Wednesday, January 30, 2019

When Schools Get PD Right

Yesterday, I sat through one of the most productive collaborative days of my five-year teaching career and it made me wonder what made that one day so much better than all the rest? How could a day with 30 teachers in the Career Center of my school be so much more productive and better than the past five years? 

I tried to find one thing, one magic component that made it stand out. Was it the trainer? Was it new resources? Was it the technology? Was it the snacks? I realized as I pieced together the day that it had nothing to do with the day in isolation, there was nothing particularly special about the day itself but instead, it had everything to do with the past year and a half leading up to this point. 

You see two years ago, as it became clear that our school would be adopting a BYOD program our school leadership knew that in order for BYOD to be successful teachers would need more training and support. Our leadership also knew that we had an invaluable resource for blended learning on our campus: Amanda Sandoval. If you have no idea who she is, you should start here with her amazing collection of presentations. Most people refer to her as an edtech guru but the reality is she is a trailblazer in engaging personalized learning and she sees the value of how tech supports that goal. Because of this passion for personalized learning and student engagement, Amanda really is an expert on edtech tools and how to use those tools effectively for blended learning.  

Because of her skill set and because our school was about to have 1000+ students with laptops in their hands for the very first time, our school leadership put her in a position where she was teaching fewer classes and using the rest of her time to build PD days and work with teachers. She put together a team of teachers representing each department and helped them create lessons and plan PD's tailored to their department needs. She created hundreds of tutorial videos and lesson templates and consistently met with teachers to provide support. Every month, she hosts a variety of training days and PD's and whether she knew it or not (knowing her, she probably knew), her approach took our teachers from learning basic tools and fundamentals of blending learning to creating engaging and meaningful lessons. 

So for the past year and a half, teachers on our campus have had access to an active classroom teacher who has provided them with training, support, coaching, and resources. She is literally a phone call away and if you need help or coaching she will often just walk right over to your classroom and help you through the challenge you are facing. 

And then, yesterday happened and I had the most productive collaboration of my entire career. It didn't require any consultants, it had nothing to do with having the latest devices or the flashiest LMS, and we didn't need anyone dictating to us how to use every minute of our time to ensure results. 

Instead, I saw a year and a half of training and support pay off. We were still a room of people who were all at very different levels of tech knowledge and comfort but we had a much clearer shared vision of why and how to make this kind of learning happen. 

The reality that I think is often forgotten when rolling out new initiatives or expectations is that it requires a thorough plan of training, support, and time for teachers to be able to effectively change their practices. When our teachers were given consistent and meaningful training from someone who was still connected to and understood the realities of a classroom they were able to really learn. They were able to learn more than just taking one new thing from a conference or a presenter. Instead, they were able to consistently gain knowledge and resources. When our teachers were then also supported by trained teachers in each department and the resource of Amanda being available to coach, they had a support system in place when they ran into issues or needed someone to bounce ideas off of. 

And then came the most productive day of my teaching career: when it became time for teachers to start putting it all together, they were supported with a day to work through it collaboratively with teacher leaders walking the room to support and help as needed. 

And literally magic happened. I sat with members of our World History team, a group with a wide variety of tech comfort, and watched as they created an engaging lesson that allowed for student collaboration and communication and tied current events to the standards we were teaching. I watched as a science colleague coached her team through a hyperdoc and helped them learn how to collaborate using EdPuzzle. I watched as teachers around the room worked together all of us using a common language and understanding of what educational technology can do and why it has a place and purpose in the classroom.

I felt the need to share about this day because too often professional development and training for teachers comes in as one and done and then we throw our collective arms in the air and wonder why the heck no one is really doing that initiative we all trained on. 

The greatest thing you can give teachers to strengthen their practices is a system of training, support, and time. If all you give is training, teachers won't have the time to apply that training or the help they need when they run into issues. If all you give is support, teachers won't know what to ask for because they don't know what they don't know. If all you give is time, it will get used but it might not get used to further a collective goal. 

Training, support, and time were the magical ingredients that made the day so successful and it is a model I wish more leaders in decision making positions around the country would really understand. If you don't truly provide all three consistently you can't magically expect teachers to be able to adapt to your latest round of expectations.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Why I Am Leaving Canvas LMS for Google Classroom

I consider myself a team player. A few years ago when our district announced that the Learning Management System they were supporting was going to be Canvas LMS I stopped using Schoology and started learning as much as I could about Canvas LMS. Right away I could see the potential, there was a ton of back end data that Canvas was collecting, it was designed with mastery and personalized learning in mind, and you could complete customizations of your pages with just a tiny bit of knowledge of basic HTML.

So I committed to using Canvas as my class website and used it to host all the blended assignments I was creating. I spent hours reading the incredible Canvas LMS community learning all the things it could do that could potentially make my teaching more engaging, more personalized, and more about meeting the needs of my students. 

