questions, and resources such as videos, website links, images, and worksheets and other advance organizers.

The underlying goal of this site is to provide teachers with a resource that's usable so they can dedicate more of their time to making assessments and providing feedback, the most important elements of the instructional process that too often take a backseat.
Lesson Example

Getting Started

  1. It starts with the standards. 
  2. Once the standards for a unit are identified, it's often easier to teach and assess if questions based on the standards are formulated. This makes assessment design more effective.
  3. Make assessments for each standard and identify the standards that will be assessed on the unit exam. If there are too many standards on the unit exam, now is a good time to break the unit into parts one and two. This is one of the reasons we start with standards and assessment. 
  4. Next, the resources that will support the learning required to achieve mastery of the standards are found and organized. We do this on Google Drive both at our district and campus levels.
  5. Lastly, the resources are organized on Google Sites, which can be shared via link with the students and directly with the PLC members by sharing editing permissions for the site.
This was a little bit about how I'm responding to an important problem. Part of my motivation to solve this problem comes from a difference in opinion about how to provide professional development on the elements of an effective PLC. My way is heavy on application, learning by doing. Others seem to think that a book study will solve the problem, yet another group thinks it takes a long time.

We don't have long time. If I take three years to teach, I won't be teaching the same teachers anymore. Turnaround is an issue. Book studies are helpful, but we have to follow through and apply what we learn in a way that demonstrates progress.

Thank you Google for Sites and Drive.    

6 Literacy Activities that Work

Literacy is perhaps one of the most important skill sets students need regardless of their post-secondary pursuits. Here's six reading and writing strategies that I like to use. Some of them are used more than others, depending on the needs of my students.


One of the more overlooked skills is skimming through a text. Even if the goal is to do a close read, it's still helpful to teach students a few steps to develop a technique. They scan and skim when they browse the Internet, so all you're doing is providing is some guidiance to the process and challenging them to practice on documents (starting with print is recommended). This is especially useful with non-fiction and general research. An extension activity could include something on website evaluation.

2. Question-Answer Relationship

This is about a process that we go through when we read. The activity challenges students to write out their thought process through an organization that matches the unpacking of inquiry when we read and think. If there's one thing classrooms need more of, it's metacognitive activities, thinking about thinking. 

3. One-Sentence Summary

The benefit of this activity is that it provides students the opportunity to practice writing strong sentences by condensing their ideas. It's often the limits on creativity that help develop it further. Essentially, this is microblogging, so let's have a conversation with our students about writing quality Twitter (and other social media) posts and how it relates to writing quality sentences. Word choice is everything, here. The photo to the right shows a wall in our classroom that is dedicated to anonymous summary responses. To add some evaluation, I have students mark a few responses with a plus or delta symbol (like or change). We can easily see if certain responses are more liked or need to be changed, which models for students the importance of prioritizing time by identifying the most popular or troubling areas. 

4. First Lines

Making predictions is one of the best components to a learning activity. First lines challenges learners to make predictions as to what a paragraph is about after reading only the first sentence. This activity helps learners become more engaged readers while practicing identifying main ideas. It also transfers well into writing more effective topic sentences. An extension activity could be to have students rewrite the first line after they confirm the accuracy of their predictions. Great stuff for ELLs, including English as a primary language speakers. After all, when English is used in the classroom, we are all ELLs.

5. Truth Statements

Introducing or reviewing topics can be more engaging when students write a few truth statements. The stem for these is something like, "It is true that ... " This activity can be shared out on sticky notes to a board with a confidence scale (1 to 4) to add some reflection to the process. This helps students develop their self-assessment and self-evaluation skills, which are critical to effective writing. I usually do this one after a brain dump, done individually, so students have some of their own facts to formulate statements. If you start a topic with the truth statements, have the students reflect on the accuracy of their statements to bring closure to the lesson.

6. What? How? Why? Outline 

Sometimes we call these journalist questions. When my students ask me what I'm looking for in a short response, I suggest answering these three questions as specifically and focused as possible. If the question is about what factors made assembly lines possible in the automobile industry, students should focus by choosing one factor, like interchangeable parts, to comment on instead of listing all the factors. This sets them up to tell how production employs interchangeable parts before finishing with why this factor is so critical to the success of the assembly line. There's nothing wrong with a three-sentence paragraph if they're good sentences. Students also need to learn that it's better to focus on one part really well than to try to get it all in and confuse the reader.

Thank you for reading. A second part with more challenging literacy activities will be posted next month. Please comment with ways you think these activities, or others, can be used to support our learners. 

4 Ways to use the Remind Mobile App

Remind has become my favorite way to communicate with students and parents. It is many times more effective than posting on a social media wall or sending emails because it is no different than receiving a text message.  

1. Send a message to a class or group of three or more students.
You never need the students' phone numbers and yours stays anonymous, as well.

2. Schedule a message.
As a classroom teacher, I value this feature because I may only get ten minutes once a week to put together a series of messages that will support students in their busy lives.   

3. Insert a link or attachment. 
They like the links that I paste in because it means (for those with smart phones) that they are one or two clicks from content. 

4. Tweet the message 
Important messages sometimes receive extra attention through social media. If you have a classroom that already uses Twitter or Facebook, this option cuts out another step. Just touch the heart in the top right.  

You can also embed a feed of the messages on your website. The feed can be imported by link, so it is easy to put one on a Google Site. 

