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.