Deeper Learning: Recapturing the Joy in Data Driven Schools

by Colleen A. Ruggieri

While recently contemplating why so many learners choose to use outside instructional supports (Internet articles, SparkNotes, etc.), to complete their school assignments, I decided to ask a few middle school, high school, and college students about their attitudes toward their homework and classroom assignments for all subject areas. Their responses were eye opening, problematic, and alarming. During our discussions, there were surprising commonalities in the responses between grade levels, all of which should be contemplated.

It is possible to get good grades without ever reading an assigned text. This seems exaggerated and impossible, but students at all grade levels convinced me that it could be true. One high school student shared her philosophy: “If you listen to your teacher, take notes, and read SparkNotes for a novel…or an online article for a government assignment, you can get an ‘A’ and pass the state tests. I don’t have time to actually read all of the books, but I still want to do well. I know it’s kind of cheating, but it works.” An important assessment issue associated with this approach is that there is no deeper learning occurring as students progress through school. Grades are providing false positives, as learners have not developed authentic skills for reading, analyzing, and synthesizing ideas.

Traditional, worksheet driven instruction no longer inspires learners. My personal experience with this student response came in my own household. My son, an active learner, was not completing his assignments. It was only after some serious investigation that my husband and I learned that he was folding up his worksheets and creating origami animals out of them. Of course, we were disappointed that he resorted to civil disobedience. However, we had to chuckle at his ingenious approach to avoiding the work. In the end, we had to sit him down and emphasize the importance of completing his work, even if was less than inspirational. We often wonder when kids lose their zest for learning. Worksheets can be authentic instructional tools, when used in moderation, but today’s students are different from those moving through classrooms twenty years ago. Students are living fast-paced, multitasking lives; successful teachers will find ways to engage their students through active learning.

bookLearners want to succeed; most define success by passing the tests and getting  good grades. It would be untruthful to tell any aspiring student that grades and test scores do not matter. In order to test my assertion, I took this concern into my college classroom, and assigned Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. It is important to emphasize that I challenged my students to read the text—independently and without any notes beyond the text’s annotations—for themselves. To provide a comfort zone, I told them that I would not give them daily quizzes. Instead, I prepared response prompts, and I asked them to record their thoughts and analysis to each section, to the best of their ability. Many students shared that this was one of their first experiences of actually reading an assigned work. Some found the experience “overwhelming” and “daunting.” These were college seniors who had two weeks to read the two-hundred-and-twenty-four page text, and their mindset seems to be symptomatic of an educational system gone awry. However, by removing the layer of potentially punitive test scores during the reading process, most of my students actually tried to read the text and appreciate Walden on a level that went well beyond literal summarization.

Real Learning: What Can We Do? While processing all that I heard from students, I picked up a copy of Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters. I appreciated the candid call for change in teaching practices: “Innovation is the lifeblood of progress. It is nursed and nurtured in the arms of failure; in collaboration; in creativity; in curiosity; in passion; in tenacity and grit and optimism” (Beers and Probst 107).  The authors note that educators begin their planning with the best of intentions. However, things change as instructors become too heavily focused on test scores. For example, computers—though potentially innovative tools—have led to the use of electronic worksheets. Ultimately, while we have written new standards for students, procedural practices must also change. With this in mind, here are a few suggestions:

Remember that test data is just one stroke on a student’s academic portrait. Test results are used for rating and ranking, and this reality creates stress for districts and teachers. However, it is important for parents, educators, and community members to realize that one digit does not a success or failure make. A deeper look at the data—and where it shows a need for improvement—should serve as a guide to greatness, rather than a punitive measure for denigrating a district’s efforts. Likewise, students should look at their own data in the same way. Teachers and parents should sit down with learners and discuss what type of snapshot the scores are providing about a student’s progress.

Rather than feeling the need to “cover the material,” educators must be supported in their efforts to drill down and design lessons for deeper learning. Spending more time on a challenging text—and giving students the time to read, think, and process what is in that document—will change the nature of instruction. Stress is a killer, and too many teachers and their classes feel like a hamster on a wheel; the quest to finish one task and begin another is exhausting and counterproductive. By allowing students to spend more time to read a challenging work, they won’t feel so defeated that they immediately look for its online summary. By avoiding the notion to “tell them what the text means,” teachers will bring back the joy of reading and allow their learners to discover the meaning for themselves.

