Instructional Design and Educational Assessment…Yikes!

Tonight was the first class of the Spring semester. The decision was made to begin fully online until it was safe to return to campus. I will say, I miss in-person learning. The energy is just so different when you are sitting, staring at a bunch of screens. There is something to be said about body language, walking the room, MOVEMENT, for Pete’s sake! Overall, I thought the class went well. The first class is the get-to-know-yous and get-to-know-me as your professor. One of my main goals is that the students walk away excited for the semester. I do NOT want to add any more stress and anxiety to their lives. I hope they feel that.

These blogs will serve two purposes for me. One–it will be a vehicle for me to reflect on the class, what went well, what did not, how I could improve for next time, etc. And two, it will be a way for me to share my process, instructional decisions, and content for instructional design and educational assessment. My hope is that it may help other educators in Teacher Ed. Professors of teacher education programs are the ultimate believers in education. The whole reason I teach is because it fills me with great hope and deep joy. If we educators can connect through social media, share resources, and collaborate, I’m all in.

I linked the slides at the top of the blog. The sequence and flow went as follows:

  • Prior to class, sent out a survey to learn more about each student and, most importantly, get songs for our class playlist. We need to stay awake here, people! 
  • What’s in a name? Discuss how critical it is that we take the time for the students to teach us how to say their name. I shared some beautiful picture books that help reinforce that concept with their students. 
  • About me… blah, blah, but they want to know who is teaching them. 
  • Students read some quotes about education and went into breakout rooms to discuss which quote resonated with them and why. 
  • Syllabus Dive! Because it has to happen. Although a couple of students did mention that they were the type of student that does not want to review the syllabus in the first class. 
  • Dance Break! Stand up and stretch. Totally necessary. I walked my house and kissed my kids good night. 
  • F.I.T. Activity: Students added a padlet their own words describing how they wanted to FEEL in this classroom? How do you want to INTERACT in this classroom? Finally, what TOPICS do you want to talk about in this classroom? (Thanks to @teachtothefull for the activity.)
  • Belief Based Teaching: Too often, we here the phrase “standards based teaching”. Not to say that there is anything wrong with standards based teaching. In fact, I am a proponent of it. However, before you study and understand the standards, you must study and understand your own beliefs about education. I created a Teaching and Learning document to help probe some thinking. Some questions were ‘What is the purpose of education? Who is responsible for the learning in the classroom? What is the role of assessment? Of testing? How would you define a “good” student?
    • Think-Write-Share: After they had some time to write on their own, they went into breakout rooms to share their thoughts. Students could and should add to their own document based off the discussions taking place. For homework, they will be reading the ELA/ELD framework and some other articles to help them think deeper and more explicitly on the questions. This document will be used as a tool to craft the Teaching and Learning Statements later in the course. 
  • Last, but not least, they took a diagnostic assessment. I explained that this information was for me, to help me better plan for their learning. And to be honest, after reading through some of their response, I can see that some students already know some of this content. If I had never given the preassessment, I might have falsely concluded that I taught them well–never knowing that they knew this information BEFORE they even walk through the door. I just cannot stress the importance of a preassessment enough. 

I am looking forward to learning more from these students. Each semester I teach, I grow more hopeful for this profession and for the future of public education. 


COVID: Lessons to Start the Year

Like all other districts in California, and many across the nation, we started this school year in a remote learning environment. I am the assistant principal at a year-round school. Our teachers and students began the school year, before most of the country had even made any kind of decision about how to open schools.  We have been rockin’ and rollin’ now for six weeks.  And let’s be clear, I’ve never seen teachers work harder.

In efforts to support the teachers in this uncharted territory, our district has been rallying the troops!  Teams have been creating units of study, social emotional learning lessons, professional development opportunities (by the hundreds it seems), and much more. My previous role as an instructional coach in the positioned me to assist with these endeavors.

I’m not going to lie. I LOVE working with curriculum. How do you build meaningful units that both students and teachers will connect with and hit their learning targets? How do you ensure that learning goals are clear at all levels: surface, deep and transfer? How do you collect evidence throughout the unit to best inform the next instructional moves? What might be an appropriate instructional sequence for all learners? In what ways were students’ knowledge and skills assessed and then utilized as assets while designing the learning plan? The questions, the tweaks; it never ends. Down the rabbit hole I go.

