Pause and reflect…


Who are heroes?

I read somewhere that heroes are ordinary people who do extradinary things. Harry Emerson Fosdick said, “Democracy is based upon the conviction that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people.”

My son is a hero to me: he could give up after his tragic motorcyle accident, but he doesn’t. He continues to live his life — his style is shorter (from a wheelchair), but everything he strives to do now, he accomplishes.

My husband is a hero. On his way out of town he noticed smoke, and stopped to grab a neighbor and hoses to help contain the fire until firefighters arrived, saving two homes.

All over the world ordinary people have stepped up to help in floods, storms, and earthquakes. 

When the need arises ordinary people do extraordinary things. We carry the possibilities to bring our communities together when nature pulls them apart.

In our lives we have many communities: family, friends, church, work, play. And in each of these communities, we pull together, and in small ways are heroes to each other when the need arises. For stories of heroes from communities around the world, see the Giraffe Heroes Project.

In the US, all of us have a community in our classrooms and schools. In each classroom are heroes, including the teachers who are not just instructing, but often are mentors, counselors, referees, coaches, nurses, mediators, cheerleaders, tutors, etc. to those children in their care who come to us not as objects to be filled but as whole persons with ideas, dreams, issues, problems, hopes, needs. Despite the requirement to teach the curriculum, it is the child that is to be taught, to be understood, to be encouraged, and to be engaged. Without this consideration of the whole child, the child will probably not engage willingly with learning. Imagine guiding a classroom full of students, each of whom you are to inspire. Look at their faces in your mind. To do this, is to be a hero; it often takes extraordinary skill to guide each child in one’s care.

Yes, guide. Look at the root of educate (Dictionary.com): 



1580–90;  < Latin ??duc??tus  brought up, taught (past participle of ??duc??re ), equivalent to ??- e-  + -duc-  lead + -??tus -ate

So, to educate is to lead.  Teachers lead students towards each one’s learning, and help bridge the gap from individual to community.



Play to Learn…

If we want our hereos to jump in for our many communities, then our common community, our schools, must be allowed to lead to learning that which is most important: forming and supporting a learning community. That takes time, conversation, and more than the basics. It’s why project-based learning is so powerful: solving a problem to complete a project together is engaging, inspiring, and energizing. How else could we guide students to see their possibilities? 

What Does Successful Project-Based Learning Look Like? By Bob Lenz explains that project-based learning includes, among others, these:

  • Lasting learning of a deeper learning skill, idea, or way of thinking that is relevant to students’ lives, their futures, and transforms who they are as human beings.
  • Mirrors real-world work of professionals in craft, process, or skill (e.g. historians, writers, mathematicians, artists).
  • Moves beyond classroom in purpose, audience, or contribution to community.

I’d like to thank the heroes of reform today who keep voicing the need to develop schools for learning rather than for testing — no test can assess the kind of learning we need to lead students to learning within a community, so the students too will be heroes in their communities.

So even though I teach in a test-prep school, I will also conduct that preparation within the confines of both district requirements and engaging projects– and to find “extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people.” Our democracy depends on this, don’t you think?


What about you? Who are your heroes? What are your communities? How will you best lead students to a sense of community and learning? How is it that educators lead us to find “extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people?”



Photo Credits:

Missour River and Jake by Sheri Edwards

Purpose, Pedagogy, and Beneficence

Pause to reflect:


It’s not the technology; it’s the teaching and learning: pedagogy and purpose. I read often about technology and instruction; one more article about this, called “It’s the Pedagogy, Stupid: Lessons from an iPad Lending Program” by Heather Beattey Johnston and Carolyn J. Stoll, drew me to reflection.

No matter what it is: program, device, technology, software, or curriculum, for learning to occur, the focus will always turn to the student and the teacher. That is where the magic is, not in any silver bullet.

That said, let’s look at today’s learners and their future: they expect to be engaged and their future requires active participation in a collaborative and creative culture.

How do I know?

Students expect to be engaged:
Almost every student has some device with them at school (even though it is, unfortunately, banned).
If they aren’t engaged by the learning, they engage themselves with classroom distractions or their devices.

