February 27, 2023
ChatGPT is like Hello Fresh, it can provide the ingredients, but the teacher is still the chef. An image of a teacher wearing a chef's hat and a sample of Hello Fresh ingredients.

Using AI Tools to Level-Up Your Teaching Game

I’ve been fascinated by the rapid growth of AI tools that support teachers. Since ChatGPT was made public back in November,  hundreds of tools have surfaced and even more ideas have been shared across social media channels. My intention is to help you sort through those tools and ideas to present to you specific ways that AI can support educators. I want to begin, though, by addressing a question that has come up frequently in my own research around this topic. Will AI replace me as a teacher? The answer, even among the most prominent voices across the landscape of education, is no. Teachers using AI tools will, no doubt, work faster and more efficient than those teachers who don’t use AI tools. That could be happening now. Charity Dodd, from Learning Innovation Catalyst (LINC), provided this illustration recently and I made it into a graphic of my own:

ChatGPT is like Hello Fresh, it can provide the ingredients, but the teacher is still the chef. An image of a teacher wearing a chef's hat and a sample of Hello Fresh ingredients.

I have previously shared my own version of 20 Ways Teachers Can Use ChatGPT to Save Time and Work Smarter and I suggest starting there if you’re still learning about ChatGPT and the kinds of prompts you can ask this AI model.

Ways Teachers Can Use ChatGPT by Derek Oldfield

Dan Fitzpatrick ran a poll on Twitter asking teachers which tasks are most likely to eat into your own personal time and the results are below.

Poll results, 250 votes, which tasks are most likely to eat into your personal time | Feedback or Grading, Planning lessons, Creating content, all of the above is highest with 38.4% of the votes
Credit to Dan for selecting these three areas of need. I support and inspire teachers primarily at the secondary level and I can echo these concerns about time spent grading or giving feedback, creating content, and planning dynamic lessons. Let’s dig into ways AI tools can support these processes.

Grading or Giving Feedback

ChatGPT generating a writing rubric for a grade 8 essay

You may be thinking, well can’t we just ask ChatGPT or other generative AI language models for a rubric based on our assignment? Yes, you can! I’m learning more and more about prompt engineering and that will most certainly be a skill we’re all going to sharpen the more we use AI tools. I really like Dan Fitzpatrick’s PREP model of prompt-writing. Let’s take this example of an 8th grade teacher. The prompt: Create a rubric for a grade 8 writing essay. You are an expert teacher. The essay is about song lyrics. Students are to select a song with lyrics that they can identify with. The essay should explain why they selected that song and how they identify with the song lyrics. Students should identify the theme and message of the lyrics in their essay.
The follow-up to that prompt would be to ask ChatGPT to score a student’s paper according to the rubric, but to be practical, we probably aren’t doing that with 120+ essays and unless you upgrade your ChatGPT account, I’m not sure you’re going to be granted that many prompts in a single day. But the ability is coming! It’s coming to word processors like Google Docs and Microsoft Word. In the near future I’m predicting we’ll be able to access generative AI like ChatGPT inside of Microsoft Word or Google Docs and the AI will provide feedback to written work automatically. For now, get inspiration for your own rubrics by brainstorming with ChatGPT.

Creating Content and Planning Lessons

This is probably the category in which generative AI has exploded the most in the recent months. I could never include every tool here, but I’ll include a few that have potential and certainly fall under the purpose of saving teachers time.

