Saturday, November 22, 2008


Anne Smith, English teacher extraordinaire from Arapaho High School in Colorado just presented with Karl Fisch and I must say I am blown away. Everything gets published to the web in her classroom. Everything, goes up--gets put out there. Students negotiate a professional learning environment together - 1 to 1 laptops where the sky is the limit and endless possibilities for showing what you know truly exist. And I think I am a transparent teacher? I can't wait to explore Learning and Laptops blog and to learn more from her about exploding the possibilities for my own students so that they too can change the world.

2 things I want to remember and do: This I Believe podcasts and live blogging in Socratic Circles... more later! Regie Routman's onstage now!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Reading Workshop

Some titles that have been pulling the kids in (middle school):
Wicked Lovely
anything by Gail Giles--she's a big hit this year
What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sones
Sweethearts by Zarr (?)
Lessons from a Dead Girl by Knowles
13 Reasons Why by Asher
Fact of Life #31 by Vega
anything by Sarah Dessen
A Boy at War by Mazer
The Brimstone Journals by Koertge

We're tracking our thinking--that's the big push with our reading right now--and it is amazing how kids will jump into an activity, any activity, if they can use post-it notes. We reviewed what they should be "paying attention for" while they're reading, and they went at it like experts. There wasn't a crazy flurry of post-its, but a serious thinking about their thinking. They are charting lots of interesting vocabulary, lots of questions, and lots of "It made me feel..." kinds of things. The students will use their recordings to write about their reading, and in a few weeks, they'll use the post-its to trigger their speaking during book groups.

What are they "paying attention for:"
-questions, either about why the author wrote something or about things that confuse them
-things they think will be important later (predictions)
-things that make them "feel"
-interesting uses of words and language
-places where meaning breaks down
-connections to other readings or to themselves

My favorite thing? We're reading for at least 25 minutes every day this week, and the kids are excited about it!!!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fifty is the New Zero

Collier County elementary school students will no longer receive zeroes, but fifties. The new policy requires teachers use 50% instead of 0% when scoring elementary students' work, even if the work was not completed.

I am a high school teacher and I have long believed that an F is an F is an F. I do not use zeroes when evaluating students. That's right--even if they turn nothing in, I put a 50% in the grade book.

Why do we have a 10 point range for letter grades A - D but a 59 point range for an F? Zeroes destroy an average and do not represent what a student knows and is able to do. Imagine you have a student who earned a perfect score on a test. Let's say the student earned 100 of 100 points possible, a 100%, but failed to turn in the next assignment (also worth 100 points) for whatever reason. If you calculate grades using the total points system as many high school teachers do, then that student would now have a 50% average. Does that number truly represent what that student knows and is able to do? Or are we grading a behavior?

When students in my classroom do not turn in work, I mark the grade book with a "DND" for did not do. The DND is a 50%. When I confer with Students and parents about a student's progress, I have yet to meet a parent for whom DND was not descriptive enough. If a student is determined to fail, a 50% won't change that, but for the struggling student working to achieve, the 50% is hope and a second chance.

What do you think? Leave us a comment to continue the conversation!

PS: Want to read more about it? Here are a couple of online sources. For professional books, you might check out Marzano's Transforming Classroom Grading or Wormeli's Fair Isn't Always Equal.

"Competitive Grading Sabotages Good Teaching" by John Krumboltz and Christine Yeh

"The Case Against Zero" by Douglas Reeves

Saturday, November 8, 2008

This Show Pre-Recorded

Reading teachers from two high schools gathered at Cypress Creek this Saturday morning for a day of working and thinking and learning. What a pleasure it was to be in such good company. I decided to try recording my workshop session on literature circles with Ustream. I was amazed to capture the entire 90 minute workshop and save it to my videos on Ustream. It's unedited raw video,but when I tweeted question about saving the file, etc., Kevin Jarrett from my Twitter network let me know that I could download the .flv file, convert it and then edit; I've done all but the edit so far (I love my personal learning network!). The camera position and sound are not fantastic, but I can see how a student who missed a lesson in class could get the gist from a video that captured the day's mini-lesson. I do that with screen casts quite often, but I've never used the web based video.

Below are the workshop handouts. Leave a comment or give me a tweet if something doesn't make sense or you want to extend the conversation.

Finding the Magic Peer to Peer

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Jumbli Recap

Ive been thinking about cell phones and zero tolerance policies for quite a while. Asking technology presenters/consultants/evangelists and others how you make this tool work in a zero tolerance culture. I remember David Warlick telling me that in 5 years it wouldn't matter--everyone would demand access to their personal, portable data. I don't have 5 years. I mean, maybe I do, but as a classroom teacher, I have 50 minutes. I have today, yesterday, tomorrow and next week. I want it to work now. Don't you?

I did play Jumbli with my morning students yesterday. We played for the last 15 minutes or so of class. They used 1 cell phone per team to text the words to the game. They were so engaged they jumped up out of their chairs to text words. I think the high score was somewhere in the 500s with one team texting 52 times (in about 15 minutes) compared to my lowly 27 texts messages sent. Jumbli sends each phone a text back saying how many points you score, so it was easy to review the words students sent in and calculate their points after the game.

During lunch I shared the story of the game with an administrator who said that such class use of cell phones makes it very difficult to enforce our "no cell phone" policies. I understand that, but... I've always held onto that "but" in the back of my mind. But can we use them for instructional purposes? But can we....? No, we can't. It's one thing to believe something, quite another to break ranks. We can't send teenagers mixed messages and still achieve consistency school wide.

This week I had two parents talked to me concerned about their teens texting at school to meet friends (or boyfriends or girlfriends) on campus during class. That's a problem. That's a safety issue. Can teaching students digital citizenship solve that safety issue? Does letting them use phones in class muddy the issue? Can building a cultural of responsibility solve it? What do you think?

I understand the administrator's position and the administrator understood mine. We talked about the instructional purpose of the phones in class and about other authentic and instructional uses of cell phones, even. We could see each other's sides, but not compromise. Policy is policy and safety is our number one concern. I get it. The administrator said to finish out the day but not to do it again.

I did not finish out the day letting students use their phones. I did show my afternoon classes the game and we used my phone to text in a few words but it wasn't the vocabulary building free for all of the morning classes, no one jumped out of there seat to find or text a word. Maybe one day we'll figure this one out. Maybe one day, like Warlick said, we'll change school policy. In the meantime, we won't be using cell phones in class. Also, I'm ordering Liz Kolb's new book (2 copies!).