You see, Canvas does have some remarkable features - you can create quizzes that pull from a question bank so no two students have the same quiz, you can create mastery paths so students are directed what to do next based on how they do on certain tasks, you can even toggle between a mastery grade book and a traditional grade book and apply proficiency scales and rubrics to every assignment. Canvas is incredibly powerful, I honestly think it has the most potential of any LMS out there because of all the things it can do but I don't think I'll ever use Canvas again. 

It's important for you to know that I spent hours of my free time finding all the remarkable things Canvas can do. I attended every PD that was offered and I spent several semesters trying to use it with my classes and while the things it can do are really groundbreaking and incredible, to use them effectively and in a meaningful way requires an enormous amount of work from the person creating the course.

And this is where I think maybe some decisions makers have been led astray. Canvas can do everything you want it to, but you have to build it all yourself. All those rubrics, all those mastery paths, all those test banks you have to create from scratch and build and map out on your own. And while right now you might be thinking "but don't you already have to plan your units and lessons on your own? Don't you have to design assessments? How is this different than normal teaching?" The difference is you aren't just building a meaningful lesson, you have to learn and understand how all these intricate components of Canvas operate and the stuff that makes Canvas groundbreaking is the stuff that takes the most amount of time and energy to build.

Canvas does offer a place called the "Commons" where you can pull resources from other teachers but if you don't have a teacher you know and trust to pull from you then need to go through every item you brought into your class to make sure it aligns with your standards and practices and often what I have pulled has been more work than it was worth. 

I think the idea behind Canvas was that teams of teachers would work together to build the tougher parts of Canvas, the test banks, the mastery paths, the rubrics, and then share with each other. But typically, that is not how new tech initiatives are adopted at school sites. Usually, there are a few people who try it out on their own at first and then slowly more teachers adopt as they see how the tool works and can benefit students and teachers. The thing is, even after the countless hours I have put into Canvas, I can't show my colleagues how truly meaningful and powerful Canvas could be because I do not have the time to hand type the proficiency scales for every standard I teach, I don't have the time to create and develop all the mastery paths, and I don't have the time or resources to build out the test banks. And if I am not going to take the time to do that work now, I won't really be able to sell other teachers on doing it themselves, even if they could do it as a team. 

The really amazing stuff Canvas can do is incredibly time-consuming to create and so for the average teacher, it is a waste of time and energy when Google Classroom offers you the solution by seamlessly integrating with outside tools that can do all those things and more. 

For example, why would I spend time creating test banks for quizzes on Canvas when I can connect my Google Classroom to my Quizizz account and build quizzes from a massive library of teacher-created questions that I can easily search? Why am I spending the time creating an assignment on Canvas that is a video with questions when I can use Edpuzzle, synch it to Google Classroom, and it will automatically score any multiple choice questions I create? And why am I wasting my time typing rubrics and proficiency scales for each standard into Canvas when I can just add that same type of feedback to the comment bank on Google Classroom through a simple copy/paste? 

Almost every educational website, app, or tool of value that is out there right now directly syncs and connects with Google Classroom. While Canvas has "integrations" it rarely pulls grades or data from outside apps or sites into Canvas resulting in more work for the teacher. Google Classroom pulls the scores or grades from most sites it works with while with so you can see it all in one place, with Canvas you have to toggle back and forth between grade books or import CSV files to enter that data. 

Google Classroom has an incredibly simple design that is easy for students and teachers to navigate and understand. It also has features that are essential to effective teaching practices and allow teachers to increase communication and feedback to students. One of the biggest features is the ability to push a copy of an assignment to each student and see in real time what the student is doing and give them feedback while they are still working. Canvas does offer this option now as well but like most things, where Google Classroom this takes just one click of a button, Canvas requires five steps to get there. 

I absolutely believe Canvas is the more powerful LMS but it is useless to teachers without support. While the learning community and support team from Canvas are outstanding, they can't build the courses for you and unless districts are going to pay for the hours upon hours it takes to fully build courses that can truly utilize those features then it just isn't worth it. 

Now, if you are one of those remarkable teachers who has spent the time and energy to build a course that uses the incredible features Canvas has to offer I admire you and am kind of envious of your skill level and dedication. At the end of the day, it honestly doesn't matter which LMS you are using, you know your class and what works best for them, as a teacher you should have the autonomy to make that choice and at the teacher level there is no right or wrong when deciding on your LMS. 

What I hope comes out of my writing this is an understanding that while some education technology out there is incredibly powerful and versatile the effort it takes a teacher to fully use that tool might not make it worth it. It doesn't matter if teachers have access to the most powerful learning system if the support and resources are not there to allow them to fully implement it. With Canvas, the support can't be limited to training teachers how it works because what teachers really need to implement it well is for there to be banks and databases for them to pull resources from. And that is the consistent problem I see with Canvas, it can really do it all but it takes endless hours to get it ready to do it all just for one class. When that responsibility is placed on the individual teachers' shoulders then it becomes nearly impossible for a teacher to effectively implement all Canvas has to offer.

