#TLConf2015: Is your PBL Up to Gold Standard?

Is Your PBL Up to Gold Standard?
Rhonda Hill & Ashley Ellis

I decided to attend this session because my new school next year is currently in the process of training its teachers in project-based learning (PBL), and I want to be sure I’m ready! I do some projects in class, and I think I get what PBL is, but I haven’t been formally trained, so I have no idea if I’m doing it “right.” I’m looking forward to getting some guidance and learning more about this. (Edit: I learned a ton!)

As with my last post, this is mostly in notes format. It’s late, and I’m tired, and I know if I don’t just post it now I never will! There might be typos, and not everything will be sentences. So, no judging!

So, what is the gold standard of PBL? 

  • Project design elements, combined with
  • Project teaching practices

Every project has a good driving question. Today’s is:

  • How can we design gold standard projects?
  • Need-to-know questions. Design projects around what kids really need to know. Design instruction around what you anticipate what students need to know.

Good driving question will help develop:

  • ownership
  • authenticity
  • buy-in
  • the ability to ask and answer their own darn questions
  • sustained engagement

One way to sustain inquiry is to ask the students what they need to know.

PBL is a little bit harder, and it’s different. People will be resistant at first. Kids will even say “can I just have my worksheet?”
PBL can sometimes be seen as dessert. Teachers teach, teach, teach, and then tell kids, “ok guys, now let’s do this thing!”

The goal is to make PBL the main course, not the dessert.

Designing projects
Rhonda and Ashley handed out an article on essential project design elements (it will be on bie.org some time this week, and I’ll try to remember to link it here when it’s up). She split us up into teams and assigned us sections. We then created posters that defined the element, gave evidence from the article, and incorporated a visual aid. Since our group focused on authenticity, we drew a word with lots of hands around it. We added things like microscopes, music notes, phones, and more to take a look at some of the authentic tools we can use when designing a great project with PBL. You can see our beautiful poster below! I meant to take pictures of all the posters but forgot. C’est la vie!


Key knowledge/understandings; Key success skills

  • Intentionally design projects with a focus on the content standards but also the ways in which kids turn into the “ideal graduate”

Challenging problem or question

  • enables dialgoue
  • provokes thought (critical thinking)
  • fosters inquiry
  • challenges what’s intimidating
  • forms the foundation/building block for the students

Sustained inquiry

  • taking challenging problem or driving question and finding creative ways to engage kids in solving problem/answering question
  • leads to deeper thinking/questioning
  • This is one of the hardest things for teachers to do in a project. We sometimes answer our own questions because the kids might not answer them right away.

Important! Need to know list should be the first step in inquiry. That sets up the questions and helps sustain the questioning/inquiry.


  • local or global context
  • audience (blogs, etc)
  • have experts come in; have kids see application beyond school
  • skype in experts; bring authentic audience into classroom
  • choice, choice, choice. (why does everything come back to choice?)

Student voice and choice

  • ownership
  • input
  • choice
  • Some teachers are not comfortable with relinquishing some control. But remember, we have the background decisions; the teacher designs the bigger problem and allows for some choice in getting there.


  • carry on throughout your life. If you really want to learn from your experiences, you need to think about them.
  • formal or informal (sometimes systematic, sometimes impromptu)
  • can build from project to project or day to day
  • reflection helps internalizing the learning; becomes ingrained
  • pushes for continual improvement
  • need to be fearless to reflect; there will be things you don’t do so well, but you can also see the good
  • the biggest problem with education is that we never have enough time, and the first thing that always goes out the window is reflection because we always have to move on

Critique and revision

  • creating a culture in the classroom where it’s ok to not get it right the first time

Public product

  • should extend beyond the classroom
  • give an audience so kids want to share something they are proud of
  • kids feel good that people actually care enough to see what they have done. give them these opportunities!

Big takeaway: must create the need to know! you can’t just say “learning the three branches of government is important, so study it.”