For this particular task, a group of colleagues and I were asked to build the first two weeks of remote/virtual lessons.  Here are 2 of the tasks we came up with:

  1. The Classic “Brown Bag Project”, just slightly upgraded with Google and Flipgrid assistance: A multi-day project (Preparation, Presentation, Respond to Classmates) for students to be able to introduce themselves to their peers, but also to get familiar with some tech tools that will be utilized throughout the remote learning setting.

Brown Bag

  1. Letter to My Teacher:  Task serves as an informal writing assessment AND a way to get to know your students as individuals.

Letter to My Teacher

This post only contains the isolated tasks, however, I truly appreciate the opportunity to build meaningful units utilizing both a backwards design (UbD) and UDL framework. Do I do it perfectly? No. But with every unit, my design muscles grow stronger and it’s those small wins that keep me going.

Teachers have a ridiculous amount on their plate right now. I mean, they always have, but it’s grown exponentially. Anything I can do to alleviate the load, I will do without blinking an eye.


Literacy Love Letters

My third year out of the classroom, and the experience has been bittersweet.  The joys and highs I feel supporting teachers, advocating for their needs in order to better serve students, and simply listening to their experiences is irreplaceable.  The bitterness comes from yearning to talk, laugh, and learn with students each day.

When I pull up to a school site and observe the kids socializing in their clusters, playing tag, yelling at each other…it tugs at my heart.  As a result, I have now become the teacher you hate.  You know the one.  The one that walks through the office and notices the student “in trouble” or the child “benched” at recess, and I whisper to them, “It’s going to be ok.”  Or I sneak a genuine smile and wink to let them know that they are loved.  See, you’re reading this and rolling your eyes.  Because for all I know, that kid could have just stabbed another kid with a pencil—for the 11th time.  I know, I get it.  But I miss them.  I miss hearing their voices, both on paper and dancing through the air of classrooms and hallways.

The 40 Book Challenge created by the amazing Donalyn Miller a.k.a. The Book Whisperer changed my life.  (Please refer to this post for more details.)  She validated my core beliefs and set me free to travel back down the road of treating students as authentic readers, forever readers.  Each week we wrote letters back and forth, not simply about the stories they were reading, but their thoughts and questions about life.  Sharing our reading lives through letter writing is my favorite memory of classroom teaching.  It was, undoubtedly, the most transformative thing I have ever done.

Many of you are emailing asking for the pages sized for a Reader’s Notebook.  (Click on the link at the bottom of this post.)

Please help yourself to tweak as needed and share with photos and stories how you are making it your own.  I beg you to share.

This instructional coach now lives vicariously through you.

St. sample of reader's notebook
An example of simple annotations made by the tchr. You don’t have to write a novel to each st every week! That would be impossible. Especially with more than one period.

Weekly letter for 40 Bk Challenge
St. sample–simple notes by me again. “Not sure. Let’s explore that.” Short, sweet, and to the point. Sometimes I simply wrote “See me” if my question was too long to write.

Readers Notebooks on Parade!
On display for Open House! Students were so proud of all their hard work. Tchr beaming!

40 Bk Challenge Cover

Open House- Bragging about our 40Bk challenge
At the end of the year, we tally all the books we read as a whole. It’s an amazing feeling of accomplishment! Sts are so proud! We sort of make the “reveal” of the total number an event in our class. All our celebrated for their contribution.

St. sample of tch response in reader's notebook
I annotate the letters to show I read them and model how that is diff for everyone. I also write a short response to kids each week. Sometimes they are a couple of words or a question, sometimes it’s a longer response.

St. Sample of Rd Ntbook
Some sts preferred to type their letter (or were asked to due to illegible handwriting). No problem here! Note the tchr-st exchange on the left side. IT was awesome! Sts. loved communicating to me through a letter each week.

Click on the link below for the download.

40 Book Challenge

Wall of Gratitude & Praise

If there is one thing teachers know, it is that we do not simply teach academic content.  It is also our responsibility to instill character and compassion within our students.  From day one, we create and implement routines and procedures with the objective of fostering a safe and positive environment for all learners.  One can search the internet for hours for fun and creative ways to accomplish this task.  So here I go, adding one more to the list.

One year I decided to add another routine to cultivate kind and positive classroom behaviors.  In addition to my “Raining Compliments” wall, I created the “Wall of Gratitude and Praise”.  This idea is so simple and executes beautifully.