10 Ways to Use Quizlet

Click or touch below for slideshare.

"Reassessment Doesn't Work, Right?"

Teachers often wonder, "What is this teaching our students?"

The opportunity to reassess "gives students something for nothing." Some teachers are worried that students will fail a test to find out what's on it, using the first attempt as a kind of review. I'm not one of those teachers. These same teachers are also concerned about the added work reassessment places on their part. Although I do not share these concerns anymore, they deserve attention.

For the past two years, I've been developing an approach to conditional reassessment. It aims to ensure that students who choose not to do the work before a summative assessment must complete the work before reassessment. Likewise, students who chose not to do the work before an assessment, and are satisfied with their grade, are not penalized for the incomplete practice or homework. What does anyone have to gain by doing that?

The safety net is the frequency of checks for understanding that precede summative assessments. Ideally, the checks for understanding consists of well-tracked formative assessments, but I sometimes use a series of short summatives that are recorded but not factored into the summary grade by default.

The decision to factor an assessment becomes a question of evidence. For that matter, I'm not concerned about whether the evidence comes from a unit exam or a short quiz. The only time I feel safe with regard to reporting grades is when the evidence tells me something about student achievement. Furthermore, the means through which the evidence was obtained should never damage a learner's confidence. Sure, kids will get their feelings hurt from time to time, like any of us, but it should not be to the extent that it gets in the way of educational goals.

"Okay, how is this fair?" 

After two years of treating assessment this way, I have only worked with about three students who could achieve advanced mastery without completing the practice or homework. Further, I have never had a student go through my reassessment process more than three times in a year. That's about 7 percent of the total assessments.

If you're really concerned about work habits and whether or not reassessment is fair to the student who did it well the first time, then look at it this way: the three-time re-assessee was still evaluated 93 percent of the time based on first attempts. If you determine summary grades on a 0-100 scale, this student's choices are still becoming of an "A" student. Statisticians understand that there's little to no observable difference between a 98 and a 90, given the relatively small evidence sample sizes we use to report grades. So what makes teachers the greater authority?

"I'll tell you how it's fair!"

All students get the opportunity to experience knowledge seeking over point chasing. That's what makes it fair. Letting students make lots of choices that place their education in their own hands requires frequent feedback, of various types, to support students throughout the learning process. Although this process is not full of successes in the traditional sense, it does, however, allow students to learn more about what they know and don't know, as well as how they learn new information and strengthen existing knowledge.

Another question I get is, "What does this look like in your classroom?" 

The work flow shown here is a generic sketch of how evidence of understanding is handled in my classes (click or touch). The practice and homework are assessment for learning and rarely calculated in summary grades for reporting. However, numerical-based feedback as well as commentary are almost always provided and tracked. NOTE: (1) Choose either numerical or commentary forms of feedback, not both. Whenever numerical is used, students focus on the number. Commentary is the only type of feedback known to lead to achievement gains. (2) Review of student work and assessments is effective when it is student-led. Students can complete tracking sheets that show assessment items in relation to an achievement level of the standards. Students also complete a reassessment agreement. Providing this kind of practice helps students communicate more effectively with their parents, as well.

The purpose of this approach to assessment is to provide students with the opportunity to become accountable for their education by providing safe choices. The strategy that keeps me sane throughout this process is called consequences with empathy (from Love and Logic). Click here for a quick sheet on empathetic responses.

Thanks for reading. Please provide feedback and stories about successes and failures. And remember, ask yourself if the issue is about point chasing or knowledge seeking.

7 Activities with TodaysMeet

TodaysMeet is one of the most powerful classroom discussion tools. Here are some suggestions. 

1. Use TodaysMeet as a "parking lot" for questions that come up during the lesson.

You've heard of the "ask-it basket," right? Well, it's this way to allow students to ask questions without interrupting class or to ask questions that are difficult to ask in front of everyone. It doesn't work in my class, never has. But TodaysMeet does work, which is probably attributable to the fact that students do not have to change their primacy platform for communicating.

2. Send links to all students in the classroom quickly.

Although there are other ways to do this, using TodaysMeet to send links will keep discussion info in context with the learning materials.

3. Use guiding questions before students watch a video.

Access to guiding questions can be made available before the learning activity to allow, for example, those students who feel more comfortable with a lesson preview before class can be at ease and ready to learn.

4. Create Wordle from transcript after discussions to analyze what students understand as most important

What was most important in our discussion? A quick copy/paste into will visually represent the frequency of words. Try displaying the Wordle for a journal reflection activity after the lesson or at the beginning of the next class.

5. Use transcript to give daily grade based on participation

Each transcript can be saved as a PDF, making it easy to assess participation for a three-week progress report. It's also strong evidence for parent conferences (positive or intervention).

6. Two or more classrooms engage in a conversation as they listen to the same content at the same time.

With an inexhaustible amount of videos and podcasts available, students from different classes can listen to a live podcast and have a back channel discussion on TodaysMeet without interrupting. Since we all tune in and out, the back channel often better keeps their attention, while making the departures from listening relevant.

7. Before a science lab, students record their hypothesis. After lab, they respond about the conclusion.

The teacher can project the hypothesis before and after the lab for discussion. Teachers have the transcript for assessment and students can access it for lab reports. This use also works for anticipation guides, thesis writing, and even math solution defense.