Authentic Audience is Essential

There is something powerful about students create something for somebody other than their teacher.  I read this quote on Twitter the other day and was reminded of how important it is for students to be able to share their thinking and creativity with PEOPLE, not just their teachers.C_awGq_U0AA3yNv.jpg

Out of this idea, I worked with Mr. Osorio on a Narrative Essay Unit.  In past years, students in 8th grade at Currie have written 1-2 narrative essays following a very structured and purposeful layout.  This year we decided to try something different.

We began by anchoring our thoughts and discussions in standards, essential learnings, and what we want students to be able to know and do.  This is what we came up with:

After developing our unit, we decided to have our 8th graders create a picture book that they could share and present to 1st and 3rd grades using the skills taught throughout the unit!  It was wonderful!  Not every book was great but there were a few that were amazing.  Who knows…maybe it inspired someone to become an author in the future.


To Grade or not to grade…that is the question!

I have had so many conversations with teachers about grades and it has challenged me to think about the purpose, effectiveness, and the challenge of grades and HAVING to assign grades to students.

Some of the deficits that I see in using a grading system:

  • How is it possible that 1 letter grade can truly capture what a student has/hasn’t learned?
  • How much of a student’s grade is based on work that was completed at home?  Are grades supposed to represent what they learned/did at home or what they learn at school?
  • All students are different, how is it possible to build a “grade book” that shows student growth even if the “growth” is different?
  • Too many teachers use grades to “teach” students the importance of responsibility, but is that really what grades should be about?
  • Weighting…oh the problem of weighting…

Ex. I am a teacher and I weight my gradebook so that 50% is assessments, 40% classwork/projects/HW, 10% independent reading.  Let’s just say, I only have 1 assignment in independent reading and it is worth 5 points.  They either did the assignment or not.  So let’s say a kid didn’t do the assignment and can’t make it up.  That means this student automatically goes from an A to a B in my class.  No matter what this student does, his/her grade cannot go above a B because he/she received a 0 in independent reading and that is 10% of the grade.

  • I know that this might not happen often but it does happen.  Teachers sometimes don’t think through the concept that weighting plays a HUGE role in final grades.

It is sad to me that we are stuck in a system (in middle school) where we, as teachers, are forced to assign a letter grade to a student.  My daughter is in 1st grade and her report card is 100% standards based and I LOVE it as a teacher and a mom.  I do see ways that it can improve but it is at least moving in the correct direction.

I do not claim to have the answer, but I know that if I have to work within the system of “Letter Grades” there are a few things that I would make sure and think through before “assigning” a kid a grade.

  1. I would NOT weight.
  2. I would allow students to re-write, re-take, re-do.
  3. I would ask myself every week:  “What did my students learn this week?  Is their learning represented in the grade book?”  If not, how can I make sure that it is represented and I would re-assess what I am including in my grade book.
  4. I would be flexible in how I grade, always noting changes, added points in order to meet the needs of all of my students.

I love this Tweet from Alice Keeler and agree that reflecting on grading and what it represents is so valuable and necessary!

I am not sure what the answer is and to be honest this topic has been the hardest part of being a teacher for me.  I have tried so many ways, so many methods and still don’t feel that the single letter grade I give a student truly represents their growth in our class, but I will keep trying until I find a way within the broken system to create a grade book that truly represents what students are learning and how they are growing!

So while I cannot yet abandon grades, I do like the shift of language (in tweet below) that I can use and teach my students to use to re-frame our thinking.


Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Communication with Actively Learn

I LOVED being in a class where I saw students take control of their learning and work together to read and understand text.  Students in Mr. Osorio’s class brought in their own articles, shared them with their peers, and read and annotated together.  From that, they worked together to answer some Text Dependent Questions and some Under the Surface Questions.




Two Engaging Strategies

The past two weeks I have supported a fellow in implementing two engaging strategies to get his students talking, discussing and sharing ideas.  The first one is called:

Speed Dating

Essentially this is a strategy used to get students to talk to multiple people, multiple times, in a short time frame.


Image from:

CORE — I love this strategy and have seen it been used in a variety of different ways.  He wanted the students to practice their presentations and presentation skills.  So they were literally saying the same thing to each partner but each time they would receive feedback on their content in their presentation and their presentation skills.  After three rounds, they were ready to present!

MATH —I have also seen this used in a math class.

  • Each student receives a problem.
  • They become an expert on their problem.
  • They think through all the different ways to solve the problem and make sure they have the correct answer.
  • Then the start with a partner.
  • They exchange the problem with their partner.
  • They have time to work through and solve their problems.
  • Partner A explains to Partner B the work they did and their answer.
  • Partner B listens and corrects them if they made a mistake.
  • Partner B explains to Partner A the work they did and their answer.
  • Partner A listens and corrects them if they made a mistake.

Professional Development —I have actually ran this in a PD.  I called it Speed Geeking (Crystal Kirch is the originator of this idea).  Here is the Slides Presentation to explain


The second strategy that I have seen is called:

Gallery Walk

This is a strategy to engage students in collaborative, conversations while they walk through the classroom.  Stations or posters are set up around the classroom, on the walls or on tables. Small groups of students travel from station to station together, performing some kind of task or responding to a prompt, either of which will result in a conversation.  In our lesson we placed QR codes up that linked to images.  Students had to discuss:

  • What do you see? (literal)
  • What does it mean/represent? (figurative)
  • What one word or short phrase summarizes the image? — this they write with a marker in the circle map.

As they progress through the stations, they are not allowed to repeat a word so it becomes more difficult as they go.  Here is a Youtube Video that walks through the ins and outs of a Gallery Walk.

Jennifer Gonzalez also discusses this strategy on her blog.


Scaffolding in just the right way…

Let’s get real…teaching English Language Learners can be a challenge.  I have been teaching students who are learning English for 11 years and every year it is a challenge, but I love it!

Today in a discussion with a colleague we discussed the difference between scaffolding and simply dumbing down the curriculum.  It is so important that we learn that scaffolding isn’t just giving less work, writing less, doing less problems, providing sentence frames…Scaffolding is giving the students the tools/support needed to access the content.

I think that the seesaw has always been the image that I have used to help me understand how best to scaffold to reach my students.


I start by teaching my students the skill, the process using content that is familiar and little easier for them to access.  Then after students have mastered the skill, then I begin to raise the rigor of the content.  I may use sentence frames to support students in the beginning but what I hope is that those frames support them in learning the skill that they can then apply to more rigorous content.

What’s your purpose?

Such a great question!  Why…

  • Am I a parent?
  • Do I care how my kids act?
  • Do I teach?
  • Am I a coach?
  • Does Rya (my daughter) go to school?
  • Do schools exist?
  • Do we value education?

I have been thinking through the why, the purpose, the reason behind all I do especially in education.  I am reading a book by Sir Ken Robinson and I love how he defines the purpose in education.

“As I see it, the aims of education are to enable students to understand the world around them and the talents within them so that they can become fulfilled individuals and active, compassionate citizens.”

I love how the purpose is so much more than standards and tests, it is about the child and how this child can contribute and find success in this society.  And when I say success, I don’t necessarily mean to go to college and get a degree.  I mean what can bring them joy and contribute to making the world a better place, finding their place in this world.

I truly believe that this idea totally supports our three goals for the upcoming school year:

  • Build Relationships
  • Take Risks
  • Engage in Rigorous Curriculum