Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thoughts on Worksheets

I was sitting in a meeting the other day with my fellow English teachers and someone was sharing that they pick up three worksheets/assignments a week from their kids.
 "I have to pick them up and give them a grade or they won't do it" was her justification.
"So you give them meaningful feedback on every paper?" I asked.
"How do you know that they are using it and applying it?"
No response.

I always thought that English teachers were not the worksheet people.Or if we were, then they would be for a reason not just for a grade in the grade book. The conversation went on...

"If students do not turn in a writing assignment, I want them to be penalized."
"They are, we dock late points and they get a zero" I replied.
"No, I mean I want to give them an F to shock them into wanting to do their work."
"Really? For one assignment?"
"Well if they are not doing their work, then their test scores will be low and that will effect how administration sees my classroom performance."

That is the comment that cut me to the core. So are we concerned with helping students or how they will make us look? Shouldn't teacher effectiveness be based on how accurately we are predicting they are mastering the standards? For example, if a student is earning a D- in an AP class, then does that accurately reflect what they will get on the AP test? If the answer is yes, then we are doing our job.

It seems like a huge paradigm shift for those of us who have been teaching for a long time to not want to penalize the kids but reward them for growth- and I am not sure why. We all got into teaching to help students learn and succeed. Is penalizing them really the best way? Is negative reinforcement the most effective way to motivate a student?

I admit that there are students who just don't do their work- heck I have taught a few myself. But if the student has a trusting and respectful relationship with their teacher, then lots of these issues tend to work themselves out.

Bottom line is this -we always tell our students that one grade does not reflect who they are as a person. So why are we letting it define who we are as educators?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Back from DC

I was honored to be with a group of amazing educators in Washington DC for this past weekend. We are all members of the Flipped Learning Network Cadre and a large education corporation flew us out to start a conversation about the changes in education. As I sat there and heard how the Ed-Tech dept of the Dept. of Education was interested and wanted to hear my webinar (as a former English teacher themselves), I am reminded of my humility.

I want to take a moment and remind people that Flipping is not just about creating and publishing videos. It is a fundamental paradigm shift that any good educator must undergo in order to do what is best for their students. There is also no ONE way to do a flipped classroom or ONE time in the lesson cycle where supplemental materials fit best. It is what is best for your students for this ONE lesson. And we have to continue to be flexible in meeting our students needs in order to be effective teachers.

Monday, October 29, 2012


After attending VSS this past week, I am overwhelmed with the many definitions of the word blended. Yet while being overwhelmed, I am also excited and proud. Integrating the online environment with the brick and mortar is something that I have been doing for a while. In fact, the Flipped Classroom teachers have all been doing something similar to this. But no matter where or what you teach, it is so amazing to see teachers exploring options and the essential question - what is the best use of my classroom time in order to help students succeed.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Reflection on Flipping

This week, I am pondering the FAQs and possible pitfalls of the flipped classroom as Troy and I prepare for the first webinar on this matter. So I decided to be a tad bit reflective ( very IB of me don't you know) and share my thoughts:

  • time - yes it does take time - lots of time. I research my script, then I write my script, then I create a keynote for the presentation with music and a works consulted page so that I am modeling what I expect from my students
  • feedback - doing the videos without feedback can be very frustrating. How do you make sure that they kids are watching the videos? Here are some ideas:
    • open note quizzes - punitive but effective
    • reflection journal - online in google docs is easy to read, but still time consuming
    • note check- I use Cornel to help introduce students to at least one method of taking notes before they leave high school, it is time consuming to check in class
    • project based on information - great application but trying to create a project for every video makes me tired just thinking about it
  • quality - this is a big one - I spent a lot of time initially on it, and then backed off and now I have found a happy medium. I make the presentations have few words and close caption the videos, include a song from that is constant for the unit and goes with the theme of the unit, and I use nifty transition
  • length - keep it under 8 minutes! I know that breaking them up is a pain, but you will get better results
  • ownership - I still have a really hard time using other people's videos - I feel like I am slacking off - but as I get older, I realize that my friends and colleagues from the world over thanks to youtube are sharing their knowledge with me and I need to take it

Sunday, September 30, 2012


My state, like many others, has passed legislation for what how it will measure an effective teacher. I am by no way saying that I agree with my state, but at this point I have to figure out how I can keep my job and keep moving my students.

So I was sitting in a meeting and listening to all the things that the administration wants me to do:
  • As an English teacher, I am the ONLY content area that is tested twice (reading and writing) so they want us to have TWO goals - one for reading and writing.
  • Since apparently we are the only area that teaches both (which is a joke), we have to track all of our students in growth in those two areas.
  • One of the mandated areas for growth is the CSAPs - which are our state tests that do not effect our students in any way, but now can impact our job. It is high stakes testing with no buy-in from the students and too much from the teachers. Have you read Freakonomics???
  • They want us to grow all students a certain percentage. This may be easier for the average level kids,  but it is the highest and lowest kids that are really going to make a teacher seem ineffective. So all of your good teachers will be teaching the average kids and not wanting to jeopardize their jobs by teaching the high and low ends which is exactly where you want your good teachers to be.
In any case, I was sitting there so glad for the class time that I have carved out by flipping my classroom. To be honest, I can't imagine how I could do the things that are being asked of me and not have flipped my classroom. I now have time to talk to students and have discussions about their writing. I can walk around and see and talk to every student - so no one can hide. I think that moving forward, teachers are going to have to seriously consider flipping the classroom for two reasons:
  1. It really is the best use of class time and the best thing for your students.
  2. Your jobs may depend on it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Intellectual Property in the 21st Century and Beyond

So it has come to my attention that there is a nagging problem that many people are ignoring when it comes to the flipped classroom; who owns the material. I have read many articles ( see article here).  So if we are creating materials as teachers to use in the classroom, then how owns them? Do schools have the right to sell the material that we have created for a profit? And if we are creating them on our own time and on our own computers, those of us who teach in an online school as well as on land school, where do we stand? Can we use materials in the classroom that we have created and then sell them on our own? Many teachers have done that in the past so why does this new video concept differ?