“You show that you know something deeply through the process of creation.” (This was a quote from the movie they showed us; I don’t have the citation.)

Check project design rubric on bie.org to make sure your project design is solid. If we want our kids to care, we have to make sure what they’re learning is authentic and relevant. Projects need to be rooted in standards and success skills.

Build the culture in the classroom

  • facilitate meaningful conversations (socratic seminar, fishbowl, etc.)
  • start w/ low stakes. Give them things they aren’t graded on! Yay; this validates my own philosophy and instructional choices!
  • Manage activities- put structures in place that our students know where to do.
  • Can still use direct instruction in PBL; it does not go away. Use mini-lessons to jump in with direct instruction when they need it.

Be sure that the product is truly an opportunity to show that they have solved the problem or answer the question, as well as an opportunity to demonstrate mastery of content standards.

PBL can be a way to create conditions for perseverance.

Don’t forget to check out bie.org! They have everything you’d need to design a project on the web site (and it’s all free and downloadable!). They also have a project library of hundreds of projects that teachers have designed and implemented. This could be a great way to start brainstorming ideas and coming up with PBL topics.

BIE signature product: 3-day workshop to help teachers design PBL projects. If you are an instructional leader and you want to have your staff do more PBL, this could be a fabulous resource for some relevant PD! I learned a ton in an hour; I can’t imagine how much I’d learn in 3 days!

Thanks, Rhonda and Ashley, for a terrific session! I can’t wait to design a project using your methods!

#TLConf2015: Empowering Teachers to Build a Positive, Innovative School Culture

This past weekend, I was in Washington, DC for the annual Teaching & Learning Conference hosted by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. I have been a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) since 2009, and I love being surrounded by hundreds of other NBCTs (we only have 275 here in NJ). Throughout the conference, I tweeted like a crazy person (although I’m pretty sure I came in at a lowly 500 tweets, approximately half of what I tweeted last year).

I’m not sure I’ll be able to blog enough to do this conference justice. I loved the plenary sessions but didn’t take copious notes (other than a bajillion tweets), and I have a feeling I’ll run out of blogging steam before I write those up. The good news is that videos of the plenary will be posted in the next week or so, so you’ll get to see them if you so desire (I highly recommend the rabble rouser one, followed closely by the one with Randi Weingarten and Linda Darling-Hammond).

Anyway, this post contains my notes from a session entitled Empowering Teachers to Build a Positive, Innovative School Culture, led by Angela Watson. I tried to do a bunch of leadership sessions this year, considering the next step in my professional life will be one toward a leadership position. I love learning about school culture, especially how to create one. I feel that one of my strengths as a teacher (correct me if I’m wrong, students) is creating a learning environment that establishes high expectations but in a laid back way. I want my students to feel safe to take risks in my classroom, and when I am an educational leader, I will want to establish the same feeling of safety for my colleagues. So this session seemed right for me!

What follows are my notes, pretty much as written. Forgive the fact that there will be a lot of shorthand and lists, rather than coherent paragraphs. If I worry too much about the writing, I’ll never end up making this post, and I want to curate a record for myself. The original intent was to live blog the sessions, but we didn’t have wifi, so I just took notes in the notes app and am copying them here.

Without further ado, here you go!

Ideas to remember!

  • Use student work to guide discussion (in PLC format).
  • Group grading can be an awesome way to get teachers speaking the same language, clarifying expectations, and understanding standards.
  • Leaders need to affirm teachers so they know what they are doing well. Too often teachers only hear from higher-ups if they are doing something wrong. Find a way to praise teachers and give positive reinforcement for the awesome things teachers do. One easy way to do this is the sticky note thing; write a quick note on a post-it and leave it in the teacher’s mailbox. Little things go a long way!