Future job requirements:
Think about it: Will future jobs require:
  • reading
  • writing
  • listening
  • speaking
Yes– but there’s more needed. Think about it:
Did you know that in the United States, 47.0 million people (18 percent) spoke a language other than English at home? (Source: Census )

The number is growing, and with our global culture growing, the need to connect wit others as part of one’s job is also growing.

Look at the applications now developing so people can meet online but at their own time and place (webinar systems (Adobe, Blackboard), collaborative documents (Google Docs, Wikis). 

The future is participation as part of global teams collaborating on documents for which the people involved collaborate as well as protect the information.

Johnston and Stoll shared in their article, “”Being able to demonstrate the solution to a problem or provide examples for a concept by simply handing over a device as you would a piece of paper is transformative.” It’s not just a piece of paper the device holds: it’s the research, the graphic, the problem, the tools, and the documentation and collaboration all in one device held in one’s hand.

Therefore, to engage students and to deliver relevant and real instruction, the technology tools are very important. 
But that’s not all that is needed by teachers to engage students, is it?  There is no magic yet for deeper learning.

How do I know?

Does this sound familiar?
Middle school students come to class from their little worlds of drama with friends,  days of gaming, and dreams of hoop heroes. When asked what their goals are, they usually have none, except to become an NBA or NFL player. If they plan for college, it’s just to “get a good job.” A few will say doctor or lawyer, but without any reason or dream behind it. Let’s get real, though. They are only middle schoolers, what should they be thinking? If our schools are preparing them for their future and their future careers, and they have no clue of the possibilities, what is their purpose for coming to school, let alone planning for life?

That led me to a blog by Thom Markham, Ph. D “Reaching Young People to Go Deeper — The Power of Purpose.

He shares research by Bill Damon, Stanford professor and child development expert who indicates that “25% of teenagers claim to have no purpose in life. And, while others ‘dabble or dream,’ only 20% have a solid sense of direction.”

Just engaging youth in gadgets won’t inspire deep learning of the communication and collaboration skills needed in their future. Dr. Markham suggests “that the school’s most important goal is to help students discover their purpose in life—to go deep into themselves and come out the other side with insights about who they are and what they want out of life.”

What does this mean?

Dr. Markham explains:
“Purpose is a critical asset for healthy adulthood. Without a reason to get out of bed in the morning, a host of problems start to show up in people’s lives that impact their health, behavior, and productivity.
Purpose also relates directly to the pursuit of new skills and knowledge. Research clearly shows that purpose, meaning, and mastery move in tandem. Without tapping into a sense of purpose, high schools are reduced to rules and incentives—primarily the promise of college—rather than relying on the deeper wellsprings of learning that lead to the highest levels of student performance.”

Without purpose, why involve oneself in the learning?

In another post at Edutopia (Project-based Learning and Social-emotional Learning ), Dr. Markham points out that “At its best, PBL taps into intangibles that make learning effortless and engaging: Drive, passion, purpose, and peak performance. But peak performance doesn’t start with a standardized curriculum.”

He continues with these suggestions (condensed):
Step 1: Redefine rigor
Rigor is a measure of personal performance, not a standar
d to quantify how much information has been learned
Step 2: Establish a “drive and thrive” culture
Establish a culture of inquiry, excellence, and personal responsibility.
Step 3: Acknowledge the “soft” skills as “hard” skills
Navigating a changing world demands a communicative, creative, and collaborative person with a flexible, empathetic, resilient, and persistent temperament.

If my purpose is to help students discover their purpose in life as well as learn the skills needed to achieve that purpose, then the learning standards cannot drive the learning, the student’s purpose must. We’ve heard this many times: “Student-centered learning.”  With the purpose, there’s drive and passion. With drive and passion, there’s peak performance.

Think about it — the project-based learning process:
Guide students to their possibilities and opportunities which will provide the purpose to find personally relevant information with rigor and through a drive/thrive culture of inquiry while communicating, creating, collaborating in this discovery. 

