What Students Really Need to Hear


I love this raw passion and the absolutely relevant message. Every teacher needs this reminder; every student needs this wake up call.

Originally posted on affectiveliving:

It’s 4 a.m.  I’ve struggled for the last hour to go to sleep.  But, I can’t.  Yet again, I am tossing and turning, unable to shut down my brain.  Why?  Because I am stressed about my students.  Really stressed.  I’m so stressed that I can only think to write down what I really want to say — the real truth I’ve been needing to say — and vow to myself that I will let my students hear what I really think tomorrow.

This is what students really need to hear:

First, you need to know right now that I care about you. In fact, I care about you more than you may care about yourself.  And I care not just about your grades or your test scores, but about you as a person. And, because I care, I need to be honest with you. Do I have permission to be…

View original 764 more words

Confession: That column has to go!


, , , ,

deleted column on table, socratic seminar
Last week my students participated in their second Socratic Seminar. They are LOVING this format and I am LOVING watching them push each other, make connections, and manage their own learning space. But that’s another confession.

With the first seminar, I let my outer circle students give their partners feedback on body language, eye contact, and quality of contributions. With the second, I created a “Teacher Notes” table (see link at bottom) to give feedback to each of my students in addition to the feedback they receive from their partner.

During their discussion I marked down every time a student contributed as well as when they incorporated text or asked a new or follow up question. I jotted notes when I felt the student was being particularly insightful or making a really interesting connection. Many students were bringing in their background knowledge on history, current events, and their family. I had this one student who saw the whole discussion through the lens of her vegetarianism…and subsequently nearly derailed the whole discussion.

But in the end, the students owned it. They pushed each other, and made me so proud to have been part of that class period.

As I come to my computer, I begin to type my quickly jotted feedback neatly into the prepared table. By the sixth student, I realize that I’m having trouble making a distinction between “excellent” or “average” when providing feedback on body language and eye contact (column 2). One word on my table is REALLY bothering me–average. I thought nearly every student in that room rocked that discussion, and I can just imagine them seeing “average” highlighted rather than “excellent.” Is that the kind of feedback I’m trying to give? How important is body language and eye contact in my feedback?

For one student, I went as far as deleting the “excellent,” “average,” and “needs improvement” categories to write this in its place: Your back was to me in this discussion, so I don’t feel confident giving feedback on this. 

Wait a minute. Am I confident that while I was jotting down my notes I was able to watch all of the other 11 students’ body language to a degree that I’m willing to justify an “excellent” vs. “average” rating?! Simply put…no. I’m just not confident I can be that precise in my feedback.

So I return to that earlier question: how important is it for me to give evaluative feedback for every student on their eye contact and body language? I decide that it isn’t important enough to make a student who may have performed excellently in every other way to be labeled average by me. The column must go.

Despite my best efforts to create the perfect feedback tool for my students, I overlooked my own limitations to provide anything close to perfect feedback. I can count contributions, offer suggestions, and note meaningful textual incorporations, but, in the end, I want my students to feel that I saw them honestly and admitted when I couldn’t see them perfectly.

I deleted that column on my chart. This had the immediate and gratifying effect of making my other columns much bigger allowing me more room to tell them what I DID see them do and maybe how I think they could make it even better the next time.

And I also learned to reflect on my own contributions. What is my impact our classroom learning environment? What am I adding to the discussion?

Socratic Seminar Teacher Notes Table

Confession: I’m Participating in the Blogger Homework Meme

Bill Ferriter decided ’tis the season for our digital communities to let each other see behind the “digital mask.” So the Homework Meme began. It’s been fun to learn about some of my favorite blogger’s hidden talents, past music obsessions (yeah, that’s you Stumpteacher), and personal lives. Having been tagged by Josh Stumpenhorst who is one of my favorite Twitter feed contributors, I happily jumped into the fray.

11 random facts about me many people may not know

  1. At my wedding, I walked down the aisle barefoot and under an archway of swords because my husband gave each of his groomsmen a rapier as their gift.
  2. I was born at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. Twenty-three years later, I returned to the country with my father to earn my SCUBA license.
  3. I have never broken a bone, been admitted to an ER, or had surgery other than wisdom teeth removal. **knock on wood**
  4. Between graduating from college and landing my job, I worked as a demolition    (sub)contractor for my dad which included climbing into a cement crusher, and driving a front end loader. I actually really enjoyed the change up from classrooms and papers.
  5. I STILL know all the words to Hakuna Matata…and can perform each of the character’s voices. I used to know the entire soundtrack!
  6. I became an English major and subsequent English teacher because I got a 5 (at the time the highest score) on the AP English Literature test and in the void of life direction, I took it as a sign.
  7. In a black light, my front tooth will glow from a crown I had to get when, at 6 years old, my little sister broke my tooth in half with the edge of a door.
  8. I am a licensed cosmetologist.
  9. I get a weird itchy feeling if I clap too long. I have to take clap breaks and always hope those around me aren’t judging me for my lack of enthusiasm.
  10. I am extremely picky about the following items: coffee–freshly ground, french-pressed, water–Brita/bottled, apples–Honey Crisp, chocolate–dark, 60%+ cocoa, pens–Uniball Vision fine.

