Changing Roles: Opportunities and Challenges

by Melissa Dills and Tricia Ebner

As Ohio begins the 2017-18 school year, some educators across the state are not just updating lesson plans or trying new technology tools. Some educators are stepping into new roles, with new opportunities and challenges. Educator Melissa Dills, formerly a kindergarten teacher in a northeast Ohio school district, is moving into a role as a technology integration specialist serving grades K-6 in the same school district. Meanwhile, educator Tricia Ebner, formerly a gifted intervention specialist serving grades 6-8 in a northeast Ohio school district, is moving into a role as a consultant with an ESC. On the brink of their new roles, they’ve taken a few moments to reflect on these transitions.

Both Melissa and Tricia are excited about the impacts they can make in the coming year. Melissa says, “I’m most excited to have an impact on both students and staff at the elementary schools.” She is looking forward to being a resource and support for colleagues who may have been a bit hesitant to try new technology resources. Tricia is eager to support teachers and principals as they work with programming and instruction for gifted children. Both are also excited about their own learning in these roles. “Since Ohio adopted new operating standards for gifted education this past spring, we are all learning lots about how these standards will look in practice,” Tricia shares. Melissa adds, “I truly see myself as a learner and look forward to all that I’ll learn from everyone that I’ll be working with.”

While there is a great deal of excitement with a new role in education, there are also challenges ahead. In Tricia’s position, she’ll be working with several different schools and districts on a number of different professional development and program projects. “I’m going to be learning how best to organize my work and myself as I balance all of this.” Melissa sees a similar challenge in her work: “I anticipate there being a learning curve in all areas. Serving grades K-6 will be a challenge due to the sheer number of staff members I want and need to reach.”

Moving into these kinds of roles doesn’t mean student learning standards are no longer a concern. In Melissa’s role, she’ll be working with both content standards and Ohio’s newly-revised technology standards, which encompass three disciplines: information and communication technology, society and technology, and design and technology. Melissa is excited about how content standards and technology standards can be woven together into engaging lessons. She also sees an important principle in this: digital citizenship. “I look forward to helping elementary teachers introduce digital citizenship to our youngest learners to lay a foundation of responsibility in a digital world.” Tricia also has a strong focus on student learning in her work. Because she’ll be engaged in supporting teachers in their work with gifted children, she will be helping teachers craft differentiated lessons and activities aligned to Ohio’s standards while still providing an appropriate level of challenge. “The standards are the starting point; I’m excited about collaborating with teachers to support gifted children’s ongoing learning with the standards.” Student learning and growth, starting with Ohio’s learning standards, is still a key focus for these two educators.

Preparing for new roles also has been a focus this summer for both Melissa and Tricia. A conversation with a colleague gave her some insight into the preparations she needed to make. Melissa shares, “Recently, a fifth grade social studies teacher said she’d love to work on a map unit together, integrate technology into what they already do. As I asked what skills they’re working on at that time she replied, ‘simple map skills.’  In my mind simple map skills consisted of knowing the difference between land and water on a map and globe.  I realized very quickly that becoming more familiar with content in each grade level will help me better understand the needs of each grade level. Tricia talked about needing to learn much from the team she will be part of. “I know there are going to be elements of my work that I don’t have any idea about yet, and I’m so glad I’m going to be working as part of team because I know they’ll help guide and support me as I soak up all I need to learn and do.” Melissa also appreciates the support she knows she’ll receive from administrators and colleagues. Both educators also see value in connecting with others through Facebook and Twitter. “Having a terrific PLN (professional learning network) on Twitter has given me opportunities to interact with others from across Ohio and the country, all focused on doing what’s good and right for kids. My PLN is a terrific resource and inspiration,” Tricia adds.

Both Melissa and Tricia have sought advice from others in these transitions. At a summer conference, a teacher leader who recently transitioned to work at her state’s department of education encouraged Tricia to cherish the successes she has, because the feedback in these roles is different than the feedback at the classroom level. “That make sense to me,” Tricia said, “because in the classroom, I was constantly getting feedback from my students. In my new role, I’ll still get feedback, but it’s going to be different.” Melissa got some advice from a colleague when she had a moment of mixed emotions surrounding her move. She was packing up items in her classroom when she came across a much-loved book. “I had read that book for 12 years. (I can’t say many things in my room had been used for 12 years, but this was a great book!) Not only had I read it for 12 years but 12 years’ worth of students had heard that book!  As a few tears rolled down my cheek, a good friend and colleague walked in my classroom. I felt guilty feeling sad. I full heartedly wanted this new position and had worked for years to obtain it. She gave me the best advice in reminding me that it’s perfectly normal to feel sadness and excitement at the same time.” Having guidance, wisdom, and support from others will make the transitions into these new roles smoother.

