Posts tagged ‘goal setting’

Reflections on Balanced Literacy

“It always seems impossible, until it is done.” — Nelson Mandela

I found it appropriate for my two year anniversary for blogging that today’s post would be my first guest bloggers post by Jessica Mize-Wilson. (@jmizewilson)

Recently, I joined a new learning community, The Teacher’s Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP). I had the privilege of attending a TCRWP Homegrown Institute this summer and loved all the “Ah!” moments! It was affirming and satisfying knowing we were teaching readers and writers strategies to master skills that are so broad they can be applied to any type of reading. We are moving from a hybrid basel/reader’s workshop model reading program to full implementation balanced literacy. Balanced literacy, as defined by Cowen, states “A balanced reading approach is research-based, assessment-based, comprehensive, integrated, and dynamic, in that it empowers teachers and specialists to respond to the individual assessed literacy needs of children as they relate to their appropriate instructional and developmental levels of decoding, vocabulary, reading comprehension, motivation, and sociocultural acquisition, with the purpose of learning to read for meaning, understanding, and joy.” Teachers cannot implement balanced literacy alone, in silos! We must share and collaborate! Teaching teams will be most excited about the “instructional synergy” coming into the classroom. Teachers will see how each piece builds on one another and a community of learners (both teachers and students) begin to work together, feeding on each other and a “buzz” about our learning develops!

When I read the units, I begin to see each teaching point build on one another (something I always felt highs and lows with in my hybrid model of reader’s workshop.) I begin to hear and see opportunities for shared reading, interactive writing, word study, conferring, strategy groups and guided reading groups….oh my! Now I am overwhelmed! Not really, but it is easy to do because balanced literacy is about responsive teaching. A lot of decisions cannot be made until the students walk in the door! This fall, as a Literacy Facilitator, I will be coaching teachers in implementing balanced literacy and thought there were a few Ah! Ha! moments to share. So, here goes…

1. The components of balanced reading! Balanced literacy is a complex, dynamic teaching approach. If we want students to become risk takers, we must also take risk. Set your own goal! Choose one component to focus on and get really good at it first. Seeing the big picture and knowing the components of reader’s workshop will help you choose your goal! All of the components work together and offer a balance for students to transfer learning to all areas of their lives.




2. The mini lesson! Can it really be a mini and not a “maxi”? Yes! The TCRWP shared the architecture of a mini lesson and several conversational moves to keep the lesson at a brisk pace. Using the architecture of a mini lesson accomplishes three goals: planning becomes easier, teaching becomes more efficient and students come to know what to expect so they can better focus on what we’re teaching (builds trust in us!) Sending a message of, “We’ve got this!” load and clear. The mini-lesson is a invitation to try a strategy and the architecture of a mini lesson clearly defines what and how students can become successful readers.

3. Conferring! What am I suppose to talk about that will move students along their current text band and propel them forward to the next text band? It is going to take a lot of balance between mini-lesson instruction, strategy work, guided reading groups, partner work and conferring! Conferring catches a student at the cutting edge of their learning, at the cutting edge of greatness! A lot of times teachers think it is easy to confer with students, until you start! The key to conferring is not talking but listening! Coaching into the greatness is the hard part and it takes a lot of practice. The architecture of a reading conference helps move the conversation along.



Other Ah! Ha! Moments…
1. Reading Toolkit — teaching into readers needs!
2. #tcrwp chats on Twitter
3. The different types of small group work!

Integrating Social Emotional Curricula and the Common Core

“Learning is a result of listening, which in turn leads to even better listening and attentiveness to the other person. In other words, to learn from the child, we must have empathy, and empathy grows as we learn.” By Alice Miller


Tonight’s #21stedchat (On Twitter Sundays @ 8:00 PM EST US with @dprindle and I – @Edu_Thompson) is discussing Social Emotional Curriculum vs. Integrated Empathy. This is apart of what I refer to as ‘hidden curriculum’. To me there shouldn’t be a ‘verse’ between Social Emotional Curriculum/Integrated Empathy tonight but an ‘and’.

Developing students’ social and emotional skills helps schools/classrooms create safe learning environments that help increase academic achievement. I believe that empathy falls within social emotional curriculum and it should be integrated into the Common Core with a focus on 21st century skills so it is cohesive. Below are some suggestions on how you can integrate social and emotional curricula with Common Core standards. My ideas are based on the An Educational Leaders Guide to Evidence-Based Social and Emotional Learning Programs, Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL, 2013)’ and Common Core.