Josh’s Questions

  1. What was your favorite children’s book as a child or favorite to read as a parent? favorite childhood book: Boxcar Children..the first one
  2. If you had won that insane lottery jackpot, what is the first thing you would buy? Anonymity
  3. Can you touch your tongue to your nose? No, but my husband can and I find it oddly adorable
  4. If I were to meet you up at a bar, what drink would I buy for you? Depends if I’m in a beer mood–in which case a Chocolate Peanut butter Stout–or a liqueur mood–in which case a Sapphire and Tonic.
  5. When was the last time you laughed so hard it hurt, and what was it that made that happen? I can’t remember why, but I’m almost sure it was with my sisters. My husband agrees that I have a special “mood” reserved for when I hang out with them that makes me extra goofy.
  6. What is that one movie that shows up on TV that even though you have seen it a hundred times you still leave it on and watch? You’ve Got Mail “Bouquet of freshly-sharpened pencils…”
  7. If you could sit down and interview one person, living or dead, who would it be? Barack Obama
  8. Paper or plastic? paper, we can use it for fire starter
  9. What is something you have always wanted to do but continue to procrastinate and make excuses as to why you have not done it yet? Toss up between becoming bilingual and performing a poetry in a slam.
  10. Have you been able to unlock the code and figure out what a fox says? The same as what the raccoon and the shark say
  11. If you could pack it all up today and move, where would you land? Northern California

11 Bloggers I’m Tagging

  1. Renee Moore
  2. Justin Minkle
  3. Samantha Martin
  4. Jill Thompson
  5. Paul Barnwell
  6. Joel Crowley
  7. Chris Lehmann
  8. Tom Murray
  9. Kristoffer Kohl
  10. Jose Vilson
  11. Ariel Sacks

My 11 Questions

  1. What was the proudest moment of your childhood?
  2. To get you through a task, what “carrot” do you use?
  3. When we autonomous cars hit the market, will you be an early adopter?
  4. Window seat or Aisle?
  5. If you couldn’t get hurt, what is one adventure you would try?
  6. Do you believe in ghosts?
  7. Favorite non-human companion?
  8. What song/album do you believe tells your story…or at least an important part of it?
  9. What’s your perfect beverage? Descriptive details are important.
  10. What one word, phrase, or mannerism would all your closest friends and family say is “so you?”
  11. If you were given a 4 year sabbatical to pursue an alternate career path what would you choose?
Here’s how it works:
  • Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  • Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  • List 11 bloggers.
  • Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.


Confession: I’ve been waiting since day 1 for this lesson!

Ever since I saw this Soul Pancake video (I also posted this on my Facebook for my 30th birthday request), I’ve had my eye on using it during the week leading into Thanksgiving. Holiday weeks can be strange beasts for teachers–we are tired, the kids are amped, no one seems to have the energy to focus. So, I wanted a meaningful, engaging activity that would build our class culture while still relating to my curriculum. Bingo!

Today, I had my students identify one person who has had an impact on them and then write either a letter or essay answering the following: How has this person impacted me? Why am I grateful for them in my life?

In each period, I put on my focus music, and we did a free write for 20 minutes. I wrote with them–focusing on a different person each period. Is it any surprise that I was in a good mood most of the day? **Psst, it shouldn’t be if you watched the video :)

Then, after they had already completed their writing, I showed them the video. We talked about how sharing was the key to increasing happiness in both themselves and their recipient. I volunteered to read my letter first, to open the door for others to feel safe. The room was dead silent as I read my essay of gratitude to my friend Ellen (see link below!). Then I asked if any of them wanted to share their own gratitude writings.

A student volunteered to read a letter about how much she values her sister. She wanted her sister to know that she would be a support no matter what. Another student who rarely volunteers and seems to hate having any attention on her surprised me by volunteering to read her tribute to her great-grandmother. With each person’s shared gratitude, the room felt warmer…friendlier…and filled with happiness. My eyes may or may not have misted over a time or two.