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A new school year is filled with transitions. Students are transitioning into new grades and subjects taught by teachers new to them. Teachers and administrators face transitions to new technology, policies, and procedures while also getting to know new students. All of us, whether we are changing roles or not, are facing change. When we support each other, keeping our students and their learning as the top priority, we make the transitions smoother and easier. As John C. Maxwell said, “A word of encouragement from a teacher to a child can change a life. A word of encouragement from a spouse can save a marriage. A word of encouragement from a leader can inspire a person to reach her potential.” Whatever our role in education may be, let’s continue to support and encourage each other as we guide our students toward reaching their potential.   

Planning for Classroom Shifts

by Ashli Breit & Cheryl Bledsoe, 6th Grade Teachers

While contemplating how to best meet the needs of students, we read Shift This: How to Implement Gradual Changes for Massive Impact in Your Classroom by Joy Kirr.  The ideas seem so simple, yet are far-reaching and exciting for the possibilities in the classroom.  Five small shifts were selected to begin the year: the Daily Question, virtual space, no homework (combined with choice boards) and feedback.  These shifts were incorporated into the plans, rooms were rearranged and syllabi have been updated.  Let the year begin!

The Daily Question will set the tone for the classroom: I am interested in you as a person and what you think matters.  Some of the questions are low investment (what is your favorite ice cream topping), while others ask the kids to be more introspective (Which do you think would be the hardest to live without: eyesight, hearing , smell?).  ‘What percentage (of your waking hours) did you spend outside this weekend?’ provides insight into who the student is outside the classroom, and ‘How many tries will you give yourself before you give up trying?’ provides a window into the work ethic being faced in the classroom.  This small shift will take minimal time as students enter the room, placing their magnet on the answer, but can have significant impact on relationships built within those four walls.

In a perfect classroom, students would have complete choice and voice in what they learn each day and how they learn it; in a world of high-stakes testing, this may merely seem a pipe dream, but it doesn’t have to be.  Homework and choice boards seem like a logical place to begin shifting our mindset about student learning.  As we prepare learners to be college and career ready, we must reflect on our own experiences in those realms.  When we walk out of a college class, professional development, staff meeting, project meeting, etc., we determine what we do from that point: file the information, explore the topic more, or study and ponder what we have heard.  Why have we been unable to allow students that same choice in their own learning?  Assigning no homework seems an easy step in that direction and is another small shift being implemented.  

Joy is right, “Everything is worth a second glance.” When I read the section in chapter 4 about creating/updating your class website, the only thought I had was ‘been there, done that’. We had made multiple classroom sites to put on our district page. Parents looked at them the first week of school and that was about it. I’m glad I didn’t stop reading because of my bad experiences in the past. Everything is worth a second glance, and we are very excited about the shift that Joy inspired in our classroom sites.

The main job of sites this year will be to help us communicate with our parents. We will be including our mission, curriculum, standards and videos just like Joy encouraged us to. Our hope is to allow students to be the curators of the class calendar and photo pages as the year progresses. Right now our sites are at the beginning stages. We have a lot to add, and I’m sure a lot to tweak, but we are hoping that this shift in the role of our classroom site will be a bridge between our classrooms and our parents.

Nightly reading (with reading logs) has been assigned 5 nights a week every week in our classrooms, but we had to consider the actual effect of this homework.  Too often, students were not completing the reading and it was frustrating to them and to us.  It was decided that we would give the students a choice to read and participate in the classroom reading challenge, or not to do so.  That being said, there are still required reading projects (student selected novel) every quarter and students are responsible for deciding when and how to accomplish the reading to complete those tasks.  This small shift gives students power over their learning, while modeling real-life skills such as time management and organization.  

Along with that, is more student choice in what they do in the classroom as well.  There are standards that must be taught and even a curriculum map to guide us, but within that map are multiple opportunities for students to complete work in a manner of their choosing.  Choice boards have been developed to guide the process in some areas, and Genius Hour will be used to tap student interests in a long-term project about a topic they select.  This inclusion of student choice fuels engagement, lets learners shine in areas we may not otherwise see, and gives them a unique voice in the classroom.

