Technology as Accelerator #immooc


I love the buzz in the classroom when student are engaged to create something to share their learning; perhaps an Animoto video with captions, a comic strip, or Google Slides. When students get stuck, they call out, “Does anyone know….” and the expert in that medium jumps up to help. They become experts because they played with it; they used it and tried different aspects of it – fonts, inserts, color, picture cropping, etc. Sometimes the request by their peer is something new, and they figure out how together, and share it with others when needed.

Or sometimes, partners will share their idea for explaining their content on a Google Slide, and their partner suggests, “That’s too much content for a slide; how about an infographic? Do you see your lists; they are in categories – that’s your info. What image would explain this list…” — they discuss about the content and how to present it.

When we teach something, be it technology or content, we learn it better ourselves.  Whether we are teachers or students, teaching to others deepens our own understanding. How do we break down the silos of classrooms and build up the communities of practice? Perhaps teachers could “learn twice.”

How can teachers “learn twice?”  

One way is to share one’s learning with others. Take time in staff meetings to share a strategy — what it is and why you chose it. Better yet, keep a blog and reflect on your classroom strategies, share it with your peers, tweet it out. Get feedback, and keep learning. By writing a reflection, chances are you’ll fine-tune the ideas for the next time while providing something that someone else may need to know. Think of when you learned from someone else — imagine that someone else had blogged about it; their voice would have been heard by not just you, but by many. Every one has a story from which others can learn. Want help? Just ask.

Our desire as educators [administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals] to become “distinguished” will be enhanced by  “learning twice.”  By reflecting and sharing, we further our own understandings. George Couros, in the Innovators Mindset, reminds us of this importance of reflective sharing to an audience:


Why blog?

It lets us experiment with technology and learn its benefits.It gives us a place to record our work, able to review when needed, and write another post about the next page in the journey as more understanding is achieved. It deepens our thinking as we consider the “other” audience beyond our building colleagues.

In addition, it puts us in the shoes of a learner once more. And that is key to improving and innovating in schools. Every thing we do is to improve the learning of students, yet if we continue with what is comfortable and traditional, we neglect the needed opportunities for the future of our students created by the technology students have in their pockets.

Focusing on the learner, not just the learning, shifts the focus to a larger moral imperative to embrace the opportunities to educate and empower the students in our schools and classrooms in powerful ways.

George Couros, Innovator’s Mindset LOC 1926

How do we build on what we do in powerful ways?

Building on what is already done in the classroom, teachers can harness the power within our pockets and with the tools in the classroom for more powerful learning.  Educators today must learn the tools that provide students with unlimited possibilities and opportunities for deeper learning. Blog to learn technology, and blog to reflect on the ways that technology empowers the learners in your care.

Learners are the driver; technology is the accelerator.

George Couros, Innovator’s Mindset LOC 1926

How does technology accelerate learning for the teacher?

If teachers blog their reflections and the classroom learning, teachers “learn twice.” If they begin blogging, they become users of technology, adding in, and hopefully creating pictures, infographics, videos, and hyperlinks, just as their students are. Here, technology accelerates the relevance of teachers to their students as they understand the communicative, creative, and reflective nature of a connected world.

Why learn technology?

Students today enjoy the instant connectedness of online communication, yet they often are not well versed in more sophisticated possibilities nor the importance of their digital footprint. Teachers implementing technology can guide students in these possibilities and with continuous conversation in digital citizenship. Students aren’t enamored with simply using technology, they want to create with technology. So, more importantly, teachers implementing technology can better the learning experience, which is the best and most innovative reason for learning technology.

Building complex learning experiences, where students are routinely thinking at high levels, interacting with their peers, and receiving careful guidance and support from their teachers is what grounds authentic engagement.

LaForgia, Jamie. DEMYSTIFYING STUDENT ENGAGEMENT, Discovery Education

However, we don’t want just engagement — keeping kids on task, we want deep learning.

Digital learning tools like Kahoot! and Socrative engage students because they’re fun and interactive. However, it’s clear, that these practices do not encourage the deep teaching and learning we want to see in classrooms. It’s our responsibility to help teachers move beyond superficial engagement and support them in creating cognitively engaging environments for all students.

