Thanks for the EdCamp


It starts with markers and butcher paper. And curiousity. And willingness to share.

I participated in EdCampSWOK (Southwest Oklahoma, for those who do not recognize SWOK) yesterday. After donuts and visiting with folks we don’t see often enough and meeting a few people we hadn’t met yet, the organizers described what we would be doing. I was pretty familiar with the un-conference style of an EdCamp, having finally attending one in Moore last spring, but this was the first in our area that I am aware of. Many of these educators, both current and future, were new to the concept.

Big butcher paper squares were hung around the walls of the conference room in the CETES building at Cameron University, with markers on the floor beneath. Each sheet represented a room in Nance-Boyer, just next to CETES. The sheets were divided into four time slots with room to scribble in a topic. Our duty as un-conference attendees was to write in either what we were interested in hearing about or what we were capable of sharing about.

It was a rather slow start as folks were unsure about what kinds of things to put in. Twitter was added – a popular topic – as was Google Classroom, ELL strategies, MakerSpaces and both ELA and math standards conversations. My English teacher friend and I made our way to some empty sheets and added things we wanted to talk about: reluctant readers, teaching writing, and then I added blogging. The pages were never completely filled, but there were enough offerings that each time slot had 4-9 sessions going.

Attending the sessions was at first a little awkward in some cases. This is mostly because so many were unsure of the format. There isn’t really a leader; it’s just a conversation. However, once conversation did get started, it generally took off and good ideas were shared and jotted down. I picked up something new from each session I attended.

Another cool thing about EdCamps is that you are never expected to stay in a session if you find it’s not what you need or if, as in my case, you need something from another session at the same time. Twice I needed to divide my time because I couldn’t clone myself. It’s cool. That’s the way it operates.

At the end of the day, we gathered again in CETES. The organizers shared some more words of wisdom and they drew for prizes. Many folks are happy to donate to teacher gatherings such as EdCamps. If teachers cannot be recognized in pay and benefits for the hard work they do, this is one good opportunity for individuals and businesses to show they care. Prizes included books and certificates and gift cards.

But wait. How did those books, certificates and gift cards happen to be donated for giveaways? And, come to think, where did the donuts, water bottles and cookies come from? And how did those rooms at Cameron just happen to be available on Feb 6? And how did people from Duncan, Lawton, Clinton, Cache and scores of other places know to come on the appointed day?

Organizers, that’s how. Volunteers.

EdCamp is such a wonderful concept, and one of the wonders of it is that it’s FREE. I once had a college instructor who told us at the beginning of the semester, “Ain’t nothing free. The best you can do is get someone else to pay.” And that’s the truth.

People who love EdCamps and love their areas and the teachers they work with wanted to bring this un-conference to our southwest Oklahoma, so they got together and made it happen. They’d been to several, knew what was involved, divided tasks and conquered, and we owe them a lot of thanks.

My friend Derrick Miller, my journalism counterpart at the middle school, did a lot of work on it, but the main organizer was Vanessa Perez, who I’d met through Twitter when she worked at Lawton Eisenhower. She now works for Clinton Public Schools. And she’s a fireball. In the introduction, she shared that EdCamps came around when teachers would gather at the bars after REAL professional development (I actually use the term ‘real’ rather loosely, as anyone who’s had to endure professional development that doesn’t fit knows that ‘real’ is relative). As they critiqued their PD of the day, they got around to discussing things they REALLY wanted to discuss. Thus the un-conference was born.

Perez and Miller were two among several, and I didn’t catch all their names, but I added a couple to follow on Twitter or by blog yesterday: Sarah Bruehl and Shanna Mellott. For the ones I didn’t catch names for, I apologize.

These people set up the event on Eventbrite and promoted it through social media and word of mouth. They scheduled and reserved spaces. They contacted people and businesses to sponsor. The created and printed materials for the event and setup with tables, chairs, that butcher paper and markers, downloaded software to ‘read’ the tickets as educators checked in, established a hashtag to use – there is probably no end to the little things done that we, as attendees take for granted. I really appreciate the work they went to to make it a successful event.

And I’m looking forward to our district’s imitation of Edcamp coming up next week. Though I don’t believe they’ve opened it up to people outside our district, for our own professional development day, our leaders have decided to model our PD on EdCamp. It’s true they’ve already penciled in most of the sessions, but we’re going 1:1 with Chromebooks next year and they really want our faculty to focus on the particular learning that they’ll need to make this successful with the students. There are, I understand, a few open slots for us to add session ideas. I’m looking forward to the day, and I think it will be successful as it gives us much more flexibility than we usually have on such days.