Materials you need:

  • Letters that spell out “Wall of Gratitude and Praise”
  • Paper for students to write messages on
    • I used construction paper and cut them in rectangular shape.  You can select any color you want based on your classroom decor.  I went with whichever color I had in my storage. 🙂
  • Wall space that will allow for students to continuing adding to the wall throughout the year


  • Each Friday, in the last 15 minutes or so, each team (my students’ desks were arranged in groups of 4-6) would get a couple of minutes to nominate one classmate that deserved words of praise or gratitude that week.
    • The nominee could not be someone from their own group.
    • The nominee could not have been nominated the past week.
    • This allows for students to ‘spread the love’ and not have the same students receiving messages each week.
  • Took only a short time for students to understand that
    • Words of praise: anything a student did worthy of praise that week, i.g. trying their best, amazing participation in an activity or debate, excelling in a sports tournament, a great drawing, bravery in trying something new, etc.
    • Words of gratitude: anything a student did that was kind, period.
  • Each student then crafted one or two sentences about the individual and wrote it in marker on the paper.  Specificity was highly encouraged to make the sentiment more meaningful.
  • One person from each team then read the words aloud to the class so we could celebrate each student selected.
  • We then tacked up each paper on the wall and continued adding to it for the entire year.

It was a beautiful thing to watch grow, because it wasn’t just the wall that was growing.  The students themselves grew in recognizing and freely giving kind words of praise and gratitude.  In the midst of classroom work, we started to hear things like, “Oh my, that is something worth complimenting” or “Wow, _______ did an amazing job! Let’s remember that for Friday.”

Like I said, it was beautiful.

Wall of Gratitude & Praise
Building community–Once a week (or whenever I felt like it) each st group got a slip of paper and selected one st to give praise to or express gratitude for something. See post for more info…

Can Silent Reading Be Meaningful for Students?

We’ve heard it all in regards to programs like D.E.A.R., SSR, Independent Reading Time, etc.

“It’s a waste of instructional time.”

“It doesn’t work.  Students aren’t really reading, they’re faking.”

“SSR-oh, you mean the time each day that a teacher checks email?  Get rid of it.”

The question still remains, is there a place for students to read independently, a book of their choice, every day during class?  And the answer is, indubitably, yes.  From the works of Pam Allyn of LitWorld, Ernest Morrell, Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Richard Allington, not to mention the whisperings of my own soul, the research behind this practice is conclusive. According to the article by Richard Allington referenced in my last post, students must read something they choose every single day.  This is fundamental in any quality classroom literacy program.  Period.

So, to the teacher reading this, I feel the frustration.  With all of the demands and expectations consistently put on the classroom teacher, how can this possibly occur everyday?  The assemblies, last minute meetings, being summoned to duty, grades, CASSPP preparation, picture day, fire drills, curriculum guides, pacing, essential targets…the list goes on and on.  I have said this before, the struggle is real.  And as much as I prescribe to this belief of students reading everyday from a  self-selected book, there were many years that I did not make this happen.  (Side note: We have to forgive ourselves in those instances and then, aspire to do better tomorrow.)

I will share what finally worked for me in achieving my dream of a meaningful independent reading time that occurred every single day.  Here’s the shortlist.

  1. Write it in your planbook.
    • I mean, legitimately and intentionally select a block of time that will be labeled IRT (independent reading time).  For me, it was in the morning.  The first 45 minutes at my school site was the intervention/ELD block.  The next 15 minutes was IRT.  As soon as the students returned from their designated groups, they didn’t wait in a line outside my door, they entered quickly and quietly, picked up their books and started reading.  (Waiting in line took up too much time as the students were all returning at different times—and minutes matter!)
  2. Decide what YOU, the teacher, will be doing during this time. Then, DO IT. 
    • Resources that guided me were:
    • As alluring as it may be, this was not the time that I completed the endless list of things that we, teachers, have to do. This was the time that I did the following:
      • Walked the room with my class sheet, conferencing with students, recording anecdotal data.  My routine was based off of “Rick’s Reading Workshop”.  Implementing this routine was one of the most powerful things I have ever done as a teacher.  I found out more about these students in 15 minutes than I had in entire months.  Don’t hesitate–just try it.
      • When I wasn’t ‘walking’ the room, I was conferencing with students using their Reader’s Notebook as my guide.  (Please see post regarding Donalyn Miller’s 40 Book Challenge for more information.)
  3. Stick to it.  The entire year. 
    • No matter how tempting it might be—do NOT abandon this routine.  The beginning of the year is rough, as is implementing any routine with students, but it WILL pay off.
    • There will always be something that can ‘pop’ up and masquerade itself as more important.  So, yes, you will be enticed to throw it out for more math time, perhaps.  Don’t.  Nothing is more important.

