Free Professional Development While You Drive


I had to write a post to share something I came across on Twitter–Brian Sztabnik’s podcasts called Talks with Teachers. Brian is an English teacher and blogger who is in the process of putting together an impressive list of podcasts on education, bringing “the stories and inspiration behind America’s great English educators” to our commute. So far, over twenty podcasts have been uploaded to the Talks with Teachers iTunes channel. This morning I had the pleasure of listening to Sarah Brown Wessling, the 2010 National Teacher of the Year, talk about building a culture of literacy in her classrooms. During her interview, Sarah emphasized the power of having students read their writing orally as a way to improve their writing. I’ve found this strategy to have a huge impact in my classes as well.

As you drive to and from work, listen to some of America’s great educators like Carol Jago, Larry Ferlazzo, and Troy Hicks, and add some of their insight to your bag of tricks. I’ve started to listen to these podcasts on my morning drive and find them inspirational. Indeed, the goal of Brian’s project is to “boost morale and help teachers find joy and purpose.” Brian has certainly accomplished his goal.

A full list of the Talks with Teachers podcasts

How To Complete SGOs

Hello Randolph Schools,

If this is the first time visiting, welcome to our humanities blog! Here are two screencasts detailing how to complete SGOs. The first video pertains to single SGOs and the second video pertains to tiered SGOs. I hope you find these videos helpful. All forms are found on your My Learning Plan homepage.

This video details how to complete the TEPES Student Growth Objective End-of-Year Review–Single form. This is the form you will fill out to finalize your single SGO.

This video details how to complete the TEPES Student Growth Objective End-of-Year Review–Tiered form. This is the form you will fill out to finalize your tiered SGO. Please note that in the video I am toggling between the SGO initial submission form and the end-of-year form.

Some Quick Ways to Check for Everyone’s Understanding


In a recent article in ASCD’s Educational Leadership, Dylan Wiliam writes about  ways teachers can ask the right questions the right way. In the article, Wiliam recounts perhaps the most familiar way teachers formatively asses their students. A teacher asks a question to the class and picks a student who sits eagerly waving a hand in the air. The teacher and that student interact and the class moves on. This cycle is repeated in classrooms across the country. Wiliam calls this method “the standard classroom transaction model or I-R-E (for initiation-response-evaluation).” It’s not that this method is bad, it’s just that more effective models exist. For Wiliam, “just about every aspect of this scenario actually gets in the way of learning–and it doesn’t provide enough information on what most students in the class know and need to learn.” The goal in every class should be to assess all students every 20-30 minutes of instructional time. Some traditional ways to do this are by having students use dry-erase boards to write answers, thumbs up/thumbs down, entrance/exit slips, and short, timed writing assignments. While these methods are tried and true and will work great in your classrooms, I thought it might be a good opportunity to illustrate some new tools that might change the way you assess. In this post, I’ll link to some amazing tech-savvy ways that teachers can check for everyone’s understanding.

All-Student Responses (without paying for clickers!)

When people hear about all-student response systems, they immediately think of clickers. However, there’s a host of free services teachers can use that will get the job done just as Unknownwell–and maybe with a bit more style. I’ve written about tools like Socrative, PollEverywhere, EduCanan, and TodaysMeet in previous posts. These four sites are great for generating instant student feedback during a class in different ways. For example, Socrative works great with objective-type questions while EduCanan allows users to embed questions into videos. But, if you’re looking to add targeted questions to your daily classroom routine, perhaps the best all-student response system I’ve seen recently is Nearpod.

Nearpod lets teachers upload or create presentations and add questions within the presentation for students to answer. Students log on to Nearpod with a teacher-generated access code and the presentation becomes available on their device. Students can answer questions as they appear on their screens from multiple-choice questions to open-ended  responses. This data gets transmitted to the teacher in real time. Nearpod is quickly becoming perhaps the most-used online assessment tool in our high school. The teachers at our school who discovered this deserve a TON of credit. Nearpod amazes.

How To Assess Quickly

The reality is that not every class will work with a Nearpod presentation or TodaysMeet backchannel. If you’re short on time and computers, there are a few methods you can employ to “assess all.” Dylan Wiliam explains perhaps the simplest way for teachers to improve classroom questioning is to stop asking for volunteers. Wiliam calls this method “No Hands Up.” popsicle_stick_namesThe traditional way to call on students during no hands up is to use names on popsicle sticks. Ask the question, then pick a stick at random and that’s the student who has to answer the question. This forces all students to think of answers in anticipation of being called on. Sometimes I think we don’t give students enough time to think of answers when we’re teaching. I know I’m guilty of sometimes choosing the first hand that gets raised. By giving students time to wait after you have asked a question and then select a candidate, slower learners will have time to formulate an authentic answer. While popsicle sticks certainly work, are there any cool apps or websites out there we can use to pick students? You bet there are!

