January 24

Teaching outside the box

Here is an idea that brings the real world into the classroom to engage and excite students. Needless to say . . . I love it!


Teaching Lord of the Flies in a Completely Different Way

In this Education Week article, brothers Chip Heath (Stanford Graduate School of Business) and Dan Heath (Duke University CASE Center) say that “peak moments” in life that we remember forever – a wedding day, a successful public presentation, an award for exceptional accomplishment – share certain characteristics with peak moments in school – a swim meet, prom, senior musical performance, science fair, football game, debate tournament, choir concert. What are the common factors? “They’re all social,” say the Heaths, “often performed in front of an audience, and involve an element of competition or pressure. There’s a sense of pomp and circumstance about them – notice how often we actually wear distinctive clothes to them.” And with the school moments, almost none of them take place in classrooms, even though that’s where students spend virtually all of their time in school.

How can schools create more peak moments in classrooms? Here’s an example. In 1989, social studies teacher Greg Jouriles and English teacher Susan Bedford decided to teach Lord of the Flies a little differently at their California high school. One day during a routine discussion of the novel, a visitor strode into the classroom and distributed an official-looking document announcing that the book’s author, William Golding, had been charged with “libeling human nature.” Students were told that they would put Golding on the stand in a “Trial of Human Nature,” taking on the roles of lawyers, witnesses, and the judge. The trial would address fundamental questions of literature and history, including: Are people good or evil? Is civilization just a thin veneer over violent instincts?

For several months, students prepared for the trial, and when the day came, they dressed up in suits and costumes (Stalin, Gandhi, Atticus Finch, Harry Potter) and took a bus to an actual courtroom where a jury of administrators and alumni sat to render a verdict. The trial idea was so successful that it’s still being implemented in this high school every year, three decades later (in some years Golding is found guilty, in other years not guilty). “The day of the trial is a powerful peak moment,” say the Heaths: “a culmination of preparation and practice, delivered in front of an audience, with real stakes and immediate feedback. Every year, the student speaker at graduation mentions the trial. The prom? It’s mentioned sometimes.”

Could this kind of exhibition or performance task replace traditional final exams? That sounds crazy, but consider, say the Heaths, which “more closely resembles work in the real world: the intense collaboration of an exhibition requiring students to frame and deliver a project under deadline pressure so that an audience can view and critique it? Or an exam with 10 multiple-choice and three short-answer questions?” Worse still, consider the finding of a study at an elite private school showing that when students were asked to retake their June final exams three months later, their average grades fell from B+ to F. All the exam preparation these students had done simply evaporated over the summer. And consider an American Institutes of Research study showing that students who engaged in deeper learning reaped a number of benefits, including better collaboration skills, motivation, self-efficacy, and on-time graduation rates. This was true of all student subgroups.

“So how can we feel satisfied,” conclude the Heaths, “delivering the usual academic experience – one that students, on the whole, can barely remember?”

“Student Motivation” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath in Education Week 10 Big Ideas, January 10, 2018 (Vol. 37, #16, p. 4-5), https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2018/01/10/the-secret-to-student-engagement.html


December 22

All mistakes are not created equal . . .

As part of developing a growth mindset with students, it’s important that they understand that mistakes are essential. This article talks about the fact that all mistakes are not equal and the necessity in understanding the different types of mistakes we make as learners. I personally never thought about mistakes in this way.

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November 20

Khan Academy . . . could it help our students?

The benefits of Khan are tremendous. Besides just an increase in scores, it helps to boost confidence!

Free Khan Academy SAT tutorials boost scores, study finds

“College Board President David Coleman told reporters in an online conference Monday that he was particularly pleased that the gains seemed not to vary much by students’ gender, race, income level or high school GPA. “It is good news that practice is an equal opportunity employer,” he said. “And the great news is that it is free.”

November 8

Tell the story with fewer words . . .

Infographics convey information in fewer words, pictures and other visual representations. For some students these are more easily accessible than an article. Think about using these for your next AOW or adding them to your next text set or better yet, have students design their own. Here are a few websites to get you started.



September 21

Are they really reading?

It’s time for SSR+ in your classroom. Are your students really reading or are they really faking it? Here are some tips to help make this very necessary time authentic.


September 9

Make logging reading more engaging!!

What would it be like to get rid of the reading logs and make the accountability piece of SSR+ more fun? Follow the link below for some amazing ideas to “ditch” the reading logs. If we make if more fun, they are going to be more willing to engage!


From the author, “. . . the key in all of this is to make reading public celebration, and to vary the ways in which you think, talk about, share and respond to text. When the method that you use to keep students accountable for their reading is fun and engaging they are less likely to view reading as a chore and more likely to enjoy it. Is the goal to collect a stack of papers in which students log their minutes of reading or is it to inspire a love of reading that leads students to inspire others to pick up a book?”


