General Interest

This place is for posts that don’t fall under any specific category.

27 August 2014: PDPs, MLP, Symbaloo and More

August 27, 2014

Welcome to a great first week of school. I am excited about my sixth year as an instructional coach. My job gives me the opportunity to work with some of most dedicated, hard-working teachers in North Carolina. Amongst the various roles I play as an IC, communicating with teachers about instructional strategies, technology, and the everyday stuff of teaching is one of the most important; however, I tend to get overzealous with the emails. Following Mrs. Jacobson’s lead, I am going to attempt to reduce the number of emails I send this semester by sharing strategies, links, and ideas in a weekly blog, right here at I hope you’ll take the time to read.

Powerschool Gradebook
I know most people have already set up their grade books, but in case you want some assistance, I am sharing this screencast video. Let me know if you need help.

Writing Your PDP
As you may already have forgotten–I know I almost did–Teacher Self Evaluations and PDPs (Professional Development Plans) are due on September 8. You access them through the NCEES link on Powerschool. I want to offer a few thoughts for writing your PDP goals. 1. Complete the self-evaluation first. As you do, look for two areas–two specific goals–you want to focus on when you write your PDP. You might pick two goals on which you score yourself lowest. Or, you might choose the goals that best match what you have been focusing on so far this year. Either way, you want to find two goals that speak to the growth you intend to make as a teacher this year. Copy them so you can enter them into your PDP. 2. Think ahead. Before you describe activities for your PDP goals, jump over to box three and describe the outcomes you want to see at the end of the year. At the end of the semester, and again at the end of the year, you are going assess your progress toward these outcomes. Think ahead to that final evaluation, when you’re asking yourself, “Did I meet this goal? How do I know if I was successful?” A little foresight will help you write better goals. At their best, they will be SMART goals:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant and
  • Time-bound

For example, 75% of students will score 80% or higher on benchmark assessments each six week grading period. 3. List actions you will take to achieve the desired outcome. In the second column, tell what it is you will do to accomplish your goal (1st column) and produce the outcomes (3rd column). The activities and actions might be teaching strategies, professional development opportunities, or steps you take to improve the instruction that occurs in your class. So the columns end up answering these questions: 1st: In what goals will I demonstrate growth this year? 2nd: What steps will I take in and out of the classroom to demonstrate that growth? What will I do? 3rd: What concrete evidence will show that the actions I took produced the growth I was trying to achieve? Perhaps this video will help make it more clear:As always, I am happy to help you write your PDP goals.

Find links to useful websites and important documents–especially our discipline forms and Rampant Reviews–at I suggest either bookmarking it (click the star on the omnibar if you’re in Google Chrome) or creating a shortcut to it by dragging the paper icon beside the url to your desktop. If you’re feeling fancy, I can also show you how to make it open automatically whenever you open Chrome. It works like this.

My Learning Plan
If you recently attended or plan on attending any professional development opportunities, including classes, conferences, and workshops, make sure you submit the appropriate forms through My Learning Plan. Login with your full email address and either “changeme” or whatever you changed to. Remember to submit evaluations for PD you completed and Application Level forms for any PD between six and nine hours long. This video shows what you need to know. As an aside, the state does still recognize decimals when calculating CEUs, so a 24 hour workshop would still equate to 2.4 CEUs. What they don’t accept are workshops less than 10 hours, unless you complete the Application Level form to bump six hours up to ten. Unclear? Just ask.

Wrap Up and Review

May 27, 2014

In case you missed it, here are some ideas for reviewing and preparing your kids for exams.

Fishbowl Seminars with Backchannels

April 4, 2014
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Teaching sounds a bit too much like ordering at Starbucks when you say it–a fishbowl seminar with Google+ backchannel–but that’s the strategy we looked at on Wednesday. Funky as it might sound, here’s what it’s all about.