In my mind, Dr. Markham expanded the past pedagogy of rigor, relevance, and relationships to today’s terms: personal rigor, personal and future relevance, and the relationship to the work, peers, and teachers as a community of learners using today’s collaborative and on-demand tools.  

Is that all? Is that the magic?

It’s not the device. It’s not the pedagogy. It’s not the purpose. 

I really thought about this quote: “Without a reason to get out of bed in the morning, a host of problems start to show up in people’s lives that impact their health, behavior, and productivity.”  Especially when, near the end of the blog, he suggested “A new set of best practices for 21st century education is emerging, melding youth development principles with inquiry-based methods that stimulate a young person’s desire to know more about the world and serve it well. That’s how we can prepare students for the future.”

Our civilization progresses when our people have “productivity” and “serve it well.” 

How do I know?

First thing that pops into my mind — The wheel — someone invented it, and the rest of the world was served by its benefits.

The computer — some people invented it (it sat in huge rooms for awhile before Steve and Steve made it small and personal), and the rest is history.

True, the inventors may not have set out to “serve it well,” but, in the end, they did. 

Think back to the classroom — when do classroom activities work best? For my room, it’s when the classroom is a community of learners, helping one another. 

Therefore, It’s not the device. It’s not the pedagogy. It’s not the purpose. 

The magic of engaged learning is Purpose, Pedagogy, and Beneficence.

How do I know?

This year, the seventh grade reading teacher found a way to get her small group of active boys reading: they partner read with kindergarten students (pedagogy). In order to read to the students, they needed to know how to read (purpose). Once they read to the little partners, and realized the impact, they did not want to stop (Beneficence). 

Also this year, the seventh and eighth grade students did not have presenters for our Outdoor Education Day at the lake, so the two teachers decided we would plan an Outdoor Eduction day as a service project (pedagogy) for the Kindergartener’s who are not part of OED. The older students planned with maps and checklists created themselves a Nature Walk around the campus, including science and nature talks at each stop. Since the younger students had just read about pirates, the older students also planned a Nature Scavenger Hunt using a “Nature Treasure Map” and based on the Nature Walk. It was a great event, and the immediate response back at the room for the older students were self-evaluative discussions of a) managing younger students and b) planning better information for next year. 

Purpose, Pedagogy, and Beneficence equals engaged learning.

Play to Learn

So how does one move to Purpose, Pedagogy, and Beneficence?

At all ages we need to share careers of opportunities for students. Connect them to our curriculum. Allow students to learn about them. Most importantly, create the pedagogy of the content area so that students think like careers in that content: So their work, thinking, and products are that of writers, geographers, historians, geologists, scientists, cartographers, authors, etc.

Make sure the purpose is relevant to the learner and the purpose engages the class in a community of learners whereby each member adds to the project in ways that enhance the community, or some other person or entity. Purpose, then reflects the targets required, the learner’s desires, the project’s cause, and the learning community’s goals.

A project could be:
Annotated artwork for nursing home
Website of facts about animal abuse prevention
Letters to agencies
and on and on

For all of this to occur, the classroom process and goals need to be taught — the purpose of this school or classroom will look and feel differently. In addition, students will need skills in collaboration, listening, analyzing, discussion, problem-solving, etc.  See resources below for ideas.

My Goal to Begin:
Engage students in introductory, short projects (example: prepare and teach about digital citizenship to younger students– a review for my students, and a purpose/product that is achievable).
Evaluate that process and establish protocols and procedures for successful completing.
Evaluate content skills learned and set goals for improvement.
Evaluate the effect of our work on others.
Begin career investigations.
Brainstorm and plan further projects.

What do you think? How do you know? What will you do?

Project Based Learning

Think Like A Scientist

Think Like an Historian

David Perkins – Thinking Skills

Questioning by tbond

Educational Origami by Andrew Churches

Thinkers Toolbox by paulajamieson

Habits of Mind

Digital Writing Workshop by Troy Hicks




Pause and Reflect…

I have never attended a writing project seminar. I am surrounded by those who have who have shared their inspirations with me.