LaForgia, Jamie. DEMYSTIFYING STUDENT ENGAGEMENT, Discovery Education

Technology empowers learners to clarify their own understanding, to develop their ideas through conversation with others, and to act on their ideas through their choices in who and what to share. Innovating — changing to make something better — with technology focuses on learning targets, provides a vehicle for practicing real world processes and creating real solutions for all students, and it offers a continuous feedback loop for formative assessment.

How could technology accelerate learning for students?

Take Student Talk as an example. A big push in many classrooms today is to move from lecture and teacher talk to more engagement and student talk. If the teacher is talking, the students are passive. If the students are talking, they connect with the learning. In fact, student talk is a powerful formative assessment.

Why is Student Talk important?

…skillful teachers make use of dialogic exchanges with students to both monitor understanding and initiate instructional moves to engage students in deeper explorations of content. P 51

Ford-Connors, Robertson, and Paratore | Classroom Talk as (In)Formative AssessmentVoices from the Middle, Volume 23 Number 3, March 2016

Educational research has shown over and over how important social interaction is to learning.


Student talk is learning, and it provides the best vehicle for assessing student understanding of what is taught and providing interventions for misinformation or needed skills.

In fact, it is the assessment that accompanies instruction that offers the most trustworthy information about what students know and can do; and within the instructional cycle of teaching and learning that structures the school day, talk creates the currency through which knowledge is exchanged. P 56

Through dynamic and interactive teacher-student talk, routine exchanges become a valuable source of information to strengthen learning and form the heart of the teaching and learning cycle. P 56

Ford-Connors, Robertson, and Paratore | Classroom Talk as (In)Formative AssessmentVoices from the Middle, Volume 23 Number 3, March 2016

So, yes, students could work in groups and talk about the issue and then share out in class for a class discussion. They could take notes on paper and share those under the document camera. Teachers then note and provide feedback on student responses during the discussion.

By using anecdotal records to monitor students’ oral and written interactions with content, Ms. Jenner can readily see who needs additional support and what concepts or ideas require further exploration. P 55

The knowledge gained through students’ participation in dialogic exchanges with their teachers provides a view of students’ evolving understandings and acquisition of content, which, in turn, influences teachers’ instructional decisions and next steps. Assessment becomes “in-formative” when the teacher turns the observations and insights gathered during these interactions into more focused teaching actions and responses that address students’ immediate learning needs. P 56

Ford-Connors, Robertson, and Paratore | Classroom Talk as (In)Formative AssessmentVoices from the Middle, Volume 23 Number 3, March 2016

However, how many students in that situation are always engaged? And to be truly effective, keeping the conversation flowing without teachers taking anecdotal notes during the discussion is important for deeper learning.

Is there a way to gather information on student understandings, confusions, academic vocabulary, and misinformation in a way that includes more students in the conversation for a more thorough assessment of strengths and needs during “student talk?”

How does technology accelerate Student Talk?

This is where technology becomes the accelerator; it augments the standard conversation and paper/pencil responses, often redefining the learning in ways that could not occur without technology. [See SAMR model within pedagogy for more information on augmentation and redefinition].

At the core of daily teaching is the ability to check for understanding in such a way that teachers learn how to help students. Fostering oral language and using questioning techniques aid this kind of informed check-in (Fisher & Frey, 2007).

The evidence on using student talk as a mechanism for learning is compelling; in classrooms with higher rates and levels of student talk, more students excel academically (Stichter, Stormont, & Lewis, 2009).

Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey. Feed Up, Back, Forward, ASCD November 2009 | Volume 67 | Number 3 Multiple Measures Pages 20-25

By using technology that allows all students to participate and discuss based on their ideas, all students grow and learn, and teachers have a digital record to review for next steps after already offering feedback during the writing and participatory conversations.

Through careful responses, they [teachers] provide additional information and/or feedback about students’ ideas and performance that can strengthen students’ understanding of content and further their knowledge of learning strategies within the context of the learning event. The assessment that occurs in these dialogic exchanges becomes formative because “the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching work to meet the learning needs” Page 52

Ford-Connors, Robertson, and Paratore | Classroom Talk as (In)Formative AssessmentVoices from the Middle, Volume 23 Number 3, March 2016

To augment student talk, use technology to engage all students to empower them to better use academic vocabulary and consider and analyze concepts for deeper learning. In fact, through the use of technology to gather “student talk” from all students, students practice the best strategy for learning and remembering: retrieval.

Better than re-reading or note-taking, retrieval provides the connections needed by the brain to deepen memory and understanding. Retrieval means to pull out of memory what is known and what was studied, and reprocess it in one’s own words.

