google forms.

Google Forms are, I think, another underutilized tool in a teacher’s workplace (similar to the previously mentioned Google Site). If you are a teacher who actively incorporates formative assessments into your daily plans, then Google Forms will, I promise, make much of that data collection all the easier.  Because everyone knows it’s easy to give a formative assessment.  It’s what you do with that work that’s the hard part.

Here are a few examples of Google Form formative assessments I have given in my classroom:

Purpose, Main Idea, Tone–Article #1

Purpose, Main Idea, Tone–Article #2

It’s so simple to create (and, as an added bonus, I’ve found that students have more to say when they can type as opposed to hand writing things–they are not constricted by space on a Google Form).  However, the wonderful nature of Google Forms is found not in the form itself, but in the spreadsheet it automatically creates for you.  That’s right.  I said “automatically.” 

google form responses

All answers go to the same, sortable place.  And just like that, your data is easily accessible and already organized. 

Google, I am convinced, has the answers to all of my teaching problems. 



I referenced this Webquest in my previous post and since then, can’t stop thinking about it. 

(I recognize that is both a little vain and a bit of hyperbole, but it has honestly been on my mind quite a bit.)

When I was asked to create a Webquest for a technology class I’m currently taking, I internally rolled my eyes a bit because Webquests to me have always felt highly elementary to me.  I’ve only ever seen them in the context of research and gaining background knowledge of something and, quite frankly, they have always appeared to me to be a waste of time. 

So, when I was asked to create my own, I was determined to create something I could actually use in my classroom and what happened from there was a grand discovery indeed.

Webquests can foster the inquiry process.  That’s what I realized. 

Instead of creating a PowerPoint in which I explained all the rules for finding reliable sources and showing kids examples of reliable and non-reliable, students were finding those answers without me.  On their own.  Inquiry. 

I’m already starting to think of ways I can utilize Google Sites (remember how easy they are?) and Webquests in my future endeavors.  In any case, I’m a believer now.

Google Sites

I recently created two very different Google sites for a couple of graduate classes I’m currently immersed in this summer.

One is a poetry file found HERE made up of 20 poems and activities to correspond to those poems.

The other is a WebQuest found HERE in which I tried to guide students through the process of looking for reliable sources on the Internet.

They both have some work to do (the latter could use some visual improvements, for instance), but as I worked my way through the project, I was reminded of how easy it is to create a website through Google and think it is most definitely an underutilized tool among teachers today.  It’s user friendly and easily accessible which, for this teacher, give it two big thumbs up.

So, my suggestion is to give it a try, and if you need some tips to get going, here’s a quick (and very basic) introductory tutorial:

Creating a Google Site

It’s easy!  Don’t delay!


tiered lessons.

Something I’ve been learning about differentiation this year is that there is no one way to do it.  You can differentiate the process.  You can differentiate the product.  You can differentiate the content.  You can adjust all three.

I can remember talking about differentiation in my first rounds of interviews.  With no real experience under my belt, differentiation meant eliminating answers on a multiple choice test or giving a word back to select students.


It now looks like so many things in my English classroom, but my favorite approach right now is through a tiered lesson.

It’s basically adjusting the process depending on student needs.  The outcome is the same; the route kids take to get there varies (which, I think is a base definition FOR differentiation).

Most recently, I did this with my research unit.  The skill I wanted kids to get at was pulling text evidence from non-fiction text to answer an essential question.  Students were given packets that looked identical on the outside but had different levels of structure on the inside.

The least structured tier looked like this:

tier 3

I suppose “least structured” actually means hardly any structure in this case.  The students who received this one needed little to no guidance in the process.  They could maneuver the databases and track down sufficient articles on their own.

The middle tier packet (which the majority of my students received) looked like this:

tier 2

Two of the required four articles was found for the students and some guiding questions were given to help them think through it.  My goal in this was to give kids a jump start, so that finding an article on their own wasn’t such an ambiguous and lofty task.

The most structured packet, for students who needed the most guidance through the process looked like this:

tier 1

It forced them in a direction, yes (a problem I have not yet figured out how to solve), but I really wanted these students to focus on the reading skills and not get hung up in the searching-for-a-good-article skill.  This chunked down larger texts for the kids, and they found a lot of success with this approach.

Packets were assigned based primarily on a student self-assessment of their needs and coupled with my own observations and knowledge about their abilities (which mostly agreed with students’ own views).