Socratic Seminar: Students analyze complex texts. Your job: play Socrates. Ask questions of the circle of students that lead them through the text, looking with an increasingly critical eye for the details of the text and, ultimately, a greater understanding of its meaning as a whole.
Fishbowl: Inner circle speaks; outer circle listens. Large classes make large circles and, frequently, unbalanced seminar discussions. Fishbowls help correct those problems, while still allowing deeply analytical discussion.
Backchannel: The outer circle engages in the seminar discussion by sharing their own thoughts through social media. The teacher can post questions, or just ask students to respond to topics that arise in the inner circle. Use twitter, Edmodo, Facebook, Padlet, or scrumy. All of them provide a venue for the outer circle to stay involved.
The point of this strategy is to push students toward deeper thinking–not just comprehension, but analysis, application, and synthesis–and to wean them from their dependence on teachers to explicate a text. What I like most about the strategy is its versatility. It works in almost every subject area. Consider these strategies with:
  • A complex, real world problem in math
  • A panoramic photograph of a modern hotel interior
  • Sheet music for a concerto
  • A poem
  • An audio recording of a car engine, along with the customer’s complaint
  • Part of an historical document
  • Lab results
  • An infographic
  • A political cartoon
  • A painting
  • A battle map
Seminars don’t just happen. They take substantial preparation and practice. Explaining the text yourself is always much easier for the teacher, but the payoff in student learning from a good seminar is undeniable.
I look forward to helping you prepare your Socratic seminar, fishbowl, or backchannel. Let me know how I can help.


Engaging Discourse with VTS

March 10, 2014

Last week, Steve Hill shared with us an abbreviated version of the presentation he and Randall Leach delivered at the NC Council for Social Studies Conference. Here’s a quick rundown with some resources you might need to begin implementing the VTS strategy in your classroom.

At the heart of the strategy is VTS, Visual Thinking Strategies. In essence, it is a strategy for engaging students in conversation about a visual text. The website,, recommends these simple strategies for making vts work:

VTS Facilitation 101

In VTS discussions teachers support student growth by facilitating discussions of carefully selected works of visual art.

Teachers are asked to use three open-ended questions:

  • What’s going on in this picture?

  • What do you see that makes you say that?

  • What more can we find?

3 Facilitation Techniques:

  • Paraphrase comments neutrally

  • Point at the area being discussed

  • Linking and framing student comments

When the teacher implements these techniques without judgement or commentary, students learn to analyze visual texts closely, consider multiple perspectives, and defend assertions.

Art, History, and Beyond

As a history teacher, Mr. Hill recommends following the speculative VTS investigation of the text with a more concrete one, driven by the historical underpinnings that help viewers make sense of the images. To facilitate this transition in the lesson, Mr. Hill uses Thinglink, which allows you to place on the digital image targets that, when rolled over, reveal text, links, and images. At its most basic level, using VTS works as a fantastic advance organizer while helping students develop visual literacy skills. At its most advance level, it becomes a student-researched, student-led discussion about a work of art and its historical significance.

But VTS is not just for art and history. Every subject area values visual texts and the literacy students require to analyze them. How might some of these examples work in your classroom?

  • A complex chart of lab results

  • Political cartoons

  • An infographic from a recent magazine

  • An advertisement

  • An image of a cadaver

  • Photographs of children playing at home

Interested in giving it a try? Check out this video from the VTS website or this one of Mr. Hill’s classes. For more details, check out Mr. Hill’s presentation syllabus or pay him a visit in room 812.

Annotating with Technology

May 23, 2013

Sometimes, it’s not a student’s work alone that shows what they’ve learned. Sometimes, it’s what they say about that work. It’s their application of the concepts and terms they’ve learned in our classes to the work they’ve done for those classes. And one way to accomplish this application is through annotation. Think of it as students adding sticky notes on their projects, papers, and assignments, or writing in the margins.

When they paint an image in art, do they analyze the decisions they made with composition, line and color? When they write an argument, do they analyze their use of evidence and rhetorical appeals? When they complete a challenging math problem, do they explain what it represents and how they came to an answer?

If they do, great. If they don’t, that is, if annotation is not a regular feature of your instruction, you might consider one of these four technology tools that facilitate the creation and presentation of annotated products.