There are many student randomizers available online. iLeap’s Pick A Student is free and is a very basic app to use. There are other versions that, for a dollar or two, offer better screen480x480graphics and more fun. HAT by Cool Classroom Software ($.99) is one that allows teachers to select names out of a virtual hat using their device. Students aren’t repeated until everyone in the class has been called on. Another interesting possibility is a web-based service called Random Name Picker. This website features a giant spinning wheel where you can add all the names of students in your class. Click to give the wheel a spin; whoever is selected has to answer the question. I’ve thrown in some names from our department on the wheel. Maybe the first person selected has to write a post for Randolphhum?


During a lesson, think about trying to hear all your students’ voices. In his ASCD article, Wiliam writes about one teacher who described this assessment process as “making the students’ voices louder and making the teacher’s hearing better.” That sounds great to me. Regardless of whether you’re picking names out of a real hat or a virtual one, if you assess all students in your classes regularly, you’re bound to become a better listener.

Try EduCanon to Flip Your Class


If you’ve ever thought about flipping your class, is a great place to start. EduCanon makes it easy to create formative questions to go along with a video. You can use any videos you find on Vimeo, YouTube, or TeacherTube with EduCanon. This means you can also upload your own makes to these websites and use them on EduCanon. Here’s how EduCanon works:

Using EduCanon is really quite simple once you’ve settled on a video to use. Just click “build” at the top of the screen and embed the video’s URL link. Your video will show on the EduCanon screen where you can add either multiple choice questions or reflective pauses to any part(s) of your video as seen below. Users with a paid subscription have more question options, including free response. Creating questions is easy on EduCanon; there really is not much of a learning curve because this site is so user-friendly.

Image A major issue with flipping a class, or a part of a class, is accountability–how do I know people have viewed and understood the video? EduCanon lets users create classes that will register each student’s answer to an embedded question. EduCanon videos cannot be fast forwarded but can be rewound ensuring that students watch what is required and are able to review necessary parts. A few thoughtful and well-placed questions throughout a video will ensure that all material is watched and allow the teacher to assess student understanding. For a complete tutorial, click here.

Screenshot of my flipped lesson using EduCanon

I recently flipped a faculty meeting about web page creation using EduCanon. I created a 10-minute tutorial using QuickTime player on my Mac which I then imported to iMovie so I could create some transitions and delete some material to make the segment shorter. After uploading the video to YouTube I was able to import my creation to EduCanon. While this process is somewhat time-consuming, it is certainly easier if you use preexisting video. So, if you were going to show a video clip in class, a TED talk, or a Khan Academy tutorial, you can flip that part of your lesson for homework using EduCanon and be sure the video was watched, understood, and hopefully even enjoyed.

More on Student Surveys


In an earlier blog post, I wrote about how important student surveys can be to teachers and administrators. In this post I would like to show two different ways surveys can be given.

Survey Monkey

imageBree Valvano, an English teacher at Randolph, has frequently used Survey Monkey to poll her students throughout the year. “I used the feedback to help guide my lesson planning,” explains Bree. The site is free and easy to use. In Survey Monkey, you can design your own survey or use a template. Students are then provided a link where they can fill out the survey and Survey Monkey tabulates the results for you.  Here are some screen shots from a survey Bree has given in the past:

image-2 image-3

 Google Forms

docs_logoAnother way to collect information is by using Google Forms. If you already use Google Drive to create documents or share files with students or staff, Google Forms might be a convenient way to survey students. Google aForms works very much like Survey Monkey or other popular sites like Socrative and Poll Everywhere. However, like Survey Monkey, I’ve found Google Forms to be much better than these two sites at tabulating data. Results from your survey are presented in easy-to-analyze charts or on a spreadsheet.

Using Survey Monkey or Google Forms makes giving student surveys easy. Both sites have ready-to-use templates and teachers can have a survey up in minutes. Since both survey sites are web based, students can use their own devices to record their answers, making the process 100% paperless. Easy, easy, easy.

On Student Surveys


As the calendar rolls into February and second semesters begin throughout the country, it can be useful to think about implementing student surveys in your classes.

Larry Ferlazzo, an ESL teacher and Learning Network contributor, polls his students every semester and finds the feedback he receives invaluable. “I’ve found that receiving feedback from my students about the class and my teaching style has helped me become a better educator,” writes Larry on his blog where he has compiled a host of resources to guide teachers through the survey process. Larry’s blog has everything from the form he uses with his students to his reflections from surveys he’s given to students in the past.

Like Larry, I’ve found that surveying students and faculty can be rewarding and helps ainform what I do. In fact, reading Larry’s blog is the reason I started to use student surveys. In the past, I’ve used multiple-choice surveys for students based on the Stronge evaluation model, and also short narrative forms that can be used with greater frequency for staff feedback. (Hard copies of Stronge survey forms can be found here on pages 55-62.)

If you’re thinking about surveying your students, here are my top five recommendations for making the process a smooth one:

  1. Keep the surveys anonymous to encourage honesty.
  2. Be sure to inform your students or colleagues about why you value their opinion before they fill it out.
  3. Don’t make the form too long; 5-10 minutes to complete the form should suffice.
  4. Don’t dwell on the outliers–good or bad.
  5. Use the results to inform your practice. What does the data say you can improve about your classes, department or school right away?

bSo, if you’ve never surveyed your students before, consider trying it out–it can be tremendously worthwhile.