Again, kudos to organizers for all that they do!

If you were in charge of a PD day in your district, how would you design it?

Free speech, free speech, free speech …


I feel like I’m in permanent PMS. But rather than this state of exaggerated frustration being brought on by hormones, it’s brought on by others practicing their right to free speech – no matter how mean, uneducated or bigoted.

I teach First Amendment, and I feel I understand it enough to do so, but with all the different opinions and misinformation floating about, it’s easy to forget that we ALL have this right, even the people many of us wish didn’t have the right:

The people who are cheering the Planned Parenthood shooting because babies lives will be saved – though three adult lives were taken and others were injured – have the right to do that, disgusting as it may be.

Wyatt Tilton, a former Newcastle police officer can, indeed, make a joke about Adacia Chambers doing Oklahoma State fans a favor. Of course, he is referencing her driving into their homecoming parade and killing people, so they didn’t have to experience the Bedlam loss. But he’s a real loser for doing so. I have a First Amendment right to call him a loser.

People who believe every Facebook meme they see and use them to judge and insult others have a right to do that, even though most of the time, those memes represent half-truths or even non-truths.

All I ask is this:

  1. Be nice to each other. Recognize that everyone has the right to free speech, and if you don’t want to hear what someone else is “speeching” about, unfollow them, leave the room, put in your earbuds. If your disagreement is REALLY strong, do some research and formulate a rebuttal that is free of insults and grammar and spelling errors (you want to be credible, right?). Then post that thing in your own space. Continue to recognize, though, that they had the right to say what they said.
  2. Educate yourself. Don’t believe everything you hear or read. Understand how to tell the  difference between biased and unbiased sources, and how to identify those that are not remotely credible. Know who “they” is. I don’t know how many times I hear, “They said …” Well, who the heck is “they”? Know who and what you are talking about.
    When you hear that Trump wants Muslims to wear ID badges or that young, male, muscled Syrian refugees are arriving on U.S. beaches, go check it out, because both seem improbable. Try or
    Turns out Trump answered some reporters’ questions in a rather ambiguous way and his responses were taken out of context and plunked into a more specific context in the article. Yes, he’s in favor of a database, but he never said anything about or agreed to anything about ID badges.
    And those muscled refugees? That pic was taken in Australia in 2013. Syrian refugees would not come to the U.S. by sea. Took me less than 10 minutes to find this information.
    But still, what if some refugees DO have muscles? If a man is in pretty good shape, but his home is bombed or his life and the life of his family is threatened and he finds himself suddenly in refugee status, do those muscles melt away? Does he look like he’s starving the next day? Week? Even month or longer? You could just as easily suddenly find yourself in a bad way here and you can’t make your muscles go away so you’re a credible homeless person.
  3. Have some empathy. Understand that no one has control over what family they are born into or what nation they are born in. We fear what we do not understand (see No. 2). Most Christians do not understand Islam; and most Muslims do not understand Christianity, but both are quick to condemn the other, and quite often based on extremist behavior. Muslims judge the Christian west based on what they see on American TV. Think about that for a minute. What would YOU think of us?
    We do the same. Christians judge Muslims on what they see ISIS doing. ISIS is a small (but horribly violent) segment of Islam, not the general population of Muslims. Philip Yancy wrote a post that I found interesting, and it helped me understand some of the differences, even among Muslim countries.

    It’s not so different between various cultures that thrive here in the U.S. The average individual doesn’t really understand that someone else’s experience in the same country, in the same city, in the same school, can be vastly different from their own. Open your eyes and try to understand others. Not everyone has electronic devices, a nice car, plenty of clothing for all the seasons, or shoes that fit, the opportunity to go to the doctor when needed. Not everyone has a home with furniture, with heat and water, with food in the cabinets. Not everyone has a mom and a dad in the same house. Some live with one or the other. Some live with a grandparent or two. Some live with other relatives or even foster parents. There are those who live with two moms or two dads or with friends because they have no one else. There are lonely kids out there who don’t live anywhere. Not everyone’s experience is the same, but each experience is valid and real. Accept other people’s reality. Help if they need help, but don’t condemn someone for not having the same experience as you, whether because of an economic, racial, religious or other artificial divide.

Freedom of speech is powerful, but it is wielded much too carelessly, especially here in the digital age.

