Posts tagged ‘Teaching’

Transforming Literacy Practices with Digital Tools

“Technology can and should be used as a tool to open the classroom to the world, to ensure that teachers present standards in a way that fosters active engagement and participation in meaningful ways.” – from Pencils to Podcasts 

Guest blog post by Katie Stover

Who knew what started as a partnership between my education students at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina and Lindsay Yearta’s fifth graders in Rock Hill, South Carolina would become a catalyst for a larger endeavor. In 2013, both groups of students read Linda Sue Park’s novel, A Long Walk to Water  and used Kid Blog as a platform for ongoing conversation about the book. This digital book club enhanced the fifth graders’ motivation and engagement in reading while providing the preservice teachers with a hands-on experience working with elementary-aged learners. The online reader response provided the preservice teachers with authentic assessment and instructional opportunities without having to physically be present in the classroom. They used students’ written responses as a springboard for online conversation about the shared text. The preservice teachers modeled proficient reader strategies like connecting, predicting, and inferring. They then probed and engaged the fifth graders through questioning to elicit deeper comprehension and discussion of the text.

When sharing about this mutually beneficial blogging partnership at the International Literacy Conference in 2014, we were asked by Solution Tree Publishers to consider writing a book about ways to integrate technology into teaching and learning. Fast forward two years later and we are thrilled to announce our new book titled, From Pencils to Podcasts: Digital Tools to Transform K-6 Literacy Practices will be released at the end of August. In this book, we share more about the online book club as well as over a dozen other suggestions for embedding technology into the curriculum to prepare students to meet the demands of the 21st century. We offer practical suggestions for integrating digital tools into familiar literacy practices to facilitate comprehension, evaluation, publication, and assessment. Each chapter provides a vignette, easy-to-use digital tools, step by step instructions for getting started as well as authentic classroom examples and suggestions for adapting across content areas.

We would love to hear from you as you try out and adapt any ideas from the book in your own schools!  Our Twitter handles are: Katie Stover @kstover24 and Lindsay Yearta @lyearta 

From Pencils to Podcasts

Join #21stedchat on October 2nd, 2017 @ 8:00 EST PM with @edu_thompson and @dprindle with guest host @kstover24 as we discuss the book From Pencils to Podcasts: Digital Tools to Transform K-6 Literacy Practices 

To read more about the blogging partnership and other publications by Katie Stover, visit

Also check out another great book coauthored by Katie Stover, Smuggling Writing: Strategies That Get Students to Write Every Day, in Every Content Area, Grades 3-12



Meeting the Whole Child through Cultural Responsiveness

“Stereotypes lose their power when the world is found to be more complex than the stereotype would suggest. When we learn that individuals do not fit the group stereotype, then it begins to fall apart. ” By Ed Koch

Almost a year ago I wrote a blog post about creating a culturally responsive classroom and since then it has been a topic that I have been interested in. To further my practice and understanding of the Whole Child, I have been attending culturally responsive leadership meetings my district has offered, read books and attended sessions at conferences on this topic. I find it fascinating as I love learning about different cultures and how it plays into the education world. Below are some of my take-aways from my learnings over the last year. These are high level take-aways and I encourage you to think about if you are culturally responsive educator and how are you trying to improve your craft to meet the Whole Child.

  1. I was able to hear Manny Scott, an original Freedom Rider at ASCD conference in Atlanta. He was one of the best keynotes I have heard. He made me laugh, cry while also being able to push my thinking around culture responsiveness. Manny gave us a new lens to look through as educators and how one educator made a difference in his life. Here are some of my take aways/reminder from Manny:
    1. What a powerful reminder that dropping out is a process, not an event.
    2. You will not reach anyone if you vilify the things they find important. Become a student of your students. (think about their culture and background)
    3. Giving up on students is unacceptable. We might be the only chance some have in this world.
    4. Do not let labels of students determine your relationship with them.
  2. I thought The Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People was a captivating book. It really opened my eyes to how I look at things. Now I have a better understanding of myself and others. For example how often times we assume our culture is the right culture and make judgments based on our beliefs such as ‘this parent didn’t show up to a parent teacher conference, they don’t care about the students education like they should.’ Meanwhile the conferences are held during the teachers preferred time, not necessarily taking into consideration some parents work different shifts or multiple jobs so their child can have things they need.
  3. I have read a lot of articles/blogs but I highly recommend reading this great article: The Culturally Responsive Educator. It is about how culturally responsive classrooms is more than food, traditions and flags; “cultural responsiveness is a frame of mind in which we view the tasks of teaching through the lens of cultural diversity.” It offers great examples and ideas of things to think about in your classroom or school.