All throughout the last school year, we worked tirelessly to give our students feedback on their writing assignments. We stayed up late and got up early to make sure that every student had comments made on their assignment. We thought we were really helping our students. There were only two little problems with our strategy. One, students weren’t reading our comments. Two, some students didn’t understand the changes we were suggesting. We hadn’t built in the time to discuss our feedback with the students so that they could truly grow as writers.

After reading chapter 7 of Shift This, a light bulb went off. We weren’t giving quality feedback to our students. We thought we were, but we weren’t. Then, the brainstorming began. How can we make this shift? How can we give students feedback that is meaningful to them? We decided on a two-step plan. First, we will give students time to collaborate and give each other feedback. We will model what quality feedback can look look like and give our students feedback starters like Joy suggested. Second, we will build in small group time where we will give skill-directed feedback and allow time for students to work on making corrections. Our hope is that not only will these shifts make our students stronger writers, but they will show our students that we truly care about them and helping them through the writing process.

Change 8.13.17Change is hard, but can be very effective.  Is every shift going to make a positive difference?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Will there be stumbling blocks and adjustments?  Probably. But the shifts will certainly move the classroom in a direction that is engaging and productive for students.  We are excited for our shifted class to begin!


Capturing Student Interest: Problem-Solving on the First Day of School

by Tricia Ebner, M.Ed. & NBCT

Take a moment to think about this: what do most students experience on their first day of school in your school building? What is the first day of school in your classroom like for them? After years of spending that first day going over the classroom rules, expectations, and procedures, I decided it was time for a change. I needed to do something to liven up the experience and make it more engaging for my students and me.

I’ve turned my first day of school into a problem-solving activity. I’ve tried to find different ways of doing this. For example, last year my family and I took a cross-country trip. As we traveled, I purchased postcards at various locations, and I took a few minutes to write welcome postcards to my incoming sixth graders. Along with a welcoming message, I asked them to bring the postcards to the first day of school. To increase the percentage of students bringing postcards, I posted a note on my classroom door, reminding students to bring postcards, so that when they toured the building at schedule pick-up, they and their parents would see the reminder. I  also bought a few extra postcards, so that those who forgot could still be involved in the activity.8.6.17 blog post graphic

On the first day of school, I had a map of the United States hanging on my board. After checking the roster and making a quick run through names, I gave students their challenge: they needed to take their postcards, and using any information they had on those post cards, they needed to figure out where I had been, and when, with a goal of identifying my travel route. I didn’t give them any other instructions.

It was fascinating to watch the students work on the challenge. At first there wasn’t much organization. Some just sat and read the postcard again. Others approached classmates to see where their postcards were from. Eventually, the class began to organize itself. Students got into groups based upon where their postcards were from. Then they began to notice other thing about the post cards, such as the postmarks. From this, they began to sort out travel dates.

Ultimately the class needed a little bit of help, but they figured out the travel route. They gained some time interacting with each other, using their reading, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. I gained a wealth of knowledge about my students. Observing them showed me the leaders in the class, and those who were content to sit back and let someone else take their postcards and solve the challenge. I saw how they handled disagreements. I also saw who could work well together, and who quickly moved off-topic when working together. The knowledge I gained in the first day was valuable as I began to organize the class for a project-based learning activity. My students were engaged in the work, and a couple even commented that the class period had flown by far more quickly than they would have expected of a 70-minute class period.

As you begin thinking about ways to launch your year with your students, I challenge you to consider this: what kind of hands-on, problem-solving activity could you use? What could you challenge them to do that will show you their communication and critical thinking skills? Try it out! See what you might learn, and how it might set the tone for the year ahead.

Need ideas for problem-solving situations you might use? Consider taking a “mystery” approach, whether it’s to share something about yourself or your class.


