Friday, December 20, 2013

Time for fun with family and friends! See you in the New Year!

The Brian Setzer Orchestra is one of my all time favorite music groups. You might remember Brian from the 80's with The Stray Cats! His orchestra has re-invented the Christmas concert. Check out one of his songs below! Enjoy your family and friends! Best wishes! Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Our Podcast is now on ITunes!

Teaching Learning Leading is our podcast. You can see it here at this blog, at or go to ITunes and subscribe to us.
In the ITunes store go to podcasts and search for Teaching Learning Leading K12 and you will go straight to our page. Additionally, here is our link for ITunes
The podcast will be updated once a week except during major school holidays.
The primary focus is on teachers, system staff, and school based staff, K-12.
Hope that you will visit often, share, and subscribe.
Please leave comments and rate us as well.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Teachers and students using white boards for instant feedback on understanding!

In the previous post, I shared how to create your own white boards for class use. I also shared links to several great blogs on types of quick assessments that can be generated during class to get to the point of understanding how much the individual students are actually getting the content. Here are a couple of videos that show teachers using white boards during their class discussions and activities. Take a look and think about how you could incorporate this strategy in your class to get feedback from the kids and use that feedback to adjust your instruction.

This first example...the teacher explains how he uses Cornell notes then he talks about guided practice. This is where you get to see how he uses the small whiteboards. Click on the link.

In this example the teacher uses the strategy of think-pair-share coupled with small whiteboards to get feedback about group success. Click on the link.

In this next video, this teacher explains how she has organized the way the kids get the whiteboards and how she keeps track of the pens...Great idea that the kids came up with... Check it out!

Here is a teacher explaining how to use the mini-white boards as a tool for reading instruction.
These are great inexpensive tools for figuring out what your students do or do not understand. I hope that you will try using them! Have fun!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Do your students understand? Using White Boards to find out.

As a kid in school, did you ever want to write on the board? I know that I did, but realistically it was not possible for all kids to go the board and many times only the kids who really knew it or the ones who might get off task would be called to the board.

Why not let them do this at their seats. This is nothing new. Teachers have been using white boards to get the kids engaged and at the same time providing the teacher feedback about their understanding of the subject for many years. Have you tried it? It is amazing how something as simple as a dry erase marker and a mini-white board can make a kid want to work problems, draw a picture, write a sentence using the correct verb usage, complete the chemical equation, oh so many different uses.

What is really great is that you don't have to spend a lot of money. Oh, yes...there are many companies who have white board packages that have a nice price tag, but it is not necessary to go that route. A sheet of tile/shower board can be found in your local home improvement warehouse. These 4' X 8' sheets cost between $11.50 and $14.50. This large of a sheet can be cut into a class set of small white boards. Some of these home improvement stores will actually cut them for you. If not, they are easily cut with a circular saw.

You also don't have to buy the white board cleaner or the sponges for erasing. You can use glass cleaner and parts of an old t-shirt.

Here are a couple of links to some really cool teacher blogs where they give you ideas about using whiteboards. Remember that I post on Pinterest at Look at my assessment strategies board. This is where I have posted other ideas about using whiteboards for classroom assessment. Have fun!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Look at what is new...a podcast!

We are now producing a podcast at HGRESA. It is called Teaching Learning Leading K-12. The goal is to eventually publish weekly except for major school holidays. I will be interviewing people who have information that is useful to all K-12 educators. Most of these interviews will be no longer than 25 minutes which hopefully means that you could download an episode and listen to us as you exercise or drive to or from work. Notice that under the the title header on this blog there is a home, about, and now a podcast page. The newest podcast will be placed on the front page of the blog in the right hand column. All podcasts with liner notes will be placed on the podcast page. I hope that you will subscribe and tell others about our production. Remember that it is called Teaching Learning Leading K12. It is hosted at and soon will be located on I-Tunes. A special thanks to David Rogers our Technical Producer (who also puts up with me and my ideas) who has made an idea a reality! Also thanks to Dana Sheffield and Rick Mitchell for voicing our intro and outro. Finally, I need to say thank you to Ben Sheffield who created the song Yeah, Yeah for us. You can find more of his music at
Thanks for listening.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A list of 10 assessments to get feedback from your students about their level of understanding

Formative assessments are all about the teacher developing ways to get information about the level of understanding of her students. This instructional strategy can be made more complicated than it really is. The concept is simple. Find out what they, the students, know and adjust instruction to address their needs. Wow...not too difficult. The trick is developing ways that don't need to be graded. Many of these strategies require very little class time but deliver an amazing amount of information about the student's progress or lack of progress. Check out the link below. It takes you to a list and description of 10 simple assessment strategies. Have fun creating your own or using these.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Stop Light Method: A Formative Assessment Strategy

Formative Assessments come in many shapes and sizes. They are used to gather information about where the students are or are not. The teacher then uses this information to make adjustments to individual or whole class instruction to address the apparent needs of the kids. These assessment strategies typically are not graded because the teacher is trying to find out what the kids do not know and use that information to make the class more focused. Take a look at the video below. The teacher is using a type of formative assessment where the kids tell her whether they are getting the class activity or not. She calls it her end of class stop light method. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Making Math Real with the Dallas Cowboys

Creating engaging lessons in the classroom is an issue. Trying to produce activity based instruction that lends itself to real world scenarios has always been a challenge. Especially, when kids are quick to try and trip up their teachers by asking, " Now really, when am I ever going to use this?!" Every content area lends itself to real world applications. As a former history teacher, kids were consistently wanting to know what the information had to do with their lives. Now, this is one of the worst things you can say to a history hour later you will have wished you had only thought the question. After all, the reason we make the same mistakes throughout history is because we don't know our past. But I digress and soon an hour will pass and you will have rolled your eyes many

Over the years, I have run into some incredible lessons that connected the abstract world to the real. One of my favorites was an activity where the teacher created a scenario of a parking lot that was located on a piece of property in the middle of a city. The land was irregularly shaped. The owner was trying to figure out how best to size and stripe the parking spaces so as to get the most use from his land, thus increasing profit. The students were asked to create the word problem and generate the math that would help the land owner. Cool! Real world application of math.

