The Great Thanksgiving Listen

Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching; it’s my personal fave because it celebrates reflection…and food, of course! At Thanksgiving, I’m reminded to reflect on the year that has passed and remember all of the things for which I am thankful. At this point in my life, most of those things have to do with the exceptional relationships I am fortunate enough to have. Yet, it can also a difficult holiday, particularly for some of our students who may be dealing with trauma in their lives. Still, we hope we can support all members of our school family and help them connect to someone of significance.


So, when I came across The Great Thanksgiving Listen (TGTL), it seemed there would be something for everyone. Sponsored by StoryCorps, “…this is a national education project that empowers…students to connect with an elder [neighbor, friend, loved one] over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and record an interview, [which can] be entered into the StoryCorps archive in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.”

Although TGTL officially targets high school students, I noticed in samples of interviews taken from the StoryCorps Podcast (after the inaugural TGTL of 2015), interviewers ages ranged as young as 13. Participants download the StoryCorps App for free on iTunes (iPhone) or Google Play (Android) and register as a user. They will use the app to record and potentially upload the interview.

A Teacher Toolkit outlining the project, its guidelines, Common Core aligned lesson plans (intended for grades 9-12) and more is available on the website. The toolkit also includes variations for students under 13 who may not be granted permission to use the app or for those who may not have access to a smartphone.

The whole process, downloading and getting comfortable with the app, choosing questions (a bank is available) and practicing interview skills can be done in or out of Screen Shot 2016-11-07 at 9.51.04 PM.pngclass (or a hybrid) in a matter of days, and the interview itself can range from 5-40 minutes. If it doesn’t happen for Thanksgiving, no biggie. Nothing says it has to. Interviews can occur any time. TGTL just happens to be a community effort.

All in all, the idea behind The Great Thanksgiving Listen is brilliant! We are ever the consumers of information, but we tend to think only experts in the field (whatever that is) have the right to contribute information. What a great opportunity to provide an authentic audience for students and to encourage their contributions to the vast internet bank of knowledge we all access on a regular basis.

Visual Thinking

I’m kind of a New York Times (NYT) junkie. A few years ago, we bought a subscription to the Sunday Times at home, which additionally provided us unlimited digital access. I signed up for news alerts and a few news digests, like “Education” and “Tests and Assessments,” so I’m sent short abstracts of articles that pertain to those categories.

It was in one of these digests, recently, that I encountered the headline: “40 Intriguing Photos to Make Students Think.” Not the catchiest of titles, but the photo accompanying it piqued my interest:screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-9-27-02-pmSo, I clicked. That’s where I was reminded of another great service The Times offers: The Learning Network. In essence, they deliver education resources like lesson plans, news quizzes and the like all based on NYT articles, photos, graphics and more. Better yet, you can access the Network’s many features without a digital subscription.

Back to what brought me to The Learning Network in the first place: the above picture. It’s part of a weekly feature called, “What’s Going On in This Picture?” Readers are asked three standard questions about a visual text:

  • What’s going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can you find?

Then, they are encouraged to acutely observe (a.k.a. closely read) the image, find evidence, and post and respond to comments of others online. Partners, Visual Thinking Strategies facilitate the online discussion Mondays between 9a – 2p Eastern Time (6a-11a Pacific). On Thursday afternoons, Learning Network writers reveal a caption and backstory below the photo on the site.  Check out this week’s photo below (week of October 17):


As for classroom applications, I immediately thought of a warm-up. Whether you participate live through the Learning Network or want to spark an in-class dialog, there are images that relate to nearly any subject are. Five minutes at the beginning of class is plenty to take in the photo and respond, turn to a partner and compare perceptions. Cogs are turning, awareness is heightened and students are engaged in analysis–great practice for getting into the day’s content. And, what a great way to build a community of inquiry, teacher included!

In 21st Century literacy, when we hear or say text, we need to be mindful of the myriad forms that word may conjure. Our students are consuming these many texts in record numbers, daily. Teaching the tools to become informed about what they consume doesn’t get more real.


Fascinating Data: One step closer to a thinking classroom


Are your students lacking motivation to begin a task?  Does their typical discussion involve headphones and iPhones?  Do they stop working at the first sign of trouble?