  • Curipod.ai Curipod will generate an entire interactive lesson from a single prompt. Curipod has already grown in its list of features. I imagine with enough funding this product will be around for a while. I’ll share a sample of my experience with Curipod, but you can access the video of my initial experience here. My opinion: this might provide ingredients, but as I often do with recipes, I would add a bit of my own spice to this lesson. Could this save time? Absolutely.Curipod is generating a lesson from the following prompt: Introduction to Photosynthesis
  • Conker.ai takes a single prompt and generates assessment questions from that prompt. The questions can then be exported into a Google form. So in a matter of seconds, teachers can have formative assessment questions in a Google form.Conker.ai generating assessment questions from a prompt: Create a quiz with 5 questions for grade 5 students about the water cycle.
  • ChatGPT can build an impressive lesson with the right prompt(s). In this sample, I take the PREP model and ask for a lesson generated from a TedTalk topic. The TedTalk is on YouTube. If a teacher was using an article or a video as the center of their lesson, ChatGPT can generate a lot of content based on that video or article. For the YouTube video, I copied the transcript of the video and pasted that into the prompt using the PREP model. My entire prompt:
    Write a lesson. You are an expert at writing quality lessons that engage students and progress their learning. Write a set of lesson objectives. Create an engaging opening task that sets the context for the lesson. Write three paragraphs based on the content. Use short sentences that are packed full of meaning and key learning content. Include a multiple choice question at the end of each paragraph that tests students learning of the paragraph. Add the answer for the teacher. Add a list of subject-specific terms and simple definitions. Write a set of questions based on the content. Use Bloom’s Taxonomy. Create a group task based on the content. This is for grade 6 students. Make the reading age 12 years old. The content: (I pasted the transcript of a YouTube video)ChatGPT generating an entire lesson using the PREP model

    This was one of my most impressive results from ChatGPT but I think it was most impressive because the prompt was of higher quality. The better the prompt, the better the result. The questions were great, the group project was good. These were good ingredients that likely would yield a palatable dining experience on their own. Would this save teachers time? Yes. 

  • Charity Dodd @CharityDodd introduced me to this idea and I think it has merit. Teachers can use ChatGPT to provide an adaptive assessment to students. I see this working most effectively as a student-led station. ChatGPT will provide questions to students and will increase or decrease the complexity of those questions based on the student response. With the right prompt, this will work.
    You will create an adaptive assessment. You will generate a reading passage for a grade 5 student. You will create a reading comprehension question. If I answer the question correctly, you will ask a harder question. If I answer the question incorrectly, you will ask an easier question.
    Obviously my prompt below was based on reading comprehension but this could be math problems, science concepts, or almost any topic you happen to be studying. The key, again, is in the prompt. What was not captured in the GIF below? I got an answer wrong just after the video cut. ChatGPT not only provided the correct response but it provided supporting details directing me to that information in the passage. That’s amazing.
    ChatGPT is creating an adaptive assessment by generating a reading passage and asking more or less complex questions about that passage based on the answer provided by the human.


Dan Fitzpatrick released this article over the weekend titled 21 Ways to be a Leader in the AI Era.

For the education system to survive and adapt to the rapidly changing world we find ourselves in, our leaders must embody courage and innovation, fearlessly taking the necessary steps to empower their students and staff to thrive in the AI revolution.

Original from The AI Educator at https://thirdbox.org/

His call is clear and powerful.

A rush of tools and ideas have surfaced since ChatGPT became public on November 30, 2022. That trend will likely continue if not increase in its potency. Districts, schools, and leaders alike will need to sort through these tools to empower their staff to get better results, save time, and improve learning. I like this matrix related to ChatGPT and pedagogy. I used this filter when deciding which tools to share in this post and I think it’s a necessary frame to keep around during this time.

A correlation matrix with quality of pedagogy on the y-axis and quality of prompt on the x-axis. The greatest quadrant in the upper right says work with AI to get better results, hours of time saved, learning is improved. That's the goal.

Original from The AI Educator at https://thirdbox.org/

February 9, 2021

Blended Learning Playlists

playlist is a sequence of resources or activities for a student to complete. I’ve been experimenting with the notion of learning pathways or learning playlists for a few years now. Unbeknownst to me, a pandemic would strike in the spring of 2020 and this pedagogical concept would become an easier embrace during this challenging time for teachers. I admit, it’s a paradigm shift, but bare with me through this post.

