Month: April 2017

THAT Is Not Notetaking

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I am often horrified when I see teachers spend 25-30 minutes of instruction time so that students can “take notes.”

Take a moment and think about the last time you needed (originally I used the word “had.” We will talk about that revision in a moment.) to take notes for something – staff meeting, professional development, grad class? Now consider this, did someone actually tell you to take notes? Did you receive a handout? Were you using Cornell Notes?

Probably Not.

Why? Because you did not need Cornell or his notes to figure out the most important or relevant information. Instead, your listening skills helped you decode the conversation or speech. You listened, processed, and wrote the information most pertinent to what you needed to know. THIS is a valuable skill.

Instead of teaching that skill, we often take away the necessity for students to think, and we have them copy down, verbatim, what we say. We pause, wait for them to write, and resume. When this happens, students are not gaining any skill at all, and the teacher has lost valuable instruction time.

Let me reiterate that: When we allow students to copy down everything we say, and call it note taking, we take away their need to think. Additionally, we lead them to believe that they are actually “taking notes,” allowing them to find out later in life, that what they were taught is actually not the process.

Start at Application

Instead of having students fill in the blanks or copy down the presentation verbatim, try giving students the notes and starting at application. Application will yield far better results than faux note-taking ever could.

Consider this:

The teacher is presenting new vocabulary words with definitions. Students are expected to copy down each word with its definition. Students are also expected to write down the expectation for the new words. This could take anywhere from 5 minutes to 20 minutes depending on the number of vocabulary words, the length of the definitions, and the pace of the slowest writer in the class.
Instead, consider Bloom’s Taxonomy as explained by Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching and give students the notes so that they can start at application.


Here’s an example:

Activity: Vocabulary
Teacher “Using the new vocabulary words and definitions, complete a Critical Thinking Vocabulary Organizer of your choice.”
Student: Student chooses the Vocabulary Connections Graphic Organizer and makes word-to-text, word-to-self, and word-to-world connections with each vocabulary word.
Outcome: Instead of spending 20 minutes copying down definitions, the student spent 20 minutes making connections and learning the new vocabulary. The teacher can now have the student apply the skill to another activity, debrief with the student about the vocabulary, or formatively assess the students understanding of the new vocabulary words with an interactive activity.

The NEED to Take Notes

Note-taking is a very valuable skill. Whenever I have meetings, I take a pen and paper, no matter who I am meeting with. I understand the importance of writing things down, and even if I NEVER look at those notes again, I know that writing it down helps store the information in a way that is not possible if I simply listen to the information. Do I actually have to take notes? No. In my adult life, I have never been told that I HAVE TO take notes. Has it been suggested? Absolutely, but once it was “suggested,” it never had to be suggested “again.” That said, it is definitely beneficial for students to learn the skill of note-taking, but we need to make sure that we are actually teaching them how to think so that they can decipher note-worthy information and effectively and efficiently take notes of their own volition.

New Product Alert: Common Core Critical Thinking Task Cards

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Task cards are a great way to break up the monotony of worksheets. In fact, depending on the set-up of the task cards, teachers can offer personalization and student choice all while using the same cards over and over.

Product: Common Core Critical Thinking Task Cards

Task Card Thumbnail4.jpg

What’s Included
– 47 Common Core Aligned Constructed Response Task Cards
– Student Task Tracker Sheets – Turn In
– Student Task Activity Sheet
– Student Task Tracker – Personal
– 4 point rubric


**Ways to Use the Cards**

Student Groups
 Place students in stations. Each station can represent a different standard. Have students choose cards to work on, or you can assign cards. Allow students to work independently and switch cards, or have students work together on each card.
 Assign the number of cards you want completed prior to students beginning the task(s).

For more ideas on student groups, click HERE.

Independent Practice
 Classwork: Assign students specific standards to work on based on data you have accumulated through formative assessments.
 Homework: Assign students additional practice at home with a few task cards.
 Student Choice: Allow students to choose task cards based on skills they need to work on, or activities they are interested in completing.