As a writing teacher, I constantly search for the language lessons that inspire my students. I find them frequently at National Writing Project sites, such as:

Google Square “National Writing Project” “writing” “resources” “lessons” “teaching” “learning”:
Please look at the resources and links from this search: NWP Google Squared

The National Writing Project is a national treasure for all who want to promote literacy, and isn’t that the national debate right now? No matter who you are, the resources are available. The Nevada Writing Project’s “Writing Fix” site sends me a “Lesson Plan of the Month.” Student contests and work is shared with assessments and further resources. 

Remember this project:  Letters to the President?  The National Writing Project helped sponsor this, and my students, tucked away in a very rural community,  joined the process, becoming engaged citizens communicating positively with their government through a multi-layered project.

Play to Learn…

I am just a teacher. But I don’t just make do with the resources at hand in my school. I constantly search for those tools, strategies, and curriculum needed to reach all my students. With the call for excellence in education, why would such a tremendous resource receive no funding?  In this time to engage learners and citizens, why stop funding for an organization that has engaged both learning and citizenship?

Please continue funding for the National Writing Project. Anyone who desires excellence in education and engagement by citizens would do so.  Join us by reading articles ( Esther Wojciki in Huffington Post ) and contacting Congress.  Won’t you encourage excellence in writing instruction and student citizenship?


This post was inspired by Cooperative Catalyst #blog4NWP

Photo Credit: Pencils CC by Sheri Edwards

You’re LIVE every minute…

Math Meeting Board and Lesson 

Pause to Learn…

What’s amazing about teachers?

One aspect of teaching that most people do not think about is that a teacher is “LIVE” every minute of the day. Whether teaching high school/middle school hourly or block classes of one or two subjects, or whether teaching elementary classes of all subjects, the teacher is in the spotlight, live for each subject. That’s not saying the teacher is the center of attention via lecture, but every moment, the teacher in the classroom is “LIVE” to guide the class or groups, monitoring and providing feedback for the learning (see this Universal Design for Learning Grade 5 Language Arts video as an example.)

And when not actually in a classroom, teachers meet with other teachers, meet in staff meetings, meet for professional development, and meet with families — all of which expect active participation. 

That’s it. Beyond a thirty-minute lunch period, a teacher is actively involved in learning management. And focused involvement with students occurs most of the day. Some teachers receive one prep period in addition to the half hour before and after school, which is reserved for family communication, staff meetings, and lesson preparation.


Play to Learn…

A great blog read is Bircher’s Banter from which the ideas in this post derive. In his post, “No Matter What–You’re Live,” he reminds new teachers that everyday, no matter what, they are LIVE in the classroom. To be effective, a teacher must take deep breath and be prepared for “Ready, Set, Action.” As this principal says, “Each day you are expected to have your “A” game.  When you do not deliver, you usually hear about or realize it.  Reflective practitioners know this instantly.”

For those thinking about teaching as a career, you may want to think about this, too: If the teacher is “LIVE” with students most of the day, when does the planning, assessment development, grading, differentiation for each student, and documentation occur? A teacher may teach 120 middle or high school students each day in one or two subjects. An elementary teacher teachers 20-40 students in each subject each day. That means teachers don’t just work from 9 am to 4 pm. Most often, the prep periods fill with family conferences, tutoring, and staff collaboration, so the “paper work” of teaching occurs outside the school day so you can be “LIVE” every moment for the learning of the students.

That’s what’s amazing about teachers; “The number of interactions each day with students, staff, parents and community members are significant…the fact that day in and day out – you’re LIVE!” Every minute.

And everyday, they plan for that before they arrive in the morning. Given the daily barrage against education and teachers, how about an apple for your favorite teacher today? And to all the teachers I know, here’s one for you:




Please feel free to pass this Apple 4 Teachers badge to teachers everywhere.


Photo Credit:

Flickr CC Math Meeting Board by Old Shoe Woman


Apple4Teacher by Sheri Edwards: Creative Commons 3.0  Created in Snagit.