By engaging every student in retrieval practice, every student reaps its benefits for long-term learning

Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D. Henry L. Roediger, III, Ph.D. Mark A. McDaniel, Ph.D. Kathleen B. McDermott, Ph.D. (2013) How to Use Retrieval Practice to Improve Learning. Washington University in St. Louis

As students explain themselves on a focused question or statement, all students write from what they know, pulling in their background knowledge and adapting that to what they have learned in the lesson, reading, video, image, etc. When discussing with peers, they consider additional information and solidify the connections to build better knowledge.

By engaging in retrieval practice, students are able to evaluate what they know and what they don’t know, and then make better study decisions. Improved metacognition also benefits teachers: by seeing what students know and don’t know, teachers can adjust lesson plans to ensure that all students are on the same page.

Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D. Henry L. Roediger, III, Ph.D. Mark A. McDaniel, Ph.D. Kathleen B. McDermott, Ph.D. (2013) How to Use Retrieval Practice to Improve Learning. Washington University in St. Louis

Throughout this process using technology to engage more students, the teacher walks around and participates in discussions and thinking. With the information projected on a screen and in a laptop/tablet in her hands, the teacher is always aware of group work and thinking, and is more able to understand the thinking of most students. Pause a group or class as needed to answer questions most students have. With Google Classroom, students can easily share the link to their document or resource with the teacher who can share on screen. Debrief with the whole class by asking students to share what they are doing and thinking as far as the process and the content. Debriefing and clarifying with feedback is key to adapting and scaffolding the ideas so all student have the background knowledge and confidence to participate more fully.

An important component of metacognition is feedback, or providing students information about whether they got something correct or incorrect. Without feedback, students won’t know how they performed. Thus, feedback should always be provided to students after retrieval practice.

Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D. Henry L. Roediger, III, Ph.D. Mark A. McDaniel, Ph.D. Kathleen B. McDermott, Ph.D. (2013) How to Use Retrieval Practice to Improve Learning. Washington University in St. Louis

Because all students are adding ideas, receiving feedback, and clarifying their understanding, students are motivated and engaged as active participants in the topic under consideration, thinking and choosing of their learning, listening to others in the class conversation so they may extend their own ideas. In class conversations, students choose their part to discuss and clarify. Students are empowered, not just compliant.

The compliant, dutiful learner is easy to manage, does what’s expected, and participates when there’s little risk of being wrong.

Engaged learners often pursue their own train of thought about the topic under study, regardless of the task at hand.

If we want to grow capacity in our students; unearth student talents, dreams, and aspirations; and instill perseverance through a focus on doing hard work, learning from mistakes, and revising one’s work, we need to design classroom practices around securing real engagement.

Jackson, Robyn, and Allison Zmuda. “Four (Secret) Keys to Student Engagement.” Educational Leadership 72.1 (2014): 18-24.

To augment and redefine student talk, teachers implement technology that:

  • Follows research on pedagogy and learning
  • Focuses on learning targets
  • Provides a vehicle for all students to participate
    • Engaged in process and content
    • Empowered with own contributions
      • Shares concepts
      • Acknowledges new information
      • Revises own ideas with peer and teacher contributions
  • Enforces opportunities for retrieval through writing and talking
  • Offers feedback
    • for process and content done well
    • and to guide with correct processing and content information

What technology could accelerate Student Talk?

Here are five scenarios using Google Apps for Education with this process of independent, partner/team/group, and whole class debriefing.

1 Assessing Background Knowledge / Building Vocabulary

Provide a focus statement on the topic in an announcement in Google Classroom to be responded in comments by each student. A focus statement is one that presents a situation on the topic being studied and which is open-ended for discussion [Example: “Thousands of Native American children were taken from their families and sent to boarding schools to ‘Learn the ways of the white man.’ Today, Native Americans live in two worlds, the world of their tribe and the world of mainstream America.” ] After responding individually, students then partner up and together respond to the individual ideas in more comments that may:

  • Ask questions,
  • Ask for elaboration, etc.
  • Bring up vocabulary
  • Present basic knowledge of content

Students think about the topic and discuss what is known to build a framework for background knowledge and vocabulary.  As a final activity to move forward, share out in another announcement/question, a shared spreadsheet or document with “anyone can edit” [Wonder and Vocabulary or document] for students to wonder their questions and suggest vocabulary. After discussion, share as view only as a resource and further discussion as a class and begin reading resources for the project. Or more vocabulary can be added by students during readings, if the document remains shared to edit.