Then, I asked my students to share their notes–email, hand-delivered, read out loud–whatever form they chose, I challenged them to complete the experiment and share their gratitude.

So now I will do as I have asked my students and share the essays I wrote with them in class. I will express them to spread happiness and gratitude in honor of the holiday we are approaching. The following links are to public Google docs honoring three people who have impacted my life. I welcome you to read them! I also challenge you to write a note of your own and then share it. Express gratitude, increase happiness.

Note of Gratitude: My friend Ellen

Note of Gratitude: My college professor

Note of Gratitude: My sisters

Hannah Nguyen’s Speech at the Los Angeles Teacher Town Hall, AND a VERY Important Message


A MUST watch. Student voice matters. Let them share their thoughts with you. This student BLOWS UP Michelle Rhee’s town hall meeting.

Originally posted on inspirEDucation:

I’m just posting the video here so that people can connect the video to my blog and vice versa. I will be posting a lot of important things on here soon, so please stay tuned.

Here’s the main gist of my very important message (copied from my comments under the youtube video):

Unfortunately, our fight for public education does not end here. The fact that I got a chance to speak was a stroke of luck; there are millions of student voices across the country that are being silenced under corporate reform, most of which will never have the chance to be heard unless we ACT NOW. We cannot continue to let Rhee & Co. exploit and speak FOR students. LET STUDENTS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES!

If you will be in Birmingham on 9/12 or Philadelphia on 9/16, I STRONGLY URGE you to come to the Teacher Town Hall and let…

View original 318 more words

Confession: I don’t get to the syllabus until Thursday.


, , ,

Today was the much anticipated first day of the new school year. Students streamed through the building in their finest new outfits. Teachers greeted students with broad smiles hiding the butterflies and willing with all their might that this school year will be the best yet!

Every year, I try to improve my student’s first day experience. While I used to hand out syllabus, a list of expectations, and a lecture about plagiarism, I have since evolved to reading sections of text, asking students to write about their first-day, and playing a game of two truths and a lie.

This year, I continued to build my constructivist approach by taking the pieces that have received good feedback from previous years and trying both high and low tech updates. See the ideas below and let me know if you’ve tried similar tactics.

Spotify school playlist.

Last year I caved and finally downloaded Spotify (it wasn’t filtered on my school’s network like my beloved Pandora). Since I was playing around, I decided to make a “All School Related” playlist. Granted, it’s an eclectic mix from Taylor Swift to Outkast to Ben Folds Five, but every song has to do with school in some way. When I tried this last year, I was surprised at how many students wrote that this small piece of the atmosphere  set an inviting tone for my room, and helped them think positively about the year ahead. Even if they couldn’t help by disparage my “weird” music choices, I knew this tradition was a keeper.

Using QR codes

This was a new addition. Traditionally, I gave a “student profile” to each student on the first day. In addition to keeping track of their book numbers, and various technology account information,  I would survey the students by asking them questions about their Internet accessibility, their after school commitments, their preferred learning environment. I would also ask a goofy question to get a sense of their personality: “If you could pick one animal to ride to school, what would it be and why?”


Each desk had this sheet on it to facilitate students using the technology to take my start-of-school survey.

This year was our second year with a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device/Technology) policy at the high school. Rather than keep them writing on the paper cards, I decided to instead convert my survey to a Google Form and print out the QR code for them to scan and access the survey instantly. I also put the links for the Edmodo and Google Docs home page as a QR codes.

This worked well for the students who could quickly come in, download a QR reader from the app store, and efficiently access these websites without logging into my classroom laptops. Those who struggled with the multi-step process could also access the survey by using my class Chromebooks to log into Edmodo and click on the link there.

I plan on using QR codes in a similar way on my back-to-school parent night coming up next week.

Making my Room Set-up Pay Off

As I deconstructed and reconstructed my room for the first time in a few years, I reflected on how much time I invest into my physical environment. Then I wondered, “Do the students even notice? Does it make a difference in how they feel about me as a teacher or does it really influence their ability to focus and learn?”  So I decided to ask them.

Instead of me launching directly into my “Get to know a teacher” Prezi presentation, I decided to ask my students to first look around my room and make three inferences about me from how I organized our physical environment. I thought this would provide me with some interesting feedback on what they actually noticed, what message it sent them, and how they connected it with the overall learning experience. I was not disappointed! They had a good eye for details and were able to overwhelmingly conclude that

Mrs. C is organized, creative, and has an obsession with word choice.

True! But some surprising conclusions: (1) because I displayed an American flag, I am apparently very patriotic; (2) because I have three plants in my room, I am a gardener (true, but surprising from the limited evidence!); and (3) because I have two of the Twilight books in my reading corner I must love the series (in fact, I have two because I couldn’t read past that to finish the series!)