Emphasize culture of sharing

  • If teachers are uncomfortable sharing about themselves, focus the discussion on the students. Give teachers a place to share about the great things the kids are doing in the classroom.
  • Give more outlets to share teacher (and student) success. Find a way (blog, twitter, emails, shoutouts at meetings, etc.) to share the amazing things teachers do in the classroom every day.
  • Idea: Principal (or other leader) can send a weekly Friday email request for kudos. Compile the responses and share them with staff on Monday. It can become something that everyone looks forward to each week. I definitely want to try this!
  • Have teachers take turns presenting at meetings each month. Maybe ask a grade level or group of subject area teachers to share one awesome lesson (like best practice sharing we have done at Biotech).
  • Idea: Compliment and a Coke: each week someone gets a shoutout and Coke; something small and inexpensive but goes a long way!
  • Use business partners to get gift card donations; give gift cards to teachers on a regular basis (nominated by students and teachers)

Some tips:

  • Don’t make teachers sit through irrelevant professional development just to be “fair.” Not every teacher needs to sit through the same PD!
  • Choice. Always give choice. Even if it’s just a matter of offering multiple times, dates, or delivery formats, human beings value choice. (I try to follow this same rule in my classroom! I do my best to never force one particular thing upon students without at least some bit of choice. It’s basic psychology; we never want to do what we’re required to do.)

Obstacles to meaningful PD:

  • Lack of choice (top-down mandates about what teachers should learn)
    • I’m sure anyone reading this has sat through worthless PD, amirite?
  • Time. Always time. It’s so important to carve time into the schedule to allow for meaningful, job-embedded professional development.
  • Provide ways for teachers to connect with inspiring educators online (hello, Twitter!). Often innovative and passionate teachers feel isolated. When it feels like you are in an environment of negativity, you can go elsewhere. I love my job, and my colleagues are amazing, but there are only 26 of them. Twitter has been my saving grace in connecting me with teachers literally around the planet.
  • Help/encourage teachers to find online resources that work for them. Don’t push them to use social media that they aren’t comfortable with. If they’re on FB, don’t force Twitter until they’re ready.

Instagram hashtags

  • #teachersfollowteachers
  • #teachersofinstagram
  • #teachershelpingteachers
  • #teacherspayteachers

Twitter chats
Look up @cybraryman‘s Gdoc of all the chats. This calendar is a great way to get started if you’re thinking about encouraging your teachers to get involved in twitter chats. They might be overwhelming at first; remember to encourage newbies to take their time lurking and learning before they try to jump in!

Angela reminded us that Pinterest is professional development!! She has a wealth of resources on her Pinterest boards, which you can find here. And since we’re on the subject, you can find mine here. :) Yes, I know I need to re-organize. Get in line, Pinterest. Get in line.

Blog posts
Angela suggested starting with edutopia if you aren’t sure where to begin. There are lots of practical tips for the classroom. And hey, how about that? I have some posts up there if you’re interested!

Other random advice about building culture

  • Model vulnerability, reward risk-taking, and embrace the possibility of failure
  • Give implicit and explicit permission for teachers to take a risk and consider what worked and what didn’t (this is also great advice to teachers and their students!)
  • Start every staff meeting with reflections about what hasn’t been going well. This will encourage the idea that not everything will always be perfect, and that’s just fine.

A great quote that stuck with me

  • “Success is going to take a while, and there’s no race to innovate.”

Thanks, Angela, for a great session! I can’t wait to be in a leadership role where I can implement the strategies you taught us today!

A Little Announcement…

Dear Biotech,

Every day and in different ways, I tell you to take risks, be open to failure, and follow your heart. At least I hope that’s the message you get from me. And well, now it’s time for me to take some of my own advice and do something just a little bit crazy.

Ever since my semester abroad in England in 1998, I have wanted to see the world. Some might say that travel is my first love, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to stay away. My other greatest love, as should be painfully obvious, is teaching. Someone asked me once what I’d do if I weren’t a teacher, and I had no reply. Teaching isn’t what I do; it’s who I am.