I wish I could give everyone who posts or speaks thoughtlessly that long, uncomfortable teacher/mom stare that makes you (quickly) reflect on what you’ve done, what was right or wrong about it, how it will affect others, how you can make it up to someone you’ve hurt and how you’ll consider all of that before you post/speak next time. Honest.

But that’s not the way it is, and the problem is much too vast. All I can ask is that you, who are reading this, join me in trying to use the power of the freedom of speech responsibly and set a good example for others to follow.

Be nice.

Educate yourself.

Have some empathy.

Who to Follow on Friday, #FF


I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again, I often do what I assign to my students. If I don’t like the assignment, why would they?

I introduced Twitter to my digital communications students yesterday. You may be asking (while belly-laughing) why I, as a stodgy old teacher, would think I could INTRODUCE students to a social media platform that is supposed to be their own territory to begin with. Well, I’ll tell you.

  1. They don’t all use it. The most cited reason for not using Twitter is that they’ve seen how it’s used by their peers, and they don’t like it.
  2. I want to show them effective ways to use Twitter, ways that could help them collect and curate information or begin a personal learning network that could result in acquiring knowledge they didn’t know was there.

Their assignment, thus my assignment, was to start an account, if they didn’t already have one, and find five accounts to follow. These five accounts should NOT be peers. They should be entities that could provide them with information that would be helpful. I suggested colleges, specialist magazines, news media. They are to tweet a #FF (Follow Friday) post and write a blog post to tell the world about the five accounts they found, what they are about and why they followed them.

Here are mine:

@geniushour – I’ve been doing Passion Projects, also known as Genius Hour or 20% Time projects in my DigiComm classes the past several semesters (coming up soon, kiddies!). This seems a valuable account to follow and a valuable chat to participate in to make our projects even more meaningful. I’m pretty excited, too, because they followed me right back.

@theskimm – Suggested by my daughter-in-law, The Skimm is a news service. Well, it is to me. For those of us with little time to read all the news every day, but who still want to be on top of things, well, The Skimm is there to fill us in at whatever level we want and in a conversational tone. It’s like I’m having a morning cup of coffee with someone like me – only better informed. It’s just plain embarrassing to be a journalism teacher and have people bring up big news stories that I know nothing about.

@Time – I thought I was following all the news magazines, but I guess I somehow missed Time. No idea how that happened. Again, I’m embarrassed. Breaking news and current events.

@WSJ – The Wall Street Journal is another news outlet I should have been following all along, and I’m surprised I’m not already. I used to think WSJ was too sophistocated for me; however, I think I’m up for it. Breaking news and features. I love me some good feature material.

@oklahomacontemprary – I was excited to find this one. It popped up in my sidebar, and I’d just been talking to a student about arts, and, well, this one hits the spot. Oklahoma Contemporary “encourages artistic expression in all its forms through education and exhibitions.” Can’t wait to see what they have to offer.

So there are my five. I’m sure I’m going to benefit from each one.

Who do you follow for the value they bring?

The Plan: NFIG?

My first try at Google Draw

My first try at Google Draw

I’m not a risk-taker. I plan. I envision. Before I set anything in motion, I learn all I can, and I imagine, play out all the possible scenarios in my head. I want it right before I begin. That’s not to say I don’t handle failure well. I’ve gotten pretty good at it, actually. Failure can be part of the planning process if you look at it in a bigger picture kind of way. It didn’t work that way; let’s try it another way.

In that way, last school year was planning and trying out small changes in order to transition to “The Plan.” I want to use narrative feedback instead of grades. But I’m afraid to ask.

The directive at my high school for the past several years has been “two grades per week.” I did express to my principal two years ago that I did not like that rule and explained that it didn’t work with my classes. And I’ve learned so much more since then.

Last year I implemented a few things I knew I could:

  • No zeros. A 50 is an F, and that only happened when no work was turned in.
  • No reduction in points for late work.
  • I quit making students feel guilty for needing to go to the bathroom. If you gotta go, you gotta go. Just let me know. Guess what? It was not abused.
  • I had my publications students (newspaper & yearbook) grade their own production weekly. This involved setting goals, keeping a log, reflecting and assessing. Frankly, they didn’t like it much.
  • I provided written, narrative feedback (and taught students to peer edit), so that they had multiple chances to improve work before they turned it in. I had kids thank me for this service.
  • In some cases, I mini-conferenced with students to arrive at a grade on part of an assignment. I need to build my confidence on conferencing.