For me the choice is clear, Google Classroom has powerful features in a student-friendly design that is easy to navigate. It is a system that is quick and easy to learn and use. While it does not have all the options that Canvas does it instead offers the ability to seamlessly sync with other educational sites and apps that offer many of those things. With Google Classroom I can create a place that is easy for students to navigate, offers personalized learning experiences, and allows me to communicate and give feedback while students are working on assignments.

As a teacher, it doesn't matter which one you pick. You know your students and their needs better than anyone and teachers should have a say in which LMS works best in their classroom. In the end, it is the teacher who has to build out the course, teach their students to navigate it, and interact with their students via the platform so to take away that choice from teachers is the same as dictating daily classroom procedures to every classroom on your campus.

As decision makers, it matters which educational tools you push on your teachers. A tool might offer all the bells and whistles but what really needs to be discussed and understood is what is the cost of those bells and whistles for the teacher. How much time, work, and skill is required to fully implement what that tool is offering? You won't really know that without teachers in the room when these decisions are made because even if you were a teacher 15, 10, or 5 years ago if you aren't in a classroom right now, you don't know the challenges teachers integrating technology face. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Grading Practices Mega Post

I realized today that I have written a lot about grading practices. So here is a post that links to every blog I have written on grading practices in one place. I will try and keep this updated as I write and reflect more on this process.

Some Posts To Get You Thinking About Grade Reform 

My 5 Step Guide on How I Approach Standards-Based Grading 

Thoughts On Student Accountability 

Tips on How To Approach Grade Reform in a Traditional School 

What To Do With Skills Based Standards 

Additional Blogs I've Written On Grading Practices 

One thing you may notice is I used to think I was going "gradeless" but after months of trying different approaches in my classroom, I realized that Standards-Based learning and grading was what fit best in my classroom. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

How I Find Balance When Teaching Is Insanely Demanding

I decided to get a little too honest with the title of this post. I had every intention of starting this semester on the right foot, never staying late, spending time working on hobbies and things I love, and then last Monday hit and I felt like there was no way I would ever get through my to-do list. I stayed late almost every day and never really made it through what I needed to as new concerns and issues pilled up. By Friday, I was thinking that every goal I set for myself this semester was just an out of reach dream, how had I forgotten how demanding and taxing teaching is? How did I forget all the little stuff that pops up each day that has to be handled? I was tired. I was frustrated. I felt like a failure.

And the truth was I had failed. I had failed at planning my downtime and so I often found myself spending too much time trying to decide which task to tackle that by the time I reached a decision my time was already gone. I was wasting minutes trying to decide "Should I plan for next week? Work on parent emails? Or go make copies?" For me, having a plan is essential to my success which is why my Google Calendar for this week looks like this:

It isn't that the goals that I set for this semester are unachievable, it is that I thought I could just waltz into my classroom and they would magically all happen for me without any thought or planning. As crazy as it might sound to plan each prep ahead of time, for me, it is vital to ensuring I get done what I need to. This also makes it easier when something unexpected pops up. While you might be thinking that having every minute planned out makes it impossible to deal with the unexpected for me it ends up being just the opposite. When I know how I plan to use my time it is easier to make adjustments to those plans that don't take away from my personal goals, whereas when I don't have a plan, I usually give up time I scheduled for me to finish getting through my list of school demands.

But that is exactly where burnout happens. When I make teaching the number one priority, so much so that things that I do for my health and well-being can be trampled by the needs of teaching, I start to burn out. And when I don't have my week planned out that is when it becomes easier for me to say "I don't need to hit the gym right now, I'll stay and deal with X because when else will I be able to get to it." Because that is how teaching makes you feel, the work we are doing is so vitally important that we often times feel like we have to give ourselves to the practice but that thinking is destructive and in the end, it doesn't make you a better teacher, it just makes you tired.

When I can visually see my week in detail it is easier for me to find the places where I can add more to my to-do list without taking away from the time I have built for me. Looking at my schedule right now, I know I don't need my full two hours on Friday to complete those tasks, so if something comes up I can add it to that list of things I need to do during that time instead of taking away from time for me. And if something comes up, I will physically add it to my goals for that time.

There are still a thousand little things that come up throughout the week that need to be handled, emails you reply to during lunch, student questions and concerns, parent emails, admin requests, but for me it is easier to find a place for those when I have a clear picture of what my week looks like. When the expected is planned out in detail the unexpected is easier to tackle.