So when I came upon the opportunity to combine my two loves, I had to muster up the gumption to take a chance. A big, crazy, scary chance. Which is why I am excited to announce that this is my last year at Biotech, and next year I will be teaching IB English at a school in Costa Rica.

Bean is already doing some research.

Bean is already doing some research.

It’s no secret that I love my job, and it’s even more clear that there is a piece of my heart and soul sort of permanently embedded in Biotech. I feel so unbelievably lucky to have been one of the “elite eight” (as the class of 09 called us), starting a school from scratch and spending the last ten years watching it grow into one of the best high schools in the country. And by “best high school,” I don’t mean that it earned a ranking by some old magazine. By now you all know how I feel about rankings; we are so much more than a number. By “best school,” I mean a place that has the kindest, funniest, brightest, most compassionate students I have ever met. The kind of place where kids support each other and keep each other afloat, especially when the going gets tough (and boy does it). The kind of place where my colleagues have become my friends and where I have been pushed to always be my best just as our students have. The kind of place where I can let out all my inner nerd and never feel like I don’t belong.

For the past ten years, I have been lucky enough to love coming to work every day. Ok, maybe not every day, but I think a 99% good day rate is pretty darn tootin’ fantastic! How many people in the world can say that?

I was at Biotech throughout some of the most difficult times in my life, and the one thing that I could always count on to make me feel better was school. No matter how cranky I was for whatever reason, you crazy kids always find a way to make me laugh. I don’t think I’d be lying if I said I have laughed every single day of school since I started. Now that’s impressive.

So then, many people (my dad included) think I am crazy when they learn that I am leaving. Why would I leave the safety and security a job I love to move to a new country and new school and new kids all by myself? And to those people, I have only one response; the universe is calling, and I have to answer.

Since my time in England, I have said I want to live abroad again. Last summer in Mallorca simply fueled the fire. While I was there, I met so many awesome teachers who teach all over the world, and I felt like I was home. From my very first day of class there, I just knew that I would finally be pursuing this dream. I can’t keep saying “one day.” I need it to be now.

To be honest, I’m terrified. What if I hate it? What if I can’t connect to these kids? What if I’m lonely and homesick? What if I forget all my Spanish? What if I regret leaving Biotech? How can I give up my cats? How can I leave an apartment I love? Why would I leave my school? Don’t I realize how much I’ll miss my family and friends? Won’t I miss New Jersey? Won’t it be hard to live in a new city all by myself? Are all teenagers as awesome as Biotech teenagers? What if they’re not? What then?

And on and on and on.

But like I said, the universe is calling. If not now, when?

This year at FFA, the keynote speaker was Nick Vujicic, a man who grew up with no arms or legs. His whole speech was inspirational and amazing, but what impacted me the most was when he said, “you don’t know what’s around the corner until you go around the corner.” And well, I don’t know what’s around the corner for me. But I know for sure that if I don’t make the trek to find out, I’ll live to regret it.

So, yeah. That’s my news.  I love you, Biotech! Thank you for helping me become someone who could do this. I don’t know where I’d be without you. xoxo <4 <4 <444

#NJPAECET2 Live Blog: Effective Reading Strategies for the Content Areas

Session: Effective Reading Strategies for the Content Areas
Presenter: Heather Rocco
Slides are here (will post the link once Heather tweets it out!).

Love this spectrum by Margaret Early (1965)!
The research shows:
ages 0-12: Reading for unconscious delight
ages 12-15: Reading to test against main character
ages 15-22: Reading for philosophical speculation
ages 22+: Reading for enjoyment

Book rec:
Notice and Note (Kylene Beers & Bob Probst)

Quote from Bob Probst: Rigor doesn’t reside in the text. It’s what you do with it. If you look at a barbell, the rigor doesn’t come from the weight itself; it comes from trying to lift it. <– love this metaphor!

