Weekly Reflection: Portfolios

Check out this idea for student portfolios!

Teaching the Teacher

A paper-based e-portfolio.

Sounds like a contradiction in terms.

I’m not a huge fan of paper portfolios.

In fact it is fair to say that I loathe filing bits of paper into folders with the fire of a thousand suns. Supervising a class full of kids updating portfolios feels like a form of medieval torture. Bits of paper are almost always missing or in the wrong place and my patience is in short supply.

Moreover I can’t help but wonder if all those countless hours spent updating, checking, re-checking all those bits of paper are actually worth it. Real learning is messy and doesn’t always lend itself to being filed away in clear files.

Enter digital portfolios.

In theory digital portfolios should be easier to create and curate content for the purposes of showcasing student learning. However in practice clunky content management systems and limited time on computers often add…

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Florida Education

New Classroom, New Year…New Hopes #4thChat, #Edchat, #FCAT

Empty slate…but filled with possibilities!

It has been almost a full year since I have really reflected on my teaching and learning. Not because I haven’t spent quite a bit of time doing that, but because I taught 4th grade in Florida this year.

I posted last summer about the Florida Writes. Our district scores had dropped and teachers felt they did not have the support they needed for the new assessment guidelines. I had gone out to the State of Florida Education Department site to review the information teachers could use. The teachers were right. With new assessment guidelines, the older writing samples on the site did not apply and could not be used.

Fl Writes: A 4th grade writing assessment by the FL DOE.
Fl Writes: A 4th grade writing assessment by the FL DOE.

Fast forward a few months…and my absolute excitement at being able to teach 4th grade for 2012 to 2013! My school is departmentalized so I taught reading, writing, and social studies for a 2 hour block. It was tough, rigorous, and required a LOT of wonderful integration.

Still…what was truly wonderful was the help my district writing contact provided!

Theresa Phelps, Project Coordinator, Brevard County Elementary Writing Resource contact!

My writing hero!!! Picture from Edmodo

She not only sat teachers down at the beginning of the year and walked through points in the FL DOE sample text (which they now had 🙂 ). She also came to our school and provided our 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teachers with professional development!

I learned in December that my scoring was too soft. I was about a point off of what Theresa felt the state might mark the papers from my 4th grade students. Now…you know…this is not an exact science. However, that ability to align my thinking with hers was invaluable!

Strong assessment requires the ability to understand and ‘see’ the levels in students’ work and understand how those levels align with state expectations.

In the end…I really wanted to reach the 80 percentile range for passing. Our school overall was about 58. However, 70% of my students passed! Considering our school pass rate was 41% last year, we grew a lot!

With the departmentalization, “I felt”, we miss out on opportunities to write across the curriculum. That is not to say that my team didn’t try. They taught math or science to 88 students in 55 minute blocks! It was fast and a lot of ‘content’ to cover.

Overall, I feel, we missed out the cohesiveness of a core planning process that could be apparent in all subject areas. Honestly, with the time it takes to assess 88 science notebooks, 88 math assignments, or 44 writing essays (in my case), plus 2 to 3 meetings a week… there was just little time for us to come together as a team to talk and plan. And when we did, it was scheduled data crunch time. With one teacher, you can create time for yourself, when you are able. You can see the day, the week, the year, more clearly, across subject areas! There are less classroom walls to work through.

THIS YEAR… I will be in a self-contained 4th grade classroom!!!!!

As I create plans this year, I am able to backward plans and choose reading that links to the standards in more than just language arts! I can pick a science article for science standards that work for the reading comprehension I intend to teach in my reading block.

Then, I can have students write to show learning of the science content as well as the writing standard we are working towards.

It’s not that departmentalization couldn’t achieve that I guess. But it did feel like for 4th grade, there were a lot of barriers. It was tough. For this year…

The best way I can explain integrated planning is like streams that flow into one river.