How to Use A Logic Model For Evidence Based Action Planning Planning

By Char Shryock   Dir. of Curriculum and Instruction, Bay Village City Schools

Planning for action around learning goals or building goals can take many forms in the classroom and in your building.  Most traditional action plans include space for defining the goal, documenting what steps you are going to take to achieve it, and who will take the steps.  I have spent the past year working with a Logic Model as an evidence based approach to action planning.  What I like best is the focus not just on planning action, but collecting evidence that the action is complete along with evidence of the impact of that action.  Logic Models encourage you to have conversations around assumptions you are making about the work.  Often, these assumptions, when not discussed or addressed, lead to frustration and communication gaps.  For the past year, I have used Logic Models in planning for whole district initiatives, like our high school chromebook roll-out.  I have also used Logic Models for smaller goals, including keeping a focus on text complexity and writing good text dependent questions.  Logic Models could also be modified to be used as templates for Unit Planning or differentiating instruction for English Learners or Gifted Students.

The first step in starting a Logic Model is to identify your goal.  This might be a set of standards based learning goals that will be the center of an instructional unit.  The goal might also have a broader project or initiative focus.  Ideally, you should be collaborating with your grade level team, building leadership team or district team to frame your goal.  Next, connect that goal to the broader vision.  How does this work fit into the broader work of your classroom, building or district?  Once you have identified your goal, the next step is not to start planning action.  Instead, take time to talk through the assumptions you are making about the students or staff that are going to be impacted by the work.  What prior learning or experience are you assuming they will bring to this work? How are you going to connect this goal to their existing practices or beliefs?  The reflection on assumptions will also help you to identify possible barriers.  Identifying a true barrier that will need to be worked around, or an attitude or mindset that may need to be shifted in order for the goal to succeed, will help in thinking through possible action steps and evidence of outcomes.  Planning the action steps can be done next.  As you think through action steps, identify resources you have or will need.  Resources can be time, materials, human capital, or financial. If you don’t have access to the resources you need, include in your action steps a plan for acquiring that resource.  The real benefit of the Logic Model is in the last two steps.  Take time to identify what evidence will be gathered to show that the action has been completed.  This might be an agenda, minutes, emails, anecdotal records or student work.   More importantly, have a collaborative discussion on what evidence of impact or outcome of the work you will want to see or hear.  What will teachers or students or staff sound like, or act like if the action step in having a impact on moving them toward a goal?  

There are 4 levels of outcomes to think about when deciding on the mindful collection of evidence of impact.

Level 1: Reaction

At this level, evidence of impact might be pushback or a lot of questions on why we are doing this or learning this.  Often this evidence of impact is overlooked, or is seen in a negative light.  Really, it is evidence that the learners are having to re-examine their own thinking or beliefs and seeing how this new information or idea might fit or not fit into this.  Pay attention to the pushback comments or questions.  You may need to adjust or add an action step to help move this group forward.

Level 2: Learning

Evidence of learning might include a shift in questions from “Why are we doing/learning this” to “How do I…?” or “Maybe I could try…”  Much of this evidence will be anecdotal comments heard in a class or in a team meeting.  You might consider using a Google Form or a Reflection document to capture these comments and shifts in thinking.

Level 3: Behavior/Attitude Shifts

By the time students or staff start to show evidence of Level 3 outcomes, they are trying out the new skills, applying the new strategies in a small setting or as a pilot, or starting to grow their own learning around the goal. You might hear students expressing a more sophisticated approach to a task, or hear teachers talking about applying strategies or ideas to an upcoming unit.  

Level 4: Results

This is full buy-in.  There has been a change in attitudes or in skills that is evident across an entire class, grade level, building or district.  Students or teachers regularly demonstrate their new learning or skills in their daily work.  A common vocabulary has been developed and everyone now has incorporated the new skill, strategy or idea into their own belief system.   Evidence at this level might include shifts in district or grade level data, requests for additional “next step training”, increase in student success or the success of a subgroup.  

I have learned a lot about using Logic Models from the team at Bellwether Education Partners and the Collaborative for Student Success Teacher Champions Fellowship.  Using Logic Models has really changed the way I think about planning and following up on my own work, both as a Curriculum Director and as an educator leader.  I have now started to create 2 folders in my Google Drive at the beginning of each new Logic Model to help me gather evidence of the work I have done, and evidence of the impact of my work.  Focusing on evidence of impact at all four outcome levels has really nurtured my own positive mindset about my work and the work of the teams I am a part of!

This LINK will take you to a blank logic model in Google Docs.  Feel free to make a copy for yourself by clicking on FILE —MAKE A COPY.  

This LINK will take you to a Logic Model that has reflection questions for each component.

Blank Logic Model WIth Prompts



Using Model Essays: Writing Show-and-Tell

by Tricia Ebner, M.S. Ed.