Quotes from Notice and Note
“Rigor without relevance is just hard.”
“To raise the rigor, you have to relevance.”
“To raise the relevance, the students must be the ones asking the questions.”

Reading Strategy
*Project chart with random words from an article that students are going to read. Tell students to do their best to put the words/phrases together to make a sentence.
*Heather took examples of the sentences and typed them into a chart that was projected on the board.
*She told us to work with a partner and pick one sentence from the list and write two or three about that sentence.
*We shared our questions, and Heather typed the answers in a chart (next to each sentence).
*Heather gave us the article from which the words originated and told us to read it. While we read, we were supposed to keep track (metacognitively) of what we were doing. I noticed right away that I was eagerly checking to see if my sentence was right. I caught myself reading the content with a really clear purpose. I also found that I was doing some compare and contrast between what I had predicted and what the text was actually about. I can see kids loving something like this; it adds a certain level of excitement as I read about a topic that might otherwise not feel relevant.

Reading Strategy (Read Around)
(great pre-reading strategy)
Find the one line…
*that interests you
*that confuses you (what line do you have no idea what the author is talking about?)
*contradicts your thinking
*best summarizes the text
*that shows the counterclaim
*(and anything else you want)

All you ask them to do is just highlight the one line that [does whatever you told them to this time].

Then do a read around. Have every kid read their one line out loud. They are not allowed to change their line even if they have the same line as someone else.
Five participants read their lines around, and we then discussed what happened. Say “Ok listeners, what did you hear?”)
*summarized the whole article
*pulled out the main points
*found things we didn’t notice before
*reinforced important parts of the passage

Reading Strategy (Poster Activity)
(good during reading strategy)
*Identify excerpt
*Paste in the middle of large paper
*Give students markers
*Write, but don’t speak

I have done something similar to this before (thanks, Uzay!), but I’ve always put different extracts on the posters. What I loved about this variation is that every poster had the same extract, so it really gave a great overview of all the different interpretations. I found myself doing a lot of re-reading to help get more context for my classmates’ comments. The no talking rule also really helped find some quiet time to process.

Have to get to my next session- thanks for all the great ideas, Heather!

#NJPAECET2 Live Blog: Leading Literacy

Session: Leading Literacy
Presenter: Heather Rocco
Slides are here

I was extremely excited for this presentation for a few reasons. #1- Heather and I chat on Twitter, and I was excited to finally meet her in person! #2- I love literacy and I love leadership; yay for one presentation that combines them both! #3-

Heather started off by having participants doing some thinking and writing on their own (yay writing!). She asked us to think about literacy instruction in our school, specifically:
*What is going well?
*What needs improvement?
*What are your department/school goals?

I won’t share my answers here because they ended up being somewhat personal. Isn’t it funny how just taking a few minutes to write about something can bring up all sorts of realizations and feelings that you didn’t know were there?

We then moved into some sharing with partners and then with the larger group. I loved listening to everyone and seeing where they were coming from. There’s something comforting in learning that the issues we’re seeing at my school around literacy are not unique to us; it seems like there is a paradigm shift happening in education now (for better or worse), and everyone is trying to grapple with it in a way that will best help young people. This is a good reminder for me that, all politics aside, school is for the kids. That’s it. (#quotesfromPenny) (I miss Penny.)

Heather referenced Doug Fisher & Nancy Frye’s gradual release of responsibility model. The model is a teaching framework, but Heather says she looks at it through a leadership lens. She breaks down her leadership plan into four stages: hunting and gathering, mapmaking, building a fire, and setting them free.

Hunting and gathering
*data collection/analysis: combination of quantitative and qualitative data (including anecdotal evidence like talking to kids and teachers)
*observation trends: be mindful of trends in classroom observations
*survey: survey teachers to see what they want to work on for the year and what they need from their leader(s)
Important: if you create a department that they don’t think they need, they will never buy into it. Wherever possible, create a goal that department members come up with.