Remember, do not make a copy for all students, just share the one document. Use “revision history” if needed if work is deleted by mistake. This takes practice, but is easily mastered; students find this easier than adults.

2 During Reading / Developing Understanding and Vocabulary

Based on the previous activity, or starting from a reading section based on a focus statement, provide a forum for students to share their own ideas from the reading using a Student Discussion Focus “anyone can edit” spreadsheet or document. Provide the link through Google classroom or teacher slides/website.

Directions for Spreadsheet Version:

First students add their name in a row in column A, then write their own “most important idea” in column B. Next they write what surprised them from the reading in column C.

Partners or teams can now form to read all the information by their peers in the first section, recording their names a cell in a row of column D of the template. They discuss what was important and surprising, and then write any further questions they asked about the topic and what they answered in column E.

Next, each partner/team writes in column F their own focus statements based on the ideas they discussed and wrote about in the previous column.

Students now duplicate the “Duplicate This Sheet 1.” They rename the sheet with their name. Then they copy at least four of the focus statements other teams have suggested. Students then choose whether they agree/disagree with the statements and explain why.

The teacher can then make a copy of the template spreadsheet and link to the original work of the first day set to “view only.” Then share that fresh document with students for the next reading with “anyone can edit.”Students start the day in teams, discussing their ideas each team member rationalized in the original sheet through each one’s personalized sheet. If needed, reopen it for students to revise. [You could make a copy to save to compare; that would be easier than going through revision history for all student responses]. Then they repeat the process from the day before with today’s reading.

If kept open, at any time students can add vocabulary words on the vocabulary section: the word, why it’s important.  At any time and for any word, students can add a sentence that the word would be used as an explanation of the topic.  A column also provides a space for the word’s use in other situations.

3 Gathering Questions / Search Terms

Through Google Classroom or a link on a website or class slides viewable by students, share the link to a “Share Out” spreadsheet  shared as “anyone with the link can edit” with these directions [in green on worksheet]. The purpose of this discussion is to discover evidence already known that interests individuals and teams to finalize their own questions and possible search terms for their own research.

Choose your row. Answer the questions in each column:
1. What idea from your peers [or the reading, video, etc.] was most important to you and why?
2. What surprised you?
3. What questions would you ask to clarify the focus statement?

Next, ask students to choose the questions that most interest them as they work with a partner or trios. Ask them to copy/paste them into a cell in the blue column. [debrief]

Ask students to sign up for teams and and then choose their team’s questions by copying them into the yellow columns. [debrief]

Ask partners/teams to consider in the pink column what “key search words” would best help them find answers to their questions. [debrief] Provide feedback and details on how to search if students don’t have that skill yet.

Students are now ready to begin research on the part of the topic of interest to them.  Revise the questions/purpose according to your needs.

4 Right Question Institute: QFT

Digging deeper, the Question Formulation Technique is a process created by the Right Question Institute. Students respond to a focus statement to ask their own questions and begin their own research.  Here’s a modification from my class: QRT Focus; it can be used prior to reading, after reading, or after the teacher’s initial reading aloud of an article for background knowledge. It can be used for the student’s own team or individual focus statement for continued research.

5 On the Spot Share Out

At any time during a lesson, when the teacher wants to gather input from students to see what is understood so far and to discuss responses to clarify, use the Share Out template [spreadsheet or document] Students choose a spot, type their name, and type their response. The documents can be easily cleared for the next class and revision history will bring back the version for each class if needed.

Note: Primary students in Google documents can use “voice-typing” to input their text. Just go to Tools–> Voice-typing.

How do these “learn twice” and empower students?

Every time students are composing from their own ideas based on their conversations and lessons/readings/viewings, they are using their own words to reprocess the information and make connections. As they share with others, they teach them; as they listen to others, they add and change their own ideas again. As students form their own focus statements and questions to learn a part that interests them which they will share again with peers and hopefully publish for others in the world, they become engaged in the learning and empowered to discover their own understanding; they begin to own their learning with the agency to succeed.


Using technology to better the learning strategy and pedagogy drives me to continuously learn more engaging and empowering tools. I must be relevant to my students to guide them into their future.