Reading, writing, speaking and listening “for real” should be implemented in every classroom and in the home. Students want answers to life, and their questions should become part of the school curriculum. Districts and classrooms have approached this by adding essential questions to assignments (What are the dangers of racism? What is the true meaning of success?), and this must continue. Beers and Probst emphasize that we must stop using monologic questions—questions with only one right, or best answer (152). Instead, teaching students to appreciate the dialectical tensions that exist in the world will make them think deeply about solving problems. Students see dialogic questions as authentic, and they are much more willing to complete their assignments if they see real meaning in them. Parents who talk to their kids about such questions extend learning and make their children understand that what happens in a classroom is setting the stage for life.

Final Thoughts Standards and tests can be terrific tools for teaching and learning. However, it is important for everyone involved in students’ lives to see the bigger picture.  Data, used inappropriately, can be damaging and divisive. However, by transforming our approach to teaching and learning, and using data to inform our work, we will be helping learners to find their joy, understand why they are being asked to complete their assignments, and live fuller lives that transcend their years in school.

Work Cited:
Beers, Kyleen and Robert Probst. Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters. Scholastic, 2017.

About the Author: Colleen Ruggieri, a recipient of The Martha Holden Jennings Foundation Master Teacher of Ohio award, has worked as a National Board Certified English Teacher. She is an English education professor at Ohio University, and she is a past-president of the Ohio Council of Teachers of English Language Arts.

Writing Purpose vs Writing Tools In A 21st Century Classroom

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

What is the difference between the purpose for writing and the decision on what tools you use to actually write?  I took a moment to look at my own handwritten note taking over the past few weeks.  I am a native cursive writer. I grew up in a time when I had many opportunities to write and read cursive handwriting. What I found was an interesting hybrid of printed and cursive letter formation in my own writing, sometimes within the same word.  The fact that students in elementary school currently use their handwriting skills to write down their ideas goes along with what Virginia Berninger from the University of Washington found when study children through 6th grade. A Washington Post article quoting her research, along with that of others, suggests students can use handwriting to quickly capture an idea, and develop their own handwriting style once they have learned the fundamentals.  She does not advocate for time spent on handwriting drills.   I learned to write cursive because it was a writing tool,  a way to put my thoughts and the thoughts of others down on paper so they could be referenced at a later date or as a way to communicate with someone who was not in close proximity to me.  Now, students in our district are learning print (manuscript) and then cursive as a way to reinforce their foundational reading skills, helping students to make connected letter sounds on paper to mirror the connected letter sounds they are reading.  There are many writing tools, both technology based and manual, available to them to help them capture and organize their own thoughts and the thoughts of others. 

With the ready access to digital means of communication, including increasingly dependable and accurate speech to text technology, students are no longer using cursive as a consistent tool for  written expression.  Students in grades K-3 do spend time on handwriting and letter formation as part of the process of developmental reading as well as a tool for written communication.  Beyond 3rd grade, instructional time is increasingly focused on the content of what they are writing, not necessarily the tool or format that they chose to write with.  Teachers do continue to emphasize legible handwriting when appropriate, with the student having choice in the use of print (manuscript) or cursive letter formation or even more likely, a digital way of writing.  As our society shifts to a more digital environment, we as educators need to consider what skills students should spend time in school learning and practicing.  Ohio’s Learning Standards for Writing and Language emphasize the need to be able to read and listen to a variety of texts both literary (fiction) and informational (non-fiction), find evidence to support ideas from those texts, synthesize and analyze information and then write about  it in a way that will make sense to others who are reading or listening to it.    Printing (manuscript) , cursive, keyboarding, and speech to text, are all tools to help students convey this information.  

As you move through this year, think about opportunities your students have to read and listen to a variety of texts, in a variety of formats. Students need many opportunities to write using evidence from a text, regardless of the format of this writing.  Twenty-first Century learners will need to analyze, synthesize and make inferences from the work of others. They will need to be able to share this analysis, and express their own innovative ideas, in the format that is best suited to convey their work.  Conversations around the role of cursive in classrooms can be the starting point for a deeper conversation on the tools and resources students need to share their thinking and continue to grow as effective writers and communicators.