If so, read on…

As is often the case, I Googled one thing and found myself several links later reading  Peter Liljedahl’s research on thinking classrooms and was fascinated. His research included 300 teachers, the majority of whom taught 6th-12th grade, on the elements that supported or impeded a thinking classroom.

“A thinking classroom is a classroom that is not only conducive to thinking but also occasions thinking, a space that is inhabited by thinking individuals as well as individuals thinking collectively, learning together and constructing knowledge and understanding through activity and discussion. It is a space wherein the teacher not only fosters thinking but also expects it, both implicitly and explicitly.”   ~Peter Liljedahl, Associate Professor at Simon Fraser University, Canada

One of the elements Liljedahl found impactful was the student workspace.


And this is where it gets interesting.

Liljedahl  looked at five different workspaces.  He gave each group of 2-4 students only one pen to ensure group work, then gave students a task to solve.  The five workspaces included:

  • a wall-mounted whiteboard (vertical, non-permanent (i.e. easy to erase))
  • a whiteboard laying on top of their desks or table (horizontal, non-permanent)
  • a sheet of flip chart paper taped to the wall (vertical, permanent (i.e. can’t erase marks))
  • a sheet of flip chart paper laying on top of their desk or table (horizontal, permanent)
  • their own notebooks at their desks or table (horizontal, permanent).

Eight data points were collected to measure the effectiveness of each of the surfaces.

  1. Time to task
  2. Time to first mathematical notation
  3. Eagerness to start (A score of 0, 1, 2 or 3 was assigned with 0 assigned for no enthusiasm to begin and a 3 assigned if every member of the group were wanting to start.)
  4. Discussion (A score of 0, 1, 2 or 3 was assigned with 0 assigned for no discussion and a 3 assigned for discussion involving all members of the group.)
  5. Participation (A score of 0, 1, 2 or 3 was assigned with 0 assigned if no members of the group were active in working on the task and a 3 assigned if all members of the group were participating in the work.)
  6. Persistence (A score of 0, 1, 2 or 3 was assigned with 0 assigned if the group gave up immediately when a challenge was encountered and a 3 assigned if the group persisted through multiple challenges.)
  7. Non-linearity of work (A score of 0, 1, 2 or 3 was assigned with 0 assigned if the work was orderly and linear and a 3 assigned if the work was scattered.)
  8. Knowledge mobility (A score of 0, 1, 2 or 3 was assigned with 0 assigned if there was no interaction with another group and a 3 assigned if there were lots of interaction with another group or with many other groups.)

Here is the data:


Non-permanent surfaces outperformed permanent surfaces in almost every measure. Are students more willing to take risks when they are working on non-permanent surfaces?

Vertical surfaces outperformed horizontal surfaces in almost every measure.  The act of standing reduces the ability to hide.

Vertical whiteboards decrease the amount of time it takes students to get something on their surface;  from almost 2 1/2 minutes down to 20 seconds!  Eagerness increases when moving to a vertical whiteboard – a perfect 3!   And, Participation and Discussion jumped from less than 1 with a notebook to close to 3 with a vertical whiteboard.

How cool is that?!  This is impactful data!  

Get some white boards, people! Get them on the wall! Get them now!!  

And, let me know how I can help!


P.S. If you are in need of super cheap whiteboards, just laminate a piece of construction paper or tag board!

P.S.S. Find a concise summary of Liljedahl’s research of the 9 elements of a thinking classroom here.

Happy International Literacy Day!

Followers, first-timers and those in between, welcome back to school! It’s a new year full of new possibilities, including our hope to bring you interesting, informed literacy and math news, ideas, and musings here at Coaches Corner!

I really need to start writing my blog ideas down, so I don’t do what I did coming into school this week: panic! Once I talked myself off the ledge, an idea sparked, then smoldered, and finally caught flame: September 8th, International Literacy Day! In its honor, we’re sharing some of our favorite literacy sites and ideas from around the web.