There you have it.  Please share the routines and resources you have used to give students more access and choice for reading.


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Rick’s notebook where he records all the student data collected during this time.  Provides another option instead of data sheets.  I like it.

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They Must Read Every Day

Screen shot 2016-07-14 at 4.26.55 PMI’m not sure what everyone else is reading, but lately I have been addicted to my “Educational Leadership” magazine.  This is ASCD’s flagship publication and I highly recommend it.  Currently, I’m reading an archived issue, ‘Reading-The Core Skill’.  (You can purchase these for approximately $8-$14.)  

As some of you know, I am teaching summer school and working with teacher candidates, a.k.a. student teachers.  I have had the pressure-I mean the privilege!- of sharing everything I can in regards to literacy in 5 weeks.  Gulp.

As if the stars were in alignment, I just happen to have finished Richard Allington and Rachael Gabriel’s phenomenal article, “Every Child, Every Day”.   This article highlights the six elements of effective reading instruction that do not require much time or money.  Please take the time to read the article linked above, but for this post’s sake, I’ll post the six elements of instruction that every child should experience every day.

  1. Every child reads something he or she chooses.
  2. Every child reads accurately.
  3. Every child reads something he or she understands.
  4. Every child writes about something personally meaningful.
  5. Every child talks with peers about reading and writing.
  6. Every child listens to a fluent adult read aloud.

Let’s take some time to focus on element #1.  How can teachers consistently make this happen in their classroom?  Is it possible?  Is there time?  The answer is yes.  It can happen and it must happen.  But we all know the realities of the classroom, and the struggle is real–assemblies, fire drills, sick days, students taking longer than expected on a unit, and the list goes on.  I get it.  So what might we do?

In my next post I will share with you the strategy that finally worked for me.  In my last years in the classroom, I was able to achieve a meaningful reading time every single day.

Constructive Conversations

Justify My Perspective Sentence Frames
Took Kate Kinsella’s sentence frames and formatted them to fit in stand (Staples). One was placed per st group.

If you have been paying attention to the transition to common core, you know that collaborative conversations between students are ESSENTIAL to student learning.  Learning is social; always has been, always will be.  And quality teachers know that quality lessons should include all 4 components of literacy: listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  (Some might argue viewing, as well.  Meaning incorporating other forms of media such as video, photographs, etc.)  Many teachers, pre-common core, were incorporating and fostering these types of meaningful conversations.  The common core expectations have simply validated that practice.  It is not new.

In an effort to assist students in participating in and initiating quality dialogue, I decided to create these table toppers for each of my groups.  (My classroom desks are set up in groups as promoted by Kagan.)  One side of the display is taken from the genius guru of vocabulary, Ms. Kate Kinsella.  If you haven’t had the opportunity to attend one of her professional learning sessions, do look her up.  Her work on vocabulary, and her own vocabulary might I add, will have you scrambling for a thesaurus.  It’s remarkable.  Anyway, using her sentence frames , I simply formatted them to fit in an 8 X 11 table topper, purchased at Staples for around $8.

The reverse side of this document is “Kiss These Words Goodbye“.  It’s much like a ‘Dead Words’ or an ‘Instead of _____, Say ______’ poster.  The problem with these posters, I found, was that-when posted on the wall- they were too far away from students, inaccessible, really.  I selected some commonly used Tier 1 words that students cling know the ones, sad-mad-bad-nice, etc.—-then, wrote some synonyms for each.  In my opinion, this table topper worked WAY better than any poster I ever hung on my wall.  The students would CONSTANTLY refer to it, I mean physically pick it up, and read from it.  Amazing!

Kiss These Words Goodbye
Preferred to use this rather than posters or charts on the wall. Easier access for st. to use as reference.

What do you use to expand your students’ everyday vocabulary?  How do you foster collaborative conversations?


M&M Introductions

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Great Icebreaker! Found on Pinterest! Quick & Easy

Happy July Everyone!

So… what does an educator that has been out of the classroom for a year JUMP at the opportunity to do…why, teach SUMMER SCHOOL, of course!  Yes, you heard me right.  I was given the opportunity to teach a summer enrichment program for upcoming 5th graders and I couldn’t say “yes” fast enough.  The gig is a dream!  I thought, not only can I get back into the classroom to do what I LOVE (teach!), but I also get to mentor 2 student teachers.  I thought I can put all of this professional development that I have had the luxury of receiving to the test!  I’m 4 weeks in, and do not regret the decision.