This is the method that works best for me but I'd love to know, what do you do that helps you find your balance? Tell me in the comments or on Twitter.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Assessing Skills in a Standards-Based Classroom

How do you approach a skill that you will work on all semester? How do you take a Standards-Based Grading approach to skills while still allowing for feedback, formative assessments, and without going insane from the workload or record keeping it creates for you as a teacher?

The truth is: you have some options.

As a social studies teacher, I am responsible for teaching a boatload of skills. Maybe not as many as an ELA teacher but when you have content standards and literacy standards combined, it can feel very daunting and overwhelming to take an SBG approach and often it can feel like something will fall through the cracks.

First of all, there is a difference between what you teach and what you assess. You can probably teach it all, but where do you most need to focus your time and energy for assessing and grading?

Second, something will probably fall through the cracks so wouldn't it be better for you to make a decision on what? Even Marzano Institute, the education research giant, says teachers cannot possibly teach all of their standards so it is best if teacher make choices knowing that before starting their year. What are the essential skills they absolutely must master before they move on? When you determine that list then you know where to focus your assessments.

I know, I know, you want to yell right now "IT IS ALL ESSENTIAL!!!" And my heart agrees with you, but until there are some radical changes in education as a whole, it is impossible for a single teacher to teach and assess every skills standard assigned to them each year. This is especially true when most of us in secondary classrooms have 180+ students. So let's start by picking 5-10 you can focus on the most and remember, you can still teach everything else, these are just the ones you will assess fully. To be honest, this process works best within a PLC but I know not every teacher has the luxury of a PLC at their school.

In California, we have our State Standards for history and then we have our Literacy Standards (as you can see above) and we also have a framework on how to teach all this but that's for another post. What I want to focus on right now are the skills standards.

When I look at the writing standards, the first big one to tackle for the grades I teach is this:

WHST 9.10.1. Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.
  • a. Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among the claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
  • b. Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly, supplying data and evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both claim(s) and counterclaims in a discipline-appropriate form and in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level and concerns.
  • c. Use words, phrases, and clauses to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.
  • d. Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
  • e. Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from or supports the argument presented.
This is just one standard but it would be unreasonable for me to approach this standard as a one and done lesson. This standard has 5 complex components that need to be taught and assessed. Additionally, students will need to work on these standards multiple times, I'll want my students to grow and develop these skills over the course of a semester so I have two main options for how to approach putting this skill standard in the grade book but before I can decide how to assess them, I need to do the first step of all SBG work, I need to start with the standards.

Step 1: Make it student friendly. 

This is a time-consuming process and some out there will say you can have upper-level students do the exercise of rewriting the standards themselves. If you choose to do that, I suggest doing it as a whole class. When it comes to what do these standards actually measure and ask students to do, you don't want there to be any room for error in how students understand the standard.

Here is my student-friendly version of WHST 10.1.A:
  • I can write using a precise claim and distinguish that claim from counterclaims. My writing presents the claim, counterclaims, reasons, and evidence in an organized manner that shows a clear relationship between all parts. 
There is a lot to teach here, and as I said before, it cannot be taught in a one and done lesson. Additionally, if I want my students to become life-long learners who value a growth mindset then I need them to experience the process of returning to skills over and over again in order to improve upon that. That means I need to assess this skill more than once, but how do I do that with SBG and keep my sanity?

Your Choices 

Option 1: Measure the skill-based standard multiple times through the semester.

How does it work? In a normal history class students will write argumentative essays and short responses all semester so each time they do we review the skill and they are assessed again on where they are at with that skill.

How would that look in the grade book? Each time an argumentative writing piece is assigned the components aligned to WHST 10.1.A is assessed and measured on its own. It might look something like this:

  • Enlightenment Values Essay WHST 10.1.A - 2
  • Revolutionary Period Essay WHST 10.1.A - 3
  • Industrial Revolution Essay WHST 10.1.A  - 3
  • Imperialism Around the World WHST 10.1.A - 3 
Now, my reality is we don't write this many essays in my World History class (because this skills really can be measured in other forms of non-traditional writing) but for the sake of creating an easy to read example you'll see that there were four different assignments here and the skill was assessed each time. As a teacher, you could either use the average (because even Marzano Institute says it is okay to average the scores when they are summative scores based on standards on a 4 point scale) or you could use the mode. This is one of the choices that the teacher of PLC group will need to determine based on the needs of their students and how they run their class.