  • Self-Awareness/Management: focuses on identifying and recognizing emotions; self-efficacy; control of oneself; self-motivation and discipline; goal setting; and organizational skills. Connection to Common Core:  CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.
  • Relationship Skills: encompasses communication; social engagement and relationship building; working cooperatively; negotiation; conflict management; and help seeking. Connection to Common Core: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
  • Responsible Decision Making: includes problem identification and problem solving; evaluation and reflection; personal, social, and ethical responsibility. Connection to Common Core: CCSS.Math.Practice.MP1 Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  • Social Awareness: empathy; difference recognition; and respect for others. Connection to Common Core: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

There are many other Common Core Standards that these social and emotional basic skills can be integrated with. Many of these skills can also be taught and discussed within books, history and the arts. Below are more resources on this topic:

Social and emotional learning gaining new focus under Common Core

Building Social and Emotional Skills in Elementary Students: Empathy

Empathy: the Key to Social and Emotional Learning

Teaching Social and Emotional Skills in Schools

CASEL website

I would to hear ways that you think social and emotional curricula should be integrated or how you have integrated it. Please share in the comments section

Digital Portfolios and Student Lead Conferences

“Time has a wonderful way of showing us what really matters.” By Margaret Peters

Digital portfolios (or sometimes known as e-portfolios) allows opportunity for students to showcase mastery of content through a variety of methods other than paper and pencil. It allows students to show evidence that they are working toward a goal and improving skills based on objectives. Students gain confidence, learn to reflect on their multimedia work, track and demonstrate growth based on their level of learning and most importantly improve self reflection and build learning independence.

Why are we hearing more about digital portfolios lately? Because more colleges and Universities are not just excepting SAT scores but portfolios. There are many applications you can use for digital portfolio such as blogging, 3 Ring, wikispacesGoogle Drive, Livebinders, Gaggle/Edmodo, or Evernote. Evernote is my favorite for many reason but mostly because it’s free, works on all devices and you don’t need internet except for syncing.

In Evernote you can make folders for each students, where they can upload their projects or documents to show mastery. I prefer portfolios because it takes the pressure off of grades and focuses on growth. It also helps set the tone in the classroom environment that we are all different and we will make mistakes but we can learn from them.

I set up my conferences so that I was conferencing with my students in every subject, at least once a week. During this time (because I only had one iPad) I would write the conference notes in their digital portfolio. Over time we could see their progress and growth.

During the conferences, I would discuss with the students individually about what they did well, what they needed to work on and a plan on how they were going to improve. This allowed ownership and also held the students more accountable through reflection. I became the facilitator making sure they made goals that were best for them and that were based on their needs.

Inside the portfolios the students would take pictures of projects they had created, such as the thermal solar house they built or they would upload their best writing piece. Sometimes we recorded our reading fluency so they could hear themselves and make improves. Setting up my portfolios this way allowed the students and I to build a relationship and helped me easily differentiate based on needs and their interests.

Naturally came student lead conferences, where the student walked their parents through their digital portfolio. The students knew their strength and weaknesses and didn’t need ‘prepping’ because they did this naturally every week. It showed the parents the students understood their strength and weakness and allowed the parents to ask their students questions. Because the parents realized that their children understood their learning so well, I found that more parents engaged with their child’s education because they didn’t feel the pressure of figuring out what the student needed to work on. It also naturally helped me, get the parents to see that there is more to education then just grades, taking pressure off some students by default. I also noticed that students had more confidence in themselves because they weren’t comparing themselves against anyone but themselves.

When I left the classroom, I was able to help other teachers set up these portfolios. One teacher @missbrinnsclass, started them. The students are in first grade and it is amazing to see them take control of their learning. Here is a sample of a students writing and her reflection on her work.


This is a video of Madison leading her conference in front of her parents and teacher.

I would love to hear how you are using digital portfolios in your classroom or tools that you are using.

Bettering Myself: My Summer Goals

“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”
By Ignacio Estrada


This is my first summer that I am a 12 month employee so I technically don’t get a ‘summer break’ but I still think it is important to make summer goals. These are my top things I will do this summer.

1. Attend an educational conference to better my practice! I am attending Edulum’s Educational Conference. For my readers that are in NC/SC this conference is at UNCC on Aug 2nd 8:30-3:00 for only $30.00! There are presenters from all levels from K-12 and from different parts of the Carolinas. The conference theme is Engage, Enrich and Empower. The tickets are selling fast because it is so cheap. For more info or to purchase your tickets click here.

