Tag Archives: Resources

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.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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!


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!

edWeb.net – 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.

Graphing Math Stories – Video Style

I think it is fair to assume that analyzing the relationship between variables on a graph is an important math skill.  Making sense of the enormous amount of data coming at us and needing to make a decision based on the data necessitates a way to organize and understand it.   Graphing helps with that need.

The Common Core standards support this. Analyzing the relationship between variables on a graph is included in a priority standard in every math course (Geometry excluded) from 6th grade to high school.

  • Sixth graders are asked to Analyze the relationship between the dependent and independent variables using graphs and tables….
  • Seventh graders must Explain what a point on the graph…means in terms of the situation….
  • Eighth graders must Describe…the relationship between two quantities by analyzing a graph….
  • Algebra 1 students must Relate the domain of a function to its graph and to the quantitative relationship it describes….
  • Algebra 2 students continue their work with linear and quadratic functions, and begin their work with exponential and piecewise functions.  They are asked to Construct and compare linear, quadratic, and exponential models….

Engaging students in the process of analyzing the relationships between variables through the use of stories via video is a way to get even the least motivated student interested.  Many such videos already exist and are available as a free resource.

An early set of videos were created by Dan Meyer and are found in a 2007 blog post.  In the post, Meyer shares ten videos he created to introduce a linear unit to his Algebra 1 class.  The scaffolded videos are engaging, and allow entry into the skill. Below is an example taken from this set.

The second set of videos were created when Meyer teamed with the BuzzMath Website and created “Graphing Stories: Fifteen seconds at a time.” These videos have been created in the same format that Meyer used in his original videos, however they were crafted by an assortment of people.  Each video is tagged with the type of relationship being highlighted: linear, piecewise, parabolic, increasing, or decreasing. Graphing Stories: Fifteen seconds at a time is good for all levels as the purpose is to help students conceptualize the relationships between the variables.

Other teachers, inspired by Dan Meyers, created their own videos and shared them on You Tube.  They include: Figaro, Biking, Dunk Tank, The Slide, Hill, and Canoe Distance.  A couple of folks even made videos to graph systems of equations.  Take a look at Man and Girl and Running.

As we’ve observed by attending data team meetings this fall, all staffs are emphasizing common instructional strategies.  Peppering your lessons with sporadic video clips or providing them for homework support is a means to deliver non-linguistic representation two-fold, through the activity of graphing and video.  In the end, you’re targeting a priority standard with a high-yield instructional strategy.  In the immortal words of Matthew McConaughey in his Academy Award acceptance speech: “Alright, Alright, Alright!”


Two Tools: Screencasts & Rewordify

I came home Thursday all jazzed from the day, and my husband asked what was up (as if I don’t always come home jazzed from the day). “I just created my first Screencast about this online tool called Rewordify!” I answered enthusiastically. Reminiscent of Jimmy Fallon’s tween character, Sara (with no “h” cuz h’s are Ew!), he replied, “Screencast? Never heard of it,” or something like that. (Aside: I fully suggest you check out Jimmy Fallon’s skit, EW! on your own). So, you won’t be in the same bind as my husband, keep reading!

About Screencasting: A BIG shout-out to Venisha Bahr, our new District K-8 Media Specialist, who introduced Screencasting to me through one she created to teach me how to share my CCSS Literacy Symbaloo. Upon further inquiry, she showed me how use the tool, and created “How To” Screencast (see below) for you! Fortunately, we teachers each have access to QuickTime on our new Apple MacBook Air which allows us to make and share simple Screencasts. There are several other apps out there, both free and not, like Jing and Camtasia, but they would require you to submit a Tech Ticket or to contact Tech Support to have them downloaded onto your laptop.

So, why Screencast? Probably the main use of Screencasting is for tutorials. As I was reminded while planning a recent professional development presentation, it’s good to deliver material to our students in multiple formats (linguistic and non-linguistic). Screencasts are short (around 3 min) instructional clips that teach us how to do something on the computer…so if you’re trying to show the class how to access something on Google Drive or how to use library resources or how to use an online tool, you can Screencast it!

I’ve also been researching how Screencasting can be a powerful tool for feedback (remember that high-yield instructional strategy I blogged about a couple weeks ago?). You could try having students submit an assignment electronically and then Screencast your response. You can highlight specific parts for audio/visual feedback. I know what you’re thinking: how will my students ever be able to access that feedback when our computer labs are lacking accessibility, and they don’t all have access at home? I wish I had a good and consistent answer for you, but creative solutions must be available. Tap me to help if you’re interested in exploring this line of Screencasting. I’m a big believer that two heads (especially with open minds) are better than one!

On Rewordify: Way back at the beginning of this post, I mentioned I tried my own Screencast about a tool I learned about called Rewordify. Basically, Rewordify is a web tool whose main feature allows you to enter text manually or through the copy/paste function, then click a button, thereby simplifying the text by providing synonyms for difficult/unfamiliar words. It doesn’t fully change the Lexile of a piece of text because sometimes simplifying means adding more words to explain a complex meaning. Check out my “How To Rewordify” Screencast below:

Rewordify could be a great tool to use to differentiate instruction for individual students or small groups. Sometimes the tool provides more than one option for simplifying, so I’d recommend skimming the changed text before handing it off to students. Still, it’s a time saver and provides a FREE service that may allow you to reach more of your students.