What is important to note though is that the score in the grade book is not a score for the essay as a whole, instead, it is a score for the priority standard that was assessed within that essay. In reality, the grade book in this hypothetical class would look something like this:
  • Enlightenment Values Essay WHST 10.1.A - 2
  • Enlightenment Values Essay WHST 10.1.B - 2
  • Enlightenment Values Essay WHST 10.1.C - 1
  • Revolutionary Period Essay WHST 10.1.A - 3
  • Revolutionary Period Essay WHST 10.1.B - 2
  • Revolutionary Period Essay WHST 10.1.C - 2
  • Industrial Revolution Essay WHST 10.1.A  - 3
  • Industrial Revolution Essay WHST 10.1.B - 3
  • Industrial Revolution Essay WHST 10.1.C - 4
  • Imperialism Around the World WHST 10.1.A - 3 
  • Imperialism Around the World Essay 10.1.B - 4
  • Imperialism Around the World Essay 10.1.C - 4

Where I will actually grade in this format is in my AP World History class. This is how I will assess the writing standards for my AP World History Students second semester. You can see the proficiency bands here and you'll notice it's a lot of stuff I'll need to grade and give feedback on but by breaking it down into smaller components instead of essays as a whole, I can give students more specificity on their strengths and weaknesses and we can focus more on growth over time.

Now, if you are using a traditional grade book to report there is also a break down of options for how to put this is the computer system that measures grades. I am going to do a whole post on that next so if you can't wrap your head around how do you report these scores to parents and students and post to a report card while maintaining a Standards-Based Classroom: I got you. Just come back in a couple of days. 

Option 2: Break the Standards Down Throughout the Semester

This is the method I have used with my summer school students and my college prep World History class. Here, you take the standards and break them down into more measurable goals. This works well when the standards as a whole are too complex for students to really know and understand where they are at and where they need to be. 

So again, you start by breaking it down but you break it down a little differently:

Here is my student-friendly version of WHST 10.1.A:
  • 1. I can write a precise claim.
  • 2. I can write a precise claim and distinguish that claim from counterclaims. 
  • 3. I can write a precise claim and present the claim, counterclaims, reasons, and evidence in an organized manner that shows a clear relationship between all parts. 
So now, throughout the semester we work on one component at a time. Again, this works best for those meaty standards. Part of the purpose of going Standards-Based is for students to better understand what they know and can do and where they still need to grow when the standards are too complex this process allows for students to better take autonomy over their learning. 

How do these look in the grade book? Just like this! 
  • WHST 10.1.A.1
  • WHST 10.1.A.2
  • WHST 10.1.A.3 
Now, this does not mean you only assess each skill once, you still want to do formative assessment and give feedback but with this method, you aren't reporting the same skill every time a student writes, instead the skill is being assessed at greater and greater complexity or rigor throughout the semester. 

Continue Exploring Standards-Based Grading 

While there are some components of Standards-Based Grading that are essential to its success there are still areas where teachers have a lot of freedom to determine what will work best for how they teach and what their students need in order to promote learning and growth. 

If you want to know more, you can read all my blogs on grading here but what I really suggest is checking out one or more of the following books. All of these books I have read and have influenced the work I do in my classroom on a regular basis. 
If you need more book recommendations just let me know! I've read a lot of grading, assessment, and motivation over the past few years and these few are just some of the ones I always find myself recommending or referencing. 

How do you approach skills based assessment? Share in the comments or on Twitter

Sunday, January 6, 2019

How Routines Can Help You Embrace EdTech in Your Classroom

Last week, I wrote a little bit about how I want to establish more clear routines and procedures this semester and it got me thinking about where and when routines benefit my students and me the most. As I wrote before, my big takeaway from the first semester of this year was the need to begin and end each class, in the same way, each day so students know where to find the information they need to be successful.

But another area where I know from experience routines are helpful is when implementing technology. Now, I am not talking about how you check out devices (though that does help) I am talking about the actual lessons you do.

When you are new to using technology in the classroom it can seem overwhelming at first, there are just so many apps and tools and cool lesson designs and incredible ways to connect your classroom with the world and so on and so on. But if you are new to using tech in your classroom there are three realities you need to face: 1) you can't do it all 2) you are going to have to teach your students your digital expectations and 3) you will need to teach the students how to use the tools.

You Can't Do It All 

This is a hard one for me because so often I equate routines with monotony and so I am always looking for ways to spice up my classroom and it can often lead to me wanting to try everything out there. But the reality is that I do not have time to learn every single new app or tool and that isn't what is best for student learning in my classroom. Each new tool or lesson design I try means I need to teach my students those tools and expectations as well. That is going to take away from the content and skills I am here to teach if I try and do EVERYTHING that is out there for me to try.

This is where if you put pedagogy first the right tools will fall into place for your students and your classroom. You might use the same 4 digital tools all year and if you put pedagogy first then that is absolutely okay. It is not about the tool, it is not about winning some award for how many apps did you use this year, it is about good teaching. Technology allows for greater collaboration, creativity, choice, and student voice. Technology allows teachers to give feedback more efficiently, grade smarter so you can spend more time on feedback and connecting with students, and technology creates more authentic learning experiences that can easily adapt to what is happening right this minute to help keep students engaged.

So if you are new to using technology in the classroom don't be overwhelmed by all the possibilities instead, find the options that will best support learning in your classroom. Learn a handful of tools well and then I promise it will become easier to add more to your toolbox when you are ready but you don't need to learn them all to start creating an effective blended learning environment.