These changes did make some improvement, but where I really wanted to see improvement – more student participation and assignment completion – well, these changes weren’t enough to effect the kind of improvement I’d hoped for. They weren’t enough because the biggest change I needed to make was still a glaring problem. There were still grades. Kids were still labeled “D”, “F” (I can’t win. I don’t know what to do.), even “A” (I don’t need to work very hard; I’m already there).

Now I need to go full throttle: No grades. Well, I’m calling it “Narrative Feedback Instead of Grades.” NFIG? Not as pretty as TOG, but I think Throwing Out Grades gives the wrong impression, and I have to worry about that as I pursue The Plan.

I spent a huge chunk of yesterday writing up, in narrative form with lovely bullets and bolded parts, my proposal as I plan to present it to my principal – soon as I gather the courage and he has a chunk of time in his schedule. School starts in three weeks. What I produced yesterday was five pages, but I included links to reading material with summaries and a page or so of FAQs so I’m prepared for what he/they might ask me.

For you, dear readers, I will try to be brief (but it’s hard. You see how I wordy I am?)

The Plan

  • I will use narrative feedback instead of grades. On assignments, this will look like Mark Barnes’s SE2R formula (Summarize, Explain, Redirect and Resubmit). This feedback will be on their Google Doc in most cases. In cases where there is a hard copy, I’ll (egad!) handwrite it, being careful to remember that students now have little training in cursive (omg). In the online gradebook (we use Infinite Campus), I will check the “Incomplete” box and write a brief (I swear I can) version of the SE2R in the comments section. When the student turns in his/her final version, I will check the “Turned In” box and make a new note (leaving the first in place, each with dates), that the goals were met or exceeded. I think this can work. An administrator or parent should be able to see this through the online portal, and wouldn’t this bit of information be more informative than a 72?
  • I will “unpack standards” with the students, an idea borrowed from Starr Sackstein. I do have to decide WHICH standards. Oklahoma repealed Common Core and is in the process of finalizing new standards, so we are one more year with what we used before, PASS. I “invented” journalism standards to use last year by doing a mashup of what I saw from other states. So my options are: CCSS ELA + ISTE or the new Oklahoma standards in draft form + ISTE. My journalism standards were too tedious, I decided, and they don’t apply to digital communications. Either way, the “unpacking process”, as I will apply it, means the students and I will learn them, simplify them, tossing what we don’t need, combining some, and putting what’s left in their language. Through all this, they should have an understanding and ownership of them. How to do that with five classes of four preps (2X intro to journalism; newspaper; yearbook; digital communications) still puzzles me. Input? What we come up with will be the categories I use in the online gradebook where my peers use “daily work”, “quizzes”, “homework”, and “tests” or something along those lines. As I create an assignment in InfCamp, I will note which standard it applies to. When it hits two or more, it’s entered that many times so that we focus on each standard; i.e. a writing one and a tech one. Whew, I gotta work on brevity.
  • I will teach reflective writing. I learned last year (and, really, before that) that it isn’t common sense. Few “get it.” Reflective writing, especially as it has to do with self-assessment, standards and evidence, has to be explained, modeled and feedback given, just like other work. Hopefully by grade reporting time, they’ll be used to it and will be able to manage reflective self-assessment with evidence for the grading period. I plan to use Starr’s book on reflection as my Bible for this. It will be published in October. She has also written about reflection quite a bit on her blog.
  • Students will create digital portfolios to curate their work, track their progress and do their reflection writing. Intro to J and DigiComm have always had blogs on WordPress, and I’ve encouraged newspaper to have blogs also, but the whole thing needs fine-tuning. Here’s what I’ve come up with: Choice. I love that idea. All my students use Google Drive. It’s the one thing they all have in common. So – eportfolios can be as simple as a folder in their Drive marked “eportfolio” with obvious organization within. Or, students may choose to create a Google site. I’ve only dabbled in this myself, but I don’t mind learning alongside my students. Absolutely love it when one of them teaches me something and you can visibly see their pride swell as they get up to show the others. Students could also opt for using their WordPress blog, though to me, that may be too public to be reflecting on their progress and grade, but it’s up to them. And if they come in telling me they have experience with Weebly, that’s cool too. Gimme the link. If one starts with a Google folder but after a few weeks gets brave and decides to create a site, well, we probably have a tech standard he can tie to for some reflection on progress. The goal is to curate work and track progress so that they can be ready for self-assessment at grade-reporting time. And that reflective self-assessment? I’ll probably go the “choice” route again: written in a Google doc; screencast; video; Voxer; whatever; but a conference will happen too.
  • In each class, I’ll have One Big Ongoing Assignment, handy for when some finish a project early and others are still working or reworking. Also great for sub days or THOSE days when I just don’t have my stuff together. For newspaper and yearbook, it’s obvi: their publications and anything extra they want to put into them. For DigiComm, I’ve had them do Passion Projects (just bought Don Wettrick’s Pure Genius and can’t wait to dig in), but I had a tough time figuring out how to do this for Intro. In Mark Barnes’s ROLE Reversal, he talks about having his 7th grade ELA students do a Read All Year (RAY) project with lots of novels and big team goals. There’s no grade attached, but there are different activities kids can do when they complete a book. So I borrowed and tweaked this idea with a little help from Mark. I want my kids to read long-form narrative journalism. That could be feature articles in magazines (think TIME or The Week) or book-length journalism (think All the President’s Men, All the Right Stuff, Into the Wild). Collections of essays and journalist biographies could work, too. Time to go to some used book stores. I’ll contract with each student, just outside his/her comfort zone, but quantifying will be tough. At Mark’s suggestion, we’ll count pages instead of books. So for the first grade-reporting period (9-weeks or semester, I haven’t decided), a student might contract for 150 pages (small book or multiple longish articles) up to 300. I’ll set up some sort of celebration board where kids can post accomplishments, but I also want to encourage them to do something for each piece they read, though I won’t be keeping tabs (they will, in their portfolio). They could write a review, a reflective blog post, a mini review on Instagram or Twitter with a shoutout to the author, discuss the item with classmates in a small group “book talk”, create a book trailer or just Vox about it. I’ll pose it as collecting info for our library of potential reads. Classmates and students who come after will appreciate having another student’s take on a piece to help them make a decision about reading it. One thing I envision is a tab on the class website that functions as our “library” with the book and article lists. Some articles could be linked to their sources online, but in all cases, student responses could be linked beneath each title as a reference to future readers.

