The One Writing Standard You're Not Teaching in the ELA Classroom (yet the one you need the most!)

pedagogy student-centered Feb 01, 2022

Standards can be tough, can't they! There are some that we hit naturally in our day-to-day teaching and others…well, we have to plan for them, right?

The Common Core writing standards, which we centralize in the classroom, is the set of skills our students need to know or be able to do as a result of their time in the classroom with us.

Two standards rise to the surface right away: our argumentative writing standards and our informational writing standards. These two seem to have precedence in the high school English classroom.

Meanwhile, there is also our narrative set of writing standards, which is the third piece to the Common Core’s emphasis on writing. Unfortunately, the narrative writing standards are often overlooked in the high school ELA classroom because, quite frankly, it's 'not on the test'.

So, in essence, narrative writing takes a backseat.

However, I want to focus on narrative writing standards now more than ever! These are the standards, in my opinion,...

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Forget Traditional Classroom Management, Build Student Agency the Right Way

Classroom Management…let’s rethink it shall we?

You probably agree with me when I say that some days, I would rate myself a 10/10 on my classroom management skills. Then, there are other days when I could easily rate myself a 2/10. 

It’s tough to keep it consistent all day, EVERY day, but classroom management affects the structure and flow of our lesson plans as well as our general classroom environment.

So, instead of focusing on the typical conversation about how to better our classroom management skills, the essential question we are going to chase after here is the following:

What can we do to get our own students to spark and manage their OWN learning without us having to exert so much energy in that department? 

Think of how more effective and productive our classrooms would be if we as teachers could allocate that energy elsewhere like feedback or support. It’s exciting to think about the possibilities and maybe with a little practice, we...

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The Truth About Giving Students a Voice in ELA (hint: it's not what you think)

pedagogy student-centered Jan 11, 2022

I know you are probably thinking…Yeah, give them a voice! Our students have something to say and we NEED to hear it! So, let them have one in the classroom!

Isn’t that the catchphrase of our modern teaching era? ‘Give students a voice + choice.”

Let’s focus on the word ‘GIVE’.

When a student hears a teacher say something like, “Today I am going to give you a writing assignment in order to give you all a voice when it comes to the new clubs being added to the school…” Students have a weird feeling about this idea of teachers giving them their voice. It becomes a power dynamic almost…them challenging why you have to GIVE it to them in the first place. Don’t they already have one?

Doesn’t the whole concept take us way back to the days of old? The days where your job as a student is to sit still and raise your hand and IF you are lucky, the teacher may call on you to hear what you have to say? Those days...

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Secondary Teacher's Checklist for Planning in Unprecedented Times: 12 questions to ask as you prepare for a new year

foundational pedagogy Jul 09, 2020

Use this teacher's checklist to make sure you (and your instructional units!) are prepared for this unprecedented school year.

This is going to sting a bit when I say it: we talk a lot in education, but rarely do we keep pace with our walk.

Classrooms are quick to claim 'student-centered', but with the mounting pressures of standardized assessment, our dreams of student-voice and choice get deferred by compliance-based systems.

Schools wear 1:1 tech capabilities like a badge of honor, but when COVID-19 struck, teachers were positively paralyzed in a digital sea of 'what to do?'.

And while plenty of campus mission statements ooze with 'college and career' -ready promises, the truth is, most students are groomed exclusively for a college-bound path, leaving practical skills and application to sit on the sidelines of our curriculum.

In short, instruction in today’s schools is far from optimized.

But there's hope yet, friends.

Many have said that 2020 would be the Year of...

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Your 2020 Classroom Library: creating equity and belonging in your classroom and on your bookshelves

A classroom library is a special place, and each book on its shelves should be chosen carefully with intent and purpose.

Not long ago, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) began an initiative to both encourage professional growth + development and build classroom libraries. Hence, 'Build Your Stack' was born.

Lucky for our learners, it also happens to be an excellent opportunity to build *diversity* in our bookshelves as well.

(For any given student, when they view our text selections, these should call to them: 'Yes, you can sit here.' And while this has *always* been a need, it needs to become a priority.)

Every summer, I skip my happy self to Barnes & Noble and get lost on the shelves. I arrive back home with a gang of new books to fill my summer, color my year, and build my classroom library. A longstanding ritual, and my own version of Build Your Stack, I suppose.