Check out the link below to find an article about the Coach of the NFL Dallas Cowboys trying to solve their team performance problems by getting the team to see the field of play through a math lens. Wow! (As a note, I'm an Atlanta Falcon fan, so I'm hoping that it doesn't work.) Talk about making math real! (Thanks, Angie for sharing this link and providing the inspiration for the post.)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Friday, October 18, 2013

5 Lessons for the Classroom I Learned from Coaching Youth League Soccer

I have coached soccer from the youngest ages through high school. When I first began coaching (I was recruited when my son's first coach called and said, I'm sorry but ...) In order for the team to be able to compete there had to be a coach. I stepped forward (with a little encouragement from my wife). I had learned how to play soccer (goalie) in the Army which lead me to coaching goalies at the high school level. High school is one thing but my son and others who were 6 and under...Hmmm. I needed help.

I took a series of state courses. These courses were designed to help make you understand your role. I lucked out! The instructor was amazing! He was focused on us understanding what we really were...and what we were supposed to do...

So here are the 5 lessons I learned from being a youth league coach that helped me as a teacher...

1. Kids like routines
2. Get them playing with the ball (In other words...shut up)
3. You are a cheerleader
4. Parents are your friend... no matter what
5. All kids can learn

1. Kids like and need routines.

He taught us to start and stop practice from the same place, a blanket. Give them instructions for practice/games and summarize practice. Opening and closing. During games they stay on the blanket when they are not on the field. While other coaches' kids were a mess during games and practice...guess what? Not mine. It even worked for giving parents instructions. They got used to the routine.

2. Get them playing with the ball (In other words...shut up)

Too often the coach will talk them to death. All they want to do is play with the ball. So short instructions. Get them playing with the ball. How about in the class. Too often as the adult in the room we talk and talk and the kids sit and...maybe get. Mainly they get bored. Shut up and get them playing with whatever the content is.

3. You are a cheerleader.

They need encouragement. They need support. They need understanding. They need you to believe in them. They need you to help them when they fail. They need to get back out there and try, again. Sound familiar. All of this applies to the classroom. We are cheerleaders in the classroom as well. Let go of the image of a college professor weeding students out...We make the future possible.

4. Parents are your friend... no matter what...

I had conversations with my team's parents. I talked with them and gave them homework to help their kids succeed. I explained what they could and could not do during games. I talked to individuals when needed and didn't avoid difficult conversations. They helped me to be a cheerleader. They helped by sending their kids prepared for practice (You would be surprised...some would send them without water, shin guards, and even a ball if you let them) You had to take time with the parents. Same as with school. Show them how they can help. Involve them when you can. Get them to help with situations with their child. Have difficult conversations when necessary. (My favorite difficult conversation involved a parent who always wanted to give her child a Twinkie before playing, when he scored a goal, and at half-time. A Twinkie...really? Power food? Not so sure...made for colorful vomit, though.)

5. All kids can learn.

Sure... some are quicker than others. And some...were not moving quick enough. As a coach you had to be prepared to push all kids. You had to be prepared to stretch the skills of the more advanced and pull up those who were not quite there, yet. You had to believe in all of them. You had to find out what each needed and focus on that. (Sounds like Formative assessment and Differentiation)

In the game of soccer, you want players to score and to stop the other team from scoring. In realizing that all could learn you had to help create situations where all could experience success. My favorite job was trying to create opportunities for all kids to score a goal. (This is not as easy as it sounds...especially with the youngest. At the early ages they don't want to share the ball. In soccer you have to share or you fail. )

These are the 5 Lessons I learned for the classroom that helped me become a better a teacher and educator. Have you had any similar lessons?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

HGRESA on Pinterest

Did you know that we are on Pinterest?
Most definitely!
I pin and re-pin content at

Pinterest is amazing! Teachers and other educators have created content to help all in the classroom!

Are you looking for ideas to create engagement? You can find so, so, so very many on Pinterest!

Are you looking for templates, classroom organization ideas, unit planning help, instructional strategy help, and so many other topics? Well, you can find it on Pinterest. I currently have 12 boards. My topics range from Teaching Vocabulary, Planning and Instructional Strategies, Fun Food For the Classroom, The Classroom, Writing( help suggestions) to content on Going to College, Leadership and using Social Media.

 I hope that you will take time to stop by!

I am constantly looking for ways to help classroom teachers, administrators, all educators, and all leaders.

Pinterest is cool and an amazing tool for school! Check it out!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Math and the Thanksgiving Table! Create Understanding and Engagement!