I love the feedback this activity gave me. The added bonus is that I now know what my room says to my students as its first impression.

Two Truths and a Lie


Example from this year’s introduction and game. See if you can guess the answer in the comments! :)

I’ve played this game for about three years after stealing the idea from one of my best friends (also a HS English teacher). Each year I find pictures and conjure up obscure facts to reveal that despite my students’ perceptions, I do have a life outside of my classroom and curriculum. Then I create 3-4 slides where I provide two truths and one lie. Each person votes on which one they think is the lie and when I reveal it, I provide some evidence or explanation that helps the students to get to know me a bit. Then, of course, I have them create their own and share out with a few classmates to see if they can fool them. Overall, it’s a fun icebreaker with very little of that awkward we-are-playing-a-pointless-get-to-know-you-game feel.

From Here

From the first day through the end of our shortened week, I will review important policies, set the tone, and build relationship with my students. Very little of the content curriculum will be tackled in these early days, but I have come to believe that this time for building both respect and rapport is invaluable for a great year to unfold.

If you are interested in more first-day ideas, I’ve been having a great conversation with teachers all over the country in the Classroom Practice lab of the CTQ Collaboratory. Their creative thinking sparked my own. I would love to hear your ideas in the comments or over in the Collaboratory space!

How I Innovate: rbutr – Crowdsourcing Critical Thinking


This idea is fantastic for developing the next generation of critical thinkers who are well-versed in the literacy of online content. I can see so many classroom applications for this idea.

Originally posted on Education to Save the World:


Happy Friday!  Today’s How I Innovate guest blogger is Shane Greenup co-creator of rbutr, an exciting community-driven app that seeks to bring the spirit of debate and balanced perspective to our online reading.   Shane’s comments follow. 

rbutr is a project I have been working on for over a year now which has grown from a very simple humble origin, in to a dream to create a critical thinking revolution on the internet.

The original concept came shortly after a friend shared an article which praised a ‘study’ that was flawed in several ways and produced biased results. The article was both misleading and potentially harmful in the information it contained, and my friend had just promoted it to all of their friends as good worthwhile research. This wasn’t a divided issue. There was no grey area. The article was bad, and I thought it was important that everyone…

View original 1,552 more words

Trending: The Future of Teaching


Great post to rev our engines for our profession as we gear up to tackle the new school year. Educators, we need to keep our sights set on the long-term health of our profession and ourselves–not just the year-to-year cycle. Engage with these ideas!

Originally posted on Education to Save the World:


image credit: time.com

The way we work is changing.  In Time magazine’s series on the future of work, Seth Godin wrote “Work will mean managing a tribe, creating a movement and operating in teams to change the world.”  Say sayonara to cubicles, data entry, and answering phones and hello to collaborating in teams to solve problems in a knowledge-driven economy.

Normally in this blog we talk about these issues as they relate to students, but this week we’re talking about teachers and asking two questions:

1) What will the work of teachers look like in the future?

2) What are the implications for teacher preparation programs?  

To think about how the role of the teacher will change, we need to consider both how the world of work is changing and how education is changing.

So first for the world of work changes:

  • De-centralized; more free agents: People will work less…

View original 570 more words

Confession: Sometimes Twitter Needs a Good Metaphor (Part 2)


, , , , ,

In my last post, I shared my experience as a “Twitter Ambassador” at a recent conference. I ended up working with a principal who was already on Twitter, but wanted to engage her faculty with the social media tool. In conversation with her, I realized that sometimes, understanding Twitter (like understanding anything new) requires some metaphors.

In this post, I want to build on the idea that hashtags (#) are a way to have a public, real-time (or over-time conversation) conversation with other people on Twitter.  Hashtags= whiteboards at the front of the room where if everyone had a marker, he or she could publicly post their response to a prompt or write a message to that whole room. Now, let’s talk about how you would organize multiple conversations or metaphorically, if you had multiple whiteboards you were monitoring throughout your school. 

Metaphor 2: Twitter Apps (Hootsuite) = Excel Spreadsheets



Along with Twitter’s rising popularity, a wave of apps have been created to interact with your twitter account and twitter feed. Two of the most popular are TweetDeck and HootSuite. I recommend the latter because in addition to a nice webpage, it also has an app for your iPhone, iPad, or Android. TweetDeck is an extension on Chrome and has a nice web page but no mobile apps. 