By reflecting here, I learn twice: why do I do what I do in my classroom with these tools? I’ve clarified for myself here, and shared it with others who can build upon it. It’s up to all of us to learn from these opportunities through technologies and to share the what and how so all teachers can be dynamic, distinguished, relevant educators for our students.


This means we must all be learners, engaging with information, communicating our understanding, collaborating with others, discovering our passions, and creating solutions to better the world.

I leave you with this moral imperative and the words of George Couros in Innovator’s Mindset, Chapter 9 for #immooc, and I hope you blog your strategies and  your templates and suggestions for enhancing student talk with technology to empower learners to build understanding and empower teachers to guide that understanding.


Images created in Notegraphy by Sheri Edwards based on research notes


George Couros. The Innovator’s Mindset. Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. Dave Burgess Consulting 2015 Kindle Edition.

Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey. Feed Up, Back, Forward, ASCD November 2009 | Volume 67 | Number 3 Multiple Measures Pages 20-25

Ford-Connors, Robertson, and Paratore | Classroom Talk as (In)Formative AssessmentVoices from the Middle, Volume 23 Number 3, March 2016

Jackson, Robyn, and Allison Zmuda. “Four (Secret) Keys to Student Engagement.” Educational Leadership 72.1 (2014): 18-24.

LaForgia, Jamie. DEMYSTIFYING STUDENT ENGAGEMENT, Discovery Education

Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D. Henry L. Roediger, III, Ph.D. Mark A. McDaniel, Ph.D. Kathleen B. McDermott, Ph.D. (2013) How to Use Retrieval Practice to Improve Learning. Washington University in St. Louis

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Slice of Life Cobbles



Her feet hurt.

For hours she walked upon volcanic basalt cubes, the cobblestone streets of ancient Rome. One foot carefully placed, then another. Step by step in shoes without support in the arch or ankle, she tread through the tiny alleyways winding in ancient patterns to the places most of us only dream or read about: the Colosseum and the Pantheon.

The cobblestones cover the streets in the ancient city of Rome. They are cubes of basalt, a hard volcanic rock. The basalt cubes lay spaced atop the earth below, fitting together loosely to allow them to form to the earth. Settling into the ground, the cubes are uneven in height, creating a difficult terrain, much less friendly than the soft earth on the mountains of home in Washington State, where the wet earth would cushion her step beneath the tall firs.

The well-worn cobbles, two-thousand years old, welcome travelers; their unevenness forces them to notice the rugged roadway, and to notice each step of their adventure through the winding streets. Just as the firs of home have beckoned her towards the next bend in the narrow path,  the rows of cobbles now seem to say, “You’re almost there. Look ahead– look around the corner; there’s more to see. You can do it.”

The adventure itself eases her pain as she stops for a chocolate frappe and chats with locals. She steps back onto the cobbles, joins the troupe of travelers, and turns the corner to discover a new destination ahead, which will be followed by more.

Her feet quicken.


Public Domain Image: South_east_view_of_the_Pantheon_from_Piazza_Minerva

Life in Italy: Sampietrini

About the Roman Cobbles BBC


Writing Strategy:


Develop the topic with relevant facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples.

Layer each idea one upon another.


For hours she walked upon volcanic basalt cubes, the cobblestone streets of ancient Rome. One foot carefully placed, then another. Step by step in shoes without support in the arch or ankle, she tread through the tiny alleyways winding in ancient patterns to the places most of us only dream or read about.

walk — ON cobblestone streets—  BY foot — EACH step –WILL tread — THROUGH alleyways —  TO places

Alliteration:  — repeated beginning consonant sounds –

s – Step by step in shoes without support

c – cobblestones cover

d- discover a new destination

Strong Verbs:  walk, tread, creating, welcomes, beckoned, steps, joins

Scrambled Secrets #sol

7089121211_b8e1898dd9_nWhat’s your favorite breakfast?

I like to break my fast with scrambled eggs. I don’t want any fluff for breakfast, not that silly rabbit’s Trix in it’s bright pink package or its friend the chocolate puffs.

Nope. I love the aroma of scrambled eggs freshly fluffed.

I can imagine the morning now. I pull out the medium glass bowl, the middle bowl of the turquoise pyrex set Scott’s mom had.

I reach for the medium-sized frying pan and toss in a pad of butter, turning the heat up to just below medium high.