Proposed Policy Related to Writing:

The  proposed legislation, Ohio HB 58, that would add to section to 3313.60 of the Ohio Revised Code the following language:

  1. The board of education of each city, exempted village, and local school district and the board of each cooperative education school district established, pursuant to section 3311.521 of the Revised Code, shall prescribe a curriculum for all schools under its control. Except as provided in division (E) of this section, in any such curriculum there shall be included the study of the following subjects:

9)Handwriting instruction in kindergarten through fifth grade to ensure that students develop the ability to print letters and words legibly by third grade and to create readable documents using legible cursive handwriting by the end of fifth grade.

Interesting Resources:

Three APPS to Help Support Students with Special Needs: Helping all Kids Grapple with Grade Level Expectations  

by Dr. Bryan Drost

I had the best time with teachers the last few days—curriculum mapping away.  It’s what curriculum directors live for: discussions of vertical and horizontal alignment.  However, about halfway through the second day I could tell that I had “lost” two teachers: more specifically, two intervention specialists.  Attempting to bring them into the conversation, we had a bit of a heart-to-heart, and this phrase came out “My kids can’t do these standards.”

My heart broke with these sentence: of course, part of it is that we haven’t made the shift that students with special education needs are part of the “ALL” in all of our students, but at the same time, it was clear that these teachers needed some strategies to help work with their students. Although I knew that in the short time I had to work with these educators, I would not be able to solve all, I did know that they were capable and that they could use APPS to help students acquire our college and career-ready standards.

As we worked together, I shared with her my version of the acronym APPS for technology integration within the classroom: how will an application help students Acquire meaningful content standards; how will an application help students Progress through meaningful feedback; how will an application measure Proficiency of student learning, and how will an application Support the student in learning content.  (You can find more examples of this in my blogs on Achieve the Core’s Aligned blog at

The following are three APPS that I shared with her that I believe you too can use to help redefine your classroom and facilitate higher order learning activities that encourage self-directed learning and ongoing assessment for our students with special needs as well as the rest.

One of the concerns with some special needs students is that they can’t read the complex text that is required on them at grade level.  Research has consistently proven that we need to make sure kids get exposure and regular practice with grade-level text.  In other words, simply giving students texts that are not at their lexile level is problematic.  So what to do?  Why not try one of these free Google tools.  Take on an grade-level text, maybe from Newsela. Download the freeTextTeaser extension.  TextTeaser allows students to summarize the content from a webpage as a list of sentences or in paragraph form.  What’s really great is that you adjust the output using a slider to give different detail levels of the passage or article.  This gives teachers the opportunity to frontload texts for students so that they can participate in those rich, on-grade level conversations while the intervention specialist is working in small-group or one-on-one with helping the students make sense of the larger passage. An alternative to TextTeaser is SMMRY, a tool that performs basically the same task.TextTeaser

Desmos is my second APP for you all.  Often, students with special needs that are struggling math need some type of visual to represent mathematical relationships and as a result, when this isn’t provided, will shut down and become frustrated.  To be frank, many of us need those visuals.  In addition to helping provide a visual, Desmos harnesses the social nature of online interactions into meaningful math inquiry.  For example, by using the Function Carnival tooll, students are given the freedom to experiment with functions and are given direct feedback that allows them to revise their thinking and improve their mathematical practices and improve on that sense of perseverance. Lastly and what is most powerful about this tool is that the system also gives teachers the ability to randomly pair students with electronic devices, allowing students to create questions and challenges for each other based on aligned content. This can help students with special needs as it provides a model for mathematical thinking. Check it out at  In Ohio, at least, keep in mind that this is a crucial tool that students need to be exposed to as this is the same calculator interface we will be using on our State Achievement Tests.DESMOS