Flickr CC An Apple for Teacher By Ms. Tina

An Apple for the Teacher (3/365)

My PLN Plants Seeds for Learning

Pause to learn…


Skype, as of this date, is a free, easy way to connect classrooms to classrooms and classrooms to authors or other experts. Skype is an audio or video call through your computer and internet connection. Imagine opening up the doors to learning through the sharing of ideas, cultures, learning, data, etc. How could you use Skype in the classroom? Here are 50 Ways at Teachingdegree.org.  And here are author visits available through Skype An Author by author Mona Kerby and Library Media Specialist Sarah Chauncey.

Paula Naugle and Jan Wells, fantastic elementary educators, use Skype in their classrooms to enhance and enrich their Grade Level Expectations. Learn about these teachers and their work from this Ed Tech Talk recording here or watch their K12 Online Echo recording of their “Seeds to Success with Skype Presentation” here.   The two teachers, Paula from Louisiana and Jan from Kansas, work together on various language arts and math graphing projects.  Here’s their project page on Google Sites: Seeds to Success with Skype. A mentor of theirs who manages excellent collaborative projects is Jennifer Wagner of Projects by Jen.  
My students have skyped and shared, and loved every second sharing their cultural dancing. Learn about that experience here.

But how do you get started? How do you connect?  

First, check out the information above and contact Paula, Jan, or Jen. Sign up at the Skype Edu list here.  Read about the technical and management issues from Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano at her ongoing project Around the World with 80 Schools. She includes a basic introduction and a companion wiki. Check out the jobs for students while using Skype.

So, with this background information, there’s no reason not to start.  Got a computer with an Internet connection? Download Skype and get started.

Play to learn…

As for me, I’ve just signed up at Around the World with 80 Schools and will look for middle school connections. On what will we connect? I’ll ask my students; we’ll look together and wonder at what questions to ask and what we have to share based on the information at the site. How long will we take to connect with 80 schools? Our Grade Level Expectations will become authentic learning with authentic assessments and we will enjoy our progress. No matter how long it takes to meet 80 schools, our learning will be ongoing… won’t you join us?


Photo Credit: Flickr CC 


  by mdmarkus66


Classroom Collaboration



How do I think through collaboration between/among classrooms?

A quick look (not inclusive)


What are the goals?

What is the timeframe?

What tools will enhance the project?

What do the kids think?

How will we know we are successful?

How will we share what we did?

How will we continue or contain the project?



We: Teaches/Students/Districts

Project: a shared inquiry

Goals: overall tagged with standards according to each school district and student needs

Timeframe: one time, short or long-term?

Thinking: input from student ideas; strategies ( I’ve started reading Comprehension and Collaboration by Harvey and Daniels)

Success: ongoing evaluation, revision, reflection, documentation

Share: public or private

After: continue with further inquiry or contain with reflection, appreciations, and farewells






What are the goals?

What goals do the participants hope to accomplish? Think in terms of teachers and students, linking them to the standards required. How will this project meet these goals? Create an outline with checkpoints.

What is the timeframe?

Is this a one-time meet, or a project that will involve time for a unit, week, quarter, year? Set reasonable checkpoints for reflection, discussion, refining, revising. What are we trying to do? How are we doing? Are we effective? What do we still need to do, and what is the best course of action?

What tools will enhance the project?


Partner Wiki or Partner Google Site: to create with students the focus, goals, timetable, discussions, possibilities, collaboration, documentation drafts

Skype: to meet each other and provide ongoing face-to-face time as needed

Twitter: sharing and requesting on content and process

Blogs: Documentation; Sharing; Portfolio — ideas include:

Create for dialogue of process, content, and/or product

Create for teacher reflection

Create for student content, reflection, dialogue

Create as portfolio of project

Google Docs: collaboration, research, product

Google Sites: documentation of content and process; collaboration on project analysis — what did we do and learn?

Google Groups: online discussion of project to clear up obstacles, delays, refinements

VoiceThread: an ongoing dialogue for exploring or explaining content

Glogster: Poster of content created for project

Flickr or Picassa: sharing visuals


Where will the participants communicate? wiki? email? google docs?