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-1-07-32-pmFirst up is The International Literacy Association or ILA (formerly the International Reading Association), the lead sponsor of International Literacy Day, which focuses on global literacy needs with project ideas and a profile on a spotlight country. Additionally, they are a leading source for professional learning, publications, and of course literacy advocacy. These are the folks who co-produce ReadWriteThink with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), where teachers can find peer-reviewed lesson plans and literacy ideas galore.

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-1-06-00-pmTeachers College at Columbia University is home to the Reading & Writing Project. Lucy Caulkins, Mary Ehrenworth and other literacy giants anchor this site where teachers can download running record reading assessments, view videos of classroom laboratories and find a host of professional learning opportunities and publications. BTW, Lucy Caulkins is presenting in Portland next week!

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-12-55-52-pmLast Spring I got hooked on A Mighty Girl. It was one of those pop-up “we think you’d like” sites that showed up in my Facebook feed. A Mighty Girl celebrates all things mighty about girls and women. Since we’re talking about literacy, we’re linking you to A Mighty Girl Book Club and from there, you can explore. Like (as in the verb) their Facebook page, and you too, can be the recipient of mighty information like Today in Mighty Girl History.

02dias-blog480Here’s an updated article about young literacy superstar, Marley Dias, creator of #1000BlackGirlBooks. You probably remember her story: 11-year old Marley got tired of not seeing main characters that looked like her in any of the books being read at school. So, she went about collecting donations of 1000 books for young readers that feature black girls as the main character. As you might expect, she far exceeded her initial goal and partner GrassROOTS Community Foundation has cataloged books appealing to readers of all ages, races, cultures and more.

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-12-56-34-pmMy consistent favorite site for “all things bookish” is BookRiot! Its edgy posts are probably most appropriate for older teens (high school) and up. But, that doesn’t mean that the recommended books are inappropriate. Take Kelly Jensen, for example. She authors a recurring BookRiot newsletter called “What’s Up in YA” where I get information about a wide variety of Young Adult book news from “25 YA Paperbacks to Read This Fall” to “3 on a YA Theme: Conjoined Twins or Siblings You Never Leave;” there’s truly something for everyone. There are several other newsletters to choose from; sign up and they’ll faithfully fill your Inbox.

Locally, Literary Artsscreen-shot-2016-09-08-at-1-19-28-pm is a cornucopia of literacy bounty in the Portland-Metro area. They sponsor Portland Arts & Lectures, Writers In The Schools (WITS), and the recently revived Wordstock! Our schools in Gresham-Barlow have been recipients of professional Writers-in-Residence partnering with classroom teachers on instruction. In addition, I’ve personally been involved in their College Essay Mentoring Project where high school juniors have an opportunity to get face-to-face feedback on the development of their college essay from professional writers and community members. And, last but not least, don’t forget to check out Wordstock’s 2016 line-up of authors The one-day event is Saturday, November 5th.

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-1-07-57-pmOf course, we couldn’t end this piece without giving a shout-out to our local libraries! Multnomah County Library’s many branches have a wealth of resources to support your literacy needs in the classroom. School Corps is a great starting place to learn how the library can support your teaching and your students.

Obviously, these are just a few of the myriad sites out there that support literacy teaching and learning. Please share one or more of your faves in the Leave a Reply box below to help us grow our list of go-to’s. In the meantime, Happy International Literacy Day today and every day!

Summer’s Comin’!

It’s true, regular posts have gone out the window this year. We have a myriad of reasons: new curriculum resource adoptions, planning for NGSS implementation, facilitating learning walks and much more, but we’re not here to make excuses. As we ready ourselves for the end of the school year, we want to provide our annual list of Professional Learning opportunities, and new this year, some resources to consider over the Summer. Here goes:

English Language Arts:

At Lewis & Clark’s Graduate School of Education, Jennifer Burkhart offers Increasing the Rate of Progress for Struggling Readers for K-12 educators on July 25th. Register here.

Multnomah County Library is again offering their Educator Workshops. Gotta Read This! New Books to Connect With Your Curriculum is the Grade 6-12 offering and Novel-Ties for lit circle/book discussion groups is for Grades 4-8. Both workshops are offered online. Register by August 5th.