The image above represents a playlist for students in a high school geometry course. As you can see, the playlist begins by clearly stated learning targets derived from content standards. Choosing the targets, the end destination, is the first order of business when designing your own playlist. The teacher will need to consider the length of time required for students to acquire the concepts included in those targets. Is there a specific length of time that works better than others? In my experience, the longer the playlist, the more likely it is for students to lose their location or their purpose. You’ll have a better understanding of what that means in just a moment. I typically shoot for 10 instructional days.

First, let’s take a look at the research that serves as the foundation for this pedagogical shift.

Author of the book Drive, Dan Pink describes intrinsic motivation as motivation 3.0. This notion is developed from bodies of research around motivation. Dan uncovers several studies that reveal the dangers of if-then rewards, or carrots and sticks. It turns out, carrots and sticks can do serious harm to a student’s desire or motivation to learn. This seems counterintuitive doesn’t it? Education has been employing carrots and sticks for years. Wasn’t Pavlov’s dog offered a reward for behavior? Dan breaks down motivation into extrinsic and intrinsic. One such study including MIT students reveals some truth around carrots and sticks. A group of students were given some games, complex games that involved creativity, concentration, and motor skills. Their performance was incentivized based on three levels of performance. The highest performers would receive the greatest reward. The results were clear. Incentives worked as expected for tasks that required purely mechanical skill. Once the task involved any amount of creativity or critical thinking, rewards led to poorer performance. This study was repeated over and over, even in contexts where monetary rewards would mean more, but the results were the same. Carrots and sticks work for low level tasks that don’t require much thought. But if the task increases in complexity, rewards actually damage performance. As Edward Deci, Richard Ryan, and Richard Koestner explain, ‘Rewards do not undermine people’s intrinsic motivation for dull tasks because there is little or no intrinsic motivation to be undermined.’

Dan uncovers three primary drivers to amplify intrinsic motivation – autonomy, mastery, and purpose. You’ll see these drivers threaded throughout the learning playlists. It’s a misconception to think we design these playlists and set students off on an independent journey hoping they make it to the end. That is not the case. The playlists do involve a healthy measure of autonomy as we allow students to navigate through the playlist at their own place. Whole-group activities are done together as a class. Students have little say in when those are completed, but they do have some control over their independent work. In a traditional model of schooling, there are a number of constants in the learning equation. Time, practice, and assignments are all constants defined by the teacher and applied equally to the students. The teacher decides what assignments to complete, when they are due, the numbers of problems, and more. Learning is the variable in this model. Some students learn it all, some students learn parts of it, some students learn very little. The blended learning playlist flips the script. Time, practice, and assignments become a variable, and learning becomes the constant.

Checkpoints or progress checks are critical to the success of the playlists. If students are never asked for check their progress against a formative assessment, they are never informed of their location, their success, or their next steps in the journey. As you can see, the playlists offer strategically placed checkpoints that are designed to inform students about whether to move forward in the playlist, backward, or stay put. The majority of the independent work in the playlist is computer adaptive, meaning the software adjusts inputs based on student outputs. There is constant feedback provided to the learner. What might take me 18 problems to demonstrate proficiency, might take another learner 12 problems. That personalization is allowed within the system.

John Hattie’s meta-analysis of over 1200 bodies of research on instructional practices is fascinating. This blog isn’t about his research but you can read about how he determined the hinge-point for effect sizes. According to Hattie, 0.40 represents a year’s worth of achievement for a year’s input using that specific strategy. Any strategy with an effective size greater than 0.40 has an influence greater than a year’s worth of growth. 0.80 would represent a strategy that yield’s two year’s worth of growth. 1.20 would represent three years of growth, an incredible influence on student achievement.

Self-assessment and self-efficacy are among the highest influences when it comes to strategies that yield high achievement. Self-assessment is threaded throughout the playlist. Putting students in control of their pace by informing them of their progress through feedback becomes a powerful influence fueling intrinsic motivation. Self-efficacy refers to one’s confidence to complete tasks or exert control over their motivation. Students are in control of their own mastery inside the playlist. They can complete independent work until they demonstrate proficiency. They can retake progress checks, and they get at least two takes on the summative assessment at the end. The clear learning targets, the map of the journey, and the pursuit of mastery all contribute to a greater purpose. Learners become involved in the process advancing towards a specific goal.