All paths lead to strong learning...(public domain image)
All paths lead to stronger learning…(public domain image)

Maybe if you look closely, you can see where water from one stream is in the teaching flow. But day-to-day, hour by hour…the learning is so intertwined that the overall experience is the beauty and process of learning the river ride.

When you finally arrive at the journey’s end, a student should have mastered all that was needed to make their way down…with a depth that can only come from applying the new skills and knowledges in an authentic, holistic setting.

Ok…enough said…

This is the beginning of starting up my blogging again. I learned so much this year. Departmentalization taught me to be faster, more efficient, and make do with less time. I hope that the new year brings a deeper understanding of 4th grade standards and the ability to hone my assessment for learning and differentiated through the flipped classroom and writing across the curriculum.

So excited!!!



Differentiating Homework for Gifted Students

One of my favourite bloggers…on one of my favourite topics…Gifted!

Expat Educator

Expat Educator Homework

As part of Mary St. George’s New Zealand Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour, this post addresses homework for the gifted student.

Admittedly, as a classroom teacher, I avoided differentiated homework for many years. The idea of finding, assigning, grading, and following-up with multiple assignments seemed prohibitively time-consuming. Until I tried it.

This post begins with essential understandings and ends with some practical ideas.

Essential Understandings

1. Homework for gifted students should not be ‘more of the same’. If you want your class to spend their homework time reviewing the process of adding fractions, gifted students will not learn anything additional if you give them 20 computation problems while the other students do 10.

2. The homework objective should align with the class objective. Let’s say you’re studying groups of people native to your country of origin. You want the class to use a few websites or book pages to locate information…

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No Hands Up Rule #AFLearn strategy #edchat

No Hands Up Rule.


Florida teachers had no examples of what student writing should look like last year. FCAT 2.0 Writes

Image from GrayFish 4th Grade Blog

For those that followed the Florida Writes 2.0 in the news…writing scores were so alarming that the state had to readjust their level guidelines to give more higher scores. The questions were raised of where blamed laid…

Did the teachers teach quality? Was there a state error?

Well…I just found this and it makes sense.   It’s just a learning curve.

As far as on the state website…it appears Florida teachers had no examples of what the new higher level writing criteria looked like…so how could they align their teaching/learning/assessments to match the new assessment criteria?  Remember…the standards did not change.

I have been working through all the NGSSS standards and, I feel, some are quite general. (I love how the CCSS has more clarity and examples embedded in).

I wonder what student scores would have been if teachers had the opportunity to review and share samples of student work across the 6 point scale.  They could have compared and contrasted writing based on the old criteria and then on the new.  Since the standards remained the same…the key probably came down to student depth of knowledge and emphasis on different standards…for example, more weighting on conventions versus imagery.

I believe students and teachers could have nailed the FCAT Writes 2.0! But it’s hard to master a level of achievement if a ‘student’ doesn’t know what the reach is. I’d like to see the alignment of student writing turned in this past year against the older criteria. I wonder what the scores would be based on what the teachers had experience with. Interesting…

This year, I plan to critically assess student samples of writing with state examples and teach the ability to my students.  I want no surprizes on the FCAT Writes for students…unless they have a bad day.  Even then, I want my students to have a strong sense of what they submitted.

For assessment creators…before we give assessments…we should have clear examples of what quality and our criteria look like not just the standards and learning objectives.  We need to know the depth and application – is it good enough to know or will the assessment call for applying.  Will it be a ‘list’, ‘know’ or USE (I see that a lot in CCSS).

Then we should ensure that our ‘students’ have a clear understanding of what they are learning, how they will be assessed (and why) and what quality work looks like and does not look like 🙂

I have been swirling this around in my head…especially when it comes to how I will grade…how my assessments will show student understanding and mastery of the NGSSS and CCSS.

Hmmm….isn’t it summer?



Chapter 2 of The Daily5 – Book Review #d5chat

from The Daily 5
“Stay out of the Way” was changed to Respect and I added Resilience to Stamina because I think children learn and need to develop both.