Teaching Writing in the Age of Common Core, August 15-17 and Argument Writing in the Age of Common Core, August 18-19 are the two offerings this summer by former GBSD Middle School Teacher and Literacy Coach, Lanny Ball. Register at Literacy Education Services; PSU Graduate Credits available as well.

Portland Reading Council offers their Summer Institute August 23rd. Two sessions are available: Writing and the Real World: Teaching the Source-Based Argument Essay for educators of students in Grades 6-12 presented by John Golden and Inspired to Write: Helping Students Write with Purpose, Elaborate on Ideas, and Use Powerful Language presented by Megan Sloan. Register at their website here.


Also through Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education, explore two courses, June 21-22, Physical Sciences Essentials for the Middle School Teacher  (register here) and/or Earth and Space Science Essentials for the Middle School Teacher, July 5 & July 7 (register here). Both courses are taught by Joe Minato, former Portland Jewish Academy MS Science Teacher and current Physics Teacher at Lincoln HS in Portland.

NGSS for Middle School Science Teachers                                                                                      Dates & Times: August 9th – 12th, 8:00 am – 3:00 pm
Location: Raleigh Hills K-8 – 5225 SW Scholls Ferry Road Portland, OR 97225
Grade Level: Middle School
Cost: $200
PSU Graduate Credit: Available

Biology for the Next Generation

Dates & Times: August 8 – 12, 2016, 8:30 am – 3:30 pm. Location: Southridge High School, Beaverton, OR.                                                                                                                                         Grade Level: High School

Chemistry for the Next Generation                                                                                                    Dates and Times: August 15 – 19, 2016, 8:30 am – 3:30 pm.                                         Location: Southridge High School, Beaverton, OR.                                                               Grade Level: High School.

Physics for the Next Generation  Two sessions available!

Dates and Times: Session 1: July 11 – 15, 2016, 8:30 am – 3:30 pm. Session 2: August 1 – 5, 2016, 8:30 am – 3:30 pm.                                                                                                                             Location: Southridge High School, Beaverton, OR.


Social Sciences:

The Gilder Lehrman Institute offers both online and Self-paced courses over the summer. Online courses are live and meet on scheduled dates. For self-paced courses, you purchase and watch/attend as it fits your own schedule.


Oregon Math Leaders (OML) Conference: Engaging Students Through STEM      Who: You and between 100-200 other Oregon Math Educators
When: August 5-7, 2016 (Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon)
Where:  Willamette University in Salem
Why:  Because you want to improve the math education in your classroom, your school your district, or across the state.  This gathering of teachers will be a prime time to continue to learn how to effectively teach mathematics for deeper conceptual understanding.

Registration is now open for this summer’s courses designed for elementary teachers and teacher leaders. They are called Reasoning Algebraically about Operations (June 22-26) and Measuring Space in One, Two and Three Dimensions (August 10-14)These courses are based on the Developing Mathematical Ideas, case-based professional development curriculum. The specific course descriptions, timing for the weeklong courses, and location are found herePlease note that these courses will not be held at PSU this summer, they will be held at a local school.


Katrina Ayers, whose name you may recognize from her contributions to “Your Monday Morning Sanity Boost” (PBIS tips) is facilitating a one-day workshop here in Portland on June 24th. Register for Classroom Strategies that Work! here.

The OEA has several links to Professional Development opportunities through its Center for Great Public Schools, the NEA, as well as offerings at Portland State University and Lewis & Clark College.

TINT or The Innovative NW Teacher offers several options for summer learning. In-person and online classes are available for both PDUs and/or graduate credit through Portland State University. Course titles include iPads In The Classroom, Culturally Responsive Teaching, Boys & Books: Strategies to Engage Male Readers and The Fully Engaged Classroom, to name a few. See the full list of classes and register at their website.

Superquest Summer Workshops are a highly collaborative technology training series designed specifically for K-12 teachers by K-12 and Community College teachers. The goal is to empower educators with the skills and classroom tools to build hands-on technology learning directly into their classrooms or afterschool activities. Workshops begin in June. Check out their website.

