Archive for the ‘Professional Development’ Category

Staying Organized using Google Apps for Ed. in the classroom

(Scroll to the bottom to skip to the video)

I was recently asked (twice in the same week) to share how I organize student work shared with me via Google Apps for Education. At nErDcamp Northern New England I attended a session on using Google Apps to give feedback to students (See the session notes here) and shared how I organize all the documents that students share with me.

-A side note: As an 8th grade teacher in Maine, each of my students has a MacBook Air to use. We are also a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) District which has allowed me to be a mostly paperless classroom.

When I began using GAFE in the classroom the document list was much easier to navigate, but when the format changed I knew that I had to as well.

I always have students make two folders – an “LA” folder and a “LA Pass in” folder, they share the “LA pass in” folder with me and put it in folder inside the LA folder. This serves a couple of purposes: 1. It provides students with some structure for their own files (I actually lead them through this process for each of their classes). 2. It provides an easy way to share and see what is shared with me – after the folder is shared with me, EVERYTHING they put in there becomes shared with me.

–Another side note: I have strict naming protocols, EVERY DOCUMENT (and folder) must follow this format: [Last name, First initial NAME OF ASSIGNMENT]. I don’t look at anything named “untitled document”.

When an assignment is ready to be passed in they fill out a form I create using GAFE. It asks for their Name (a separate question for last and first), class section, and a link to their shared document. Now, I often will include other items – a question that forces them to go through a formatting checklist, a reminder to put the assignment into their “LA Pass in” folder. I have recently began including a grid question that recreates the rubric so they can self evaluate on the assignment and I also include questions that make them reflect on the process of the assignment.

The student accounts (and so the account I use to interact with them) are managed and I am unable to share the exact forms I use with students but here is a link to a PDF of the form students used to submit the final draft of their poetry essay.

The brilliance of using a form to collect student work like this is that I then end up with a spreadsheet with a link to the assignment that I can sort by last name, class section, or by how they scored themselves.

Watch the video below to see the form, the spreadsheet it creates, and how I use it.


Set up a Digital PLN


When I mention to people that I’m on Twitter most respond “I don’t see the point” or “I don’t get it”. That is when I explain to them that I use it as a Personal Learning Network (PLN). If you set it up right, Twitter is a hotbed of links, resources, thought-provoking questions and statements, and support for educators. If you looked at the list of accounts I follow on Twitter you would see that they are all related to education and technology, this means my feed only (well 99% of the time) contains only items I have interest in (okay maybe I’m not interested in every post, but the chances are high that I will be).

Of course some of you are thinking – I can’t sign up for yet another site. The good news is that you can reap the benefits of Twitter without participating. As an educator we know that participation is a better model, it works without it but is so much better with it. By utilizing the search bar on the twitter site you can find tweets on just about any topic. Even better is to search for hashtags, that is a tag added to the tweet that provides a way to have a conversation. At the Google Apps for Education (GAFE) Summit people tweeted about what was going on using the hashtag #gafesummit This means that if you go to the search bar in twitter and put in #gafesummit (include the # symbol) you will see all the tweets. If you wanted to have students tweet about a novel their reading and have other students (within or outside the school) interact you could have them add a hashtag, e.g. students reading Lord of the Flies would add the hashtag #LOTF to let everyone quickly and easily be a part of the conversation.

There are lots of hashtags you can check out such as

Find me on twitter here. Look at who I follow (this is a great way to find new people to follow)

I also use Google+ as a PLN. The great thing about Google+ (and this is similar to Twitter) you can add people to circles and they don’t have to add you back. Being able to organize your contacts is great (so great that Facebook copied this), this allows flexibility, you can have a PLN circle (that’s what I call it), a friends circle, family circle, people you’ve met once but don’t really know circle – PEOPLE WILL NOT KNOW WHAT CIRCLE YOU’VE PUT THEM IN!!!!!

The advantages of Google+ are:

  • Not limited to 140 characters
  • Much easier to follow a conversation

If you don’t have a digital PLN start with Twitter and putz around there. Leave a comment with your tips/tricks/suggestions for follows/hashtags!



Class Fifteen – Being a Coach

Today’s class focused on Literacy Leadership. Now I know you might be saying “Wait, weren’t the last Friday’s spent on that?” To which I’d reply “You’ve been reading my blog?!” Then I’d go on to explain that it is a big topic. Today the focus was on not students but colleagues. Being a resource for teachers regardless of title.