First, Jordan you are in my prayers.   And Mel, although I do not know you, you are in my thoughts and prayers as well.  Blessings and Hugs…so so sorry about your loss. T


Submitted as part of my Daily 5 Book Study on Seusstastic Classroom Inspiration by Mel D.   I am excited to use some of the Chapter Two ideas shared there!  You need to check them out…the timer, the stamina necklaces and charts!  Too fun!

—————-Here are my Chapter Two responses ————————-

1 .What goals do you have for your classroom as you work to implement the principles and foundations of the Daily 5 discussed in chapter 2?

  • A. for students to have a strong understanding of their learning targets and a sense that they can help direct their own learning.
  • B. to incorporate students’ interests so they can develop a life-long foundation for how to learn and explore.
  • C. To develop independence and trust in our class community so we can communicate clearly learning needs.
  • D. To have a cooperative community so I can provide interventions or enrichments so all students achieve a years worth of learning gains.
  • E. to be able to clearly track rate of improvement (RI) for reading and writing.

1b.  What support do you need to do this?

  • I will be working with our district RTI coach for RI.
  • For the rest, I intend to participate in this book study to learn more about the Daily 5 and I have joined the Daily 5 group on Edmodo (the teachers network) so I can learn from others.
  • I want to start planning for fall to get a sense of others materials I will need.
  • Last, I am teaming up with the third grade teacher ( who is also starting the D5) and hope to collaborate with staff I our school that implemented it last year.
2. What stands out as the most significant aspects of this chapter?
  •  What doesn’t? Trust, Choice, Community, Sense of Urgency, Stamina and Respect (rather than stay out-of-the-way) are not only significant for D5 but for a teaching and learning environment and for life skills.  I truly don’t think I could choose one and don’t even know if listening them in order of importance aligns with my beliefs.  
  • Instead, I created the picture above to reflect how I think they all are needed and feed into the higher purpose of education.
3. How do the foundational principles of the Daily 5 structure (trust, choice, community, sense of urgency, and stamina), align with your beliefs that support your teaching strategies and the decisions that you make about student learning?
  • Trust:  I feel the teaching and learning relationship is stronger when trust is established on both sides.  In order to learn, students need to feel safe.
  • Choice:  I have always felt the best way and more important way to engage and develop life long learners is by teaching them they to explore their choices.  I want a strong student voice in my classroom.  I want students to learn about what interests them so they can use this foundation to create and problem solve in the future.
  • Community:  We need to help children understand and see value in their home, classroom, community, their nation and our world.  Community is much more than just our classroom but how we learn to work together in class can support learning how to work with others outside.
  • Sense of Urgency:  I always tell my own family I am tired of “I will” and “Paying it forward”.   I want my students to have that sense of  “doing it now” because life moves quickly and we will only be together in class for a 9 months!  I want them to know the ‘why’ they need to learn and how important that is to them.  I already use “I can” statements to share learning objectives with students and ask them “WHY is this important to you?”  I think that is why I am excited about the D5.  It seems to fit what I believe as well.
  • Stamina/Resilience:  Keep Calm and Carry on… We need to move forward regardless.  We all need to learn to hold our focus and be able to ‘do’ something for an extended amount of time.  There are some things that can be accomplished well quickly, but others that need time, practice and reflection if we are to become really good at it!  Oh…and moving on does not mean leaving gaps…stamina is about doing it until we can do is well!
Thank you for putting this book study together.  I am truly grateful because I was heading in this direction of learning and implementing the Daily 5.  Your book study is helping me to truly reflect and approach this new instructional strategy with thoughtfulness and insight.


The Student Voice On Zeros

Just asking students can really tell us a lot…

Teaching on Purpose

One of the many missing voices in the debate on zeros is from probably the biggest stakeholder of them all.  The students.