2. Complete at least one Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)! To decide what MOOC course best meets your professional development needs check out this MOOC list. I am going to learn to code better by using Codecademy.

3. Read! I read often alternating educational books with what I call my ‘fun’ reads. For my educational read I want to read Drive by Daniel Pink. For my fun read I want to read the sequel to Firefly Lane by Kristen Hannah, Fly Away. I like keeping track of my books on and my goal is to read a book a week!

4. Write an article or a quest blog post or both! I have been asked to write articles and quest blog posts but the timing has not always worked out. This summer I want to either write an article or quest blog post to help challenge myself as an educational reflector.

5. Work on balancing work and life. As I stated before, I am working all summer. My goal is to work within my summer schedule of 10 hour days- 4 days a week. This means no work at night during the week, nothing on Fridays or the weekend.

6. Personal goals! Just as it is important to have educational goals, it is important to have personal goals too. I will paint our bedroom and finish the makeover I started over winter break! I will clean our spare bedroom that has become a dumping ground. I will work-out at least 5 days a week.

Of course I will still blog once a week and share what I am learning. I would love to hear you personal/professional goals. Good luck in your efforts to set and reach these goals.

My 2013 EDU New Year’s Resolutions

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.” by Edith Lovejoy Pierce

As I reflect and review my 2012, Education New Year’s Resolution goals blog post, I am proud I have accomplished all of them. I am excited to think about what 2013 will bring. While pondering about what my New Year’s Resolution goals for 2013 would be, I found this video about ‘The Science of New Year’s Resolutions’ by @docmikeevans and it was too good not to pass along.

My New Year’s Resolutions for 2013 are:

1. Learn, master and provide PD on implementing challenge based learning in the classroom.

2. Take more risks, learn from my mistakes and failures and not sweat the small stuff.

3. Continue to learn through reading, researching, blogging, connecting and most importantly listening to others.

With a new year, comes bigger challenges and opportunities. Beat the challenges and grab the opportunities, with an equal zeal. Happy New Year Everyone!

Why I Love Using Entry and Exit Slips

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”  By Peter F. Drucker

Many teachers have use exit slips (also known as ticket out the door) which I believe is a crucial part of teaching and learning but I also think entry slips are just as effective and often overlooked. I like to use both of them for many reasons such as data points and/or as a reflection tool for not only myself but for the students. Here are a few different ways I use them in the classroom.

Entry Slips:

1. I like to use entry slips to see where the students are in their learning. I usually put four to five problems on the board and this is how I differentiate. If the student shows mastery they go right into math workshop or a Problem Based Learning (PBL) activity I have prepared. If they show partial mastery I would have a teacher assistant (or volunteer) work with the students until mastery. Where I, the teacher, would take the students that showed no mastery.I use this method often when I ‘flip the classroom’.

2. I like to use entry slips, when I know based on a pre-assessment  data, the students all showed partially mastery of a topic. I use this as a gauge to see where my lesson truly needs to start.

3. I like to use entry slips to start off a unit. I like to see what they want to learn about a unit. For example, I would ask something like, ‘What do you want to learn about place value?’ You will be surprised at what they will say. One year, I had a student say he wanted to learn about other place value systems such as the Mayan. Do you know that is my best lesson I think I teach now, years later! I have now turned it into a PBL project and the students love it! This type of entry slips helps my reflect and be a better educator, it also gets the student a voice in what they want to learn along with getting them starting to think about the unit we are about to start!

I do not use an entry slip everyday. I try to use them once a week. I do however use exit slips more often, sometimes daily.

Exit Slips:

1. I like to use exit slips to see how the students are doing on a unit. This helps me assess how the unit and the students are doing. I can then use this data to change my lesson plans or pacing. A prompt might be, ‘ Give me 3 things you have learned so far, 2 questions you still have and 1 thing I need to work on.’

2. I like to use exit slips to see how effectively I taught a lesson. On my door I would have a red piece of construction paper, yellow and green. I would give the students a question such as rate this lesson. 10-8 would be green, 7-5 yellow and 5-0 would be red. This gives me a quick visual and data point to help me improve the lesson next time. Sometimes you as the educator think that a lesson has ‘flopped’ and it really hasn’t or vice versa, sometimes you think it was great but the students don’t. This is a great visual to grasp that. I also use the red, yellow, green exit slips to see how the students comfort level with a topic is. We talk about before hand how each student has different strengths and weaknesses and I use the example of myself and another teacher. I am great at geometry and she is at fractions, doesn’t mean we can’t do it but we know it is not our strength. I do not use this type of exit slip until i have built that safe environment.