Math teachers!
Check out this link (Teaching Channel) from a math class on connecting the math class to the students' world.. The teacher uses several instructional strategies which create student interest and engagement. Many of the students are familiar with this type of problem, but probably never thought of it as being a math problem. This could be adjusted for all ages. Notice how she is using past grade level standards to help her introduce the topic.

Monday, October 7, 2013

What a small world!!! Too Cool!

The coolest thing happened the other day. I met a student who had recently moved to one our school systems. He had moved from an area where I knew some of the teachers and staff. I asked him to name one of the teachers he liked.

He didn't hesitate. He immediately exclaimed, Mr. L!

There was energy in his voice! He smiled! He gushed about how Mr. L made him feel welcome. He recalled how no matter what his day was like he  looked forward to being in Mr. L's classroom! The imagery he used, evoked a kid who knew that even though he struggled with the subject, he believed that he would eventually be successful in Mr. L's class. He knew Mr. L believed in him.


The positive impact that we have on kids is so incredible. It is soooo easy to be engulfed by the forest that we miss the trees. BL is Mr. L. He has the ability to make a half empty glass seem full. He makes the sun shine for his kids! How?!

He sees them as his kids! This is his magic!

How about you? Do you have that magic?

Take a deep breath...remember... as life gets difficult...
You make a difference in a child's life and future!!!
There are very few careers that have such a lasting impact!
No matter what grades. No matter where you teach.
You can make a difference by believing, encouraging, and helping them achieve their dreams!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Thought as You Make Lesson Plans

All genuine learning is active, not passive. 
It involves the use of the mind 
not just the memory. 
It is a process of discovery, 
in which the student is the main agent, 
not the teacher...
(Mortimer J. Adler, The Paideia Proposal)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Teaching Over 40 Years!!!! Another Awesome Teacher: AH

AH has been teaching for over 40 years!

Yes...You heard me correctly...Over 40 years!

She was a social studies teacher who now works with ESOL students.
She has taught in the same community for the whole time and only one year was she not at the same school.

What is sooooo amazing about AH is that she never loses her focus on the needs of the kids.

She has spent her career helping kids achieve their dreams.

Over her many years she has learned how to push them to do more. She has learned to push them to want more. She has pushed them to not make excuses! She has pushed them to want to dream about tomorrow.

She is a master teacher who knows that  nothing is impossible.

How about you?

In this world of political talk...It is easy to want to give up.
According to so many...teaching is easy...(it is ok to roll your eyes...)
AH would tell you it is exhausting...especially working with kids who are as many as 5 years behind in all academic development...

Yet, AH has found the elixir to keep going...and keep focused on the kids...
It is...after all...just about them...

Stay the distance...
There is nothing better than helping a child understand and learn...

Wow!! It is soooooo cool when you know that light bulb comes on and they go...I got this!!!

If you are a high school teacher, the best thing is to watch them walk across the stage and receive their diploma. (Nothing better!)

Take time to re-energize...AH has done so for her 40+ years... I'll bet you can...
Enjoy helping the kids...of all ages learn and understand...

Kudos to you!
You are teachers!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Awesome Teachers! MR (His initials...)

Lets talk about one of my favorite colleagues...
He is a former middle school and now high school band director.

I have personally seen him rebuild two totally different and separate programs. How?

He believes that every child matters! 

This is obvious in the way that he gives time to all kids...
He spends time pushing those who already have the skills and making musicians out of those who have minimal skills...

He has command of his content...

He is personable..
He makes his students laugh...
He is willing to laugh at himself...
He creates positive bonds...
The kids want to do for him...

He doesn't listen to those who say something is impossible...He knows that it is not...

MR (his initials not mister) an amazing educator...

His secret...

He believes in all kids' capacity to learn!

When times are tough...when the demands seem overwhelming...
Remember that you are here for the kids and you will persevere.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pre-Tests. Graded? Arrggghh!

Please tell me you didn't grade the pretests! Did you actually put that grade in the computer?!

Pretests are meant for gathering information that you will use to adjust your instruction. Often times you will discover that the students know very little or that you have a few who have some command of specific information from your course. Thus, adjusting the instruction so that they are not bored is good and deciding what needs to be addressed first is yet another aspect of the strategy. Someone once told me, "But if I don't grade them they won't take them seriously!" Ouch! I would suggest that you read Daniel Pink's book, Drive. It is about what motivates people. You can also catch him on youtube for a short synopsis.

How can we justify a grade on information that you have not taught...? Are you grading their memory? Previous teachers? Their parents? Wow!

If you are concerned about them taking it seriously...give them points on the next exam for completing the pretest. Say that you will earn 10 points or get out of homework free pass or a trip to the school store or a go to the head of the lunch line pass (work that out with the school)...soooo many options...use positive incentive not negative...

Pretests should not be graded and the grade placed in the grade book as a test, quiz, classwork, homework or whatever category of grade you have...Try reading Carol Dweck's book called MindSet. The closed and the growth...The student who gets a 30 on the pretest may just likely shut down because now she has a grade that may be impossible to overcome.

Please stop doing this...

Monday, September 9, 2013

My Teacher, My Superhero

If you read my post, One Secret to Great Teaching, I talked about getting a chance to be taught by Yoda. She inspired me, challenged me, knew me, and cared about my success. She knew my name and made me want to learn. She believed in me.

Have you ever stopped to think about your own heroes?

I am a big fan of comic book super heroes. My favorite is Spider-Man. But when I stop to think about the real heroes in my life, I have to think about teams of super heroes like the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and The Avengers. My team of super heroes is comprised of several different personalities  from my parents to my wife to my Army basic training drill sergeant to my senior English teacher (Yoda) and an assortment of others. What they all have in common is that they believed in me.