ThingLink is surprisingly simple and surprisingly cool. Upload an image of student work or link to any image online. Add targets to select points on the image. Then type in text to describe the selected point. Users can also hyperlink to related websites or YouTube videos. Biology students might label and describe the function of the parts of a dissected pig, while construction students might describe the materials and methods necessary to construct a particular building.
Device: computer or iPad
Login and learn: 5 minutes

Jing is a video capture program that records your voice on top of whatever is happening on your computer screen. Create five-minute demo videos of computer programs (eg. how to share a Google Doc) or–and I love this idea–add voice over any PowerPoint, Prezi, web page, image or program running on your computer. Students can voice annotate a series of images or articles associated with their research or record an analysis of their own writing as they view it on the computer screen.
Device: computer
Login and learn: (once downloaded) 5 minutes

YouTube Video
Students have been presenting projects, labs, and various other tasks for as long schools have been schooling. One way to do this–and yet another way to think about voice-recorded annotation–is through video. Using an iPad or smart phone, students can record their explanation of a diagram, a complex math problem, a fashion design, or a blueprint. Create a class YouTube account, and have them send their videos directly from their devices to the class account for you and the rest of the class to see.
Device: iPad, iPod, or smartphone
Login and learn: 5 minutes

If you haven’t seen Educreations yet, you’re missing something brilliantly simple. With an iPad, the user can take a photograph or upload an internet image, click record, and proceed to draw over the images while recording his voice. Educreations allows teachers to create classes of students, so that all enrolled can easily access teacher- and student-made videos. Or mirror them from iPad to projector through an Apple TV. In math classes, students can record explanations of homework problems, while in art and design classes, students can record analyses of student-produced or published art.
Device: iPad. You can use the computer, too.
Login and learn: 60 seconds (basic); 15 minutes (create a class)

Why bother?

Annotating texts provides an excellent opportunity for assessment, the kind of assessment that doesn’t leave you guessing. You can read or hear the student’s mastery of terminology and concepts, while assessing their ability to apply and analyze, not just memorize. Perhaps more important than assessment, this sort of application of content, where students create a simple product using academic vocabulary to articulate ideas, facilitates learning. As it shows what students know, it also helps them to know it. Too often, this sort of annotation of images and text is a teacher’s task. For learning to occur–for the concepts and processes to really sink in–the student herself must interact with the images and texts and language of the course.

These tools–YouTube, Educreations, Jing, and ThingLink–are a great way to create that interaction.


Driven: Autonomy in the Writing Classroom

March 12, 2013

Unmotivated (2.0)
Based on written feedback and our seminar, I know I have a lot of work to do in revision. The first concern I had after the seminar is that my readers did not all take a common, clear understanding from the blog. I think that lack of clarity comes from a lack of a clear thesis statement, weak evidence, and a topic that is too broad for my purposes. The other concern is in style. I’m not worried about editing with a rough draft, but I am concerned that so many of my sentences are confusing in their meaning. Even my tone was confusing at times. I need to revise sentences for clarity and fluency, so they aren’t so disrupted by clauses and phrases.

My first semester teaching in North Carolina, a colleague handed me a generous stack of released prompts from the state writing test and said, “You’re teaching the writing test.” With that decree, my job, my life, and my sole purpose became that exam. Its enormity was the club with which I battered my students, as they composed essay after essay about literary features in works of world literature.

Needless to say, they were not as motivated as I was. In fact, after a semester I wasn’t as motivated as I had been. It was a semester devoid of creativity, devoid of voice and play, devoid of audiences and purposes and, I’m afraid to say, meaning.

Driven to Write
It was Daniel H Pink’s book Drive that coerced this recollection. Pink writes about motivating people using what he calls motivation 3.0. Its predecessor, motivation 2.0, focused on reward. Do this; get that. Achieve goal a; earn reward b. Write this well; get that grade. That method, motivation 2.0, was my motivation tool. In that my students wrote essays the way I prescribed, it was effective. But I never imagined that they were intrinsically inspired writers.

Pink’s motivation 3.0 is intrinsic. It is an internal will to create driven by enjoyment and the will to produce. “When the reward is the activity itself,” he writes, “deepening learning, delighting customers, doing one’s best–there are no shortcuts. The only route to the destination is the high road.”  But my students never felt rewarded by the products they created. What was missing, Pink makes clear in his book, were three factors: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. By designing writing curriculum around these factors, writing teachers can increase the level of motivation of student writers.