3. I like to use exit slips see if they have mastered or not mastered a concept. I sometimes adopt the essential question I have for the lesson as a prompt. I use this data for my next days reteach groups. A fellow co-worker, Jen Sieracki, uses what she calls ‘Ticket to Workshop”. After she teaches the mini-lesson, she has the students show their mastery and she uses this data for here reteach/small groups.

If you ‘google’ exit and entry slips you find lots of examples and prompts you can use. I would love to know if other educators use entry or exit cards differently. I can always improve my teaching!

* Free image courtesy of

Students Using Data to Drive Their Own Learning

“A good teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.” Thomas Carruthers

My last three posts have all been about using data to drive instruction. I believe that not only should the teachers use data to drive instruction but that students should use data to gage their learning as well. I consider one of the most important things a teacher can teach a student is to take control of their own learning.

How do you let students use data to drive their own learning? You teach them to track their own data and have conversations about it through mini-lessons and conferences.

The mini-lessons should be about goal setting and why it is important. I taught the students how to make SMART goals.  I also taught the students how to use the teacher objective boxes to guide them. (For more info about objective boxes see Using Data to Dive Instruction: Part 1) If the student did not master an objective on the assessment, the student’s goal that week was to work on the objective through homework or contracts in workshop. Everything I used had objectives on it so the students were well aware what the objective numbers meant. For example, if a student did Not Master (NM) objective 2.05 then the student’s responsibility was to work on objective 2.05. If they were working on a reading response, I had at least 3 question prompts per objective that they could use for a response that matched the objective they needed to work on using their own novel. I also had objectives on individual contracts. I did this for math and science as well. If the student needed to work on a certain objective skill, they would pick up the contract for workshop or do the homework assigned to the objective skill they needed to practice. The students were all engaged which made workshop run like clockwork. This style also helped with my differentiation because all the students were working on what they needed as individuals.

Many teachers have conference data logs for writing, where the teacher writes down where the student is in their writing process and what their next steps are going to be etc. I kept conference notebooks for every subject, for every student. When the student and I conferenced, they knew I was keeping notes on them and they helped me write the notes in them. It was no secret and shouldn’t.

What went into these conference notes? The conversations the student and I had along with their goal! I would first model goal setting the first quarter by looking at the student’s data and discussing with them what goal I thought they should work on and why. The second quarter, we would discuss the data and choose the goal together. By the third and fourth quarter, the students would come to me ready for their conference with their goal. I did this for every subject, every week.

The next question most of you are probably asking right now is HOW?

I would set up a schedule of 7 students a day (I had 32 students in my class) and during workshop I would meet with them. It took me about 20 mins, as each conference was only a few minutes, which still left me time to pull my small reteach groups; as my workshop was typically 40-45 minutes long. The students loved having these conferences (and so did I) because it also gave me time to really get to know them as individual learners. The students like having a say in what they are learning and want to learn plus it teaches them responsibility.

Many teachers often say to me, ‘This is all such a great idea and I am glad it worked for you but it wouldn’t work in my classroom.’ I often respond with; why? The first thing usually they say is I don’t have time. My answer to this is make time as it saves time in the long run. This is what learning is all about, you will literally watch your students begin to love learning because they are apart of it. Start small and work on goal setting in one subject and then move into others. I didn’t keep these long professional notes in my conference binders. I wrote the date and a few sentences about what we discussed and the student’s goal and I did all this during the conference which took no extra time.

The second excuse I get is, ‘My student’s are too young.’ I have seen Kindergarten teachers do goal setting. Yes, maybe it is not as detailed as above but you can tier this style to make it work for the grade level you teach. Every grade can at least do individual conferences and I believe grades 3 and up can handle understand what skills they need to work on.

Students using data to drive their own learning is a 21st century skill student’s need. It teaches them to be responsibly for themselves and gives them confidence in their learning. It also teaches the students that each learner is not the same and that is okay. Try it in your classroom, let the students take educational ownership and watch what unfolds!

Please share in the comment section if you, as an educator, have other ways that you have students using data to drive their own learning. I love learning from others!


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