Monday, July 2, 2012

ISTE and Tech Overload!

I just got back from ISTE and what an incredible conference! I am still in tech overload but am so glad to have spoken and shared and learned from people much smarter than I am! I am still very shocked that humanities has not done more flipping and they are the ones who seem most resistant to it. If you are a humanities teacher and have some questions, please let me know how I can help! I have some pretty big goals for July - I want to create two vodcasts and get them on Itunes ( more information to follow), as well as get my next two scripts in to Ted Ed so that they can animate them and get them posted. I also have some updating to do on my online World Literature class and my poor MacBook officially crashed yesterday so I am having to limp along and only ask it to do one thing at a time. Maybe I will get an early birthday present..... I would like to leave you with one thought - if you could change one thing in your classroom that will make your job easier, what would you do? What is stopping you? Will update more as July goes on..,

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Heading to TIE!

I am very excited to speak at TIE this year about the blended classroom and using it to make a difference in my student's writing!

I also have created an Edmodo group called Rocky Mountain Flippers (group join code is sdghe0). If you are in the Rocky Mountain area and are part of this educational movement, please join the group and the discussion!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Standards Based Grading

We have been piloting this in the English department for two years at our high school and the kids and parents love it. I just attended a presentation by Dr. Marzano and my decision to stay with standards based was further solidified. We have a great technical document and powerpoint that we have given to our parents and students. I will post them if anyone is interested. But I do believe that this is the way to go in education. It is not inflated grades, but a snapshot of how a student is progressing towards mastery of a standard. It has changed our conversations about students and education and to be honest, you could not pay me to go back.

Standards based grading document

Standards Based Grading PPT

New Links and Resources

Due to popular demand, I have uploaded some of my videos that I have used in my blended classroom to my webpage. Please check them out and give me some feedback!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ted Active Hangover

It has been a week and I am still struggling with how I can explain my experience at Ted. I had the opportunity to meet and interact with such amazing people from all walks of life and parts of the world.

What most took me aback is the negative attitude of people when they found out that I was an educator. I am not saying that they were mean, but they had an opinion about how the educational system needed reforms and were very defensive about it. They were shocked to see that I agreed with them - which allowed us to have a real discussion about education.

I am still shocked about the misconceptions about education. But here are the ones that really set me off:

1. Teachers are over paid - really? I live in Colorado where we pay 49th out of 50 in teacher salaries. Also Colorado is not the cheapest place to live. I know many of my friends who are on government assistance trying to stay in the education filed. I also know many of them who have become single parents who have to leave the classroom just to keep food on the table for their kids.

2. Teachers only work 8-4 - I wish! School starts at 7 am and ends at 2:30pm. During the day, we have meetings that take up most of our planning time. So when does a teacher get any grading or research done to help them in the classroom? At home at night and on the weekends.

3. Teachers have summers off - shocker! I teach until the end of the first week in June and report back the second week in August. During those 8 weeks, I try to get all of my personal appointments for myself and my family made, planning for next years courses, and sometimes teach a summer school class because I have one in college and one in high school. Most teachers that I know have some type of a second job or extra responsibility that helps them pay the bils.

4. Declining test scores are a direct result of teaching - unrealistic! Our standardized test scores are used for teacher evaluation, but not for students. The students have no interest in doing well on the tests and some have tanked certain sections so that the school would fire a certain teacher. How backwards is that the test that they take has no impact on them? How do we make it real for them when in actuality, it means nothing to them and they have no consequences for their actions on the tests.

5. Schools need to cut spending - impossible. My department asks that all students buy the books that we teach in the classroom for many reasons. One of them is that annotating texts is an important skill that the students need to start understanding. But realistically, I could not buy the books for the kids to use if they did not. Over the past three years, my department budget has been an average of $300 for eight teachers teaching over 900 students. We need more! We need paper, pens, pencils, folders. and expo markers. We also need technology to keep the kids engaged and prepare them for the world outside the classroom. We also need to provide training and support for our teachers to use the technology in appropriate and challenging ways.

These are my top five, but there are more. The sad statement is when my daughter told me that she wanted to be a teacher, I was more sad than happy. I have no idea what the system will look like when she gets out of college. I can hope for a better future, but I don't see it happening.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Ted Active

I am overwhelmed and honored to bet here with such amazing people: Aaron, Jon, Mike, Karl, Deb, Stacy, Paul, and RJ. I am also so happy that Ted has seen the importance of education and is willing to put money into it (something that the state of Colorado could learn from). I am off to make some Tom's shoes to donate and then more learning lies in store!