Autonomy in the Writing Classroom
In my English II classes long ago, students wrote essays on the topics I assigned. Sometimes, they revised what I suggested; sometimes, they didn’t revise at all. Their autonomy, their power to decide what and who and how: it simply did not exist. That lack of autonomy can be crippling, as it was for Sam, a kid who would sit a full ninety minutes and never write a word.

“How do I start?” he would ask.

“You should begin by defining the term identified in the prompt,” I would respond to no avail.

Pink offers a better answer. Give people, whether they be students or employees, a choice. Of autonomy, Pink writes, “autonomous motivation promotes greater conceptual understanding, better grades, enhanced persistence at school and in sporting activities, higher productivity, less burnout, and greater levels of psychological well-being.” Autonomy means writing students have the authority to make choices about their writing, choices Sam was never afforded in my class.

The act of writing is naturally rich with choice. Writers make decisions about topic, genre, purpose, and audience. They decide on tone and style, length and structure. Student writers should be no different. As Pink reminds his readers, “We’re born to be players, not pawns.” Here are a few ways students can be players, not pawns, in the writing classroom.

  1. Scour magazines, blogs, newspapers, even Facebook for topics they find interesting and relevant.
  2. Choose from a variety of formats (letters to the editor, pamphlets, newspaper articles, blogs, infographics, business letters, speeches, dialogues, narratives, sonnets, podcasts, radio commercial) for composing their writing.
  3. Remix their own traditional work using a variety of digital tools, including Xtranormal, Educreations, Pixton, Voicethread, Blogger, Twitter, Audacity.
  4. Produce a multi-genre research project by exploring a single, self-selected topic through a variety of genres.
  5. Choose partners with whom to collaborate.
  6. Choose areas of focus for revision based on feedback from peers.
  7. Select audiences and purposes for their writing.
  8. Produce multiple starts, or partial drafts, in response to a single assignment and select the best one for revision and publication.

Autonomy In Practice
My student Sam didn’t have the opportunity in my class that many of my future students had and that many of his more experienced teachers probably offered him. Since then, I have seen the benefits of student choice in the writing process play out with great effect for many students.

A girl named Michelle, a painfully unmotivated student, never seemed to care about school or her work in my class. When we began writing This I Believe essays several weeks into her sophomore year, she produced a list of personal beliefs, most of them throwaways. For three days we started new drafts on new topics, knowing that one of them had to stick. She had the right to choose any topic she wanted, and after three days, when the time came to choose one draft to develop to completion, she chose to write yet another draft on a fourth topic. That fourth start became her final essay, the one she completed, and the one that made her realize there really was something valuable in the writing she was able to produce.

When the least motivated student chooses to write one extra draft instead of taking the easiest route, that’s motivation, and it results in learning. I saw the same sort of result earlier this year with a senior in my friend’s English IV class.

Seniors at my school complete a semester-long research project called Project Connect. As an instructional coach, I invited senior English teachers to bring their students to the media center to remix their research using digital tools like VoiceThread and Xtranormal. I remember watching one student, Darnell, work at a table with other students producing Voice Thread. According to his teacher, Darnell had embodied academic lethargy the entire semester. For this assignment, something about the opportunity to choose a means of publication, something about choosing the look and feel and structure and length of his product, something about choosing even the group of students he worked with seemed to motivate him. He actually composed. He actually produced. He actually led his peers in informal collaboration through the process.

Granted, autonomy is not an absolute cure for the unmotivated writer. Michelle and Darnell certainly haven’t signed contracts with The New Yorker or won Pulitzer Prizes. The other two legs of Pink’s tripod, mastery and purpose, are essential parts of the equation, but we’ll save them for parts two and three of this blog. What can be said about autonomy is this. Autonomy is power: the power of choice, the power of intellectual self-governance. Given some autonomy, student writers seem far more likely to delve into their writing, and far more likely, therefore, to grow as writers.


Pink, Daniel H. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York: Riverhead, 2011. Kindle.

Why Look at EVAAS

February 15, 2013

By now you have received several e-mails from SAS about EVAAS, Educator Value Added Assessment System. If you haven’t logged in, now is the time. Check your e-mail for a message from SAS to get your username and password. Use the forgot-my-password link if you can’t find your password.