During the past few days, I had the opportunity to attend a conference with teachers from across the country as we prepared presentations to showcase some work we have been doing over the past year. One of the comments I heard more than once was, “It helps to see what other presentations look like.” We like seeing examples or models as we work, so that we have an idea of the target we are aiming to hit.

Our students are no different. They, too, like to see examples of what their work my look like. When it comes to writing, we have two excellent sources of models for students to use. One is through the Vermont Writing Collaborative models available through Achieve the Core. This collection of student writing samples provides the student writing samples as well as annotated copies of the samples. Another is the Practice Test Scoring Guide for the Ohio State ELA test, available through the student resources page on the ODE web site. This provides a range of student writing samples to the prompt on the practice test, along with the scoring guide and rationale for the scoring level.

A good way to use these resources is to begin by providing students with the rubric used for that kind of writing. Consider using your building or district’s writing rubric, or you may want to use Ohio’s rubric for informative/explanatory writing or argumentative writing, depending on the student model(s) you’ll be using. Having students read through the rubric carefully, annotating key words and developing an understanding of what it means, is important. Once students have an understanding of the rubric, handing them student samples, without annotations or scores, and asking them to evaluate the samples against the rubric, is a powerful exercise. I’ve found it works well to have students work individually at first and then come together within small groups to discuss their evaluations. When I use a variety of student samples within the same class, I have the groups share their evaluations while I project the clean writing sample on the screen. The discussions around the qualities of these essays help students not only see model essays but also the process of how to go about reflecting and evaluating their own work.

As you’re beginning to think about organizing and preparing for the school year, consider including a lesson or two looking at model essays and evaluating them. By taking time in the first few weeks of school to do this, students will have a strong sense of the targets they are aiming to hit during the year. When we have an idea of what our work could ultimately look like, we can see more easily the path to reaching that goal.


Journeys: Vacations and School Years

by Tricia Ebner, M.S. Ed.

Summer often includes vacations for many of us, and in the past few weeks, I’ve been gearing up for our own family vacation. Today, as I worked on packing, I realized that preparing for a family vacation isn’t that different from the preparing for the school year. It takes reflection and planning to fully prepare for vacation, just as it takes reflection and planning to prepare for the school year.Travel

Lists: Preparing for vacation often requires making lists. A few weeks ago I started making the packing lists, ranging from the clothing we’ll wear to the recipes and groceries we’ll need at our destination. This isn’t all that different from what we do in preparing for the school year: we consider materials we’ll need as we begin gearing up for the coming year. It also takes reflection. For example, as a family, we’ve learned through experience that the weather in the valleys can be vastly different from the weather in the mountain passes. This means we have to pack for a range of weather conditions. Similarly, as we educators continue in our career, we learn that there can be a range of needs and considerations we must make in preparing for our school year.

Research: In preparing for vacation, we often take time to investigate the activities and sights we might want to enjoy while on our travels. We’ll check out web sites for various attractions, noting hours, activities, and costs. In preparing for the school year, we’ll also often research options. We may look at changing various lessons or units to make them more effective. Perhaps we want to use some new materials; this, too, may be require some research so that we’re making wise choices. We’ve learned through experience as traveler and educators that a little bit of research can help us use our time more efficiently and enjoy it more.

Planning: Preparing for vacation includes planning out the route. How will we get to our destination? What are our options? What might we stop and see along the way? We need to refer to maps or GPS to ensure we’re on the route to our destination. Similarly, preparing for the school year requires planning. We refer to our standards, curriculum maps, and past experiences to lay out the path we want to take to help our students learn, grow, and master the skills and concepts they need.

Packing: After all the preparation, it’s finally time to pack for vacation. We carefully follow our lists make sure we have our research notes and maps. We are ready to head out, anticipating a wonderful time of rest and relaxation with family and friends. Similarly, after all the preparation, it’s about time for the school year to begin. We have our materials, and we have our research and plans to help us focus our work with our students.

Just as vacation travels sometimes require adjustments and even detours, our progress through our school year will inevitably require adjustments. Most of the time, we have a number of options for how best to reach our destination, so we can switch routes if necessary. Having a plan, knowing our resources, and being flexible means we can still reach our destination, whether it’s vacation or the learning targets we have for our students. With a little preparation, we can have an enjoyable, rewarding vacation . . . and school year.