Where will the project information be easily accessible? Shared space (wiki, blog, google site?)

How will the participants keep the project vital and timely? Be clear. Notify each other of any potential obstacles.

What are the goals? List and understand responsibilities.

When will components be completed? Set and meet a schedule, considering time zones

Where will teachers facilitate? (email, wiki, google doc/site, google group?) 

How will the project be evaluated?

What are we trying to do? How are we doing? Are we effective? What do we still need to do, and what is the best course of action?

Remember to share and teach collaboration and thinking strategies as the needs arise in the project; reflect with students on these. These are the key life lessons not tested on “the tests.”

Be creative: original, flexible, fluent, elaborative. Think of the talents of students and include them in the development of process and product.

What do the kids think?

Begin with input from students. Develop with students the goal and criteria: Topic, Audience, Purpose. Once the inquiry begins, guide students in collaboration and thinking strategies. Work towards developing the best form to share the project and its results (wiki, site, blog, video, photo essay, public service announcement, etc.)

How will we know we are successful?

At checkpoints, reflect on the topic, audience, and purpose. What have learned? What are we trying to do? How are we doing? Are we effective? What do we still need to do, and what is the best course of action?

How will we share what we did?

Who else will benefit? Who did benefit?

How do we demonstrate our learning to others and our own school district? 

Think about the process and the product.

How will we continue or contain the project?


What are the next steps? Does the same topic continue, or a new goal develop? Is this the end of this collaboration? How will teachers and students debrief and release — say good-byes?

Where will the project results be displayed?



This is simply a beginning set of possible considerations for a collaborative project. Projects are messy; they require constant revision because life and humans happen. And each project topic and set of goals require its own circumstances and tools, and that’s another blog.  For now, what would you include when starting to plan for your classroom collaboration?



Flickr Photo CC by lumaxart

Progression: Life – Learning – Life


A Progression:


Life: Survival

Learning: Library/Internet

Life: Thriving




You know what “they” say: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” People whose lives have been shattered either by natural or human events can find hope and help through their own quest for learning. They rebuild, one grain of learning at a time, into new patterns of living.


Watch this TED talk by William Kamkwamba who (at age 14), with info from a library (yet he could only read the diagrams at first) built a windmill for electricity and irrigation during the South African famine in Malawi.




A blogger started the progression of events that led to a global involvement:



William’s own blog (with mentor)



And now a global presence:



This shows how important access to the Internet is. ??Another story that reveals the life-saving power of learning if one has access to the Internet:


From maize to sunflowers to successful community in Macha, Zambia:



Necessity is the mother of learning…

Where there is access, a network of learning developed.


These are stories of learning that saved lives, and the quest for learning continued to offer more than just subsistence living.


Richard Opie, with the Global Education Conference Group (http://www.globaleducationconference.com/index.html) asks, “Why do so many of our young people disengage from school?”??


Perhaps school is no longer part of their answers; schools are not part of what adds to the patterns in their lives. How do we change that? This global conference has the power to stimulate the creation of projects that connect and support solutions to community needs.




Although not a “global” player yet, I think that sharing this information with my class will help us think about our own community needs, and perhaps begin our own quest for solutions and a real reason to learn.


Things will start small for simple needs. For instance, a student wrote an open essay directed at his need: he had driven his dirt bike across the highway to the trails, but since neither he nor his cycle were licensed, he received a ticket. His essay attempted to persuade the officials to allow crossing the highway at those points the kids needed to. ??It’s simple. It’s personal. It’s a start. The thing is, he wouldn’t have written an essay if he hadn’t needed to. ??That’s the dilemma education is in.