What does the teacher do? It’s a mistake to think the teacher sits at the desk with his/her feet up. The teacher is furiously referencing the feedback provided by the adaptive platforms students utilize for independent work. The teacher is also diagnosing misunderstanding or misconceptions provided during whole-group experiences. The teacher uses this information to make decisions about small groups and seating arrangements. The teacher spends a considerable amount of time on a knee or seated at a desk beside students asking questions and listening to gauge understanding.

There is a noteworthy connection between the tasks a teacher chooses to include in the playlist and Bloom’s taxonomy. Computer adaptive platforms have their place in blended learning, but as long as teachers understand their limitations. My whole-group experiences are rich and require intellectual agility in order to complete. These tasks require students to analyze, compare strategies, evaluate work, and create.

The most common concern at this point becomes “do students navigate all playlists at their pace? How do you manage the chaos when students are working on different playlists?” Students move to the next playlist together with their classmates. I never have more than one active playlist at a time. In my experience, this is the best way to do it. What if students aren’t ready to move on? Believe it or not, that rarely happens. Why? The classroom culture transforms to a degree that classmates just don’t allow other classmates to fall behind. If I’m doing my job, analyzing the feedback, and making informed decisions about who to spend time with, and what seating arrangements would maximize students’ strengths, then the gap between the first student and the last student never grows too wide. I’ve done this in the secondary classroom with over 100 students and I’ve never felt bad about moving to the next playlist.

In conclusion, I want to wrap this up with the best representation of equality vs equity that I’ve ever seen. This is relevant to learning playlists because I hope you can see the value in giving students what they need to succeed. This is a theme throughout the playlist. Students are provided what they need to succeed, not equal portions of time, practice, and assignments.

Image Credit: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

June 28, 2020

What I Hope Teachers Learn From Our Summer PL Courses

As I imagine many school districts were doing this summer, my district, Berkeley County Schools (WV), unleashed a robust series of courses for teachers to complete over the summer. I had the fortune of being on a small team of three that designed and is currently facilitating the learning. The courses were voluntary. Given the experience everyone was thrust into suddenly last spring, high quality professional learning was a critical priority for BCS this summer. Even though no one knew what to expect for the 20-21 school year, we decided to prioritize a learning experience that would immerse teachers in a model that they could transfer no matter what the 20-21 school year looks like.

We use Schoology in our district so we facilitated the teacher courses through that LMS. We created three courses, beginnerintermediateadvanced. The first task for our teachers was to create a sandbox course they would use to produce the content they would need to complete the assignments in the PD courses. We designed our courses with assignments that required teachers to create, organize, share, capture, and submit evidence in order to receive credit for the assignments. We partnered with Shepherd University to offer our teachers 3-hours of graduate credit for completing all three courses.

According to my count, we have about 30 assignments that are required in order to receive credit for completing all three courses. There are certainly some very explicit outcomes throughout the courses. Several assignments required our teachers to create video content and embed it in their sandbox course. Other assignments required our teachers to create tech-enhanced questions using Schoology’s assessment creator. Our teachers were required to submit evidence of their ability to generate a Microsoft Teams Meeting, invite their students, record a mini lesson, and post the link to that recording in their sandbox course. These are just a few of the explicit outcomes that appeared throughout the course.

There are also a number of implied outcomes that I hope our teachers are aware of as they complete these courses.

At this point, three educators are facilitating learning for over 500 educators. There’s no way we could successfully do this by replicating the traditional face-face model of schooling (or sit-n-get PD) that we have known for over a century. At the end of each course, our teachers are required to submit to a discussion communicating what they learned in the course and how they intend to use what they learned. It’s also an opportunity for our teachers to provide feedback about the course. The response we’ve received so far is overwhelmingly positive, but the most common piece of feedback we receive is in reference to the instructional design.