New SBA Practice Assessments

We got news last week that Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) would be updating their Resources Page and Practice Tests over the weekend, so I found myself eagerly anticipating Monday, just so I could be among the first to check them out! Maybe I should get out more. Regardless, there are some interesting changes afoot. This week’s post focuses on updates and changes to the ELA assessments in grades 6-8 and 11. Updates have also been made to the Math Computer Adapted portion of the SBA, and a synopsis of those changes will be the topic of next week’s post.

If you follow this link to the SBAC Resources page, you’ll see generally the same lay-out as in the past, but several of the titles have NEW! next to them, indicating something has been updated. First, each of the Performance Tasks now has an Item Specification table located just above each question:ItemSpec

The teacher is told not only which item and grade level, but she is provided the SBA Claim (4 is Research), the Assessment Target, Depth of Knowledge (level 4 requires the most complex thinking), the Item Standard (CCSS Writing Standard 8), and the specific Evidence Statement, which is written out in full.

In addition to the item specs, each Constructed Response question continues to have both a scoring rubric and exemplars, or sample responses, to help gauge student performance. New though, is a “Key Elements” section where sample evidence statements are denoted. The content of several of the Constructed Response questions has changed, but the need for students to synthesize information has not changed.

The directions to the student across all of the ELA Performance Tasks have been expanded, reminding them to develop a multi-paragraph response, to consider counterclaims (Argumentative), to elaborate their ideas (Explanatory), to write clearly and in their own words, and to reference the sources either by article number or title.

Here are some specific Performance Task changes at each of the secondary grade levels tested:

11th Grade: New task altogether: Mandatory Financial Literacy Classes, which is again Argumentative.

8th Grade: Still the debate over the usefulness of keeping the US Penny in production. But, three of four articles have changed (updated sources), as has the premise under which the students are writing. The scenario is now writing an argumentative essay for a US History class-sponsored website.

7th Grade: The topic remains centered on napping, but the nature of the essay has shifted from Argumentative to Explanatory, and the scenario is now writing for the school newspaper. Articles provided for research have not changed.

6th Grade: Neither the topic nor the articles have changed in this PT. The task students are asked to complete is still Narrative in nature, but rather than writing a Sci-Fi piece, students are asked to write about an imagined experience owning their own robot.

In addition to the Performance Tasks themselves, SBAC has added Classroom Activities for grades 7, 8, and 11, missing from the earlier version of the Resource page and has updated the grade 6 activity. As a reminder, these activities are facilitated by a classroom teacher just prior to administration of the Performance Task. The purpose is to level the playing field by providing some background knowledge of the topic (through guided discussion) for all students without revealing the actual Performance Task prompt in the process.

As for the Computer Adaptive side of the SBA in English Language Arts, this current version provides some new reading passages and questions at each grade level as well as the same kind of Item Specification table for each question as is found with the Performance Tasks. Although the answer keys/score guides are provided under Resources on the consortium’s website, you’ll want to go to the Practice Test site in order to access the actual passages and to try out the features such as the glossary, moving “hot text” to answer some questions, highlighting, and using the note pad.

SBA continues to add to its repertoire of resources for teachers and students, providing insights into what to expect when assessments go live next spring.


Upcoming Events and Updated Resources

In an effort to respond to feedback from GBSD’s April 25th S&A Day, we’ve made some updates to the Events and Resources pages; we invite you to explore!

If you click on the Events tab at the top of the page, you’ll find a listing of several opportunities coming your way: the Teen Author Lecture on May 14th, STEM and math course offerings, Lanny Ball’s two upcoming writing workshops, and several other summer PD opportunities for educators of all stripes!

After sharing district data about student results on 7th and 10th grade Performance Assessments, we were asked about resources for replicating such tasks in the classroom. In Science and Social Sciences we’ve included a few text sets (different articles/perspectives on a certain topic) from which you may build constructed response or performance task questions. The ones included were vetted by Columbia Teachers College staff. Although aimed for use w/middle and high school students, you may want to consider adapting the articles to bring their Lexile Level down to meet the intended grade level band for which you are aiming. For help with this or finding texts for specific topics, creating constructed response or performance task questions, check in with your trusty Instructional Coaches!

For ELA folks, we’ve added a Mini-Performance Task courtesy of Canby High School.

Additional resources for ready-made teaching modules with embedded Common Core tasks can be found at Literacy Design Collaborative Core Tools.  Access to the modules does require you to create a FREE account, and I can attest I have not been inundated by emails or other SPAM because of my “membership.”

Still another site worth checking out for both Math and ELA folks is Engage New York, the website designed and maintained by the State Education Department of NY to support the implementation of Common Core. Again, full-blown teaching modules are available for public download and experimentation in your classroom.


Finally, Teacher’s College Reading Writing Project has files of text sets (from which I gathered the ones profiled in this post), on several ELA, Social Science, and Science topics. Additionally, staff have developed some Common Core aligned performance assessments available for free download, too.

We’ll keep adding to these. If you want 1:1 or team assistance in creating SBA-type assessments, please invite us in; we’re more than happy to help!