The Power of a Poem

by Tricia Ebner, M.Ed., NBCT

There are some points in the school year where a major focus or unit is wrapping up, but starting another major unit just isn’t a great idea. There may be a break approaching, or the schedule is going to be peppered with adjusted schedules. Sometimes it’s good to change the pace a bit and work on shorter “mini-units.”

I found myself in this position at one point last year. We had finished a unit, and the next few weeks would be filled assemblies and visits from the high school guidance counselor as my eighth graders prepared to schedule their classes for their first year of high school. Since we hadn’t done much work with poetry during the year, I decided that was the direction to move. I started with one of my favorite lesson resources: the ELA lessons available on There I found ideas for Gary Soto’s poem “Oranges.” The discussion questions were excellent, and the topic of the poem, a boy’s walk around his neighborhood with a girl he likes, was one I knew my students would be secretly interested in, even if they played it “cool” during class discussion. What I especially liked was one of the writing tasks at the end of the lesson: take the poem, and write it into narrative form.

We have a literature anthology that includes the poem, so we used that and a good stack of post-it notes as we read the poem. As we moved into discussion, I asked students to discuss the questions in small groups, so they could work together and have more opportunity to share their thoughts than a whole-class discussion would allow. As I introduced the narrative writing task, there was a bit of groaning, but then one hand shot up. The question: “Can I write the story from the girl’s point of view?”

The complaining stopped as everyone paused to consider the possibility. This twist appealed to me. It required close reading of the poem and drawing lots of inferences on the girl’s thoughts and feelings. I agreed that this was a terrific idea. A couple of other students asked about other points of view, such as the shopkeeper’s, or the dog’s. I asked if there was enough information on those characters to allow the writer to produce a reasonable narrative of the events in the poem. With a grin, the student responded, “Enough to write the length of story I want to write–a really, really short one.” We ultimately agreed that the narrative could be written from the boy’s perspective or the girl’s, and in first-person or third-person, as the student chose.

The results of the writing were impressive. I asked students to take the piece to a polished rough draft product, but the pieces were short enough, and the students invested enough that much of what they submitted could’ve been a final draft. What surprised me was how many of them–boys included–chose to write from the girl’s perspective. It was exciting to see the students digging for clues and using everything they could to convey their main character’s thoughts and feelings. Most took key phrases from Soto’s work and embedded them into their narratives. This also meant that they had to focus on their own word choices and use of figurative language, so that Soto’s words weren’t a stark contrast from their own. I didn’t have to encourage them to get feedback from one another; most were eager to share their drafts, asking, “Do you think this works?” or “Did I get across how she must be feeling?” Their enthusiasm was contagious.

I’m not sure who learned more from this lesson, the students or me. The students certainly grew in their understanding and appreciation of poetic devices, figurative language, and narrative points of view and perspective. I learned that the right text, at the right time, set up in the right way for the students, can foster creativity and generate impressive writing. It was a lesson and activity well worth pursuing.


Review: Favorite Resources

by Ohio Teachers for Quality Education

Summer is a great time to investigate potential resources for use in the classroom. With the different pace of summertime, we have an opportunity to explore various web sites and tools. This week we’re taking a look back at some of our favorite blog posts about resources. Consider taking a few moments to check out some of these past posts and the resources they share. You may find something you’ve been wishing for!notes-macbook-study-conference

Technology Resources: No matter what we teach, there are apps that can support learning and teaching. In this post from January, Tricia Ebner shares five apps that can be useful in any classroom.

Literacy Resources: Selecting the vocabulary terms to focus upon can be challenging task; this post shares how the Academic Word Finder can be a great resource to helping make those decisions.

Text sets are useful not only in English language arts but also in science, social studies, and more. This post from November takes a look at how text sets can be useful in helping students develop deeper understanding.

Math Resources:  If you’re looking for resources that will help you deepen your understanding of math, Dr. Bryan Drost shares some of his favorite math tools and resources in this blog post from October.

Charesha Barrett shares how one public library put together a program to support kindergartners and their parents in working with math at home in this post.

Educator Char Shryock shares how manipulatives aren’t just for primary grades. Read here how they can be useful in high school classes, too.

English Language Arts Resources: Just as there are terrific resources for math, there are also great options for English language arts. Check out this post featuring resources for teachers.

A strategy for teaching tone is shared in this post from December. The ideas here are valuable to consider in teaching reading and writing, too!