For more rigorous activities for your students, visit my TpT store HERE.

6 Signs You Are A Teacher Dinosaur

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One of the most profound statements a teacher ever made to me went something like this: ‘I keep getting older, but they will always be 16. I’m trying to deal with that.’

Geesh! Let’s dissect that.

When I started teaching at 26, I was only 8 years older than my oldest student, and  Facebook was a big deal. Now, “Facebook is for old people,” (yes, sadly that is a direct quote), and there are so many mediums to keep up with that I’ve given up. If I scroll too quickly on Instagram, it gives me a slight headache, and I have yet to appreciate recording a video that will disappear (Snapchat).

In contrast, I’ve watched students viciously scroll through Instagram with the appearance of processing everything they deem important. Being “Instagram Famous” is actually a thing, and Twitter has the power to make CEOs apologize and Pepsi pull ads. But in many classrooms, sit-and-get continues to reign supreme, technology is forbidden, and students are still handwriting essays.

In a world where apps are created by 10-year-olds, a businessman is president, and 130 characters can change the lives of many, our students need interactive, dynamic, and thought-provoking lessons that mirror their lives. Technology should be the rule, not the exception. That said, it may be time to evaluate your methods. If you are wondering if you are functioning in prehistoric times, check out my list below.


Take a Closer Look

#1) Consider that if students are taking too long to type, it is probably because no one allows or requires them to, which is problematic because typing is a necessary part of many professions. Additionally, if students are handwriting essays, that means you are wagging stacks of essays around as opposed to giving feedback electronically that students can always access.


#2) To be fair, if you are reading this article at work, you are off task. Also, how often do you get off task in department meetings? The truth of the matter is that the purpose of the group is to build community, teach cooperation, build skills, and to interact. The goal should not be to make students sit and whisper. I don’t know about you, but if I have to whisper in a group, I’d rather not participate.

Try this: place students in work stations with specific goals and time constraints. While they may not be on task the entire time they are working, they will achieve great things when they have parameters.

wp-1492538993647.#3) There is always a reason to have a phone or electronic device out. ALWAYS. I have a friend who Googles everything we talk about. Her phone is at the ready for anything that may need clarity… She’s a lawyer.

My point is, there are purposes for phones in class other than annoying or ignoring the teacher. As educators, we just have to explore reasons for students to use their devices. In doing so, we make it much easier for them to put their phones away when asked.
#4) Google runs the world. There are many apps to support interactive learning. Teachers can create quizzes, share documents, and more. For more information about Google Classroom, click here.

wp-1492539400849.#5) As a mother of a 4-year-old and a 9-year-old, engagement is always coupled with loud, rowdy, rambunctious behavior. In fact, when those things aren’t happening, someone has a fever. Now, to be fair, we obviously have behavior expectations in the learning environment that are different than home behaviors. However, it is unfair to children to expect that they sit quietly for extended periods of time. As a teacher, I enjoyed how “rowdy” they became because I could tell that they were really into what we were doing. What’s more, when I assessed them later, the overall proficiency of the class was far better after “rowdy” activities than when we were totally silent and working independently.


#6) This is not actually a thing. As educators, we should always be learning, otherwise, we cannot teach and prepare our students for their future. It’s like the student who says, “I’m not used to doing homework,” or the one who says, “my mom isn’t good at math either.” These statements are just excuses.


What You Can Do

There are many ways to step out of the time warp and incorporate modern day learning into your classroom. And while it may feel a little overwhelming at first, it will definitely prove beneficial to both you and your students.

If you are a teacher dinosaur, here are some things you might try:

  1. Use alternative formative assessments. This will increase engagement and create an interactive classroom.
  2. Step out of your comfort zone.
  3. Plan with purpose. Ask yourself, where can I incorporate technology in my lesson plan? If daily feels like too much starting out, try to include something every other day.
  4. Look into Google. There are many options available.
  5. Team up with someone who regularly includes technology. Plan together so you have ideas for ways to spruce up your classroom.