You Are Going To Have To Teach Your Students Your Digital Expectations 

Students have their own digital world with their own digital rules and their own digital culture. As much as you may want to mock the worlds they have created via Instagram or Fortnite, these are digital spaces where young people have created their own culture with their own norms. The norms they have created for those worlds are not the norms you are going to want for your digital classroom experiences so you need to be clear, specific, and direct about your digital expectations and you need to take time to teach those expectations to your students.

This is the same as setting students up for success by going over your classroom expectations, in fact, you can add it as part of how you teach those norms for students. But if you don't set the expectations from day one, they will default to how they understand communication to happen digitally and that is when you get incomplete sentences with slang that you can't comprehend. When you don't teach the expectations from the start you may then have to address each student individually. I see this most with my own students with digital discussions, students need clear expectations on what and how to contribute. This doesn't mean you need to have a rigid set of how many sentences but it doesn't hurt to start that way for the first few digital discussions so students understand the norms and expectations.

One of the hardest things to remember is that just because the students in your classroom might be entrenched in a digital world, that is not the same as the digital space you are going to create as a teacher. Just as with any lesson, by setting clear expectations from the start you will get better results from your students.

You Will Need To Teach Students How To Use The Tools

I will often forget this one, especially if my students have done really well with one tool for a long time I will try and throw a new tool at them and forget that they were successful with the first one because I taught them how to use it. Again, your students might have a robust digital life but that doesn't translate to knowing the tools you would use in a classroom to create and communicate. It is worth your time to review the basics of these tools with students before diving into them.

At the start of the year, a lot of my students will tell me they hate using technology in the classroom. They struggle with tech because the tech they know at home and the tech they are expected to use in the classroom are not at all the same. Students might be amazing video editors using Snapchat or Instagram but they won't know how to navigate Adobe Spark unless you show them how.

This is another reason why if you are new to creating blended learning experiences it is okay if you stick with a few solid tools to get you started or until you feel comfortable with incorporating a digital space in your classroom. You will need to take the time to teach students how to use most tools so if you have 50 tools you want to try out, that is going to take away from the other stuff you need to do in your classroom. But if you use 5 tools consistently all year, if you make digital routines within your lesson planning, it is easier to throw in a new tool now and then to spice things up without taking away from the goal: teaching the content and skills aligned with your class.

But Why Should I Take The Time To Do Any Of This?

Right now, you might be thinking that this sounds like a lot of time to give up in order to incorporate digital lessons and to create a blended environment. When you are first starting out and when your students are first starting out, it does take some time. This is where establishing digital routines for you and your students will make it easier to cross that bridge and create a more blended environment.

The value of blended learning and what it will allow your students and you to do is worth the extra time it may take to get started. If you start with clear expectations, routines, norms, and making time to teach students how to use the tools then you will have more time throughout the year to use these digital spaces to their fullest.

The reality is, we don't know what types of jobs we are preparing our students for. My reality is before I was a teacher my ability to adapt to technology quickly often led to promotions and job stability that I wouldn't have had otherwise. We cannot ignore that more and more work occurs in digital spaces and requires a level of digital literacy that students won't get from Instagram or Fortnite. By creating a blended classroom not only can you create a more personalized learning experience with greater authenticity and more efficient feedback but students will get some of the skills they need to navigate their future careers.

If you have no idea where to start and I have just seriously overwhelmed you, I suggest reading EduProtcols. This book does a fantastic job of giving you some solid digital lesson templates that can be used with any content area to help you get you and your students working in digital spaces. My big takeaway from this book was by creating digital routines you can focus more on the learning, not the tools, and in the end, learning is always the goal.

Friday, January 4, 2019

To Be Read: 5 Books I Am Excited to Read in 2019

I am obsessed with reading. It might actually be an addiction. I love books in all formats, lengths, and genres. The holidays meant I got some Amazon gift cards and so, of course, I used those to fill my Kindle with books. Here are 5 books that I am really excited to read in 2019.

So You Want To Talk About Race

I use GoodReads a lot to help me find books and this one came up based on other books I read in 2018 and then I found this interview with author Ijeoma Oluo and knew this was a book I needed to read immediately.

I don't think I read enough books on race in 2018. It is essential that I make time and space to educate myself on what experiences my students are having that I never had and never will have. This is one of several books on my 2019 reading list that I hope will help me better serve my students and my community. 

A Teachers Guide to Standards-Based Learning 

I've read a lot of books on grading practices and grade reform so it is rare that I get super excited about new ones but I am reading this one with a small book club and I am so excited for the experience of reading this book and discussing it with them. We are all teachers working to create Standards-Based classrooms, we created a Voxer group and a reading schedule, and I am anxious for all that I know I will learn from the experience. There is so much to be gained by talking about grading openly and honestly. I know I've learned the most when I have been able to talk grading practices with my colleagues, even if they teach different content than I do. I am excited about the process and the journey which makes me excited to read this book. 