Do you have that group of super heroes in your past or present? Did they take the time to assist you, guide you, refocus you when you were lost, and pick you up when you were down? Did they believe in you? Did you get that extra strength to overcome adversity or give so much more effort because you had their support?

One of my super heroes I did not like. She also was one of my teachers. She and I were from different planets. She seemed to not like the military. I was focused on becoming a soldier. I enjoyed debating her about social issues. I could find any number of reasons to disagree with her. I could not wait to get out of her class.

One day, when I was telling a story about Yoda, my teacher, I was asked about my junior English teacher. I started to tell all of the reasons why I didn't like her and then a thought came to that had never occurred to me before (This is called an epiphany.) order to be in Yoda's class you had to be recommended, your junior English teacher had to put your name forward for the class.

Oh, my!!! (Picture a giant light bulb over my head!)  If it had not been for her, I would not have met and been inspired by Yoda.

Suddenly, I realized that my junior English teacher needed to be added to my team of super heroes!

One of the great aspects of teaching is that you make a positive impact on lives forever! You have the chance to inspire futures. You make a difference, but only if you believe in your students. You have to see that every child matters. You have to go out of your way to help them achieve their dreams. You may never know the difference you made in the life of a child, but maybe one day out of the blue you will get a phone call, text, or letter that says..."Thank you for believing in me. You are one of my super heroes!"

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

One Secret to Great Teaching.

Great teachers know the kids they teach!

My senior year in high school, I had an English teacher who was amazing! I refer to her as Yoda...wise, caring, and, minus the green, actually kind of looked like him...

She was demanding, but she was also fun! She introduced us to reading/discussion circles and Socratic seminars before they were called that (Ok...see something else did come out of the early 80's rather than just The Flock of Seagulls and Margaret Thatcher...this is an Austin Powers reference). We brought food and talked about literature.

We read, read, and read more. Some books I truly liked and others I still don't get ...see The Bear by Faulkner. Then we wrote draft after draft. Every time getting feedback that we were expected to use to adjust our writings before they were accepted for a grade. She drove us all nuts with this...

 The coolest thing about her was that she saw each of her students as people.. She knew our names from day one. She used our names. But it went beyond just using our names. She actually paid attention to us. I'll never forget the day that we had a test...I was not feeling well...I was there to take the test...not sure what I looked like...but she said, "Steve, are you, ok?" I ended up going home. Had a 101 temperature. I was out for several days. When I returned...she worked with me to complete the test. She saw that I was sick. 

We are a month into school for you know your kids names? Do you use them in the halls and in class? What do you do to get to know something about the kids you teach? Take some time...its worth it.

One secret to great teaching is getting to know the kids in your classes...

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Feedback and grading

 As Bill Cosby says, "I started out as a child." Thus, my first real experience with feedback and grading was in kindergarten and from that point forward I would find that it would feel like it was non-stop. Kindergarten to doctorate. Throughout all of those years, I have received input on my school performance, some good some bad. The most frustrating of which was the X. You know what I mean...

Picture it...Do you remember the impact of this?
 Don't get me wrong, I know that it means wrong. Does it help with the receiver understanding anything other than the answer was wrong? Feedback should be coupled with it. Instructional "look closely where you multiplied two negative numbers"...How about, "What happens when you add heat to the equation?" Or..."Why was the Battle of Hastings significant?" "You used the word incorrectly..."
It is important for the student to understand why he/she missed the question/problem. Some students see the X as ...Ok..I don't need to do anything...I just got it wrong...a teaching moment has been lost..

I have had quizzes, some planned and some of the "surprise, surprise" type. Tests of all sorts. Projects. Research papers. Homework. Classwork. Book reports. I have had assignments and assessments in all classes like science, math, history, English, language, and extracurricular. In all cases, I have received some input on my performance. Some helpful, some not so much. Look at these different types of feedback...

         Did you ever get a smiley face? How about three? ( Lived for those smiley faces. They were in high school.) How about good job! Best work ever! You can do better! Work harder! Write more! Poor. Not quite. Are you kidding? F. Even, No! Wrong!  

If we are trying to help them improve and develop understanding it is imperative that we learn to provide proper feedback. The comments cannot be judgmental, they have to be instructional.

Take a look at these resources for jump starting.

How to give effective feedback to your students. Susan M. Brookhart, ASCD. 2008.  or

Drive on...

Thursday, August 22, 2013


The new school year has started. You are giving homework. Why?
This is a real question.

Think about the following statement...

Homework should be used as formative feedback about learning...
(Dr. Cathy Vatterott, Rethinking Homework: Best practices that support diverse needs, 2009)

Reread it. Think about your homework assignments. 
Do you give 50 questions a night, assign word definitions, create projects and essays or short answer questions that keep the students busy but you really don't have time to grade and provide timely feedback? When they turn it in the next day, you collect it and do a look over but don't do anything more. That's it. You assign a grade for completeness but do not look for understanding. Even worse do you walk around and make check marks in your grade book for completion, but you don't even take it up?  If this is you, why do you give homework? Just for a grade? Just to say that you give homework? Should homework be given if the purpose is not for feedback to the teacher about what the student is able to do?

and how about this statement...