So there you go, too many pages, but that’s my plan. Now I just need confidence to ask for permission and to get it all in motion. How can you help me? Can you poke any holes in this? Offer any suggestions for improvement? Suggestions for proposing? Did I help you with anything?

The ugly side of Facebook and why I’m taking a break

Keep Calm FB

Why do we stay in abusive relationships? Like the one(s) I have with Facebook?

The relationship I have with Facebook itself is unhealthy. The tab sits there at the top of my screen, taunting me as I try to do work, begging me to click over to see what’s happened in the last 27 minutes since I was there. Whether I’m writing lesson plans, assessing student work, paying bills, trying to build up desire to work on one of my creative writing projects (I was supposed to be a self-supporting novelist by this time in my life), Pinteresting, participating in an educator Tweetchat, or, erm, writing a blog post, my self-diagnosed ADD kicks in and I GOTTA CLICK ON THAT FACEBOOK TAB. Something might be happening in the world of my closer friends. I MIGHT MISS SOMETHING. I’m like your basic 3-year-old.

That’s a problem in itself. However, a bigger problem has grown out of my obsession. I don’t know what it is about the past few months, but people have become nastier. And it makes me sad to say that because, while I’ve met people far and wide on Twitter, and I appreciate that I can connect with them on a friendly and professional level, my friends on Facebook are mostly people I actually know, people I see in town, people I’m related to, people I’ve taught or taught with. I know that we live in a democracy – heck, I teach the First Amendment, and I know that whether friends or relatives, we often believe differently. But in these past few months something has changed. People are mean. People I like are being hateful and rude and intolerant and judging other people without knowing their stories.

We all think we’re right when we’re on one side of a controversy, but I can respect someone whose belief is different from mine if they back it up with sound argument, with some facts. What I find hard to handle is the loud folks who bluster in ignorance.

In cases where, for instance, an article is shared on Facebook – say, did you hear the one about President Obama coming to Oklahoma? And how he was greeted by Confederate Flag waving idiots? I was lured into the comments section on more than one article. I don’t know why I go there. I know it’s going to upset me, but I go anyway. The ignorance that abounds – the hate that drips. Why do Oklahomans hate our President so much? These commenters are mostly folks I don’t know (except one comrade I often find already hit those comment streams with a dose of fact – shout out, Melvin!), so I sometimes reply to some ignorance there. If the article was presented from folks on my side of the political divide and the comments are positive, I can add to it, like I did on the article about the President visiting a federal prison while he was here and comments he made about needed reform. A comment I made there scooped up about 30 likes. I must have touched on something people were thinking but no one had brought it up yet.