I keep hearing this over and over in my leadership classes, and Heather reiterated it today: Don’t say anything in a meeting that you can put in a memo. In fact, Heather doesn’t call her faculty meetings “faculty meetings.” She calls them “opportunities for learning.” I will take this with me as I become a leader!

*identify most pressing issues
*plan yearlong PD in meetings (and use your rock star teachers to share their expertise. The admin doesn’t always have to be presenting PD; use teachers!)
*utilize small groups (and mix the groups up from time to time!)
*request input from seasoned and new teachers
*be transparent (be honest and open; share why you are doing what you’re doing. Just like kids, teachers want to know that everything has a purpose.)

Building a Fire
*Department meetings
Start meetings with something fun (good news to share, bring in a poem, share a book that they’re reading or that the kids are reading, etc.)
Meetings are mostly discussion based; she provides guiding questions and bullet points for teachers to focus their ideas. The meeting closes with an exit card to get some feedback on what teachers want to discuss at the next meeting or where they are in this process.
*Lesson plan conferences
Pick a focus for the year for lesson plans (example: assessment). Meet with teachers on a regular basis to talk about lesson plans (about 30-45 minutes). Sit down, talk about plans, talk about kids, etc. It’s a great way to individualize instruction for teachers (can help Ts find resources, books, articles, experts, etc.).
*Demo lessons
Offer demonstrate lessons for your teachers. You can offer to go into the teacher’s class and teach a lesson in something teachers need help with (and teachers take Heather up on this). This is also a great way to keep admins in touch with what’s going on in the classroom these days. I really love this idea, and as someone who worries about being miserable if I left the classroom, it gives an opportunity to stay connected to kids.
Find workshops that you think teachers might be interested in and pass them along. Then teachers can bring everything back to school and pass it along!
*Share resources
Stay in the loop (thank you, Twitter!) so you can send teachers links and resources. Create files and documents on Google Drive to build an archive of resources.

Independent Reading
I’m so excited Heather addressed this because I really struggle with finding time for SSR, and I KNOW how important it is!
In her district, Heather’s English teachers give their kids 10 minutes of independent reading at the beginning of the period every day. I liked how she told the story about how long it took and how it wasn’t something that happened right away. There is still hope!

Setting Them Free
*Opportunities to share (in meetings, via email, etc.)
*Continuing PD
*Showcase teacher expertise
*Establish PLN (Twitter!)

Heather closed with what I needed to hear: SLOW DOWN!! My problem is always that I try to do too many things at once.
“Choose one thing you care about and resolve to do it well. Whether you succeed or not, you will be the better for the effort.”
–William Alexander

And remember, TAKE CARE OF YOU!!

Book recs:
*Book Love (Penny Kittle)
*The Book Whisperer (Donalyn Miller)

Great session, Heather! Thank you! :)

#NJPAECET2 Live Blog: A Framework for Leading: Five Exemplary Leadership Practices

Presentation Name: A Framework for Leading: Five Exemplary Leadership Practices
Presenters: Jimmy Casas and Jeff Zoul
Book recommendation: The Leadership Challenge

Just a disclaimer here…this blog post is mostly a big long list of quotes from Jeff and Jimmy. They kept saying such awesome things that I couldn’t process much beyond quoting them! Haha.

I love the title slide; it references “intentional acts of everyday leadership.” This reminds me of my times in Mallorca, where I learned that leadership is something that can be taught, learned, and practiced. One doesn’t simply become a leader accidentally; it’s something intentional that one does!

We started by some thinking about culture and climate. Jeff asked us to write a list to fill in the blank in this sentence: I want to be involved in a school that emphasizes a culture of ______. Here are my responses:

Video: Drew Dudley – Everyday Acts of Leadership <–watch it – it's so good!!

Jeff: Every teacher is a leader; they're leaders of kids. Amen!

