Wednesday, January 11, 2017


Carrie, over at, is hosting #MustReadin2017. I've made book lists before, but it's always been of what I have read, after I've read it. I've used Smash books to collect a picture of the book cover, snippets of the text, and my reaction to the book/ how I'd use the book in class. This is a different idea, however. This is predicting the books that I WILL read in 2017. Oh, believe me, I have a TBR list that is seemingly never ending!

So determining what I'd like to read is not an's dedicating only a few titles of what I will actually read this year that's the problem. Now I know that I could read more than what I put on this #MustReadin2017 list, but I want to set a reasonable goal and I want to read lots of books too!

I sat down and took a hard look at my TBR list and made some hard decisions. And here are my #MustReadin2017 choices...

I've already finished Snow White by Matt Phelan (a fantastically illustrated graphic novel that is not what you are expecting, but is also what you are expecting) and am halfway through The Best Man by Richard Peck. I'm hoping to be an overachiever with my reading this year. What are your #MustReadin2017 choices?

Thursday, September 8, 2016


Our middle school math teachers are trying something different this year. They are truly using data from pretests (based on mathematical standards and practices) to flexibly group their students and to provide depth and breadth to the curriculum for those who 'test out'. This is a great way to differentiate instruction for those who show mastery, providing structure to stretch their thinking.

Teachers created the pretests using Google Forms, which allows students to take them on-line and which allows the teachers to see immediate data.Within moments, the teachers can group students in accordance to readiness. Those students will then be working on applying their knowledge of the concepts, stretching their thinking through challenge, while the rest of the class can work with the teacher to gain mastery over the standards that are being covered.

What's great about this, is that the students aren't permanently a part of either group. For instance, for the next unit, a student might show readiness of that topic but hadn't for the previous unit. They can now be challenged, instead of going over what they already know. Students in the enrichment group work on applications at their own pace, saving any questions to the 'parking lot' in the back of the room. The teacher, or even the instructional coach (me), can check in with the group at various times to answer questions from the 'parking lot' and ask guiding questions about the students' work.

Students working on the enrichment portion of the unit are enjoying the challenges, knowing that they are performing purposeful tasks. Students working on mastering the unit concepts are enjoying the smaller group instruction and the opportunity to 'test out' of future units. Teachers are enjoying the flexibility in meeting the needs of the various learners in their classrooms. It's a win-win-win situation!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Wild Card Wednesday - Weeds

According to Penn State's Extension Office, a weed is: "a plant out of place and not intentionally sown; a plant growing where it is not wanted; a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered".

We have weeded many books from the WMS library in the past month. I can easily relate the three definitions above to the books that we disposed of. Many of these books were out of place, meaning their story lines or focus had become irrelevant over time. Students weren't wanting to read a book published in 1986 about a girl who wanted new roller skates and a boom box for her birthday, nor were they excited about a 1972 edition on the American Cowboy. They were 'growing' or taking up space where they weren't wanted. Most of the weeded books had not been checked out even once in the last five years. Some of the books might meet that last definition and had virtues that no one here had discovered. If that was the case, maybe our idea of selling them would allow someone to discover a gem of a book.

We decided to hold a book sale for our students, selling these weeded books for $0.25 each or 6/ $1.00. Students were excited for this! Some even purchased boxes full of books and had to take them home over the course of several days. Some hauled 3 bags while riding their bikes home. We ended up making $104.00, but really made some students happy campers with a "home library" that they've always wanted. In this case, the weeds were a good thing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A.S.P.I.R.E. to create with LEGOs

A new enrichment program has started at Wapakoneta Middle School. A.S.P.I.R.E. is our After School Program to Inspire, Reinforce, and Enrich. Our principal, Will Snyder, proposed such a program last fall, but wanted to form a committee and to take a good hard look at what it should be, how it should work, and how it would be presented to our students. I like that it wasn't something that was started, then faded away when things weren't planned as they should be. I like that he wanted teachers to be a part of the planning and encouraged them to share their talents and experiences as leaders of a cycle of the enrichment program.

About ten teachers have met with Mr. Snyder a few times to share ideas and to plan a four-week cycle for April. The first cycle is based on the LEGO Chain Reactions kit by Klutz. One of our 5th grade Science teachers is the guide (another 5th grade teacher and I assist each week) for the 26 students who have signed up to create chain reaction LEGO machines every Tuesday and Thursday from 3:00-4:00 in the WMS MakerSpace.