I opened up this conversation in my classroom and simply asked three questions.  I wrote down the response of the kids in an unedited format.  Whatever they said, I wrote down and then waited until the discussion to chime in with my thoughts.  So here’s what they said:

Question #1:  Why might a teacher choose to give zeros?

The students don’t work.

The student provides no effort.

Teacher doesn’t chase you for the assignment.   (To clarify: they were talking about teachers keeping the kids accountable for the work – but they are in Grade 8 so this was their language).

They are mean/strict.

Have high expectations. (Some clarified this by saying they might be too high.)

Want to motivate you to get it done.

Have personal issues…

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What a Zero Really Says

Teaching on Purpose

A story was recently reported about an Edmonton teacher being suspended for giving his students zero’s in class in a school that has a no zero policy.  (Incidentally, this article is located in the “news” tab and should be moved to the “opinion” tab.  I always taught my kids that reporters should refrain from putting their personal bias into a news article.  So if you read it, read it with a grain of salt.)

Many of my friends have had conversations about this controversial subject and I have stayed out of it.  I have not written anything back on Facebook as people have made comments (mostly in support of the teacher) but in the past 24 hours as I have stood in groups of people who know me, many have turned to me and said, “You’re a teacher.  What do you think?”

Oh boy.  Deep breath in.

Ok, just remember……

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Great idea #1: Backchanneling by #EDUPLANET21 synthesized with Cornell Note taking – Strategies for learning success! #gifted #edchat #assessment

On Tuesday, February 28, 2012 I listened in on a webinar by EDUPLANET 21 (http://www.eduplanet21.com/) with speakers Bena Kallick, Ph.D and Jeff Colosimo.

Thank you EDUPLANET21 for a great webinar! I will blog more about what I learned this weekend!

The webinar was titled “Launching self-directed learners through social learning”.

The ideas and understand about social learning?  Well…that is a blog post in itself and it’s coming!

But one of the many things I took away from it was the term “Backchannel Learning”.   Below is some notes about back channel learning and how I integrated the concept with a strategies I’ve used before.  I integrated back channeling using the Cornell Note format.  I feel it helps me assess not only the information they took from me or what I’ve asked them to give back (as far as work)..but the side notes also give me insight in their questions and thinking about their learning.

Here is a fusion of comments from the speaker and my thoughts:

“So in chat (available with on-line learning platforms) – use the idea of being able to think about back channeling – looking at the question while someone is speaking. The learner: “I am having thoughts.”  The instructor:  “If I want you to pay attention, but I can’t monitor your mind, I ask myself…metacognitively…what is going on?”

Back channeling allows you as an instructor to capture that and turn it into a learning moment.   Back channeling is where the student is staying on task with speaker and allowed to post questions…

So the presenter can use thoughts and gain feedback (formative assessment at times) as she goes along teaching.  You can engage on the ideas and questions together!  In real-time!

Backchannel…You don’t allow for the meeting to take place AFTER the meeting…it happens during.  (You don’t let the students leave and then ask and wonder when you no longer are there…you get them to engage right then.)

The power of back channeling is AMAZING!

In short…Backchannel learning is when the learner can post questions into a Q & A zone on-line while the teacher is presenting.  EDUPLANET21’s new on-line platform provides that real-time interaction. The instructor can see the questions and comments and can adjust her presentation or answer the questions privately or during the lesson as needed.

This is multi-tasking in its most amazing domain…not only for the teacher but also for the student.

Actually, for the student I would call it multi-path learning because the student is able to gain information visually or through listening …while responding through type and gaining feedback in a ‘backchannel’ zone.


The concept of back channel wasn’t new to me in the sense that I teach my students to raise  3 fingers in the air (rather than a hand) when a question they have or thought is ‘off the topic’.  If I can fit an off the topic question in, I address it.  If I can’t, I nod ‘no’ and they write the question on their paper to ask me at the end of the lesson.  That way they don’t forget.