As with anything, there are things I will do differently next year, but structurally, I think I’ll take this approach to research here on out.


I re-visited the concept of tone with the majority of my ninth graders today.  Instead of scanning through letters to the editors, I decided to speak the language of the teenager, so I turned to Twitter.

Actually, first I turned to Google in thinking that someone had already pioneered this very lesson, but my searches turned up empty.  So, this post was born–not because it’s anything life-changing, but because maybe it could save someone the half hour it took me to search.  Time is valuable–I’m convinced teachers know this better than any other people.

Basically I took screen shots of all the following tweets and included them in a PowerPoint.  Students wrote their thinking about tone on white boards as we went and then shared out.

(Special thanks to Justin Bieber and Richard Sherman for giving me some good material to search.)



If I could incorporate Jimmy Fallon into every lesson, I would.

While the majority of my students needed further practice identifying tone, I had about 3-5 kids per class who needed no more instruction (based on some previous formative assessments).  For those students, I made the following extension assignment which they were able to finish while the rest of us were speaking in hashtag.

tone extension

The tiered lesson has changed my practice, but that’s a dozen posts for another day.

For now, I’ll just leave you with this:  If you want to see high school kids panic, tell them you used their personal tweets as your class examples.  As an added bonus, once the color returns to their faces, you can have a great conversation about the importance of creating and appropriate online presence.


I recently read “One to Grow On / Let’s Not Dilute Mastery” by Carol Ann Tomlinson as published in the December 2013/January 2014 edition of Educational Leadership.  As an English geek and self-proclaimed lover of words, I appreciate her focus on the misuse of the word “mastery.”  She argues we’ve come to equate it with proficiency–a passing grade or an “A.”

Her definition is so beautifully worded.  Mastery is not just the hoops students have to jump through.  Rather, it is “creating scenarios in which learners see themselves in that subject—because they grasp its potential to extend their capacities and to benefit other people.”

They must care.

She worries about those hoops.  That students spend their educational lives doing only what is necessary to achieve the high score.  Then, they get to college, and “they have no fire in their bellies to read, debate, or craft their opinions in writing. But without exception, they have completed acreages of classroom drills and passed tests that demonstrate ‘mastery.’ It is all they have known.”

A necessary (and convicting) reminder of the importance of authentic tasks.

I spend a great deal of time wishing that students cared about learning for learning’s sake.  They often lack motivation to do much of anything and, as Tomlinson suggests, do just enough to get by.

What am I really doing to light that fire in their bellies though?  Perhaps that’s the real question.  Already there are thoughts spinning around in my head–community members, emails, speeches, interviews.

Tomlinson says at one point, “To me, mastery implies identification with a pursuit.”  In order for students to identify, there must be something to pursue.

I think that’s where I come in.  And I think I have a lot of work to do.


I wish I could take credit for the following discovery.  I can’t (as it generally the case with most of the things that happen in my classroom).  A brilliant technology guru resides in my school and she recently passed this resource on to me.  Since then, I’ve been singing its praises to nearly every person I meet.

The site is Newsela (click the word, and it’ll take you there).  An ordinary news site by first glance, a brilliant tool for differentiation upon further investigation.

Lately my differentiation has been taking the form of leveled texts depending on need.  Newsela makes this so slick.  It can take one article and turn it into five different Lexile levels.  The content stays the same–the wording and sentence structure changes.

I pulled an article about early learning to help support a mini research unit I’m currently running.  Here’s how the first line changes with each level:

Max Level: Tech consultant Rudo Boothe, age 33, attributes his professional success — anyone’s professional success, actually — to having learned to read and perform basic math at age 4.

1190L: Tech consultant Rudo Boothe and his daughter are heavy into shapes and word-association these days. 

980L: Internet developer Rudo Boothe and his daughter are very into shapes and word association games these days.

870L: Rudo Boothe and his daughter count down along with the microwave timer. They also add up the cans of tomato sauce in their grocery cart when they go to the supermarket. 

730L: Rudo Boothe’s daughter is just 19 months old. But that’s not too early to teach her about shapes and numbers, he says.

It’s a resource too good not to share! Once you’ve created your account, you’re clear to begin searching.  So, what are you waiting for?


Graff, Brett. “The Home Economist: Learn Early, Make More Money?” Newsela. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2014.