Situation: After searching to make sure your own Twitter hashtag (Example: #WhitefordTchrs) was not being used by anyone else on Twitter (your search turned up no results), you now want to be able to follow ALL postings to Twitter with that hashtag. You also want to be updated immediately when people use the hashtag so that you can monitor comments and respond quickly. 

ImageDefault Solution: Obsessively check your Twitter feed. Scroll down furiously and read everything to make sure you don’t miss any of your followers’ tweets with this hashtag. Then you go to the search box and type in the hashtag to make sure you see if anyone else on Twitter has used it. Repeat hourly. 

App Solution: Use Hootsuite to aggregate** your conversation into easy-to-read streams of information like an excel spreadsheet! 

**2nd definition if you click on link


This spreadsheet takes many different pieces of data and visually organizes them by using rows and columns for much easier analysis of the information.


Similar to the spreadsheet, Hootsuite will show you ALL of the tweets on Twitter including a certain hashtag. Visually, the information is organized in columns for easier reading, responding, and analyzing.

Notice in the picture above that each “column” or as Hootsuite calls them “streams” represents one conversation happening around one hashtag. So if a principal asks her faculty to use one hashtag to discuss/share (#Whitefordtchrs), she could create another hashtag to start a Twitter conversation with students (#Whitefordstdnts), and still a third to communicate with parents (#Whitefordprnts).** Instead of having to track down all of the tweets with different hashtags within the Twitter app or website, the principal could simply create a stream on Hootsuite to visually organize the different conversations in one place…like an Excel spreadsheet. 

Having your streams organized around hashtags ensures that you can involve anyone in the conversation without having to follow them on Twitter to see ALL of their personal updates. 

Another benefit to Hootsuite is that it allows you create a tweet and schedule it to go out Imagelater. Imagine: you sit down at your desk to plan out your week on Sunday and you create a tweet for each day. Then you schedule them, and respond each day to those who are engaging with your tweet–but the planning is thought out ahead of time and you are keeping your goal to engage multiple groups through this social media. Cool huh? There’s actually so much more that Hootsuite provides, but I will let you discover it when you go here to sign up for your own account :)

Part 3 of this short series will show you how to preserve a valuable and aggregate a valuable conversation for later or continued discussion. The next post will introduce you to another app that works with Twitter–Storify

**I only abbreviated “teachers,” “students,” and “parents” in these examples to use less characters. Each tweet allows only 140 characters including punctuation and spaces, so the less characters in a hashtag the better!

Confession: Sometimes Twitter needs good metaphor (1)


, , , , ,


Surian Soosay via Flickr

Today I volunteered myself to be a “Twitter Ambassador” at the ASCD L2L (leader to leader) conference (#ASCDL2L). In helping a fellow educator understand the power of Twitter as well as all of its related mobile and aggregation applications, I sometimes found myself grasping for clarity. Then, my English-teacher brain kicked in as I began to create metaphors to describe the functionality of hashtags, HootSuite, Storify, and twitter chats. So I am going to write a series of posts on these metaphors to help educators who are new to Twitter wrap their mind around HOW to use it in their school environments.

Metaphor 1: Twitter Hashtag= Whiteboard 


Situation: You are a principal who wants to spread a message or article to your faculty, but you also want them to share reactions and responses to this message in a public way.

Luddite (Old-School) Solution: You install a whiteboard outside of your office. Every day you write a message on that whiteboard and ask faculty members to walk to the office every day to read this message and then write their own response underneath it.


Twitter (Technology) Solution: You create a unique hashtag on Twitter that includes your school name or some other easily identifiable word related to your school or school culture.

Examples: #WhitefordTeachers (less characters #WhitefordTchrs)     #LionFaculty



Now you share that hashtag with your teachers and ask them to enter that hashtag into their search bar on Twitter. This is like asking them to walk down to your office to view the message or article you posted on the whiteboard. Rather than walking though, they just find the conversation via the search bar and hashtag.

Then, using the hashtag at the end of your tweet, you post your prompt, article (via link), or question to Twitter. Now your faculty can see that tweet and using the same unique hashtag in their own tweet, formulate responses. In real time faculty have a public discussion on Twitter. Better than a stampede to the office whiteboard and waiting in line with the Expo marker, right?

For a classroom teacher, the parallels are obvious. Instead of using the whiteboard at the front of the room with sticky notes, a teacher whose student’s have access to technology could use Twitter for a classroom discussion. Now this obviously comes with greater consideration because teachers are dealing with minors and potential technology shortages; however, the metaphor still could help teacher Twitter Newbies to understand the potential power of a hashtag for discussion. 

Up next: Using HootSuite to organize your Twitter conversations…and after that how to archive the great Tweets for future reference! 


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 886 other followers