So first things first, I had to go back into my ‘bag of tricks’ to determine what intro activities I would plan for these students.  Now, mind you, it’s not all day.  The program runs from 8-12 and it’s the students’ summer-all very important things to take into consideration when planning.  The other factor when planning has been ‘what is essential for me to demonstrate to these teacher candidates’?  The entire program is only 5 weeks with the goal that by the end of our time together, they can be deemed ‘intern ready’ and begin applying for teaching jobs.  So I was definitely feeling the pressure of creating the perfect balance of fun (for the kids) and meaningful content (for the student teachers).

Because the program was in a completely different district and I no longer have access to what used to be endless supply of materials, I was also limited in that area.  This 5 weeks was definitely going to sharpen my own instructional planning skills and force me to stick to activities that get the job done in the most inexpensive way possible.  Pretty much every teacher’s goal anyway, right?

One activity that made the cut was one I found on Pinterest a couple of years ago.  It’s pinned on my “Beginning of the Year” board, if you need to reference it.  It’s pretty self explanatory.  I purchased my giant bag of M&Ms from Costco, projected the picture above on the doc cam, gave each group one hard copy for reference (for any students with vision issues or simply those that like it in-hand), and distributed each group a cup of candies.

There you have it!  A quick and easy way to get the students talking and, of course, eating –after they shared.  We modeled what quality conversations look like and sound like prior to the start of the activity.  I find this method a better way to model collaborative, productive, and respectful conversations.  Rather than explain to the students how to talk with a long, drawn out syllabus, actually let them speak and then model, praise, and correct things that you see.

M&M success!



Opinion Essay Rubrics

Even though I have officially left the classroom and begun a new journey as a literacy instructional coach, I have decided to post the rubrics I was using in my final year as a language arts teacher.  Deciding which writing rubric to use seems to be one of the most arduous tasks of elementary school teachers.  I’m almost embarrassed to admit the countless hours spent creating, tweaking, and searching for the “best” rubric.  And then– don’t even get me started on how many hours were spent trying to agree on ONE rubric as a grade level team…Ick.  My toes curl just thinking about it.

*I must mention that I hesitated to post this one because I have been studying the value and effectiveness of rubrics and/or scoring guides (semantics, in my opinion) that I’m not sure if I would have augmented my rubric yet again.  However, this was one of the rubrics that I felt did a sufficient job providing specific feedback to the students.  So if other teachers can use this to enhance the quality of writing feedback they provide to their students, so be it.

As an instructional coach that is specifically working with writing at the moment, I have been comparing three rubrics: the SBAC rubric (4 pt.), Step Up to Writing 4th Edition’s rubric (4 pt.), and our writing software program’s rubric (MyAccess-4 or 6pt.).  See Below

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If you notice, all 3 rubrics have a different number of domains/writing traits.  For example, the MyAccess rubric is broken up into 5 domains i.e. focus and meaning, content and development, organization, etc.  Step Up to Writing is divided into 4 different domains i.e. organization, ideas/content, language/style, etc.  And finally, the biggie-SBAC.  This is broken up into only 3 areas: purpose/organization, evidence/elaboration, and conventions.  So the golden question asked by every teacher at every training given: Which rubric do I use?  And the answer is not a direct one, but it’s not that complicated either.

My thoughts are this-as long as a teacher intentionally selects a rubric where all the domains of quality writing are accounted for (meaning not simply a holistic score) and the students find it accessible as a learning tool to develop as a writer, it really doesn’t matter.  It becomes a matter of preference for the teacher.  Which rubric will be most easily understood by parents and students that you serve and is also efficient for you?

This is why I chose to post the rubrics created by my partner teacher and me.  If it’s something you feel will enhance your writing program, I’m a happy person.  If not, what tool do use to assess writing?  Please share as we’re all in the same boat.

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5 pt Opinion Essay Rubric

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5 pt. Opinion Essay Rubric with lines for areas of strength and areas to improve. Helpful for both tchr and st.

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Opinion Essay Rubrics – 5 pt.; some with percentages (Beg. to Exemplary) Some blank for tchr discretion


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Opinion Essay Rubric -5 pt. Beg. to Exemplary. Sts can highlight two areas to improve and star two areas of strength

Penny Kittle Says It All

Not much needs to be said here, watch the video.  She says it all.
Not much needs to be said here, watch the video. She says it all.

This is a stand alone post, something that should be viewed and reflected upon at the beginning of the school year.  Thank you, Penny Kittle.

Take 5 minutes to sit and listen.



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