To coach is to convey a valued colleague from where he or she is to where he or she wants to be. – Art Costa

I’m not familiar with Costa (you can click his name above to go to his site) but Peter said that he is very careful about the words he chooses. He asked what stood out to us in this quote. To me it is what I emphasized with underline and bold. The goal of the coach isn’t to push or cajole someone to a place of the coaches choosing, it is to be a bridge to help them reach their goal. This bridge metaphor really resonates with me and I use it as an introduction on my resume website.

We discussed a few scenarios in class that made us think about how we would act in a coaching role and were given a prompt to respond to as homework. Here is the scenario to which I am to respond:

Lee has been teaching seventh grade Language Arts for fifteen years and completed his master’s degree in literacy three years ago. He provides reading and writing workshops for her students and differentiates according to their needs. His students are very successful.

Janet has been teaching seventh grade Language Arts for the same amount of time, but her students are not doing as well as others in her department. In fact, her students have made the least gains in seventh grade for several years in a row. She typically teacher with whole class novels.

At the weekly PLC meeting, Janet shares that she is frustrated by her students’ progress. She reaches out to the group for help. Lee is not the school’s literacy specialist, but he knows that his students are successful. He wants to help but is not sure how to go about it.


The questions I’m to answer are: What would you do if you were Lee? How would you act as a coach to support your colleague? Have you ever been in a similar situation? What did you do? How did it work out?

I’ll let you think about how you’d answer before sharing my own. . .

Continue reading

Day six – Literacy Leaders

Literacy leaders hold tremendous potential for shaping and changing the world. – Mary Ellen Vogt

Fridays are professional development days – no students. The first 2/3 of the class was spent discussing the idea and practice of Literacy Leadership. I was introduced to the International Reading Association (IRA), something I should have heard of but hadn’t. The site is a wealth of information (a bit overwhelming at first) but Peter pointed us to two specific pages. The first was the Professional Standards as set out by the IRA. The second was a description of the role of the Reading Specialist.  I’ll comment on the standards once I’ve had a chance to read through them. The role of the Reading Specialist we spent some time on and is broken down into three areas [this is copy and pasted from the site]:

  • Instruction—The reading specialist supports classroom teaching, and works collaboratively to implement a quality reading program
  • Assessment—The reading specialist evaluates the literacy program in general, and can assess the reading strengths and needs of students and communicate these to classroom teachers, parents, and specialized personnel such as psychologists, special educators, or speech teachers
  • Leadership—The reading specialist is a resource to other educators, parents, and the community

Reflecting on these areas and the Literacy Specialist in the school I work in confirms that we are doing good work at Shapleigh. Our Literacy Specialist is awesome. She is very supportive of teachers and student needs and will work with either or both to brainstorm strategies or talk about books. She also has been working with teachers to implement our reading program by modeling in the classrooms, offering professional development, and collaborating with the staff on changing/tweaking the program. She also monitors SRI scores and plays a big part in standardized testing administration and analysis of the data from those tests. Through all this work she is a constant resource for me as a new teacher for bouncing ideas off, asking for advice about students, and of course books!

The last 1/3 of class we spent in our small group – wait I just have to say that I wish I could teach at a school with this group of amazing people, we could change the face of education – of course we’d only teach English, Spanish, and History (I don’t think we have any math or science teachers in our group but the Humanities would be covered!) – engaged, caring, curious, helpful, nice, excited, collaborative, open-minded people that I feel lucky to be able to work with for this short time.  So anyway, back to our regularly scheduled blog post. . .

In our small group we talked about the Instructional plans we’d drafted based on the IRI and our observations of our students (if you missed an installment you can read about all that here: Day three – the IRI and Day Four – Goals) It was helpful to talk about what we had come up with and clarify all the questions we had. After a group hashing out session we paired up and went through a protocol that helped us assess our Instructional plan.

This is my favorite kind of professional development. Sitting around a box of munchkins (Thanks Jenn!) talking about teaching and books and strategies and asking questions about what we’re doing and how long the case study has to be (2-4 pages if you’re wondering) and getting ideas and getting energized about what we do, what we’re doing, and what we’re going to try. This type of loosy-goosy, kind of unstructured but still focused discussion is what I benefit most from. I can chime in or sit back and just absorb it all either way I’m learning and growing as a teacher and person – so thanks again group (we really need a team name!).

If you wonder where I find some of the cool websites I’ve mentioned (ex. you might check out my twitter feed, it is all (okay mostly) education based.  I usually just re-tweet what others post about links and articles and advice.

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