If you’re looking for ideas to use in teaching writing, Char Shryock shares how two fourth grade classrooms partnered in this writing activity

Don’t forget that the Ohio Teachers for Quality Education web site has two tabs devoted to resources. If you’re just getting started in your teaching career, or you’re changing grade levels and/or subject areas, you may want to check out the Just Getting Started Resources. If you’re looking for tools to help streamline your work or change the routine, check out Our Favorite Go-To Resources.


Do you have favorite tools and resources you’d like to share with other Ohio teachers? Would you like to share a story of how you’ve solved problem related to standards, instruction, and assessment in your classroom? Do you have a specific problem you’re facing, and you’d like to know how other teachers have solved that problem? Use this link to share your ideas with us, and you could see your own blog posted here, or read about how others have solved that problem in their classrooms.


Teaching Students to Read Like Specialists

by Tricia Ebner, M.Ed., NBCT

Sometimes focusing on the skills and standards of the content area can make keeping an eye on reading a balancing act. Yet all teachers can help influence and support reading development in students. It doesn’t mean we have to squeeze more into our already-tight schedules. As content area specialists, we have the skills and understandings needed to help students read as historians, scientists, computer programmers, mathematicians, art historians, musicians, and more.

Think of it this way: if we’re going to hand our students a text on a specific aspect of our content, we already know what we want them to gain from that experience. There is a reason, a purpose, behind reading that. What is it? We need to take the opportunity to share with students how we’ve read that text and gained information from it. In other words, we need to teach them how to read as a scientist, historian, mathematician, computer programmer, and more. How can we go about doing that? Consider these steps as a possible process:

  1. What is the purpose for reading this text? Write a question, a deep, powerful question that has an answer clearly connected to the text and the concepts the class is currently studying. Draft the question. It can always be revised later. For example, a social studies teacher might have students read the Gettysburg Address as part of a study on the Civil War. One question a teacher might ask students is, “How is Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address an important speech in the Civil War?” For a math example, consider asking, “What is the purpose of this kind of problem? Why do students need experience with this kind of problem?”Eureka Math Example
  2. What did we notice as we read the text ourselves? Think this through. As a historian, scientist, musician, or other specialist, what stood out and why? Make note of that. This can help us guide our students to notice those things as they read. Remember that in a K-12 setting, students have been reading to learn for nine years at the most. They don’t have the years of experience and practice that we do in reading and thinking like a specialist. We need to make that process transparent for students. By asking them to focus on certain parts of the text, and asking them specific questions, we can help them begin to see what is critical in our thinking as specialists. Going back to the Civil War example, a teacher might ask, “Why does Lincoln refer to the Revolutionary War and founding of the country?” Another question might be, “What does Lincoln call on the living to do? Why do you think he would do this?” Using our math example, think through how you’ve read the problem. Try asking questions such as, “How can I represent this in a visual way? ” Or “Is there information here that isn’t important for solving the problem?”Cannon
  3. Consider sharing our own thinking and observations as a “think-aloud.” This step should follow guidance and questions, so that students can develop their own “read-like-an-expert” skills, but after doing this, sharing our own thought process models for students what a specialist is considering while reading. Referring to our math example, talking through how you thought through the problem, pulled the information you needed, and then set up the equation necessary to solve it shows learners how a mathematician thought it through.
  4. Connect the text back to the concepts and skills currently being developed. While it might be very clear to you why the text is part of this study, sometimes students don’t see those connections as clearly. A couple of carefully constructed questions for small-group and whole-class discussion can help students make those connections, which deepens their understanding. In the Civil War example, questions such as, “What was happening in the war at this point in time?” Or “How might readers have viewed this speech in light of the battles happening in November 1863, such as the Battle of Chattanooga?” Could help students consider this speech in the context of the larger war. In mathematics, comparing the problem to one the students have solved before helps them see connections.

Teaching our students the literacy skills they need to be successful in our content areas doesn’t have to be difficult. By taking a few minutes to craft questions, guide students toward seeing key parts of the text, share our own thinking as specialists, and connect the text to the larger concepts, we are helping students gain deeper understanding and increasing skills in our subject areas. Their increased understanding, skill, and confidence is well worth it.

Looking for some good resources to support content area studies and reading together? Consider looking at resources from Literacy Design Collaborative, and Achieve the Core.

The math problem used here can be found on the web site:, lesson 4.