The 22 boys and 4 girls enjoy working at their own pace, with a partner, to create a variety of machines using assorted LEGOs and other products from the kit. Some follow the kit's directions, while others like to work through using critical and creative thinking skills. Each session usually starts with a LEGO challenge, like giving each student a handful of LEGOs and challenging them to construct the tallest free-standing structure or creating a statue that represents our town. We have also used and challenged the students to create using this online program for our Chromebooks. It's just amazing to see all of the unique creations and to watch students access this program and work through it so quickly!

The collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking skills being used during this program enriches all of the students involved. Students partner up to create the chain reaction 'machines' and test them out. They use problem-solving skills when they are required to use additional LEGOs (other than those from the kit) and there aren't enough of a certain LEGO (such as a 2 x 3 brick or a 1 x 8 plate). They figure out what other pieces they can use instead. Or they determine that they need a longer piece of string for one reaction, while they shorten it for another. Team work is the key and they enjoy working together for a common goal.

The kits we are using for this enrichment cycle can be re-used, so we will be able to offer this cycle again next school year for those who didn't have the opportunity (or were busy with track, baseball/ softball, or showchoir) to give it a try this month. The committee met recently and another enrichment cycle is planned for the first few weeks of May. Photography is the next topic and another teacher will be the guide. Students are excited to be a part of these opportunities at Wapakoneta Middle School and we are excited to offer them.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Book Clubs...with a twist

Each year our school libraries shut down for the last 3 weeks of school so that they can inventory their collections. This sends many teachers into a tail-spin, wondering what they will use to "occupy" students during those final days. (This is a great reason to have an amazing classroom library...reading, conferring, and writing about wonderful literature and informational texts that you have so lovingly collected should be of high priority at any time of the year.)

(I will be assuming some of our head librarian's duties next school year and anticipate a change in the "end-of-school-shutdown".) Our 5th grade team decided to offer up 3 different "book clubs", allowing students to vote on their top 2 books from the choices provided, and mixing up all the 5th grade ELA classes for some variety. One teacher is the facilitator for The Giver; one is leading The House on the Gulf group; one is guiding students through Number the Stars. These book clubs will take them up until the time the library closes. Then what?!?

One of the teachers had been inquiring about other books to run another club AFTER these groups had run their course. In the district, I found 3 selections that would work (we actually have enough copies and they haven't been used in quite some time) and set out to create something different for their responses to these literary selections. The teacher is going to use The Trumpet of the Swan, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and Mr. Popper's Penguins (click on each title to download what I created.)

The students will be cutting out each piece and gluing them onto a file folder...lapbook style. This is a great way for them to keep their responses close at hand for discussions with book club members. (For this you might check out "Heads Together, Butts Up" from the Teaching Channel. This is a fun way to get discussion going!)

The end of the school year is a great time to continue the push towards creating lifelong readers...any time is a great time to read!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Assessment isn't a four-letter word...

As we are in the throes of standardized testing, I feel the need to remind my fellow educators that the tests you are actively monitoring are not "real" assessments. Assessments are to document understanding of skills and knowledge and are to be used to drive our instruction, not to cause educational anxiety (of both students and their teachers!).

Starr Sackstein, whom I follow on Twitter (@mssackstein) and have joined in the Facebook group, Teachers Throwing Out Grades, shared this article from Edutopia. This article brings us, as educators, back to the realization that true formative assessment is transformational in our classrooms. 

Check out the article here, friends, and stop taking assessment's name in vain!

Fifteen Shades of Grades

Yesterday I presented an afterschool professional development session based on using the 15 fixes for broken grades ala Ken O'Connor. As a relatively new SBG convert, I am interested in developing conversations about new grading practices and the positive effects of standards-based grading.

A few years ago, my district sponsored a day-long PD session with Tammy Heflebower from Marzano Research Labs. Up until that point, I was grading as I had been grading for 20+ years (and had been graded all my life). Tammy revealed a "new" practice of utilizing a 4 point scale to assess the standards that I was teaching. She spoke of how students had multiple chances (and ways) in which to show that they had an understanding of the standards. It was an "aha moment" for me!

While I took baby steps in approaching SBG practices in my classroom, I want to support teachers in their endeavors in assessing students using best practice methods. Through these professional development sessions, I hope to give teachers something to chew on...something to strive for...inspiration to continue instilling a love of learning in our students.

Here is the presentation I used. How do you grade student work/ assess the standards? I'd love to hear from you!

If you are interested in learning more about changing grading practices, you should join the Teachers Throwing Out Grades public group on Facebook and/or join the #TTOG chats on Twitter, Mondays at 7 CT.