Resources: Beth has become a big fan of Book Riot, an edgy blog all about books and reading. Their newsletter which pops into my Inbox regularly–more regularly than I have time to read. When I do take the time, something always piques my interest. The following resources come from the “What’s Up in YA” newsletter, all about Young Adult lit:

We’re the People Summer Reading List – There are actually two summer reading lists; the 2015 list can be found here. These lists champion diversity in books. The contributors proudly claim their focus to be books “…written or illustrated by Native Americans or writers/illustrators of color that have withstood a critical review.”

1000 Black Girl Books Resource Guide – You may have seen 11-year-old Marley Dias interviewed on the talk show circuit. She’s the creator of the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign to find and share books with black female main characters (about 700 unique titles), and you can filter by broad reading level.

A Mighty Girl – Because we are two, and there are many more! Wish we had found this site earlier! The general site champions itself as “The world’s largest collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls.” Follow them on Facebook where they post all kinds of lists (like “Mighty Girl Graphic Novels for Young Readers” or “Books about Mighty Girls who Love to Dance”); also enjoy their “Pick of the Day” posts and “This Day in Mighty Girl History” posts. They also have a newsletter and blog you can sign up for and follow.

SYNC Audiobooks for Teens – This is year six that the folks at AudioFile have released their SYNC picks for Summer 2016. These are FREE downloads of, you guessed it, audiobooks for teens! The downloads come in pairs. There are 15 weeks of titles, which is 30 books! The only catch is each pair is offered free to download for a week. If you get them in the week (Thursday to Thursday), they are yours to keep and listen to as much as you want! Download offerings began May 5th and continue through early September.

Last but certainly not least, the 2013-14 Civil Rights Data Collection First Look was released on June 7th. It is a survey of all public and charter schools in the U.S. which examines factors that impact education equity and opportunity for students. It’s a BIG deal! This is the report that identified the alarming gap in discipline referrals between students of color and white students when the previous report was released in 2012. Two articles: Five eye-opening figures from the U.S. Education Department’s latest civil rights data dump in the Washington Post and The Civil Rights Problem in U.S. Schools: 10 New Numbers on Oregon Public Broadcasting provide some sobering stats.

Our plan is to be back at it in September and renew our commitment to an informative blog-post a week. In the meantime, if you have other professional learning opportunities or resources to share for summer perusing, please leave a comment. Enjoy!

Two trains are heading in the opposite direction…: Teaching problem-solving

I’ve always hated the train problem; you know, the one in the title?  I’m not sure why; I think because I would typically read through it once and become defeated since I couldn’t immediately come up with an equation I could apply. Therefore, it must be hard.  My experience has been that most students feel this way about problem-solving.  The STEMtistic below says it all.


Our education standards for mathematics expect that students are engaged in problem-solving.  The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Principals and Standards for School Mathematics has verified that problem-solving is an integral part of learning.  OK, then how do we rewire students’ brains so that they don’t fear math problems?  How do we help students access the math?

To start, we need to teach our students how to read like a mathematician. 

We need to teach our students how to bring the linguistic and math clues to the surface.

We need to engage students in understanding the problem before they try to solve it – or worse, freeze and dismiss it all together.

Close reading is eduspeak for reading deeply for a purpose. It is more than just skimming. In the literacy world, close reading includes three phases:

  1. Reading for Key ideas
  2. Rereading for craft and structure
  3. Rereading to integrate knowledge and ideas.

I’ve been to several trainings on how to close read science and social studies texts and articles, but I have never been trained on close reading in math; I didn’t think it even applied.

Then came those 5th grade classroom teachers I was privileged to visit last month. During one of those visits, I saw close reading . . .  in math!

The close reading strategy was called the 3 Reads Protocol. In this protocol, students read the problem three times, each with a particular focus. While the strategy was used in a 5th grade classroom, it can be used just as effectively at the middle school and high school levels.

Below was the problem given to the 5th graders:

On the first read, the problem was read chorally (as a class) then covered up and students were asked, “What is the problem about?” Students talked to their study partners about what they remembered of the situation – not the math, just the context. Students answered that the boy in the problem was doing some of his homework before dinner and some after.