But when my peers post hate messages directed at my President or people with whom I am in agreement on issues, I usually feel I must remain quiet (even though they did not) so as to keep the peace. I don’t want my co-workers disliking me. If they follow my posts, they are bound to know where I stand on issues, so I have to remind myself that it really does no good to go off the handle on their posts on their timelines. They have the same First Amendment rights that I do – even if much of what they mention seems extremely uninformed to me.

I spend way too much time on Facebook, anyway, but lately, much of that time has been in fuming and trying to decide how to respond to something that has angered me (No one is actually trying to take your guns), and whether to respond at all. That time is wasted. That energy is wasted. That emotional stress could really be put to better use somewhere else.

So tonight I decided something that was a big something for me. I signed off. I know. I can just pull up a tab and it will open right up, but I’m going to try not to for a week or two. And I took it a bit further. I uninstalled the app on my phone. That’s a biggie. No more notifications. I’ve heard from others that it’s freeing. We’ll see.

What would it take for you to go, at least partially, off the grid?

For the record, since I didn’t post it over there:

  • I like President Obama, and I think he has bravely made some changes for the better in our nation, particularly lately. That meme about Bush loving America more than Obama is STUPID.
  • I would like to see tighter gun control, and although I know it is and should be defined by states, I wish every state would see the need and create laws that more closely reflect those of other states and freaking enforce them. Watch out for potential loopholes. No, I don’t think anyone should try to take everyone’s guns. Good grief.
  • I believe in separation of church and state. That means government owned properties are not spaces for displaying religious pieces of art. Moving the Ten Commandments statue from the Capitol lawn does not remove religion from anyone’s heart. Our money and time should be spent on more important matters. Politicians should stop pandering to the ignorant voters and educate people instead.
  • I think the right decision was made on marriage equality, and those who do not like gay marriage shouldn’t have one. As far as court clerks who are supposed to issue marriage licenses believing it’s a conflict with their religion and they just can’t issue a license to a same sex couple, go get another job. I doubt it bothered you one iota to issue a license to someone who was on their second or subsequent marriage or even young first-timers who’d been living together for a couple years.
  • My congressmen need to stop wasting time and tax dollars on nonsense and work on issues that will keep my state from embarrassing me time and time again.
  • This country was not founded on Christian values or “In God we Trust.” It was founded on religious freedom. I’m so tired of seeing that one. If you want Christian values for your country, then start doing as Christ would. Spread love, peace and positivity. Love your neighbor.

Instinctive practice, with a lack of terminology

Fortunately or unfortunately, I do not have an education degree. I have an English degree but am alternatively certified as a teacher in Oklahoma. I felt really inadequate at first, even though I had teacher after teacher tell me that they don’t really teach you anything in those classes anyway – you learn it by doing it.

I learned it by doing it – and by reading about it. And by networking with other teachers everywhere. And by talking with my students and reflecting on what works and what doesn’t.

Educational lingo used to make me feel dumb, but I figured out I’m doing most of it, just not labeling it the same.

Collecting and analyzing data:

There was this one time, I stood before my class of intro to journalism students and had just gone over ten different types of feature stories. I had described each and given multiple examples and they could see these for reference in their textbook. They were to be brainstorming ideas – three of each type – AND NO ONE WAS WRITING ANYTHING DOWN. OK, a couple of the students had managed to write down an item or two, but by and large, these kids could not think of, or would not chance coming up with, ideas of their own for this feature story idea brainstorming task. Under 10 types, at three per, a real go-getter would have come up with close to 30 ideas. Some kids had four or five ideas; half had nothing at all. One or two had maybe a dozen.

We ran out of class time as I tried to encourage them to think of more ideas. I made it homework, but even the next day, no one had come up with anything more.

I mentally collected data: Kids cannot/will not create story ideas.

I mentally analyzed data: Kids are so used to bubbling scantrons, they do not know how to create ideas. Or, they are afraid of being shot down for having the “wrong” answer.

Possible solution: Provide more opportunities to practice creating. DO NOT shoot down ideas. Build confidence. Model, model, model.

This collecting and analyzing of data was not done with exams, scantrons, reports or meetings, but it was done.