So the next logical step?

It's time to SHARE my stack, of course!

This year,...

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8 Ted Talks for Teachers to Watch (Before You Start Lesson Planning)

This post contains 8 of the best Ted Talks all teachers should watch for motivation, inspiration, and ideas to develop student passions for and interests in learning.

I could watch it again and again.

Granted, Sir Ken Robinson's TED Talk is *the* most-watched global speech of all time, but he never fails to blow my mind.

So let's start with why that is (and I'll keep it simple):

The guy is a creativity *ninja*.

(Right now the 16-year-old, know-it-all version of me is wondering where that career was on my college majors list, but I digress). 

As a Creativity Expert, Sir Ken has made it his mission in life to challenge the way we educate kids.

That is a mission I can get behind.

Now, if you don’t know Sir Ken Robinson, then you have yet watch *the* most watched TED Talks of all time, and a brilliant one for teachers, indeed: “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” 

Amidst his wit and humor, Sir Ken lays it all out there: 

“All kids...

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Rethinking Routine in the Secondary Classroom

What kind of habits or routines do you traditionally establish in your classrooms? How linked are these with the big picture success you envision for your learners?

In this session, we'll talk about creating daily classroom routines that translate into the kind of lifelong habits our students need to achieve any goal they set.

Like anyone else, our students' success depends on the habits they build over time. But there's no such class in the school curriculum called The Art of Habit-Building or Habitual Literacy 101.

And while it might feel like teaching them good habits is their parents' job, or that of a life coach, a therapist (or a unicorn, for that matter), it actually IS our job, and here's why..

  1. Habits make goals happen.
  2. Habits define our character.


We are both in the business of helping our students achieve their goals AND responsible for shaping their character while they're in our care.

So what can we do to legitimately build strong habits with our...

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5 Lessons Teachers Can Learn from Teaching through a Global Pandemic

pedagogy sel + wellness May 04, 2020

In the thick of a global pandemic, where much of our instruction has migrated online, there are plenty of days where you've likely felt like this whole online teaching gig is simply *not* part of your calling.

And just when that feeling is at its height and breaking point: school gets cancelled for the rest of the year.

Like any Charles Dickens reader, I prefer the best of times.  So today’s post is your full glass of water in these worst of times we face...

So here’s the deal:

You may not see it from the thick of the trees in Failure Forest, but what we're doing *right now* to keep our classrooms afloat while learning from a distance is *actually* the penultimate example of what it means to be a student in the real world.

What you’re doing as you toggle new platforms and test out hyperlinks, track assignments online and--heck, figure out the ‘mute all’ button: this fumbling-and-figuring models exactly what it means to take risks, be...

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Standards-based Grading Implementation: shifting from grades to growth

Standards-based grading implementation has never been as important as it is when teaching digitally. The research and suggestions in this post will help you set a course of action to making your students' grades mean something real.

As you likely know from experience, teaching right now is more about establishing normalcy, continuity and community more than anything else.  So the question naturally arises: 'how do you grade this?'

We're trying to figure out, what to grade, if anything, in fact.

Meanwhile, with standardized exams being canceled for the year, we have even less to go on when it comes to measuring student growth over time. 

But it may just be the mindset we need because it’s forcing us to put our grade books into perspective. It's about the time we should start asking ourselves these questions, head-on:

  • what do the grades we typically give actually mean?
  • are our current methods for reporting progress the best way to communicate...
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Peer Editing Tips: 3 reasons peer review isnā€™t working (+ how to fix it)

foundational pedagogy Apr 07, 2020

Peer editing, like every classroom practice, must be taught. The peer editing tips in this post will help you give your students the guidance they need to take their peer editing to the next level.

To plenty of learners, the mere mention of ‘peer review’ brings on all the classic symptoms: the audible groan, the predictable eye-roll, the suddenly ‘busy’ demeanor.  Anything to assume an outward distaste for a classically dreadful task.

Meanwhile, plenty of teachers feel the same way in issuing the task.  

Quite frankly, students have a hard time seeing places that need improvement in their own writing at any level; so how can we expect them to spot errors in each others’ work?

Meanwhile, they tend to dash through assigned tasks as quickly as possible, in ceaseless effort to ‘get it over with’.

It’s no wonder we ask ourselves:

Is peer review even worth the effort--and the precious class time?


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