“Why do so many of our young people disengage from school?” It’s not meaningful. It’s not relevant. We may not be starving in our communities (or some students may be), but we need to allow the student’s world into our classrooms in order to connect them to learning. Our schools need to add to the pattern they are building for themselves. And perhaps, the simple things in the student’s world will allow them to expand to help their community, and perhaps support students in the communities around the world. And the pattern grows… one bit of learning at a time…






Join the ??Global Education Conference Group (http://www.globaleducationconference.com/index.html)


Learn about ActionAid to eliminate poverty: http://www.actionaid.org.uk/100002/about_us.html


Get ActionAid’s kit for schools — Global Citizenship: http://www.actionaid.org.uk/schoolsandyouth/getglobal/ ??Includes a step-by-step process of thinking through problems through activities and games with action and reflection.


Learn about Computer Aid International http://www.computeraid.org/about-us.asp


Learn about Peace Direct http://www.peacedirect.org/stop-conflict/ ?? ??and ?? http://www.insightonconflict.org/about/




Photo Credit: Flickr CC by ??Wonderlane

Guiding Student Collaboration: CRTs and Query Quests

After browsing my Tweets, this caught my eye because collaboration is important to me and I to find the ways in which all my kids are smart:

@gardenglen??Just read “Sitting Next to the Smart Kids” by @amandacdykes Good post reflecting on collaboration http://j.mp/bVaVNV



First of all, I love the title and header of her blog: Upside Down Education. Her comments about our PLNs ring true:

“We use backchannels, blogs, and twitter to share our ideas, but stop short from giving our students that opportunity. ??Students need to share what they are learning as they learn it. ??They need to have others to bounce ideas off of. ??Even more they need to help each other. ??Isn???t that what we do in our PLN, help each other? ??Learning takes on a whole new level when it is done with others.”

And of course she brought the idea home to the classroom: this is what kids need to do, but how do we guide middle school students to this?

Immediately I thought of the work of Jim Burke of The English Companion ( http://www.englishcompanion.com/??) and The English Companion Ning (http://englishcompanion.ning.com/) . ??Jim Burke’s ideas have guided my teaching so that students drive the conversations. Of course they need guidance to start, but on topics that interest them, they shine.

So how can I clarify for my students just how to connect with others so that they can choose this any time they need to gather ideas resources and ideas from a Personal Learning Community (PLC)?



Keeping in mind how I introduce the hard copies to students, I recreated my think sheets and added a TIPS section to include brief directions with some organizational and etiquette strategies, especially in the online Google Docs versions. I kept each document to two pages: one page for the organizer and one page for the tips. ??The Google Docs version doesn’t have the “blocks” of the CRT or the “target” of the target sheet, but the idea of an online collaboration with my class or with other classes demonstrates the power of our web tools and the transformation occurring in education. The thinking organizers are the tool to which a task and project move towards completion.


The CRT Conversation Round Table allows participants to extend ideas on four issues concerning their project. (Examples: reading possibility– theme, character, plot, setting; research possibility– content, experts, quotes, resources; volcanoes– history, types, consequences, advances)


The Target/Query Quest starts with a person or group with a project or idea. They need to expand on or get unstuck from the ideas and content so far. They ask colleagues to provide input in information or ideas. (Example: research– need more ideas on conservation of different items — trees, water, energy, etc.)

These two options nudge students to connect with others and consider other viewpoints or content. This could lead to further collaboration and expand the project to others. With an online template, the students can establish their own outreach, online learning communities.

Hopefully, we’ll have blogging buddies this year to which we can gather ideas online in a true Professional Learning Community. Truly, our PLN is more than a network, we are a community and I would love for my students to grow their smarts and their own learning through a learning community.??

Below are links to the documents and tips if you would like to adapt them to your needs. I’d like to thank Glen Westbroek??@gardenglen??and Amanda Dykes ??@amandacdykes??for provoking these possibilities. And thanks to my PLC for helping me transform my teaching.





Target Query Quests Web View



Target Query Quests Public Template



CRT Conversations Web View



CRT Conversations Public Template




Pages — send me an email




Suppose We Ask the Tough Questions…



I’ve been reading The Hardest Questions Aren’t on The Test: Lessons from an Innovative Urban School by Linda Nathan. She explains how key to the reform at their school is to develop a philosophy, “a unifying framework” from which their focus on improvement could evolve. I just put my iPad down and thought, “I tried to guide my colleagues this way for several years, and some colleagues tried to help, but without leadership, that floundered.”??