The teacher I quoted at the beginning of this post made a very valid point. As we mature in our profession, our children are always the same age. That, in and of itself, requires great adaptation on our part. When we fail to adapt to the needs and/or interests of our students, we miss the mark. As the professionals, our kids deserve our best efforts, even when it takes us out of our comfort zones.

The Class Clown

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A class clown can completely ruin your class, if you allow it. I have had my fair share of class clowns, but I always tried to take into consideration just how much I love comedy.

The Scene

As I finished modeling my introduction paragraph on the board, I turned around to see Jake standing on a desk. I looked at him. There was a pause because I was really thinking about my next move. Students were giggling, and staring at me in anticipation. His face let me know he was awaiting a note-worthy response.

“What are you doing?” I asked, trying to shield the exasperation in my tone.

“I’m TIRED of being the shortest person in here!!” Jake exclaimed. “Now I’m taller than Jeremy!”

You see, Jeremy was about 6’6″, and my class clown was about 5’4.

After staring at Jake for a moment, I turned back to the board and continued my lesson.

The Outcome

As I kept teaching, Jake kept his post. He stood proudly on top of the desk. And yes, he WAS now the tallest person in the room. But you know what, he was also taking notes.

I let Jake stand there the entire period because in all honesty, who was he bothering. Was it dangerous… well technically it is frowned upon to let students stand on desks. However, I just didn’t have the time or patience that day to let him get the best of me. That is exactly what he wanted. He got the giggles from his peers, but he didn’t get the response from me he wanted. I secretly wondered if he stood up there far longer than he had anticipated considering that I did not make him sit down.

The Point

Ultimately, Jake was not the first class clown, and he definitely was not the last. This scenario stands out to me the most though because I was so caught off guard. I have had a student burst out in Cee-lo songs… repeatedly, a child use profanity in their shared constructed response, a fit thrower, and more (mind you, these were 10th-12th graders), but for some reason, on that desk, that day, in an Honors class, really took the cake.

So what’s the point of this post? Simple, every fight isn’t worth fighting, and every student has potential to be something great. I honestly believe that Jake can be the next big comedian. However, I did not need his shenanigans during my class. I could have sent him to the office, written a referral, or responded negatively. But what I hope I accomplished that day was creating an environment that allowed him to be who he was without penalty. At best, I hope that teachers around the world can appreciate that comedians came from somewhere, and if there had been people along the way that broke their spirits when they were simply being who they were, we may not have all of the laughs we appreciate today.


State Testing Countdown

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STATE TESTING – The real 4-letter word in education. The two words sure to make many, if not most, educators cringe. The pressure to achieve proficiency weighs heavily on students and teachers. For those of you already testing, “May the odds be ever in your favor.” For those of you still burning the midnight oil to help students practice all the things you’ve taught this year, consider the following to help with state testing:

~Student Learning Stations~

This is a great way to group students and differentiate. You can spruce stations up by adding games and highly interactive activities. It also allows the teacher to move about the room and help those students who need help. You can read more about student stations here.

Student Stations1

~Use Released Test Items~

I always used released state exams from other states in addition to my own, whenever those were available. I wanted students to be exposed to all of the possible ways a skill could be assessed. That said, it was imperative that I find other ways to provide students with the level of rigor I’d expect them to see on a state exam. Think about the way your state’s test is set up, and find something that works for you.

Below are a few resources I have used:

~Let Data Drive Your Instruction~

Whenever you assess students, always be sure that a standard is attached and that you are collecting data each time. ‘Thumbs up, thumbs down’ is NOT a good way to access what a student really knows. Instead, give each student an opportunity to demonstrate what they know. Then, be sure to track how your students do on each skill.

Another thing to consider is using an interactive assessment platform like Plickers , Quizziz, or Kahoot! to break up the monotony of pen and paper or computer screens. Each provide data that you can use to drive instruction.

Put it all together

If you are so inclined, you could put this all together and cycle through from now until you begin testing. For some teachers in my district, they still have 2-3 weeks. A lot can happen with student achievement n 2-3 weeks when teachers are intentional.