Why should you check EVAAS? Here are a few reasons:

Teacher Effectiveness Rating
Based on test scores for your students, it can tell you your standard six rating. In fact, it shows your rating on all six standards from the teacher evaluation instrument. This rating shows, on average, how much above or below expected performance your students did, based on a comparison with the students in schools with a similar testing performance history.

School Effectiveness Rating
For teachers who don’t have personal testing data, your rating (Exceeds, Meets, or Does Not Meet Expected Growth) is based on the school data. EVAAS shows you that data and where it comes from.

Data Breakdown
EVAAS can break down that testing data into quintiles–students predicted to score in the lowest 20%, bottom 20-40%, etc.–which shows the impact your course had on the testing performance of certain groups of students. Within these groups, you can look at individual students to see their scores, projected scores, and testing history.

Testing Projections
EVAAS allows you to build a class list of all your students. You can manipulate that list into groups based on projected performance, and you can attain projected testing performance on the EOC or VOCATS test you give. And if you don’t give that sort of test, you can use ACT projections or reading test projections to attain lexile data. This sort of projection tells you if certain students have typically struggled in your subject area, but it can also suggest where a student might be underperforming and can help counselors identify students who should be enrolling in honors and AP courses but have chosen to avoid them.

EVAAS won’t change your life, but it is a tool to provide some data. I will teach those teach EOC-tested courses, and anyone else who is interested, how to build classes in EVAAS and how use the data.

January 23

January 23, 2013

Your work today will be in PLCs. You will need computers and each other. If you borrow one, please return it by noon. Here’s the plan for the day:

1. The first task for the day is to review the PCS Curriculum Guides. These guides were created last summer with the knowledge that they would change and grow as we become more adept with CCSS and NCES. Your input will help shape revisions of these documents. The best way to locate them is to start at Click PCS Curriculum Guides and find your course.

The link for feedback is

2. One of the concerns we’ve heard expressed over and over this year is a lack of available resources for teachers in implementation of the new standards.  While we don’t have funds to purchase resources, there are literally millions of resources out t here on the web (a recent Google search of “common core” resources turned up 5.5 million results).

Your task for the day is to review some high-quality sites for use in your classroom.  Personnel within the EPS department of Pitt County Schools has identified 50 web resources, covering every subject and grade level, that we feel are high-quality, updated regularly, aligned to the new standards, and reliable.  The resources are stored on Delicious, a social bookmarking site, for easy access.  Today you’ll pick 2 or 3 (and only 2 or 3) to examine in-depth and figure out ways to use them in your classroom.  We really hope you’ll spend a solid 20-30 minutes looking at and examining each individual resource (for a total of 60-90 minutes) rather than skimming over 25 or 30 resources and simply bookmarking them.  The goal of this activity, just like a goal of the new standards, is to examine something in depth rather than simply cover as many sites as you can.

The link to the Delicious site itself is  The link to the worksheet used to help you evaluate the websites, recording your thoughts and determining how you might use them as a resource, is  Please print off 2-3 copies of the worksheet for your PLC to use as you review the resources.

Copied from Thomas Feller,

3. The final activity for your PLC today is collaborating on your own terms. I would like to throw out a few suggestions, but do what your PLC needs to do:

-Discuss and respond to MSLs, especially the constructed response questions. Will your teaching change? Your assessment strategies? How?

-Make an assessment plan for the semester.

-Design a data plan. How will you use data to inform instruction this semester? What kind of data?

-Design common assessments, especially performance task assessments.

-Share resources.

-Plan instruction for the first six weeks.

As with yesterday, our training today is designed to be completed by lunch time so you can spend the afternoon working in your classroom, grading papers, and getting ready for the new semester.

Connect Text Remix Event

December 18, 2012

This week, English students remixed their research papers into new formats. Some chose Xtranormal, some chose Voice Threads, and some chose Pictochart as their tools for reimagining their original text.

Here’s a Voice Thread that tells the story.

NAEP Questions Tool

December 12, 2012

Looking for assessment questions. NAEP’s Questions Tool has a ton, and they look like they should line up beautifully with North Carolina’s Common Exams (a.k.a. MSLs).

Check out the NAEP website.

Or watch this video tutorial.