How to Bring Instructional Shifts Into Practice – Focus on Complex Text

By Char Shryock   Dir. of Curr. & Instruction  Bay Village City Schools

text_complexity_pyramid.pngAll students need regular access to complex text as a way to build knowledge and grow their vocabulary.
 There are three measures of a complex text: qualitative, quantitative and matching reader to task.  As you read through my reflection on this shift, think about your own classroom, building or district.  What does this shift look like and sound like?  What actionable step might you take that might have a direct impact on student learning? How will you share what you have done with your colleagues?

Literacy Shift 1 : Regular Practice With Complex Text And Its Academic Language.Key resource: Understanding Text Complexity (

Complexity is determined holistically by looking at these three features of the text:

  • Quantitative Measure
    • What is the academic & content vocabulary demand of the text?
  • Qualitative Analysis
    • What is the structure of the text?
    • What is the language demand?
    • What prior knowledge of content or culture does the text demand?
  • Matching Reader and Task
    • How is the text to be used by the reader?
    • What is the purpose for reading/listening to the text?


There are a number of tools that can help you to look at the Quantitative Measure of the texts you are using in your classroom. Teachers who are mindful of vocabulary demand will Close Read texts prior to assigning them to students to look for words that may need to be pre-taught, words that may be used uniquely in the context, or words that are keys to a student’s ability to unlock the content of the text.  Students might use Frayor Models to help construct meaning for key words.  Interactive word walls in the classroom may contain examples of words being used in context, and images that illustrate meaning or usage.

  • Academic Word Finder –    This tool can be used as part of the Close Reading process the teacher utilizes prior to assigning passages to a student.  Look for passages that have a balance of words at, below and above grade level.  Passages with many words above or below grade level may still be appropriate to use with students depending on the purpose for reading the passage and the Qualitative Features of the text.
    • Create a free account on  to use this tool
    • Cut and paste text or type text into the Word Finder.
    • Select a target grade and run the tool
    • The Word Finder tool will highlight in colors words that are below, at, and above grade level within the text passage. Listed below the passage will be possible definitions of the word. The complete passage is visible with words highlighted in context.
  • Lexile Analyzer –  Lexile is one way to look at the Quantitative Measure of a text. Approximate Lexile ranges for each grade level have been included in the literacy standards.   Lexile can be compared to other quantitative measures like AR scores.  
    • You can cut and paste text into the Lexile Analyzer, but it needs to have all formatting removed.  
  •  WordSift looks more closely at academic vocabulary and content vocabulary.
    • Cut and paste or type text into the tool
    • A word cloud will be created, showing the highest frequency words. This is a good way to identify words that may be key to unlocking the content of the text.
    • The word lists tool will highlight in colors words that are specific to science, math, social studies and ELA.
    • A set of related images will appear for each word that is clicked on in the word cloud. You can use these images to add to your word wall or make visual dictionaries for ELL students or at risk readers.
  • Paired Texts by Lexile Range from can be found HERE

Qualitative features of a text can be looked at using a rubric or a checklist.  There are 4 areas to consider.  First, is the text structure simple or more complicated? Remember that text can also be a graphic, so look at the graphic features as well.  Are there text structures that are normally found in a particular content area writing style or in a genre?  When skimming the text on a first Close Reading, is the language more conversational or formal? Are terms contemporary or more unfamiliar? Teachers being mindful of the Qualitative features of the text will also take into consideration the knowledge that a text expects a reader to bring with them into the reading.  This can be cultural or regional experiences, content specific background or individual life experiences.  This particular aspect of text complexity requires the teacher to think carefully about how to scaffold texts for students who may be lacking some or all of the background knowledge a more complex text might require.  Ideally, the text is the expert and students will not need to bring large amounts of prior knowledge into their reading and discussion of the text.

Matching reader to task is often overlooked as the third component of complexity.  A text may be moderately or slightly complex, but be a primary source document that is important to helping a student understand the context of an historical event.  On the other hand, a text that is exceedingly complex may be a scientific paper a student is reading to get background information for a project.  All children should be given the opportunity to read a range of complex texts throughout the year. Texts should be high quality, be worth the instructional time to read them, and help students to build knowledge and vocabulary.   One strategy a teacher might consider when selecting informational and literary texts to use in a classroom would be to build expert text sets.  Students build content vocabulary and knowledge when they have an opportunity to read, listen too, or analyze multiple texts on the same topics.