When homework is used as assessment of learning, and students are penalized for incomplete or incorrect assignments, it's often easier or less embarrassing for them to not attempt the work. 
(Dr. Cathy Vatterott, Rethinking Homework: Best practices that support diverse needs, 2009)

Wow...shouldn't homework be about finding out whether they get it or not?  If its only about a grade or that you defend your homework because you are trying to teach them responsibility (really? I can spend long hours on this topic) then where does it fit with helping each child develop a deep understanding of your content. Do you allow do overs? How about require do-overs? How about...if they get poor grades for homework in the beginning of the semester do you adjust their grades on homework as they get better in the class?...or do they still have to carry those zeroes or 15s out of 100 that they received in the beginning? 

By the way, the scenarios I have given were all real, I just didn't mention the names of the teachers... below is a link to an article where two experts comment about best homework practices and then a youtube clip where Rick Wormeli comments about the need for re-dos and do overs. Caution, their comments, especially Rick's might cause you some angst...

Drive on!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Vocabulary Instruction Resources

"Vocabulary knowledge is closely tied to achievement and to 
comprehension of oral and written language. You are, therefore, charged with supporting your students' vocabulary growth."
from Reading First in Virginia produced by the University of Virginia.

Direct instruction in vocabulary is a critical aspect of literacy development. Synthesizing research and theory on direct vocabulary instruction into an innovative six step instructional process enables classroom teachers to teach and reinforce selected vocabulary terms with success.--Robert J. Marzano

This link provides you downloads associated with Marzano's 6 Steps

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

All teachers need to be language teachers...

"Middle and high school teachers often deal with over a hundred students in a day, and they base their assignments on the assumption that the students can read and react to the text."

Heidi Hayes Jacobs (2006), Active Literacy Across the Curriculum: Strategies for Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening, p. 4. 

In her work, Active Literacy Across the Curriculum (2006), Heidi Hayes Jacobs makes the case that all teachers are language teachers. It is not a matter of whether they want to be or not it is a must. All academic classes require a working knowledge of content related vocabulary. The student has to learn how to read and understand the content. For some students this is easier than others, but for most they need assistance in developing their understanding. From the complex concepts that require abstract thinking to the more concrete which require knowledge of operations and the application of words which are not readily used everyday, the student is expected to have a working knowledge of something that she may not know how to begin to address.

Therefore, the teacher must take time to be purposeful about teaching the students the language of the content area. Vocabulary cannot be reduced to memorization or word lists. The teacher must introduce the words and spend time using instructional strategies (graphic organizers, interactive word walls, previewing, reviewing, Frayer models, as well as others) that ensure that the words are being used. The processes and skills of the course must be introduced and re-introduced. Has the teacher spent time explaining note-taking and how to answer short answer questions? Has the teacher spent extensive amounts of time  explaining operational processes and how to think (not what to think) when problem-solving?

All classes require the teacher to be a language arts teacher. I hope that you will take time to look at your classes or those that are offered in your schools. Linked below is a teacher using a vocabulary strategy to engage children. Also, if you follow this link you will find many helpful strategies for working with vocabulary in all levels of classrooms. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Teaching Vocabulary Using Paint Chips

Check out this video where a teacher shows you a way to create an engaging activity for students to learn the vocabulary of the unit. Purposeful! Engaging! Drive on!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Vocabulary Instruction Must be Purposeful

The academic language of a classroom must be taught. Too often the learning of words of a content area are left up to the memorization of lists or to happenstance. A chapter is assigned with directions to write the definitions of the bold words, lists are assigned for a quiz, and the teacher announces a new word during a lecture. Each of these strategies do not have a positive impact on the learning of words.

A classroom teacher must take the time to identify the essential words of the next section and purposefully  assist the students in developing an understanding of those academic words. Only through well developed activities like previewing, activating, and utilizing graphic organizers will the teacher notice a difference in the comprehension of academic words by her students.

For years teachers of English Language Learners and special education students have focused on teaching vocabulary through engaging activities which require the students to be involved in their learning. One such example, is the use of the interactive word wall. (not to be confused with a list of words posted on the front bulletin board never to be revisited.) An interactive word wall involves the students placing words, images related to those words, and short concise definitions of those words on a wall that is easily seen by every student in the room. This allows the students to associate the word with pictures and other words. The successful word wall will follow an activity called previewing where the students (with teacher assistance) place words that will be important in the coming segment on the board and after a brief discussion the words are removed until they are encountered in the upcoming class sessions. When the teacher introduces one of these words she stops and focuses on having the word reintroduced to the wall by the students. This takes time, but creates interest in the words.

Unfortunately, classroom teachers see these as activities required by administrators, thus totally ruining the positive aspects of the wall for vocabulary instruction. Which means that well meaning administrators,  curriculum instructors, and others have to be careful to make sure that word walls are useful methods for expanding student knowledge of content and academic vocabulary and not just required because it was decreed as such.

Soon I will add some comments about high frequency words and other vocabulary instructional strategies...

Here is an elementary 3D version of a word wall...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

"If you don't understand the vocabulary context behind the are at a distinct disadvantage."

In designing your unit plans it is important to identify essential vocabulary for that unit. Yes, there are many words that can be called important but decide which words the students need to know. 50 words is way too many. Too often the vocabulary is ignored. Not a good idea. Time has to be spent with the important words of the class. Don't put it off! Be purposeful.

There are many devices to help such as word walls, graphic organizers, frayer diagrams, and many others. (I will spend time on some of these strategies in future blog posts. Look at my earlier posts for information on the Frayer model and word walls.)