My final app is really one that can be used in all disciplines, and isn’t limited to say math or ELA.  As students progress into higher and higher grade levels or as content gets more and more challenging, it is essential to help students see the relationships between ideas. Often times students with special needs that have difficulty with organizing information need support in keeping ideas and these relationships straight. Ideament is a great app that allows you to draw a diagram – a mini map, concept map, flow chart, etc. and convert it to a text outline and vice versa.  This is a great way to help students with special needs organize information for something that they need to write, but also can be used to in relationship to text.  For example, copying and pasting a portion of text into a word document will allow the software to create a diagram of the text to help students organize this text and make sense of the relationships amongst ideas, perhaps say in a science text. Students also have the option of manipulating these diagrams to reorganize them in ways so that they too can learn how to process the information.  Although it is appropriate for all students, adults can benefit from it as well. I used when I started writing this blog!Ideament

While these APPS don’t solve everything, they do transform classrooms as areas of grade-level learning for all students.  Through the use of APPS, I know that you will discover additional ways to help support all students.  I encourage you to respond to this blog or e-mail us to tell us how you’re using them.  I’d love to learn more too!


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.

8.20.17 blog post image

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.   

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.

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.


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.  



How to Develop and Use a Professional Text Set in Five Steps

By Tricia Ebner, M. Ed., NBCT

Summertime for many educators means more time for reading, including professional selections we’ve wanted to tackle all year long but haven’t been able to fit into the nooks and crannies of our school-year lives. For me, the challenge isn’t finding professional literature to read, but rather selecting that which I should read. Crafting my own professional learning text set is just the solution I need. A text set is a collection of articles, videos, books, blogs, and other material that allows students to build their knowledge and vocabulary on a particular topic. In a well-crafted text set, the selections being at the student’s entry point and then build in complexity as the student gains more knowledge, vocabulary, and confidence. It’s a powerful approach that is useful across all content areas. It can be just as powerful for us educators and our professional learning.

Step 1: The first decision is the focus to use for the text set. What is it you really want to learn about this summer? This can sometimes be the hardest decision. If you’re like me, there is so much still to learn about teaching and learning, and is seems like people are always writing more books that will be such excellent choices. The benefit of a text set is that rather than getting a smattering of this or snippet of that, we can develop a deeper understanding of our selected focus. (Suggestion: if you’re struggling to find a focus for your text set, consider checking out Achieve the Core’s Summer Reading Challenge.)

Step 2: Find the Texts: Now that you have a focus in mind, it’s time to start gathering those texts. Remember that the term text doesn’t refer only to the printed word. What about including that podcast you’d heard about a few weeks ago, but never got around to listening to? Does the Teaching Channel have a video on the topic? As for the printed word, books aren’t the only option. Consider blogs. Remember that the goal here is simply gathering the set of texts you will use–you do not have to read the entire work to decide whether or not to include it. Don’t make your text set so large that it is overwhelming. Text sets don’t have to be long. A set of four or five pieces might be just fine.

Step 3: Sequence the Texts: Putting the texts into a sequence is another important step. While you might be excited about reading that article from the professional journal, if your topic is brand-new to you, you might want to start with the video, podcast, or blog post. The goal is building knowledge and vocabulary, so starting with a good entry point will keep the reading interesting and even exciting. Starting at a point that is too difficult could make the text set turn into a chore.

Step 4: READ! Once the focus, texts, and sequence are decided, it’s time to dig into the reading. As you work through your set, be flexible. Maybe you’re ready for that journal article earlier than you thought–read it earlier, then! Or maybe that blog post looked like it was going to be great, but by the second paragraph, it’s clear that it’s not really focused on your topic. In that case, set it aside and move on. It’s your professional learning text set, and it needs to be practical and useful for YOU.

Step 5: Reflect: Just as we want our students to consider what they’ve learned and then apply it in some way, so we need to do the same with our learning. How does what we’ve learned change our perspectives? What changes will we make in what we are doing in our classrooms and roles as educators? Reflect, envision, and plan for how to implement what you’ve learned in the year to come.

If you’re interested in collaborating with others, why not set up a professional text set for a small group study? If you have two or three topics you want to consider this summer, try crafting smaller text sets. Creating and using a professional text set and using it is a great way to deepen your learning and practice the process of developing text sets for students.