Providing formative feedback:

OK, so in the beginning of my career, formative feedback was
1. verbal: “Yes! That’s right!” or “Close, it was …” or “Not the answer I was looking for, but you make a good point.” or “Tell me what you mean.”
2. Physical: pat on the back, high five, air knucks, thumbs up, pointy finger to lips in a “shhh..”, subtle shaking of the head in a “no”, standing beside a perpetrator so that my presence was felt.
3. Written: I loved writing notes in the margins! The first assignment for my English 1 freshmen was to tell me about themselves, and I could always find a connection to make note of in the margin. It wasn’t until later I realized most couldn’t read cursive. Ah, well. I did same with their formal paragraphs, essays, even tests, to explain what might have been misunderstood or ask a question of them that might clarify where they went wrong. In news and yearbook, this was the method we used for editing story drafts. After two or three editors had done the peer editing, I took a run through it, using proofreading marks and margin notes, noting things that worked well and ideas for improvement.

Then along came Google docs and our world was changed forever. For some reason, either because I am maturing as a teacher or because the commenting feature makes it easier to do so, I do not usually correct errors so much as point them out. Typing is so much easier than writing in margins, so I explain why it needs to be what it needs to be or why another option might be better. I get nearly as wordy there as I do in blog posts. I can be witty, too. But I can easily comment:
its=possessive; it’s=it is;
or another favorite: everyday=one word as adjective “my everyday shoes”; or every day= two words, as in “every single day”.
I’ve heard kids from across the room go, “Oooh, I get it.” I even go on lengthy descriptions about run-ons, trying to teach the concept in the comment feature.

Guidelines for peer feedback:

I had someone ask me in a chat this week about my guidelines for peer feedback. Guidelines? I’d never thought about it. The kids figure out how to give feedback to each other by how I model giving feedback. In publications classes, drafts must go through a few staffers/editors before I see it. And I tell them that I’m mainly there to keep us from getting sued. I want the editors to take on the responsibility of good editing. Of course, that has to be built, and some years are stronger than others. I start from scratch in my intro to journalism classes. In the intro classes, when they begin peer edits, the comments are inevitably “it’s good,” or “great job,” or “I like it.” It takes a little work from me, a little preaching about how anyone’s work – including mine – can be improved, and we’re all here to help each other get better.

As I provide feedback, “good lead”, “run-on”, “no first- or second-person”, “watch the editorializing – who’s opinion is this?” “read aloud – doesn’t make sense”, they begin to offer similar advice to each other. In Google docs, I can see the comments they’ve given each other, and when I see good edits, I praise the editor. When I see a story go through with a “good job” and it’s full of fragments and uncapitalized “i”, I look to see who commented and I ask her how she let that go. Doesn’t she want to help her classmate get better? Eventually, they catch on, and I hear the kids thanking each other. Thanking each other.

Once they are on yearbook or newspaper staff, I hear editors telling new staffers that they need more sources or asking where they got certain information. I see an editor leaning over the shoulder of someone laying out a page and explaining headline hierarchy and how he needs to align with the rails and my heart pitter-patters.

Guidelines for peer editing? Nah. I just model what I’d like them to be able to do. I praise when I hear it done right, and I talk to them privately if it’s not going right and offer suggestions for improvement.

Projected Outcomes:

Um, OK, again with the modeling. Even in the early days, I instinctively knew I needed to provide a model if I wanted students to produce something. I like models so I know what’s expected of me. Why wouldn’t they need the same? “This thing here? This is what I project you will come up with – or something similar …” If I want creativity, I show them several that are vastly different, so they know they have room to explore.

This year, though, experimenting with Standards Based Grading and then leaning toward Feedback Instead of Grading (known by some as TOG, or Throwing Out Grades), I developed what I’m calling Target Sheets. One thing that seems handy is for the kids to know, not only the product they are to come up with (feature story or seven photos that exemplify rules of composition), but the standards they are trying to meet or exceed. Whether I “grade” them or have them assess themselves, it’s fair to show them what we are all shooting for. So I developed these target sheets that describe the project, indicate essential questions the assignment should address and show the standards, with a 4-0 rubric, that the assignment will be assessed on. I provide the target sheet at the beginning of the assignment so kids can see what the requirements are. They are to hang on to that so they can refer to it throughout the project (doesn’t happen much yet), then turn it in with the finished product (rarely happened, and I found myself having to print additional copies). In some cases, we assessed some of the standard(s) together in a mini-conference. In some cases, due to time or the project, I assessed, but provided written feedback and the opportunity to rework the project. Some did; some didn’t. I do realize most didn’t because there was already a grade on it. I blame time constraints and the fact that I was under some pressure to put in so many grades within a certain time frame.