I crack open one egg and gently let it plop into the bowl. I repeat with one more egg. Then I add an egg and a half of cream.  What’s an egg and a half?  I imagine how much cream would fill an egg shell, that’s what.  With a small wisk, I whip the eggs fluffy.

Now the choices. I choose a handful of shredded mozzarella cheese — the real stuff too, not “light.” I sprinkle in about a tablespoon of dill weed and a half teaspoon of tarragon. I slowly stir those in with the mess of eggs, just as the butter begins to sizzle in the pan.

Carefully, I pour from the bowl so the fluff of eggs just slip across the pan, sizzling a song the yellow mass can dance to while I return to the fridge for the last item: whipped cream cheese. I scoop a dollop and drop it onto the eggs in the center. I repeat four more times around that center dollop, and them begin to swish up the eggs with a wooden spoon to finish the scramble, smooth, not lumpy.

I swish the scrambles out of the pan and onto plates, topped with two sprigs of chives. The aroma wafts up as I bring the plates to the breakfast table. Salt is added then to taste. “Mmmm,” Scott mumbles as he sprinkles his salt.

Now that’s a good morning, where all the secret choices scrambled together create a wonderful and pleasing effect. It’s rather like the classroom, when the small choices allowed in kids’ learning allow each student the chance to scramble up ideas and skills on their terms, becoming focused on making just the write word choices. The sizzle in the classroom sharing those choices are not fluff, but are the stuff of engaged authors, a wonderful and pleasing effect for all of us.

What about your breakfast? Does its secrets motivate your day?



My writing choices:

Description Sight: “I pull out the medium glass bowl, the middle bowl of the turquoise pyrex set Scott’s mom had.”

Description Sound: “the butter begins to sizzle in the pan.”

Details: I like to break my fast with scrambled eggs. I don’t want any fluff for breakfast, not that silly rabbit’s Trix in it’s bright pink package or its friend the chocolate puffs.

Dialogue: “‘Mmmm,’ Scott mumbles as he sprinkles his salt.”

Alliteration/Consonance [m and s]: “‘Mmmm,’ Scott mumbles as he sprinkles his salt.”

And did you notice how I expanded the idea into the classroom? How I compared the choices in my scrambled eggs and its culinary delight to the choices made by students  and their sharing and engagement.

What writing choices do you see?


Image Source: Flickr CC 2.0  by Kitchen Life of a Navy Wife



Questioning myself discovered my students need to ask questions also.

As I start the new year, I ask questions of my practice and of my students’ practice. What is it that prevents students from learning, or from showing their learning?

Most of my students are boys, so after reading about the topic in a blog, I reblogged the post by Grant Wiggins: Design Thinking, postscript: the importance of the teacher

  I appreciated this information:

strategies for teaching boys from the research of Christina Hoff Sommers:

” The most effective lessons included more than one of these elements:

  • Lessons that result in an end product–a booklet, a catapult, a poem, or a comic strip, for example.
  • Lessons that are structured as competitive games.
  • Lessons requiring motor activity.
  • Lessons requiring boys to assume responsibility for the learning of others.
  • Lessons that require boys to address open questions or unsolved problems.
  • Lessons that require a combination of competition and teamwork.
  • Lessons that focus on independent, personal discovery and realization.
  • Lessons that introduce drama in the form of novelty or surprise.”

I have since discovered that the book on this subject is Reading Boys Teaching Boys Strategies  that Work — And Why by Michael Reichert and Richard Hawley and that The Atlantic Article by Jessica Lahey is Stop Penalizing Boys For Not Being Able to Sit Still At School includes the excerpt above. Most of my students this year are boys. Yet, all of the above elements engage all students, so why not include them?

I am moving back towards projects — a purpose for learning. Just teaching “posted objectives” does not engage learners. Learners need authentic experiences, and in that process learn more that the “posted objective” and learn what each student needs at that time. Over the years we as teachers have been, through mandates and test focus, directed away from themes and projects to disconnected test-prompts and objectives. The results have been a loss of joy in learning. Therefore, projects, which include a product, are the engaging counterpoint to the dilemma, and helps engage the boys — and girls– in the classroom.

In addition, projects usually include movement and collaboration, helping others. That allows boys to dispel their “antsy-ness” and help others (be responsible for the learning of others). By working in teams, boys naturally check on each other (“Where are you?” is often asked as a student walks over to another team’s project). Also, projects allow students their own discovery of solutions and content as they investigate their part and collaborate with their team and the class for the project and product. And good projects include continuous self-assessment, check-ins, and feedback (student/teacher) which can also include the elements in the list (a game, drama, a quick project to share by teams and individuals). Then the “experts” can guide others, building in again the helping of others.