Why Learn History (When It's Already On Your Phone) 

I love Sam Wineburg. If you are a history teacher and you haven't read his work please go out and read it right now. Because of my love of him, I am a little annoyed with myself for not getting to this book until now. He is the champion for how social studies is not about dates and names but instead about skills and understand the world in which we live. I am thrilled to see him producing a book that I hope will tackle the argument of "If you can google it, why are you teaching it?" in a more eloquent way than I do. 

A Very Large Expanse of Sea

Another way I find new books to read is through the Nerdy Book Club. This is actually how I find most of the YA books I read that are not recommendations from students. They released their end of year lists and their review of this YA book made me buy it right away. 

From the Nerdy Book Club: "A Very Large Expanse of Sea is a masterfully constructed novel that explores prejudices, racism, families, identity, and first love. The characters are beautifully developed and authentic. Shirin tells the story; her voice is fierce, funny, vulnerable, and honest.  I was completely pulled into her powerful narrative, and I could not stop thinking about her long after I finished. Mafi’s novel challenges readers to ponder their own beliefs, assumptions, and actions. And, also reminds us of the captivating bliss of first love. "

I am a sucker for a good love story but even more so when it is paired with powerful narratives and unforgettable characters. I am excited to read this book and share it with my students. 

Educated: A Memoir 

"Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara's older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she'd traveled too far, if there was still a way home" 

This is my first book on my list of audiobooks for the year. The description has me fascinated and it is another book that was recommended to me via GoodReads and has amazing reviews and ratings. 

What books are you excited to read in 2019? Which were your favorites of 2018? Tell me in the comments! 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Reinforcing SBG for Your Students in a Traditional School

There is a small but mighty force at my school site that is experimenting with Standards-Based Grading but at a school of almost 5000 students, the truth is that most of my students see traditional grading in the 5 other classes they attend. This makes the shift to a standards-based classroom even more challenging for me because not only do they have 9 years of traditional grading to contend with but they also have over 25 hours of traditional grading per week.

That makes it even more important for me to make sure students understand the how and the why of what I am trying to do. While my syllabus spells it out very clearly and thoroughly, no one REALLY reads the syllabus and besides students learn best when they apply the knowledge they have so here are some ways I make sure students understand not only how I grade but what is expected of them.

Teach them how it works through a low-threshold activity. 

The 0-4 Scale is one of the most challenging things for my students to wrap their head around so I use an assessment on the names and faces of their classmates to help teach them how it works. They have a learning goal of being able to recall all names of students with just an image and they are assessed multiple times on it. This helps them learn the difference between formative and summative assessments and the power of the retake. It also helps them see how a test or quiz score on an assessment can convert to a 0-4 based on the performance bands for that assessment.

Show them the grade book in advance.

Students are so used to accumulating points per assignment, or question, or tissue box that they have a hard time wrapping their head around how it is the skill or the level of understanding that will enter the grade book, not the individual assignments. To help them better navigate this change, show them all the standards at the start of the semester or unit of study.

This semester, my students will start with this page as a reference for all we will cover in semester two.
It gives them the list of standards we will cover and even has rubrics for the skills standards. It has a place for them to track their formative and summative assessments to monitor their own growth as well. Before I send this out to students, I will also have a digital version that links to a content review and guiding questions for all the Key Concept Standards. You'll notice my categories are weighted (skills being 60% of the final grade and content being 40%). This is to mimic how the AP Exam works.

Give Them Reminders 

It is easy to forget that I am one of six teachers my students see. I am one of six grading practices they must navigate. I am one of six rules, routines, and expectations they are balancing each week. In a perfect world, my students would totally understand everything I say the first time I say it. But that just isn't how teaching works, and even with set routines and practices in your classroom, we all know that sometimes students forget. So it is important that there are structures in place to remind students how your class works and the same is true of grading practices.

The thing is, if a student doesn't understand your grading system, no matter how fair or thoughtful or progressive it may be, then they won't gain anything from it. I truly believe that students have to understand how a grading system works in order for it to benefit them. If my students don't know that they are assessed on what they know and can do and the rest is practice then I have failed them. This is why it is so important for me to give them reminders of how the grading works in my class. Usually, I send out something like this via email and remind every few weeks because I have to remember that I am probably the only teacher they see that is doing Standards Based Grading and I need to reinforce what that means in order for the grading practice to benefit their learning.

We'll also have small chats about grades, grading practices, and learning every few weeks. I take 10 minutes to talk to them about what they think, what they value, what works for them and what doesn't. When we don't have time for a full chat, I do a quick survey as an exit ticket to see if there are any students who need my help in understanding how this grading works.