My main point here is that I worked to make the students aware of what the project outcome was as well as what their skill/standard outcome was. I believe that was an improvement over what I used to do.


I’ve always instinctively dwelt upon absolutely everything. Little did I know that we call this reflection, and that it’s good for you, like spinach. I’m always rethinking and reinventing wheels. Now I try to do it a bit more formally, and I encourage my students to reflect as well. In fact, I require it to the extent possible. In an effort to avoid the subjective and punitive nature of grading, but still meet most of the demands of my job, I had my publication students weekly 1. project outcomes (make goals on a daily log) 2. note on that log what they did daily. 3. reflect (did he do all he set out to do? what could have gone better? what was he proud of?) and assess (based on guidelines we set earlier in the year, what grade does she give herself for the week in productivity?).

Some really did reflect, and I was proud of what they discovered about themselves when they did that. They often set new goals or adjusted how they approached certain tasks. Some just jumped through the hoops and wrote something that might satisfy the teacher. I’m hoping they get it at some point. In my network of lead learners, I have resources for teaching reflecting that I will lean heavily upon for the coming year. It’s not instinctive for everyone. It must be taught, and I will spend more time teaching it, which will be worthwhile.

In my constant quest to get better at my job, I’ve lined up a good reading list for my summer, and I offer it to you:

Role Reversal by Mark Barnes

Assessment 3.0 by Mark Barnes

Digital Student Portfolios: A whole School Approach to Connected Learning and Continuous Assessment by Matt Renwick

I also recommend a couple of Twitter Chats and a Facebook page:

#sunchat, Sundays at 8 a.m. CT

#TTOG, Teachers Throwing Out Grades, ongoing slow chat (also Facebook page)

#DI4all, Differentiated Instruction for all, next chat July 6, 7 p.m. CT

Follow these Tweeps:





What are some of the wheels you would like to reinvent? What are some conversations you would like to join or start? Feel free to start here.

Letting them lead … me to reddit

This week I let a couple of my students present a lesson on reddit. This came about when I asked a couple weeks ago what else they’d like to learn in the digital communications class they’d unwittingly found themselves in at the beginning of the semester. What I like best about this class is the fact that the class is fluid and malleable. It is different every semester. Sure, it has the major components of learning to use Google Drive and creating a blog on WordPress. And I have an educational obligation to teach digital citizenship; however, beyond that, I teach lots of apps, programs and social media that we can use to expand our learning network and resources.

So when these two guys suggested reddit, I didn’t mind, but I didn’t know anything about it either. Then there’s that whole thing about it not seeming to me to be very educational. They argued otherwise, and I challenged them to create a lesson. So they did.

Since they were the teachers this week, I figured I was a student this week, so to reddit I went. I looked at a couple subreddits (look at me, using the lingo and all), and then decided to go to the journalism subreddit, since they’d dropped that possibility especially for me into the lesson. *wink

That’s where I found the original AP report of Lincoln’s assassination. Fascinating read on a couple levels. First, reading about everything that happened that night at the theatre was interesting in and of itself. The reporter was able to go into the president’s box and examine the, erm, results after the event. He describes blood on the back of the chair on which Lincoln sat. The account of the president being taken across the street to a nearby house to await the Surgeon General and other surgeons created a vivid image in my mind. Of course, from paying attention in second grade (or was it third or fourth?), I know the end of the story, but now I have more first-hand detail.

That detail was told in a very editorializing way, which is the second reason I was drawn to the article. Journalism has changed dramatically in two centuries. The flowery prose, with no apparent guilt over the lengthiness, was incredibly different from the concise clarity we strive for now. The writer’s opinion was openly posed through his prose. I suppose, with no potential for images in the newspaper, writers went for imagery in their writing. That’s not to say that today’s writers are not capable of writing with imagery – they are. But they use their words more frugally.

After several days of messing around with reddit, I’ve come to the conclusion that reddit itself is the flowery prose of yesteryear. The story is definitely there, but there are so many words to wade through (read: subreddits, articles, comments, upscores, downscores and other distractions) that I cannot get to the meat of the story easily. My conclusion is that, though I can see the draw to some people, to me, reddit is a huge universe of too many ideas and the time it takes me to move through them to find something remotely useful to me is time I could have spent being productive in another way.

I appreciate the lesson. Now I know what reddit is, but I won’t likely go there often, and as for “using” it – probably not.