Formative Assessments

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.

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.

Interactive, Paperless, Formative Assessments

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In a never-ending testing environment, formative assessments can be overwhelming. District-mandated assessments PLUS classroom assessments are a recipe for student shutdowns. But don’t fear, try any of these methods to spruce up your classroom formative assessments. Students love the games, and teachers can use the information to drive instruction.

  • Quizlet Live: Quizlet Live randomly places students in groups, assigns a mascot, and requires students to work together to answer questions.
  • Plickers: I recently showed this to teachers during a professional development and they were blown away. Afterwards, many teachers tried it immediately and the feedback was tremendously positive. Plickers stores information by student and uses technology to accept student answers. Each student is assigned a specific code card, so teachers can track students’ individual progress as well as the class. Plickers is great for accumulating data to drive instruction.
  • Kahoot!: I’ve seen this used a lot at the middle school level. Students can play using their Chromebooks or personal electronic devices. It’s like an interactive survey with instant results. It also ranks students, creating friendly competition.
  • Quizziz: Quizziz sends questions to the student’s device and allows them to answer at their own pace. The faster they answer, the more points they earn. There are also options to assign quizzes with a deadline, or quizzes can be done as a class.