Whatever you not resort to memorization of lists! Aaarrrggghhh! Picture the Grinch complaining about the Whos in their village and the noises they make.

The students must learn to use the words. This takes time. The pay off for the time spent is enormous! It gives them a fighting chance for being able to interact and truly learn the content.

This is also a good opportunity to collaborate with a teacher of your grade level, team mate, PLC member, favorite administrator, etc. Share and ask for help.

Take time to watch the following clip from the Teaching Channel. It shows a teacher using a Marzano strategy for introducing essential vocabulary. Be purposeful with vocabulary instruction. Identify the essential, key words, lead your students in learning the words, and wow!!!... you will maximize their understanding of the content! Drive on!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Essential Questions

Here are some thoughts about Essential Questions...

"Good essential questions are open-ended, non-judgmental, meaningful and purposeful with emotive force and intellectual bite, and invite an exploration of ideas. They encourage collaboration amongst students, teachers, and the community. They integrate technology to support the learning process."

"Wiggins and McTighe state that essential questions are arguable; there is no single answer. These type of questions require the students "to ‘uncover’ ideas, problems, controversies, philosophical positions, or perspectives."

Find more information at the link below...

All Essential Questions lead to Subsidiary (Key) Questions
Subsidiary Questions also known as Key questions …
• Are smaller questions which help respond to the essential question
• Provide the facts used to respond to the essential question
• Are written as “what,” “when,” “who” questions
• Drive a project
• Allow for data collection
• Supply new information for further questioning

Something important to remember about essential questions is that you must understand the word other words, 5 questions are too many and the creator doesn't understand the true meaning of essential. 1 to 2 is a good practice.

Here is an excellent link to a blog by Grant Wiggins about essential questions...

An excerpt from his blog entry...
The importance of thinking explicitly about a culture in support of inquiry comes from the fact that a focus on essential questions establishes new rules for the “school game.” For the majority of learners, school is a place where the teacher has the “answers” and classroom questions are directed for the purpose of finding out who knows it. Ironically, many teachers signal that this is the game even when they don’t intend to communicate it; e.g., by only posing questions that elicit a “yes-no” or single “right” answer; by only calling on students with raised hands; and by answering their own questions after a brief pause.

The point is this. Your units should be driven by essential questions so that you create more engaging lessons that are focused on learning for understanding not memorizing for a test. 

Practice and develop your essential questions. They should be based upon your content area standards. Tell them to the students, don't hide them. Post them at the front of the room. Use kid friendly language. They should know what you are trying to do. Remind them daily about the essential questions and the key questions. 

Most  of all use them.

Drive on!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Planning with the big picture in mind?

No matter what age child you teach, it is important that you are planning with purpose. Not flying by the seat of your pants. Over the years, I have seen teachers who are very good at making it look like they know what they are doing, except that under closer observation it was obvious that what they were doing was staying one step ahead of the kids. Not good. To make an impact on the learning of the individuals in your classes you have to plan. One of the best ways to do this is to develop the unit plan.

Unit plans are standards-based. Make sure that you have identified the standard(s) and broken it (them) down to its(their) components so that your unit plans address the standards of the content.

The unit plan helps you focus on the big picture of what you are trying to get the kids to understand. You identify a (flexible) time frame of about 10 days to three weeks. Create an essential question that is part of your goal for the students. This is an open-ended question that cannot be answered with a word, sentence, or a phrase. Other elements such as the key question (s) are important as well. I will come back to essential questions and key questions in another blog entry.

Within the design of the unit plan, it is important to identify essential vocabulary that is necessary for the students to understand to be successful at the essence of the unit. As a note, essential vocabulary cannot be 30 words. Narrow it down. Vocabulary drives lessons and understanding. Spend time with creating understanding of the content words, but not by memorizing lists.

A good practice is to create a section where you ask yourself, " How will I know that they are learning?"
Part of your answer will be how you will use formative assessment to check for understanding. This is extremely important! Teaching is about the students learning. You need to take time to determine what progress they are making. (As a note, this is where differentiation starts to become possible.)

Finally, you need to make a section that asks, "What will I do to make my lessons engaging?" This is not meant to be an essay, but two or three activities that you identify to get the students actively involved in the unit.

If you create a unit plan that addresses these areas, you have in writing something that will help you to address the needs of the kids and make sure that you are not taking shortcuts.

I have included a sample unit plan that you could modify for your own uses.

Remember that planning is not meant to be something that someone made you do. It is about creating a recipe for success for the kids! don't say...I don't have time. Just do it! (Apologies to NIKE).

Helpful resources:
Understanding By Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe

Monday, August 12, 2013

Additional helpful hints for using whiteboards for flipping the class...

For more helpful hints about Flipping the Classroom. Go to
Look where it says FIZZ Lecture;
Click on How;
Here you will find additional Youtube videos pertaining to writing on the boards, selecting a flip camera, and up-loading the video to Youtube.

Remember that the reason for doing this is to help you, the teacher to become more efficient. You want to make more time in the class for hands-on activities. This process will help you create that time.
Happy Flipping!

Friday, August 9, 2013

So what are you waiting for? Let's Flip!