September 5

What do kids REALLY need to find success in the real world?

This is an interesting article. Things to consider . . . Are you doing enough of these things? Are they consistent?

7 skills your child needs to survive the changing world of work

A group of Catholic school girls look at their phones as they wait on the route that Pope Francis will take later in the day near St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York September 24, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson - GF10000219774

Back to school … but are your kids learning the right lessons?
Image: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Education may be the passport to the future, but for all the good teaching out there, it would seem that schools are failing to impart some of the most important life skills, according to one educational expert.

Dr. Tony Wagner, co-director of Harvard’s Change Leadership Group, argues that today’s school children are facing a “global achievement gap”, which is the gap between what even the best schools are teaching and the skills young people need to learn.

This has been exacerbated by two colliding trends: firstly, the global shift from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy, and secondly, the way in which today’s school children – brought up with the internet – are motivated to learn.

To read entire article – https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/09/skills-children-need-work-future

May 25

Creating Strong Writers

Creating strong writers doesn’t just happen, it takes practice . . . lot’s of it!! To create strong writers, we need to be sure to embed writing into our daily instruction. As Smekens indicates, there are different types of writing for different purposes. However, after asking students to write, we usually hear “Miss, how long does it have to be? How many sentences?” We must move students away from this. One way is by providing mentor texts that serve as models of good writing. Another way . . . create the model yourself by writing in front of your students! This is quite possibly the most powerful model because students get to actually see and hear the process as you think aloud; apprenticeship at its finest! Not comfortable with this practice? Reach out to your literacy coordinator who loves doing this with kids!

Check out Smeken’s ideas about writing for different purposes – https://www.smekenseducation.com/Build-Strong-Writing-Paragraph-.html

April 25

Revision vs. Editing

Writer’s Workshop is incredibly important because it helps students learn to process their thinking as they put their ideas into writing. I’ve decided to blog about this because I frequently find myself having discussions with teachers about the difference between revision and editing. They are NOT the same. Revision is the process of making the writing itself better! Editing is a completely separate process that looks at the writing conventions: spelling, capitalization and punctuation – some include grammar here. I personally have students look for grammar mistakes during revision.

Please reach out if you want to workshop writing and I can support.I have resources that I am happy to share. I’ve been pushing into classrooms frequently and working through revision with students. I love being able to dig in with students!

Want more about the difference between revision and editing? https://slc.berkeley.edu/editing-vs-revision

March 24

Great resources!

So many great resources today!

From honeybees to reparations, there’s something to fit every need.


The honeybee has taken flight from the Cheerios box to sound a bee alert
Boxes of Cheerios pictured in a grocery store. Photo: Mike Mozart/Flickr

January 27

“Writing is crucial to literacy development” (Kelly Gallagher)

Over the past several years, I have been fortunate to work with an incredible array of teachers from across the United States who have given me valuable insight into their professional challenges. For a while now, I’ve started each workshop by asking the same question: “How many of you are seeing a decline in your students’ writing abilities?” Sadly, no matter where I’m presenting or what the demographic of their students, the teachers’ responses overwhelmingly confirm my worst fears: Wide swaths of students are not developing their writing skills—skills we know to be foundational to their literate lives.

Why are writing skills in decline? To answer this question, one might start by reading a recent study of U.S. middle schools conducted by the Education Trust (2015), in which the researchers examined a key question: Do classroom assignments reflect today’s higher standards? Their findings were sobering. Only 38 percent of assignments were aligned with a grade-appropriate standard. About 85 percent of assignments asked students to either recall information or apply basic skills and concepts. (The assignments were “largely surface level,” the report noted.) Only 1 percent of assignments required students to think for extended periods of time; most assignments could be completed in one class period.

This lack of rigor was especially evident in schools’ writing expectations for students in middle school (see fig. 1). Read more

January 25

The power books can have over us

“Back in 1930, Hesse argued that ‘We need not fear a future elimination of the book. On the contrary, the more that certain needs for entertainment and education are satisfied through other inventions, the more the book will win back in dignity and authority. For even the most childish intoxication with progress will soon be forced to recognise that writing and books have a function that is eternal.”

I was moved nearly to tears when I came across this. It is something we must share with our students. Books can overtake us, transport us to places far beyond our reach. We do not understand how lucky we are, how lucky our students are, to have a safe place to read them. I’d love to hang out with my elephant on a lazy afternoon and read a good book. These pictures are moving, the stories that can be inferred, even more so. (click the picture to follow the link to more pictures)

January 25

This resource will help you plan for the application of critical thinking skills EVERYDAY!

Critical thinking skills are something students need more than ever. Information is thrown at them and too often, they take things for face value. The “I saw it on the internet so it must be true” mentality. Here is a tool to help teachers plan embed these into daily lessons. These are great for the personal, social and knowledge building dimensions of your RA classroom! (click on the visual to go to the website to print)