Next, students read the problem aloud a second time with their partner and were asked to determine the key quantities and key words from the problem.  After 2 minutes of partner time, the teacher listed the quantities and words on the board.  The students answered with the obvious fractions, then included a smattering of words such as completedbefore, after, remaining, dessert, and the rest. Students were asked why these words were important and how the quantities were related.

The third read,  again with a partner, focused students on the question, What is the problem asking us to find out?  After determining this, students were asked to draw a diagram that included the quantities and their relationship. Some students started with a tape diagram, others with an area model.

Only after these three readings and active thinking did students begin to actually solve the problem in partners. There was a lot of math discourse happening around the room that continued for a good 15-20 minutes.  During this time, the teacher walked around the class, listened in, asked questions about student thinking, and noted which students she would call on during the whole class discussion.

Students were then brought together as a class.  The teacher asked specific partners to share the models they had drawn.  As each model was shown, the teacher asked questions of the class such as:

  • How does _________’s diagram show 3/7?
  • Where is ¼ in ________’s diagram?
  • How are ¼ and 3/7 related in this diagram?

She made sure to ask students who had made models that had taken a divergent path to explain their thinking and asked the same questions she had asked the students with the correct models. Once the teacher went back to the class list of key words, the class came to an agreement about which model (s) made the most sense and the answer that was correct.


After whole group discussion

We want kids to learn how to solve problems on their own. We need to give them strategies to do it!   Like any skill we want to master, teaching kids how to read closely in math will take time, practice, and coaching – especially if we want to change attitudes about word problems in general.

So, try the 3-reads protocol in your math class! Like most new strategies, it is not likely to go super smooth the first time. Don’t give up! Try it again and get your students out of the bathroom and cleaning up in math instead!

BTW:  I solved the train problem…eventually!

Train Problem - SOLVED!




Building Literacy in Native Language Texts

Over the summer, I looked for Spanish language articles for my 7th grade daughter who attends a Spanish Immersion program in PPS, and I was bummed that my options were limited. I did find TweenTribune, which I’d known about in English. The good news, there were some articles appropriate for Sophie. The not so good news: the offerings were slim; there was no option to change the Lexile Level to meet learners’ needs; teachers couldn’t “assign” the Spanish articles to students as they could articles in English (with a free account); and there was no quiz option. Still, I could read in English what I asked Soph to read in Spanish, and design my own questions for her to respond to.

Recently, I asked Maranda Turner, our district’s Sheltered Instruction Coach, about the benefits of providing some options for students to read text and respond in their native language, and she pointed me to some research: “Research over the last three decades on second language acquisition, brain development, effective programs, and ‘best practices’ in teaching English learners (Olsen, 2006; Rivera & Collum, 2006) has shown that when teachers foster the development of children’s home language in the classroom, ELLs learn English faster and perform better in school long term (Escobar, 2013).

In immersion, Sophie spends part of her day reading and writing in Spanish and more of her day doing the same in English. Why would we not provide similar opportunities for English Language Learners in our mainstream English Language Arts classrooms? There are definitely myths that abound about English language acquisition, but to set the record straight, consider this: As [researcher Laurie] Olsen explains, “Literacy skills are not language specific; they can be learned in one language and transferred to another language, drawing upon a common cognitive base” (Escobar, 2013). In essence, strengthening native language skills strengthens English language skills.

Then, something amazing happened! Just the other day, I subscribed to a service called SmartBrief on EdTech, and wouldn’t you know it, the very first issue I scanned included this linked headline: Newsela offers news articles in Spanish. WHAT?! I clicked, and voila! I was transported to a page that looked like the squares from the Brady Bunch introduction, except, where Alice should be, there was a Kids category story about parents and students rethinking homework.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 8.12.57 AM

Brady Bunch Squares and Newsela Grid

I know several of you already use Newsela to find informative articles to supplement your curriculum. It doesn’t appear as though every article is translated yet, but there are several. Just like Newsela articles published in English, you can choose from four or five Lexile Levels in Spanish, and the service provides you Word Count and Grade Level match as well. Quizzes are also available in Spanish.