Lollipop moments: something said or did something that fundamentally made your life better.
As school leaders, we can do simple things that make teachers' lives better (simple does not have to mean small).

MICEE (5 exemplary leadership practices)
Model the way
Inspire a shared vision
Challenge the process
Enable others to act
Encourage the heart

Jimmy said there are two things he’ll keep coming back to throughout the presentation: MODELING and MINDSET.
Jimmy: “It’s hard to be a leader. It really really is. It’s even harder to be an excellent leader.”

If you want to be great, you have to model every day what greatness looks like, and you have to have an everyday mindset of greatness.

Leaders have on standard, and that standard is excellence. That takes an enormous amount of energy, passion, commitment, and dedication. But if you really want to be great, you can be great if you want to.

Greatness only knows one level; it’s right here! *puts hand above head*

Challenge to classroom teachers for Monday:
Stand at your door and high five every kid coming in. Say to them things like, “you are great!” “you are awesome!” “you are the best!” “you are the best of the best!” “you rock!”
And then do it every day for the rest of the year and watch what happens to the culture of your classroom.

No really, DO IT!!

There is no reason why our cultures can’t be cultures of awesomeness. But you’ve gotta keep bringin’ it because that’s what leaders do.

Leaders think long term; they don’t think short term. Your mindset HAS to switch to long term because thinking short term will kill you. That’s how we have to think about our kids when we’re championing our kids.

Carry the banner: bring a positive voice every day about the organization (inside and out of school). You don’t go to the grocery store and gossip about school. You have to maintain positivity about the organization ALWAYS. Stay positive!

Inspire a shared vision
*Infuse a sense of pride
*”Students first” mindset
*Student recognition

What you see in the main entrance shows what your school culture is about. Trophy case? Plaque? Mission statement? Artwork?

When you do student recognition, make it so big and so visible that people will walk in, see it, and say WOW.

Encourage the heart
Two a day: two personal notes to two teachers per day (morning routine). Could be personal, tell them why you value/appreciate them. Love this idea! Could leave notes in mailbox or deliver them in person and say thank you back. When you do this, teachers start writing notes to each other and the kids. How’s that for a culture?

Sharing student voice: Interview kids- (Tell me what you like about our school. Tell me what the challenges are in our school. Tell me how welcome you feel in our school.)

Making the calls: Called every parent and thanked them for sharing their kids with us. Take notes on every reaction from the parents and share that with the teachers.

Jeff talked a bit about the most important habits of a school leader. He said that no matter how many times he asks people what the most important traits are, the answers are almost always “encourage the heart” and “model the way.” He made the great point that if you don’t walk the walk, everything else you do just comes off as a gimmick.

This is just a random thing that I loved: bow-tie Wednesday! What a fun way to bond kids/teachers and add to the culture of the school.

Excellent session- thanks, Jeff and Jimmy! Loved the participants, too! So willing to share, and I loved hearing the stories about leaders who have impacted them. Yay!

#NJPAECET2 Live Blog: Using Informational Text to Teach Literature

Session: Using Informational Text to Teach Literature
Presenters: Audrey Fisch and Susan Chenelle
Twitter: @UsingInfoText
Web: www.usinginformationaltext.com

The session started with a TED Talk about collaboration (I wanted to link it here but can’t find it at the moment. Will keep looking). I liked how the video set the context of how important collaboration is to get things done. The speaker in the TED Talk referenced the idea of “not enough” and how collaboration helps overcome obstacles.

My favorite line from the video is “Leggo my ego.” When you collaborate, you have to put your ego aside. It takes a certain amount of humility to get comfortable with the fact that not all your ideas are the only ones that matter. Remember that everyone at the table has a voice.

The session then moved on to talking about what informational texts are and how we use them. People use info texts in different ways:
*history: primary sources
*science/English: articles to give background on certain topics (example: using articles about leadership to teach Lord of the Flies

Using informational text is more important that PARCC and CCSS…it’s what we want to do! This is an opportunity to make connections among subjects. Engaging informational texts give us a chance to make our content relevant to today’s student.