Moving Through The Continuum of Instructional Models

“Education is the key to success in life, and teachers make a lasting impact in the lives of their students.” By Solomon Ortiz

As we continue to change out instructional practices in the classroom, I think the difference between teacher centered, student centered and student driven need to be defined better. I do not see student centered and student driven as interchangeable as they are not the same. I see these instructional models as a continuum and defined below.Slide3 copy.jpgWe need to help move teachers across the continuum so that our classrooms are becoming places where students are agents of their own learning which is what Personalized Learning is all about. Personalized Learning leads to more student motivation, independence and empowerment. How do we move teachers across this continuum? Here are few ways to start making the shift across the continuum; the most important thing is to remember to start small and at your pace.

From Teacher Driven to Student Centered:

  • Allow students to have choice through a standard based choice board
  • Implement a workshop model
  • Allow students to self assess after a project is complete (self-assessment)
  • Allow students to set goals.

From Student Centered to Student Driven:

  • Allow students to own and track their own data
  • Allow students to chose what task they want to complete off their data
  • Allow students to plan lessons of skills they have mastered

The hardest thing for teachers to do within each model is the release of control to the students. As you move across the continuum, the teacher has less control which often gets confused with not having any classroom management but this should not be the case. There always should still be rules and clear expectations in the classroom no matter what model you are utilizing.



#NCTIES16 Round Up

“Leadership provides the vehicle for others to generate ideas!” By @PrincipalKafele 

One of my favorite conferences every year is #NCTIES. Below I have done a round up of resources from the sessions I  attended in no particular order that you can now look at and utilize in your classroom.

Best of the Web 2016 by Richard Byrne

Mobile Apps in Common Core Aligned ELA & Social Studies Lessons by Richard Byrne

Teaching “Wired” Learners by  Kevin Honeycutt

  • Use a video as an opportunity to narrate a story
  • Student Created Products
  • Quotes from Honeycutt that are meaningful:
    • Stop finding reasons to fail
    • Help students understand the transformational power of tech
    • The only cavalry that will save you is you!
    • People protect and support what they are proud of – tell the stories of success
      • People won’t attack stories about student success
    • Your biggest weakness is your biggest strength, ready to be told well.
    • Emotion cements learning

Sketchnoting in Classroom by Kathy Schrock
Global Collaboration (To Fit Your Needs) by Pernille Ripp

S.T.E.A.M Powered PBL for K/1 by Jill Zsuppan and Heather Surgen

Other random things I picked up:

  • Create a “You Matter Wall” have your kiddos write thoughtful messages to other students, teachers, family members, etc

  • Your plan and reality are not always the same!

  • Use the square root of your staff to find the number of staff to find momentum to see change in the classroom, coaching is a must

  • “We don’t need consensus  – we need momentum”

  • “What is the evidence that I am the instructional leader of my school?”

  • Stop and review your game film.  Is what you are doing making a difference for our students?



The Coaching Cycle: The Link Between Coaching and Student Achievement

“Each person holds so much power within themselves that needs to be let out. Sometimes they just need a little nudge, a little direction, a little support, a little coaching, and the greatest things can happen.” By Pete Carroll

Guest Blog Post from the amazing Kenny McKee

Instructional coaches are tasked with many responsibilities. Leading and developing workshops, collaborating with PLCs, facilitating school-wide assessments, organizing learning walks, analyzing student achievement data, and various other activities all contribute to positive change in schools. However, in the proceedings and productions of these large-scale activities, oftentimes, the heart of coaching, the one-on-one coaching cycle, can fall to the wayside.