Flipping the Classroom is about becoming efficient at the delivery of the content so that you can use more class time to focus on activities. Activity based learning requires the teacher to be well prepared to inspire curiosity and answer questions. The more the class is student centered the more the students will be operating in the realm of higher order thinking skills; analyzing, synthesizing, evaluating. This is how kids develop a love for learning. If the only thing that is stopping you from getting started. Stop procrastinating. Dr. McCammon's model requires little in the way of resources: the flip camera, a tri-pod, the white boards, the dry-erase markers, all purpose cleaner, a rag, a stool, and a place to put the boards so that you can slide them. Here is a picture that shows my set-up.

Here is a video where he shows how to build a stand so that you can film at home.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Here is another teacher using this Flipped Classroom model. Watch his students working. Lance Bledsoe's Flipped High School Classroom - Whiteboarding, Proofs, ...

For Flipping the Classroom using Dr. McCammon's model you will need whiteboards, a flip camera, a place where the boards can sit in a tray like the tray on a chalk/dry erase board. You will want to get dry erase markers, all purpose glass cleaner (or white board cleaner), and a rag.

The white boards are made from a 4' x 8' sheet of material called shower or tile board. If you go to your local home improvement center that carries paneling you should be able to find it. Some of these places will be able to cut it for you. From the 4' x 8' sheet you should be able to get 6 pieces that are all about 24" x 32".

If you watch the video(s) below, you will see two different teachers using this process. Remember that it is about making you more efficient so that you have more time in class for hands-on activities.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Today at HGRESA, we had 50+ new teachers attend our induction program. These teachers are from most of our 10 school systems. What an exciting, energized group!

During this day, among many subjects, they attended a session on Flipping the Classroom. I introduced them to Dr. Lodge McCammon, a professor at North Carolina State who teaches teachers how to use flip cameras (or similar devices) to make one take video lectures. The purpose is to help the teacher become more efficient in the use of time. By creating these videos, the students watch them prior to the class, which allows the teacher more time for creating engaging activities during the majority of the class time. Check out this introduction to the concept.

Here is an explanation of the concept in action, by one of his teacher/students, Katie Gimbar.

On Youtube, they have a channel called Flipped Teacher Training. Go there for more information. Also, check out Dr. McCammon at his Youtube channel called pocketlodge and at

Today many of the teachers received a set of three mini whiteboards and soon the rest of the teachers will receive theirs. We will begin a cohort soon where I will be working with the teachers to help them begin adapting the Flipping the Classroom model that Dr. McCammon has created to their classes.

Dr. McCammon has created his own training sessions that you can attend. See the Heart of Georgia Facebook page at  for an entry pertaining to their next session which begins August 3rd.

more to follow soon...
Stay tuned!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Formative Assessment Assistance

As you are developing your plans for addressing the needs of the kids in your classes this fall, it is important that you utilize formative assessments. There are many writers who have suggestions to help you with what formative assessments are and what they aren't. See some of my previous posts on this blog for some key information. Writers such as Rick Stiggins, Anne Davies, Rick Wormlei, and others have much to share.

The Georgia Department of Education has its own initiative to help with formative assessment. It is called FIP. If you are a Georgia educator you will need to get an access code from your school system curriculum director to access the training information and videos. Go to to see what they have to help you.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Seg1 The Frayer Model

In this you tube clip, the Frayer model is explained to a class.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Thoughts about Classroom Assessment

"When teachers assess they are gathering information about student learning that informs their teaching and helps students learn more."
Anne Davies, Sandra Herbst-Luedtke, and Beth Parrott Reynolds in Leading the Way to making Classroom Assessment Work (Connections Publishing, Inc. 2008, p. 1)

Have you ever thought about the purpose of assessment? In your school(s) is the common thought that assessment is for determining grades? Stop for a minute, think, and really ask yourself..."What is the predominant thought about assessment in my building? I was once in a discussion with an excellent teacher who nearly caused me to stumble and fall when he said that assessment is not about learning. ( I at least almost revisited my lunch.) We had been talking about instructional issues in the building and this came up. Wow! Really? He could not have been further from the truth...which explained some of the issues we were having.

Assessment is about learning. Unfortunately, too many educators confuse it with evaluation. They see it as a pathway to a grade instead of using the information generated by the student to provide descriptive feedback to assist in helping the student with her areas of strength and weakness.

How many of you had a professor in college who said at the beginning of the semester, " There are 75 of you in here today, in two months there will be 25" ? Anyone? I did. Unfortunately, his goal was to weed out students. A teacher at any level in public school should not have this attitude. Instead they should be looking for ways to use formative assessment to gather information about student knowledge to provide instructional feedback. They should be looking for the data to assist in helping them adjust their instruction to address the personal needs of the children. Only in this manner will the classroom teacher start seeing all students achieve at high levels.

 In Anne Davies work, Leading the Way, she listed a few questions that a school leader should ask about assessment in their building.

1. How are teachers checking to see what has been learned and what needs to be learned next?
2. How are teachers ensuring that students have access to specific and descriptive feedback, in relation to criteria that is focused on improvement?
3. How are teachers finding ways to reduce evaluative feedback?
4. How are teachers involving the student-the person most able to improve learning-deeply in the assessment process?
(p. 13)

I hope that you will take some time to consider these questions. High levels of achievement do not occur without seeing and using assessment as a key to learning.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Good feedback causes thinking...
Dylan Wiliam

How often do you provide feedback to your students? If you provide feedback, how much of it is ego centered (judgmental) versus instructional commentary? Do you say good job, best you have ever done, needs work, etc or do you share specific information that lets the student know why she did a good job or why the work needed more focus? Feedback needs to be often, timely, and instructional. Without it a student does not know how she is doing nor why she was or was not successful. Without the feedback, a teacher does not know how a student is or is not progressing. Take time to analyze your opportunities for feedback to students. Is it purposeful? Is it planned? Is it timely? Is it instructional?