What I’ve noticed, though, is that students don’t ask their own questions; they wait for teacher prompts. Students know how to answer teacher prompts, but do so without evidence. Students are not connecting to the the theme / message of the texts since they are searching for answers rather than analyzing the argument / evidence of the message.

What students need to do and what the Common Core State Standards shift us to include these:

CCSS Shift

Shift 4

Text-Based Answers

Students have rich and rigorous conversations which are dependent on a common text.  Teachers insist that classroom experiences stay deeply connected to the text on the page and that students develop habits for making evidentiary arguments both in conversation, as well as in writing to assess comprehension of a text.

Shift 5

Writing from Sources

Writing needs to emphasize use of evidence to inform or make an argument rather than the personal narrative and other forms of decontextualized prompts.  While the narrative still has an important role, students develop skills through written arguments that respond to the ideas, events, facts, and arguments presented in the texts they read.

Again though, students involved in projects are guided to ask their own questions, and to discover the information, analyze the ideas, and synthesize them into their response, which is revised into a product that explains the topic in a format the audience will understand.

What I need to do to enable students to grow in these areas?

  • Use backwards design to develop projects that allows students a choice in product and process while meeting objectives.
  • Teach questioning strategies.
  • Engage students in rich and rigorous conversations.
  • Ensure writing tasks provide both teacher and student generated essential questions that demand textual analysis to access the evidence for student responses.

In review of questioning, I discovered the Right Question Institute’s protocol for asking good questions. We’ve started using that in class, and considering the many resources on “thick” and “thin” questions (Google It ), I devised a Questioning / Responding infographic (below) to use with Reciprocal Teaching (See Adlit Page also). Teams of students would (a handout):

  1. Predict / Question
    1. Follow the RQI protocol.
  2. Question as you go as well as refer to RQI questions
    1. Generate more questions as they listen and read, focusing on Think and Search (thick) questions:
      1. Right-There questions (answer in the text)
      2. Think and Search (reason through the evidence, looking for facts, claims, examples to support the author’s message over the course of the text)
      3. Author and You (require their experience connected to author’s ideas)
      4. On My Own (require experience, background knowledge connected to author’s ideas)
  3. Clarify
    1. Listen and read while asking what words , phrases, evidence, claims are unclear to them.
      1. How do you pronounce that?
      2. What does the word mean?
      3. I think the author means “___________”… because the text says….”_________”
      4. I’m guessing ‘___” means… because it says “_____”
      5. What do you think the author means when the text says “________”?
  4. Summarize
    1. Students summarize verbally, within pairs or their group, at each section.
    2. Student groups create a final, objective summary that explains the main ideas, why they are important, and a gist statement of the whole article.
    3. Students share the final summary with the class (Google Doc, Comic, Blog, Thinglink, Glog).
    4. Students create a semantic map with key ideas / details / vocabulary / sketch shared by each group member.

Key to questioning is understanding the types of questions that help us clarify and understand the content. The RQI protocol helps students analyze questions for their purpose. Thin questions help us list and analyze the details and facts; thick questions help us synthesize the ideas into concepts and understandings.

To help students understand the types of questions, I created this organizer. The Right There Questions, the facts and details are in the center, completely text dependent. Next are the Think and Search with the focus on understanding the text in parts and as a whole. Third, are Author and You questions that bring the reader’s experiences into the author’s ideas; they can help the reader understand his own ideas and the authors with the emphasis on understanding the author’s ideas ideas. Finally, On My Own questions allow the reader to consider his/her own background knowledge and experience in order to revise or substantiate his/her own thinking while focusing on understanding the author’s message and concepts.

Questioning - New Page-1

Questioning is key to understanding. Hopefully, through projects, reciprocal teaching strategies that including questioning strategies, students will learn to ask and answer their own questions while collaborating in teams to create products that mean something to each of them while meeting our new Common Core State Standards. And key to all is developing that environment that allows students to flourish. Projects, products, questions, and strategy support is a beginning.

Other Resources:

Higher Order Thinking Skills by Laura Davis

Also blogged at What Else

Reading Response #etmooc #ccss

reading8logo.0 My students are learning to love to read. They have time almost daily in my reading class to read books of their own choosing. They have been writing responses to their books each day. One of my requirements is to teach the Common Core State Standards. As we learn our new standards, we will also update our response questions.