Do you do SBG in a traditional school? What are your tips on helping students navigate this change? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

New Year, New Goals

I am one of those people that absolutely loves the idea of New Years Resolutions. I like reflecting on the past year and finding places where I can improve and change. I'm usually pretty terrible at keeping my personal resolutions but pretty decent at keeping the ones I make for my classroom. So to start the year off right, here are three resolutions I'd like to make for my teaching practice and what inspired me to make these changes.

1. Know My Students Better Than Ever

I was inspired by this article from Cult of Pedagogy on student engagement to find something new and more purposeful I could do to better build relationships and trust. While I feel like building student relationships is one of my strengths overall, I know this last semester those relationships really suffered because I was out of the classroom a lot more than usual. This is why I am going to start dialogue journals with all of my students.

I want to know more about them and find ways to be there for each of them, I thought about finding some kind of tech solution to this but there is something about passing a physical journal back and forth that I think will allow for us to share different conversations than we already do in digital spaces. I know that students are more engaged when they have positive relationships with their teachers but when I am out for PD's and conferences the momentum we started with seems to fade very quickly, I am hoping these journals will not only repair that disconnect but also help me better know and understand the students I serve. If I don't know my students, really know them, am I really able to teach them to the best of my ability?

2. Create Better Systems So We Have More Time For Magic 

An area I really failed at this last semester was systems and routines. This used to be my strength but the list of excuses I could give you as to why I struggled with this recently seems to be almost endless. One thing that I hear a lot is that when routines are too rigid, magic can't happen in the classroom. I think I was holding onto this lie as an excuse to not have solid routines that my students can depend on. The thing is, my students see 5-6 other teachers who all have different expectations and routines, so it is absurd of me to think that we will be able to make the best use of our time together if my routines are inconsistent and messy.

One area I struggled with this year was keeping the whiteboard updated (GASP! I KNOW! I STILL USE A WHITEBOARD!!!) This might seem extremely trivial but my students really struggled without having a place to look at and find the info for the day. I know I'll never update the whiteboard each day but I can update a slide deck each day, so I created this:

The idea is simple, there is a template for how we start and end class and then I've created some templates for some of the more typical lessons we do (playlists, station rotation, lectures, etc). Each day I'll update 3 slides, the bellringer, the activity for the day, and the exit ticket. The most recent days are at the top of the slide deck. I share this deck with parents and students and it will always be the first thing they see and the last thing they see in class. Everything else in-between can be magical and wild but this will remain constant for them. This also gives me a new tool to use when a student is absent, they can always check the slide deck to see what we did. I found this idea on twitter but cannot remember who shared it! If you know who came up with this idea let me know so I can give them credit!

3. Give Feedback Daily 

The research indicates that feedback is where it is at for making learning happen. It's in Hattie's top ten. My goal is to make sure students get feedback every single day. This might sound absurd at first, the idea of grading every day and having a quick turn around is daunting, especially when for three of the sections I teach writing will be the primary focus of the course, but feedback can come in a variety of different forms and while I hope to give more narrative feedback overall, I know that isn't possible to do for every student every day but there are a lot of other ways to provide students with feedback daily, here are a few I intend to be more purposeful about making a part of our every day.

  • I'll use quiz apps to give content-related feedback in an automated format (using things like Quizizz, Quizlet, and Albert.iO). 
  • If it's not an assessment, the answers will be provided immediately for students to review. 
  • I'll use station-rotations and playlists regularly to meet with students and provide writing feedback in class (because if I take it home with me it might not get done, or when I do finally do it, I will rush it.) 
  • I'll use rubrics and checklists whenever possible to help students see what they are doing well and where they need to improve. 

There is more I want to do and change and more I need to reflect on but right now, these are the three main areas that I believe need my energy the most. While the new year is a great time to sit and reflect on what to change and how to do better, this is a practice I want to make a part of my every day. Blogging is one way that helps me be more mindful and reflective but I also plan on journaling more each day, even if it's just a list of what went well and what I need to change next year, to make sure I am the best teacher I can be.

And that's the last thing I want to mention today, teaching isn't a competition. When you see teachers reflecting on what they want to do differently or what they want to change, it doesn't mean you have to do those things as well. Social Media can do amazing things for teachers in providing inspiration, resources, and support but it can also put a lot of pressure on all of us to reach some level of perfection that honestly doesn't exist. If you're feeling the weight of all these new year's posts and wondering how you will ever do it all just remember: you don't have to. You are a remarkable human for choosing to become a teacher, you don't have to do it all. Do what is right for you in your classroom and remember if you are adding something new it is okay to reflect on what you can take off your plate to make room for that new thing.

Do you have any new goals for the new year? Leave them in the comments.

Access and Equity: The Time For Devices is Now

When I talk about the reasons I am passionate about using technology in my classroom, I almost always list things related to pedagogy a...