I’ve included a screenshot below to demonstrate how to find the Spanish language articles on Newsela. Hover over “Articles” in the task bar across the top, scroll down and click on Spanish, toward the bottom of the bar. The articles are color coded and categorized, but you don’t have the option to search by Spanish categories as you do in English.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 8.34.05 AM

Scroll to Spanish in the Articles tool bar

Finally, Venisha Bahr, our K-8 District Library Coordinator, just sent me a link to a recent edition of the School Library Journal (SLJ, November 17). Specifically, she sent me to this post, Translations of Popular Teen Titles. Listing more than 20 books (with ordering information, teaser, and link to review), including personal fave Eleanor y Park, these titles are most appropriate for 7th grade and Up.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 9.04.52 AM

Teach middle school, never fear! At the bottom of that post, there’s a link to some Spanish language middle grades novels, too! Further resources for classroom connections to Spanish Language resources can be found in Libro por Libro, a monthly-ish column in SLJ.

I wish I had such language resources to share in Arabic, Russian, Vietnamese, and more of the reportedly 50+ languages spoken in our district. Given the ever decreasing size of our home planet thanks to technological innovations, perhaps they are coming. If you’re aware of other second language resources, please leave a reply, so others may learn from you!


Plickers: An Engaging Formative Assessment Tool

I was at a Digital Technology workshop earlier in the week, and I was pleased to hear the presenter talk about technology as a vehicle through which to engage students and support learning, not as a learning outcome itself. In fact, a mantra we heard frequently throughout the morning really hit home for me: It’s not about tech; it’s about learning.”

It's not about the tech; it's about the learning.

It’s not about the tech; it’s about the learning.

I can’t remember the first time I was introduced to Plickers, but I do remember the first time I actively used it; that was just a few weeks ago, as we were introducing Professional Learning Teams to three of our middle school staffs that would be collaborating across school sites. Plickers is a formative assessment tech tool. Using Plickers to pose questions and record live responses would both engage our “students” and support their learning, just what we’d hope could be replicated by teachers in their own classes. The tech tool simply enhanced what we might have done with paper and pencil. But, the more opportunities we have to purposefully and effectively integrate technology for students, the more opportunities we have for buy-in from various stakeholders.

This tool is free, easy to prep, and effective. It can be used in any content area to “take the temperature” of a class on their understanding of a concept, their perception of a theory, or their progress on a task, for example. It has its limits; you can’t ask a constructed response question with it and have a means for quick feedback, but it has a place in the assessment toolbox.

Click on the video below to get a feel for what Plickers is and how it works, then try it for yourself! After you do, drop us a note in the “Leave a Reply” box below this post, so we can all benefit from your pilot!

Warming-up: Just do it

As I age, I’ve noticed that warming up before exercise is becoming more and more important. Walking a couple of blocks before I start jogging really does help me get my body and mind ready for the task ahead and avoid injury. When I think about applying the metaphor to school, it makes sense: I may not get “injured” in the academic aerobics in which I participate, but it’s certainly helpful to take a bit of time to reset and remember, before engaging in new learning. Thus, whether anticipating physical or mental exercise, I am a proponent of warm-ups.  Like preparing myself for a run, I find them to be a way of refocusing my students’ minds on math during the first five minutes of the period.  The key word in that sentence is “five.”  Unless I set a timer for myself, that five minutes can easily turn into 10 or 12. Like when I run, if I don’t push a little harder, my progress is going to be slow.

Forty-five minute class periods do not allow teachers to be as effective as we would like to be with our students.  When trying to figure out how to structure that precious time, we have to think hard about what which pieces have the greatest impact on student learning.  One piece that is often under fire is the daily warm-up; I’m here to remind you: it’s worthy!

...but warm-ups are!

…but warm-ups are!

Beyond using warm-ups to review the concepts of the previous day and/or to preview the day’s upcoming lesson, Jessica Bogie a high school level Geometry and 6th grade math teacher (and blogger – Algebrainiac),  proposes that warm-ups are good for conversation about math ideas – a worthy idea! Jessica hosted an episode on  Global Math called Warm-ups = What Are They Good For? .    She suggests a two-week rotating schedule of warm-ups:

Two-week warm-up rotation idea.

Two-week warm-up rotation idea.