Why? To some people, the coaching conversation seems so small. Facilitating workshops and school-wide activities seems important and can make the coach feel important. Activities like these might provide justification for his or her job to wary teachers and administrators.  Let’s face it — big activities look good.  Also, it feels like we are accomplishing more (faster!) when we have lots of people involved. The coaching cycle just doesn’t seem time efficient, right?

However, much of the available research about coaching suggests that change really happens one collaboration at a time, through the use of one-on-one coaching.

So, what do I mean by a coaching cycle? Although there are many interpretations of what constitutes a “cycle”, I categorize a cycle as a professional learning sequence that includes a pre-conference, classroom instruction, and a post-conference reflection.

The classroom instruction and reflection can play out in three scenarios.

  1. The coach observes the teacher teaching a lesson and provides feedback to the teacher.
  2. The coach and the teacher plan and teach a lesson together. They then reflect together.
  3. The teacher observes the coach teaching a lesson and provides feedback to the coach.

There is still much research to be done, but studies that suggest that coaching has a positive impact on student achievement describe collaborations that I would characterize as coaching cycles.

Some studies show that teachers implement more literacy strategies in their classrooms when they work with literacy coaches (Feighan & Heeren, 2009; Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010). Teachers especially give high praise to one-on-one coaching when compared to traditional off-site professional development (Gross, 2010; Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010).  Of all the possible ways coaches work each day, teachers report that significant coach and teacher collaborations have the most impact upon the learning in their classrooms (Campbell & Sweiss, 2010; Gross, 2010; Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010).  Most studies show that teachers report increased student engagement and on-task behavior as results of coaching collaborations (Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010). Coaching cycles help teachers make changes in their instruction because coaches can tailor data collection, planning, and advice to the individual teacher’s situation and needs.

A three-year study of elementary schools tracked the amount of time spent coaching and resulting student achievement.  The researcher used alphabet letter recognition and scores on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-III (PPVT-III) to measure student achievement.  A significant correlation between time spent coaching and student achievement was found in the first year, but weak correlations were found during the following two years.  The first year both coaches and teachers had a strong focus on particular content and techniques.  They also had well-defined consultative and reflective conversation cycles.  Teachers and literacy coaches had little focus and fewer structured coaching cycles in years that yielded weak correlations.  The author suggests that more time is not as important as the “type and quality of the interaction” (Shidler, 2009). Thus, the use of structured coaching cycles and a school wide focus likely explains the greater student achievement results in the first year of coaching.

In a study of four middle schools where literacy coaching was implemented for one year,  teachers reported much higher student engagement levels, and student scores made modest gains. Baselines from the state reading test and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) from the prior school year were compared to scores on both assessments after the year of literacy coaching.   Classrooms with the treatment (individual literacy coaching collaborations) increased an average of five points on the state test and seven points on the ITBS (Feighan & Heeren, 2009).

According to available research, structured coaching cycles yield a significant impact on student learning.

Lasting change happens one conversation at a time. Let’s not allow the elaborate productions of meetings, workshops, and high-stakes data blind us from what we can do that really helps teachers become better for their students: one-on-one coaching.


Campbell, M. B., & Sweiss, C. I. (2010). The secondary literacy coaching model: Centrality of the  standards and emerging paradigms. Journal of Reading Education, 35(3), 39-46.

Feighan, K., & Heeren, E. (2009). She was my backbone: Measuring coaching work and its impact. CEDER Yearbook, 67-93.

Gross, P. A. (2010). Not another trend: Secondary level literacy coaching. The Clearing House, 83, 133-137.  doi:10.1080/00098651003774844

Kretlow, A. G., & Bartholomew, C. C. (2010). Using coaching to improve the fidelity of evidence-based practices: A review of studies. Teacher Education & Special Education, 33(4). 279-299. doi:10.1177/0888406410371643

Shidler, L. (2009). The impact of time spent coaching on teacher efficacy of student achievement.  Early Childhood Education Journal, 36(5). 453-460.

Why I Don’t Believe in Giving Homework Anymore

“I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.” Lily Tomlin

I used to give homework because it was what I was told I needed to do when I first started teaching. I didn’t question it because I always had homework growing up and I didn’t think anything of it. Lately I have been reading more and more about the negatives of homework and listening to friends battle stories with their kids over homework. When I think about it, I remember my battles with my parents over homework. I hated it, especially because 90% of the time I didn’t know how to do it, which only caused more frustration.