(I just realized this might sound disjointed. Please keep in mind that I’m writing as the session goes; I’m not focusing too much on transitions and all that for this particular post.) :)

Point from a participant (history teacher): So many teachers don’t want to get rid of the content (so many details to know in history), so it’s hard to teach the literacy skills. How do you get teachers to understand what reading informational text is? It doesn’t mean just reading a chapter in a textbook!

Audrey Fisch noted that the need for content is relevant in all subject areas, but we can use literacy instruction (info text in particular) to enhance instruction of content.

Awesome comment from participant: We have to rememember, historians don’t become historians because of reading a chapter in a textbook. They were inspired by discovering things from reading and uncovering real historical documents. If we focus only on textbooks, we might lose the magic of falling in love with the content!

Another great point from the crowd: There is a big gap, particularly with secondary teachers, in literacy instruction. Would love something like a 5-class high school literacy cert for teachers. It’s not that teachers don’t WANT to teach literacy. However, they weren’t trained on how to do so. We need more resource to help teachers support students with the skills needed for CCSS, PARCC, and beyond.

Resource to use: NY Times Learning Network Blog (My kids know I love me some New York Times!

To keep in mind: It’s not ok to just give the kids an informational text and say “ok read this and make the connections!” This is something that is hard, and we need to have a structure/framework to help use info texts in engaging and relevant ways.

Steps for using informational texts
(sorry I’m not using real bullets/numbering; I don’t know how to do that in the WordPress app):
1- Find something interesting (that relates to what you’re already teaching).
2- Use excerpts. You do not have to use every single word in every article. Think about what will be distracting to students; what is outside your particular focus?
3- Design some fun vocab activities to pre-load unfamiliar words and ideas in the info text. This way the text will not become an impediment. Remember, every kid in the class doesn’t have to complete every single exercise. (Vocab skits are great because they hear the word being used 20-30 times in 10 minutes. That will get them walking out of the room using the words.)
4- Create questions to help kids notice important concepts and textual features.
5- Create PARCC-style multiple-choice questions to check for understanding (little bits of practice along the way so they won’t be intimidated by PARCC when it comes to the test).
6- Create follow-up writing and discussion activities that ask students to articulate key ideas and textual evidence.

I’m so thankful that Audrey and Susan gave us a packet of goodies to help put together lessons like this; I will definitely use the templates and guides for writing these types of questions! Can’t wait to share them with Sarah and Kelly back at home!

So when should you use informational texts?
*When your students are having trouble engaging with content
*When you want your students to have greater background knowledge, but you don’t want to lecture them
*When you want your students to be better readers and thinkers (when, as the presentation slides said, is always!)

Had a bit of a segue (but it was totally relevant!). We talked a bit about how challenging using a dictionary can be for students. To be honest, I never really thought of that; I guess I just assume that everyone can use a dictionary. People made great points that we want kids to be in the habit of looking up words when they read (I try to reinforce this with my students every day). Electronic tools are great to help build this habit because they always have their devices on them. Teach them to use them!

Love this idea!!
Set up a Google news alert for articles about your topic (the example from Susan Chenelle was an alert on the American Dream for when she teaches Gatsby). This way Google will do the work for her and email her once a week with current events related to themes she’s working on. Love this idea!

Remember! Lots of articles come with videos; start with showing the video to get them thinking about the topic. Do whatever it takes to connect with an idea!

I wanted to embed a few pictures, but the wifi isn’t cooperating, so this is about it! Thanks for reading; I think live blogging will be my new obsession. Now I don’t have to go home and do it later! Woot!

PS- We ran over time a bit, so I’m not proofreading yet. If you catch a typo, I’ll go back and fix it tonight or tomorrow! :)