Stupid Questions

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Scrolling through Twitter and I see this:

20170407_162405I stared at the screen for a moment before I re-tweeted it.  At first, I didn’t know why this was so intriguing to me, but then it dawned on me. As educators, we tell students, “there are no stupid questions,” whether we believe it or not. Some teachers even laugh about the “stupid questions” they get in class (I know, not you 😉). But this post made me think, how often do teachers ask “stupid questions?”

“Stupid” is a very harsh word. However, there are questions that do not inspire thinking, and those questions are not helpful to students or teachers. Ultimately, teachers are preparing students to think critically. In order to do that, students must be able to think beyond what Google has to offer and process information themselves. To do that, training begins in the classroom.

So, as a teacher, how do you know if you are inspiring thinking. Consider these questions – and we’ll start with the obvious:

  1. Can students Google your answer? Now, to be fair, everything is on Google, BUT, everything is not readily available. A recall question – ‘what happened in the beginning of The Kite Runner’ does not require a student to actually comprehend the text. Instead, a student only needs to remember. Instead, ask ‘how does the first chapter of the novel frame the text? impact the reader?’ With this line of questioning, students can Google The Kite Runner, but they may not even be able to find that answer with research, if at all.
  2. When is the last time you used question stems to plan instruction? There are several different lists of common core question stems. Kids at the Core is one place to check.
  3. How familiar are you with Bloom’s and or DOK? When you lesson plan, one of these should be at your side.
  4. How are your students performing on your summative assessments compared to district or state assessments? There should be consistency between the different instruments. However, if a student is earning an ‘A’ in your class, but is not proficient on district or state assessments, this means that the student has earned an ‘A’ in your class because he/she has done everything you have asked. Unfortunately, what you have asked them to do may not be the equivalent of what they should be able to do. Therein lies a rigor issue.

This parent’s comment is quite poignant. As a matter of fact, it inspires thinking, and cannot be found on Google.

Student Learning Stations

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If you are not using learning stations in your classroom, you are really missing out! Whenever I used stations, I was always beyond pleased with the outcome. Student engagement was up, and I was able to help my more introverted students who would not ask for help in the bigger group setting. Once I saw how well the stations worked, I used them all the time, especially in preparation for state testing.

Things to Consider

Before setting up my stations and re-arranging the class, I always asked myself a few questions:

  • Were students all completing the same activity, but with varying levels of rigor?
  • Did I want several different activities happening at once? Would students rotate through stations and complete different tasks at each?
  • Did I need a station where I worked with small groups of students, or were all stations for students to work independently with my rotating support?

After answering those questions, I was ready to plan the lesson(s). Depending on the goal, there were a few ways to arrange the class:

Student Stations

Using this method, direct instruction was more beneficial because it was like teaching a class with a smaller student-teacher ratio, and we know how amazing that can be for teachers and students.

Another option was to eliminate the direct instruction, and place everyone in small groups with different activities like below.

Student Stations1

Students would get a certain amount of time at each station and rotate when the timer went off. Could I have just given students different assignments when the timer went off… yes, but it would not have been nearly as effective. Because students were allowed to get up and move, it helped them mentally prepare to do something different. There was a moment for socialization and interaction with people outside of their groups, and, for those students who may not have been interested in the current station, there was a possibility that they were moving to a station with something that interested them.

The last way I grouped students was by ability:

Student Stations 2

I know, I know. Hold your horses. This worked out VERY well. By giving students the same assignment with varying levels of rigor, I was able to challenge my advanced students (you know, the ones everyone seems to forget about), push my proficient students, and work closely with my approaching and struggling students. I even had a special lesson plan to help me plan the differentiation. You can download that lesson plan for free here.

With a rolling chair, I would move between the two back groups and support students through their activities. If I had done it correctly, when I gave a formative assessment, everyone would do better on the skill, regardless of original proficiency level.

The Moral of the Story

If you are not using student learning stations, I encourage you to give them a try. Then, come back and tell us how they went in the comments.

Happy Stationing!