The more I learn about neuroscience and learning, the more I don’t believe in homework. We must challenge the status quo; just because homework has always been given, doesn’t mean that it is the right thing to do. Here is why I promote not giving homework:

  1. Research from Duke University (by H Cooper) shows no correlation between homework and student achievement.
  2. Play time is important to cognitive abilities that leads to student achievement. We need to give them time to play, structured and unstructured. (See previous post on Need for Play)
  3. Homework builds character, perseverance, grit etc….this is a MYTH- there is no correlation.
  4. What is the purpose? Most of the time the homework given is just busy work with a lot of rote memory which is a waste of time. Homework for homework sake is unhealthy.
  5. Students hate homework and the ones that want to learn after school do it on their own based on what they are passionate about. Also negative emotions lead to high levels of stress impairing memory which affects learning.
  6. How do you know the student is doing the homework? I often ‘caught’ parents doing the students homework for multiple reasons (didn’t have time, they didn’t understand, trying to improve their childs grade etc) and what is this solving for all parties involved…nothing, yet we can do something about it by not giving homework.

I understand there are some barriers such as the ones below but I also provide some solutions. I challenge you to really think about why you give homework or if you are a parent, why do you want homework?

Barrier 1: Schools or districts that require homework. (CMS teachers – it is not required by the district. Last year the board changed it to ‘can/may’ give homework from ‘must’ give homework. A step in the right direction!)

  • Solutions:
    • Have them read a book of their choice for 20 minutes as the only homework
    • Have student led conferences once a week, where the student discusses with their parents what they learned during the week.
    • Have students work on a ‘genius hour’ style project where they chose something they want to work on. (This will also help parents not do it for them because the student had choice and they will want to do it).
    • If you have to give math homework, make it three problems which a child can prove he/she knows the “how” and “why”. There is no reason to give 30 of the same kinds of math problems.
    • Choice boards where students pick what homework task they want to do out of a few choices. Ex: Do a weekly choice board and they pick one task a night from a choice of six tasks. Mix it up with math/reading skills.

Barrier 2: Pressure from parents who want homework given.

  • Solutions
    • Inform parents of the research and explain how learning can and will happen naturally at home by letting them be curious. (I have seen some teachers write a letter in the beginning of the year which helps set the stage)
    • Have a list of resources/sites for parents that want to work with their student at home explaining it is optional and not required.
    • Use any of the above solutions from required by school/district barrier

Here is further reading for you and/or articles you can use to inform your principal, parents etc:

Rethinking Homework

The end of homework? Why some schools are banning homework

The Great Homework Debate: Too Much, Too Little or Busy Work? 

Forget Homework

The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn (Disclaimer: I have not read this but it is on my reading list. I also suggest following him on twitter: Alfie Kohn)

If you have resources to share, please do in the comments.

Plickers: A Digital Assessment Tool

“A teacher is a person who knows all the answers but only when she asks the questions.” By unknown

I learned about Plickers this summer at #ISTE14 conference but forgot about it until I was in a school this week that was using it and loving it. Plickers is a digital assessment tool, like the ‘old school’ clickers but using paper and argument reality (AR).

The site is very user-friendly and FREE! It is also great for schools that are not 1:1 or for teachers that don’t feel comfortable yet with technology. After you create an account you input your students names and assign them card sheets. (They work like QR codes but are shapes) Each code card can be turned in four orientations letting them answer A, B, C and D. When you, the teacher, are ready to collect data; you use the Plickers mobile app to scan the cards to see the results. You can see each students name, what they answered and it is also color coded to quickly see if they got it right or wrong.  The data can also be seen as a bar graph of the responses so you can look for trends between your questions. Plickers is great for entrance/exit tickets, informal assessments or checkpoints. It is a quick way to see if students are understanding a concept or not in real-time and allows for student voice.

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 4.50.40 PM

Other articles about Plickers:

Free Tech For Teachers: Plickers

Plickers: Classroom Clickers without the Clicking

Video: SHS App Review – Plickers

I would love to know how you have used it in the classroom! Please share it in the comments.

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