She discussed Fenway Park HIgh School’s guiding Habits of Mind (PERCS: Perspective, Evidence, Relevance, Connections, Supposition). I had adapted that to my sixth grade self-contained classroom years ago.??Nathan also explained: “At Fenway, we asked a particular set of questions: What is my perspective on this? What evidence do I have? What is the relevance? What other connections can I make? And suppose that…? Students had to apply a Habits of Mind framework to school projects and exhibitions, even to homework. The PERCS framework we devised worked well at Fenway.” At her new school, the staff also needed to “own” their framework and??spent two years framing their focus: RICO – Refine, Invent, Connect, Own.

Since I’m familiar with PERCS, I think I’ll pursue??that again:


I want my students to develop the habits of mind that engender thoughtful planning, personal reflection, and positive life focus.??


Right now students barely earn Ds; they are satisfied with this. If I plan for units of learning to which PERCS reflection can occur, then students should have more buy-in and work for a more satisfying experiences while earning better grades.??


There is no relevance for teaching if the students have no relevance for learning. Therefore, this idea for curricula design with PERCS is relevant.??


I think of the engagement my sixth grade students had with project learning, and all this “teach to the test” must stop if we are to re- engage students with the learning process and practice the habits of lifelong learners. ??




Suppose PERCS were evident in my teaching? Then I would think from the perspective of how we learn relevant to our students and from where they come.

Suppose teaching planned for how we learn? Then lessons would first of all include choices, secondly include social outlets, and thirdly would include the possibility of success.??

Suppose teaching realized community expectations? Then sharing successes should be frequent and easily visible.

Those suppositions would render my teaching more relevant for students who could then connect better with learning and create the evidence of their learning despite the test results. Who wants to learn with the fear of “the test?”. For that matter, I dread teaching for “the test.”

So what could this look like???

I could start out with menus for learning, the results to which students could display their reflections/products in displays around the community, in the school, and online. It would involve projects with student choice, social interaction, and community displays.??

I searched my hard drive, and found the web page I had developed with our Habits of Mind rubric and recreated it for use next year as a starting point, pending revisions as I develop this process.

I am reviving my philosophy of learning and teaching and implementing it into my classroom again; we’ve had so much change in leadership, and such a focus on “the test.” And Linda Nathan reminded me of why I began teaching…

Here I go… ??How about you?

Suppose you ask the tough question: What is important in school? ??

Suppose you follow your philosophy? How will your students benefit?

Resource Rights




Let’s think about this:

Department of Ed Lays Down Law on Kindle E-Reader Usage

“The??United States Department of Education??andDepartment of Justice??have just issued a reminder calling for colleges and universities–as well as K-12 school districts–to make sure devices such as e-readers that are required in the classroom comply with accessibility laws…??Kindle devices aren’t accessible to students who are blind or have low vision.”

I believe all children can learn. I work with the Special Education Instructor to provide the least restrictive environment and lessons for special needs students. I’m helping her use her new computers with our students with special needs, and with those without special needs. Look at the classroom and all its visual requirements, all of which were “new technologies” at one time: textbooks, whiteboards, screens, notebooks, bulletin boards, etc.

So no one can use the devices because some of us can’t? We can only use in classrooms what every one can use, or that we can adapt so every one can use? No wonder people want out of public schools: who can innovate when government regulations prevent it?

Surely, those using the Kindle are providing alternatives.

All students have rights to resources, and those rights should not be diminished, or we prevent innovation that does support learning for those with special needs. Think about it: if we had denied the use of computers in the classroom because every one can’t use them, then would we even have universal access on computers?

And, the federal government is planning more for education… Oh my. ??



Advocate. But advocate for innovation not restriction.


I will continue to advocate for the rights of all students to have access to and participate in the world today, especially through and with the technology and its??protocols of etiquette??that are required of them now and in the future.


Image credit:

CC 2 Flickr by Editor B

Remixed with Snagit??