Here are some quality books on feedback to assist:
How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Students by Susan M. Brookhart and Checking for Understanding: Formative Assessment Techniques for Your Classroom by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey.

Take time to watch this short clip of Dylan Wiliam talking about feedback in the classroom.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Formative Assessment

Creating classrooms that focus on achievement requires teachers of all levels to use formative assessment. A child does not know if she is learning, improving, or failing to understand the content unless there is feedback. Formative assessment provides that feedback to both the child and the teacher. Used correctly, the teacher will take the formative assessment results and modify instruction to address the needs of the child. Too often though the teacher emphasizes only summative assessment. There is no chance for instructional feedback that will allow the child to make adjustments only final commentary. In this video clip, Rick Wormeli, an amazing teacher from Virginia as well as the writer of the book, Fair Isn't Always Equal, discusses the need for formative assessment.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Getting our kids reading at the levels that challenge them: Using Lexiles.

What is a Lexile® Measure?

(Click on the word Lexile in the title to go to the lexile website)

"A Lexile measure is a valuable piece of information about either an individual's reading ability or the difficulty of a text, like a book or magazine article. The Lexile measure is shown as a number with an "L" after it — 880L is 880 Lexile.
A student gets his or her Lexile reader measure from a reading test or program. For example, if a student receives an 880L on her end-of-grade reading test, she is an 880 Lexile reader. Higher Lexile measures represent a higher level of reading ability. A Lexile reader measure can range from below 200L for beginning readers to above 1600L for advanced readers. Readers who score at or below 0L receive a BR for Beginning Reader.
A book, article or piece of text gets a Lexile text measure when it's analyzed by MetaMetrics. For example, the first "Harry Potter" book measures 880L, so it's called an 880 Lexile book. A Lexile text measure is based on two strong predictors of how difficult a text is to comprehend: word frequency and sentence length. Many other factors affect the relationship between a reader and a book, including its content, the age and interests of the reader, and the design of the actual book. The Lexile text measure is a good starting point in the book-selection process, with these other factors then being considered. Lexile text measures are rounded to the nearest 10L. Text measures at or below 0L are reported as BR for Beginning Reader.
The idea behind The Lexile Framework for Reading is simple: if we know how well a student can read and how hard a specific book is to comprehend, we can predict how well that student will likely understand the book.
When used together, Lexile measures help a reader find books and articles at an appropriate level of difficulty (visit Find a Book ), and determine how well that reader will likely comprehend a text. You also can use Lexile measures to monitor a reader's growth in reading ability over time."

This explanation was taken directly from the Lexile webpage. I hope that you will take time to explore it if you have not done so already. Georgia has an initiative that schools should help reinforce that encourages parents and schools to use the lexile framework to make appropriate reading recommendations for students for the summer time. Take a look at this link.

Spend some time looking at the Lexile framework. As an educator it can assist you in helping to push students to excel. The framework is user friendly for parents as well. Your children (students) will benefit as they begin to read more challenging material. Their successes will increase as their vocabulary development will surge. happy reading!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The ACT:

If you are at the middle and high school levels, have you ever visited the website for the ACT?
Go to
Click on the link titled The New Act: Beyond Tests.
Watch the video and then explore.
Then go to the solutions tab...find the link for College and Career Readiness on that page look in the box at the right hand side and you will find See ACTs College Readiness Standards and See ACTs College Readiness Benchmarks
Take time to explore these.

The ACT (another day I will talk about the SAT...performance on these tests helps your school with the CCRPI in Georgia) has created an awesome website for educators to help their students prepare for college and careers. When you look at the benchmarks page, think about the performance level that they are suggesting for a student. What the ACT people have discovered is that students will often get the composite score that is required to gain entrance to a college but find that they are struggling in their chosen major. Why? Glad that you asked...because they did not look at the analysis of the scores. An accounting major who is weak in math may want to look at what is needed to boost her math understanding or consider changing majors. The standards and benchmarks can help adults advise their students.
Spend some time in this area.

Soon I will visit the Career Readiness area...but don't wait for me...Go ahead and explore...

Developing an understanding of the ACT website can help you help your students and help your schools.

Have fun learning!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Do you know how to spell RESA?

What is RESA?
RESA is an acronym for Regional Educational Service Agency. RESAs (formally CESAs) have been in existence since 1966. There are 16 RESAs serving 180 school systems across the state of Georgia.

Purpose of RESA
The goal of each RESA is to help local school systems meet their education needs through the sharing of services across school system lines. Numerous educational services can be offered more effectively and efficiently by pooling resources. All RESAs are required to provide services in the seven areas of:

1) Research and Planning; 2) Staff Development; (3) Curriculum and Instruction; (4) Assessment and Evaluation; (5) Technology; (6) Health; (7) School Improvement

The Heart of Georgia RESA serves ten counties: Bleckley, Dodge, Pulaski, Wilcox, Telfair, Wheeler, Montgomery, Treutlen, Dublin City, and Laurens.

Our website is

This blog will contain my thoughts about services we offer, current trends in education, instructional strategies and tasks that public schools are required to pursue.

Hope that you will join me.