In preparation for this, I have created CCSS questions for grades six, seven, and eight for Standards 1-6. These will require more thoughtful responses and deeper thinking than our previous responses, although our previous questions also required analysis and synthesis of ideas. We did not, however, delve much into the craft and structure of text as deeply as the CCSS require.

What questions have you devised for independent reading?

What suggestions do you have?

True to the spirit of openness (#etmooc, which I missed again today), here’s a link to the journal response questions:  Reading Response Journal Questions.

Spot barks. Doors open. You choose. Opportunities flow. This rocks: read on!


Mrs. Halverson taught my fourth grade class. I fell in love with writing that year. And I am pretty sure it was because of the way she made writing and story telling come alive.

When I think back to the lessons I learned that year, three stand out that remain just as relevant now for me and my work. And because so many of us must write, blog, communicate and create content, these three things are great reminders for almost all of us grown-ups (who know a lot but sometimes forget the basics we learned in the first place.)

So, next time you need to create content or write something, take some tips from Mrs. Halverson and do these three things:

Start with a topic sentence

When you use a topic sentence to start each paragraph, it helps you write the rest of the paragraph. Here’s how you do it:…

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Differentiate: It Works

More than Basics

Teachers in today’s “reformed” schools often are pressured by time, mandates, and test scores into lessons that:

Post the objective.

State the objective.

Explain the objective.

Practice the objective.

Test the objective.

Evaluate the objective.

Move on or reteach the objective.


But to engage students, and to meet diverse needs, teaches must differentiate.

Sometimes we can add art into the lesson.

For instance, we learned (see above steps) Reading Comprehension 2.2.3 Literary Elements: Characterization. After a lesson and discussion, we created one Google Document to which all students collaborated traits and supporting actions for each main character in our story in the Global Read Aloud 2011, Tuck Everlasting. Working on a Google Doc (Google Apps for Education) allows everyone to participate and see what others suggest. As a teacher, I can watch the ideas and prepare for the discussion as well as comment to encourage students. So we then discussed our responses, adding more ideas to each others’ initial responses. Afterwards, students demonstrated the objective with the following process.

Note: a frame provides the foundation to focus on the object and to save time; it provides the outline into which the students creatively add their characterization responses.

•    Wrote the title/author in the top frame of a character frame template.
•    Read the pages describing the character’s physical description, and drew the character within the picture frame template.
•    Added into the character’s hands the most important prop for that character relevant to that story.
•    Listed the most important personality trait for the character on the bottom frame of the poster.
•    Explained the evidence from the text for that trait in the left side frame.
•    Explained how the character’s trait affected the plot in the right side frame.

What happened:

Within this art lesson, the students who usually just make the standard even after several reteaching sessions, were shining. They created a text-based image including not just an appropriate, but pointedly relevant prop. They helped others discover the best prop for their characters. Where usually these students fail, just this twist of objectives that allowed them to “visualize” through art this story and their characters, they demonstrated a deeper level of understanding into more than Reading Comprehension 2.2.3 Literary Elements: Characterization. They discussed cause/effect, setting, plot, and character while reminding others of the story events from the particular point of view in which their little minds work.

In our mandate to teach all the standards to mastery, time is the enemy. Pressure forces lessons to cover enough objectives so students can pass The Test that determines student progress, school-wide growth, and teacher effectiveness. Differentiation seems to demand lessons that meet the needs of students who think and work differently, who need a different framework from which to understand the objective and its required response. This lesson differentiated the product so students who struggle with strictly linguistic responses could demonstrate that they did understand the character development. However, this project took time, time from other objectives because art takes time. How many students think in ways that prevent them from answering textual questions in written responses? How many are retaught and re-skilled over and over in ways that don’t meet their needs because of the lack of time to plan and implement lessons that would open their pathways to expressing comprehension and application of the objective? How much is the pressure of classroom mandates affecting the learning community?

Differentiation is not individualization; it is knowing student readiness, interests, and learning profiles. Flexible grouping and respectful tasks provide the vehicle through which students and teachers in a community of learners can successfully learn standards. Our goal is for all students to shine. Start slowly; build differentiation. Revise lessons to engage the students. Differentiation is one way.

Resources for differentiation:


Robert Sternberg Differentiation pdf