Well, I put that info all together today through a Cornell Note taking sheet I found on-line at:

Here is the essence of the guidance I taught my 5th and 3rd grade Gifted classes for note taking strategies.


  • The lined zone…belongs to me the teacher – in the sense that I, as the teacher, guide what goes on and in this zone.
  •  Work in here needs to be neat.
  • Work in this zone shows they gained information
  • Or…shows any information or work being asked for.

The blank zone – their BACKCHANNEL SPACE

  • The zone around the sides and at the bottom was their ‘backchannel space’.
  • This area is to write notes, ideas, thoughts, doodle (doodle has been showed to support learning).
  • This area belong to them..it didn’t have to be neat – although I suggested that after the learning they look it over and revise any writing they feel is important but can’t read well.

I also taught them some study, note taking strategies.

  • Circle ideas that were important and they might want to look up or address later.
  • Place a ? Mark over questions and thoughts they want to ask me about or look up on their own.
  • * (star) Items that are super important and might need to be done. These items they look up at the end of the lesson or day so they don’t forget.
  • At the end of the lesson, in the bottom part, write down a last thought…or reflection…what did I like, not like, think about what I just learned.  What might I do next?

Then we practiced as we considered the limits to a learning game they are developing.  I noticed some students quickly started to back channel and others not at all.  I did make a note on which students didn’t back channel to see if they do over time.

It should be interesting.  I like the concept because with gifted children their minds are fast and in a lesson,..they take off in other directions.  If they don’t write their ideas down and then tell me verbally, I miss some and we don’t end up acting on their ideas until or unless it is remembered and brought up again.  I’m interested in if this will change their learning and extending their learning.

The notes in a journal worked…but this feels more linked to their learning…at least visually.

I am using Edomodo as a way for them to share their ideas, questions and thoughts with me so I have them ‘written’ down.

Here is a gallery of some student examples…


What a difference a day makes… #hypothesis #primaryscience

Well… the last two days I’ve had the chance to re-teach that lesson. I implemented all of the changes I felt I needed.

K scientists were able to do the investigation in teams with little support this time!

First, we walked through the investigation together – my kindergarten students recorded as we went along and I checked to see who was able to do things step by step…who seemed to understand the process and procedures, who would need support.

  • I modeled working in a group of 3
  • How we searched for items in the classroom (I felt they really enjoyed being able to choose)
  • How we each made our own hypothesis and then drew them out to record.
  • How we recorded/drew with enough neatness and detail that another scientist would understand.
  • Where I wanted the work on the page.
  • Measuring each item…counting the ticks together…recording the results under the picture of the item.
  • How we took turns.
  • Thought out loud about if my hypothesis was correct.  Why it is ok for a scientist to have a hypothesis that is wrong (I noticed yesterday some students were worried they didn’t ‘guess’ right.
  • Had a peer review…how does their investigation look compared to mine?
  • Self assessment…who feels they know how to do this well?  Who is not sure? Teamed up accordingly.

And started!  AMAZING! Totally different.  Much smoother.  They really enjoyed the investigation.  They finished…with the exception of the few that need more time or support.

This time I walked through the investigation and had the students record it in their science journals as well. We also role played being a time and how we would work together (take turns, measuring) and how our hypothesis could be different.

We reviewed how it went.  I walked around and checked for teamwork and the process.  Checked results!

I am lucky I get a second chance to try out my reflections.

We all decided we want to do it again because it was so much fun and they want to investigate other items to measure.  We are going to work in the same teams because they all seemed to be a good fit.  Overall I feel they did a great job and are emerging with an understanding of how to create a hypothesis, how to test their guess and then check their results.

I was really pleased with their results. This student guessed that the rock would be lightest, the apple would be heavier and the hole punch would be the heaviest! They ended up with tie! So they weren't sure if their hypothesis was right (check) or wrong (X). I also made them erase or neatly cross out their work if it wasn't neat. We know that our recordings should be written so we can understand them later or so another scientist can understand what we did and found.