I’ve blogged before about my love for Estimation 180 here and here  and Would you Rather here, so I was happy to see both in her 10-day rotating schedule.  I love the Visual Patterns site and Math Mistakes well and will likely blog about them in the future.

With much buzz about Carol Dweck’s Mindset theory applying in education, having a Mindset Moment Monday every month is  a great way to continue the conversation all year.  Check out the list of short videos that Marisa from the blog, La Vie Mathématique, posted on the topic.

Another warm-ups resource Jessica mentions, is Lisa Bejarano’s Filing Cabinet of Warm-ups on the Crazy Math Teacher Lady blog.  Lisa teaches Geometry and blogs about the lessons she teaches. This list repeats some sources I’ve listed but offers new ones as well.

So, praise be to warm-ups; just as physical ones get our bodies ready for the exertion of exercise, these mental ones get our minds ready for the hard work of learning!

Professional Learning Opportunities

Greetings and Happy Fall! We attended a great 1/2-day session with Penny Plavala, MESD Literacy Specialist last week on Designing High Quality Professional Development. One of the things that resounded with me, the gist of which was the term professional development has garnered a somewhat negative connotation. The word “develop” suggests that negativity, as if someone needs to be developed. It might just be semantics, but Professional Learning has a much more positive connotation–we’re all in this together, collaborating and deepening our collective knowledge and understanding. Fall is a great time for Professional Learning opportunities, and without further adieu, here’s a short list of those coming our way:


This Friday, October 9th is the State Inservice Day, and ODE has several listings on their website. These range from Digital Filmmaking for K-12 Teachers to OMSI’s Teacher Pub Offering: a presentation by Astronaut Don Pettit.

In addition on Friday, Octorber 9, the IOC October 2015: “Inquiry Outside the Cube Conference” will be happening at La Grande Middle School. Sessions will be offered by grade band as well as general interest.  Topics will be best practices, STEM, CCSS, SBAC and more.

The following weekend, October 16-18, the OSTA: 55th Annual Fall Conference on Science Education at Central Oregon Community College. Strands for STEM, NGSS, Technology integration and more are on tap!

Looking for an affordable International Adventure? The 54th Annual Northwest Math Conference: Scaling New Heights takes shape in Whistler, BC., Canada October 22-24.

Friday, November 6th is the date for Oregon Reading Association’s Fall Institute with heavy literacy hitter, Carol Jago presenting on the topic of classroom rigor in Middle and High School.

Talk about real professional learning, Saturday, November 7th is the date of Wordstock’s relaunch through Literary Arts. Centralized at the Portland Art Museum this year, Wordstock is billed as the biggest 1-day book festival in the city.

I know it’s still a ways away, but for those of you with a penchant for or curious interest in storytelling, The Moth, that iconic storytelling venue of stage and radio is offering MothShop, a storytelling workshop for Teachers December 15-18. This unique opportunity is limited to just 12 participants. At last check (today), six spots remain.


In addition to live and in person professional learning opportunities, there are a wealth of online Webinar (archived and live) and video options for teachers to peruse on your own time. Here are a few that offer freebies we’ve found useful:

ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) – A wide variety of topics from Brain Research to Designing Lessons for Deepening Understanding.

Big Marker: Global Math Department Conferences Every Tuesday at 6:00pm: These are hour-long participatory conferences are hosted by teacher leaders. Goal: math teachers who share what we’ve learned, cause we don’t want our classes to suck the energy from students! – upcoming topics include: Integrating Primary Documents into Teaching & Learning (10/7), Literacy in Social Studies and Science for ELLs (10/26), and Giving Effective Feedback (10/28).

Education Week – Both live and archived, these webinars cross the gamut of topics and levels.

Illustrative Mathematics – Task Talks are virtual conversations for teachers and teacher leaders around a specific task. They convene weekly, Tuesday evenings at 5pm.

Nix the Tricks – Free ebook filled with alternatives to the shortcuts so prevalent in mathematics education and explains exactly why the tricks are so bad for understanding math.

PBSLearning – Bring PBS into your classroom with the myriad resources PBS offers.

Whatever your choice, live or living room, large group or individual, taking time for our own professional learning translates positively in the classroom.