I hope our teachers recognize the value in outsourcing the transfer of information. Sharon Dove, Sharon Collins and I outsourced the majority of our content by utilizing Youtube videos, Help Support in our various platforms, and we created our own instructional content in video/screencasts. This alone allowed us to personalize path, place, and pace for every participant. The result is each participant’s experience becomes unique. This new model of education will place a new premium on face-face time, it’s important that we reevaluate what we do during that time.



I use this image as part of a presentation on healthy and effective grading practices, but it applies here. The outcomes for the course are the same for everyone, but the experience, the paths to mastery, and even the evidence submitted can involve choices.




I really like this graphic from George Couros:

From George Couros


It makes so many connections to the overall experience our learners have had during these courses. There are many school contexts represented in our courses, spanning from Prek-12.






I hope teachers realize the pedagogical connections to their own courses. Many teachers commented about the value of utilizing video or audio in directions, for example. Multimodal directions must become routine for all educators. It reminded me of Holly Clark’s new post at The Infused Classroom




I hope teachers recognize what they could do with face-face time. For example, we chose to outsource the bulk of our instruction or the transfer of information. For the purposes of our courses, we didn’t have to include any whole-group experiences, though our teachers will certainly want to do that to some degree. I hope they realize what they could do during that time if they were liberated from delivering content or providing instruction. During the summer courses for teachers, my face-face time with learners has been spent diagnosing misunderstandings, brainstorming practical applications to their specific school contexts, and giving feedback on work submitted by our learners. That’s purposeful use of the most valuable time we have with our learners, and that represents a learner-centered step in instructional innovation.

Leave a comment if this has stirred some thought about the pedagogical impacts of this new model of schooling.

Posted with permission

Posted with permission

Posted with permission

One of the assignments in the course was to use a multimedia tool we have available to us through MyVRSpot, and create a class newsletter to keep families up to date on what’s happening. I loved this example and received permission to share.

October 23, 2019

Equal vs Equitable

Full transparency here… Rick Wormeli wrote the book Fair Isn’t Always Equal and it is excellent! It is on a must-read list for many educators, including this one. I’ve recently put a lot of thought and consideration into the notions of fairequal, and equitable and the roles they play in learning design. I am writing to share my context with other educators. My role in education has recently allowed me to jump back into the design of a learning pathway for a classroom of students. Honestly, I miss this. Before I left full-time teaching in a classroom setting, I was experimenting with a better way to design learning experiences that differentiate for my kids.

Several years ago, I began a relentless pursuit to liberate my students from this conveyor belt of learning that is one-size-fits-all (or is it none?). Prior to increasing my capacity and skill with technology, this was a task that seemed out of reach to me. The current model of schooling still restricts my students and teachers to arbitrary calendar dates, meaning that all students have to attend school for 180 days before they can advance. Even though no one really knows how long it will take any one student to learn x, y, and z, I could still innovate within the constraints of the calendar. As a math teacher, the conveyor belt of learning meant that all kids would receive equal time for instruction, equal time for practice, equal numbers of problems to practice, and equal number of days to learn before providing evidence in equal number of ways. There was a time in this journey that I realized that I didn’t have to force this level of uniformity onto my students any longer. As Rick says, I will always be fair, but I will rarely be equal. To be clear, the conveyor belt sends several messages to students. To some, it says if you can’t keep up, sorry. I don’t want to imply that all teachers feel this way, but doesn’t that message also say it is more convenient for me to plan this way, so keep up. For others, the message says I’m sorry, but you’ll have to wallow in mediocrity even though you’re ready to move on.

My journey began to shift when I realized I could leverage technology to better respond to my students and that response would greatly impact my instructional design. The pathway you see laid out in the image above represents an experience that embraces the understanding that all kids learn at different rates with various levels of support.

One of the more enlightening experiences I had along this journey came when I realized I could leverage technology to provide students a number of practice opportunities that reflected what they needed in order to demonstrate proficiency. No longer were all of my students receiving the same 25 practice problems on the same night. I also recalled nightmarish experiences when I would pass out tests on test-days and cringe when I got to a few desks of students I knew were not ready for this test. Those days are in the past. I could get into the nuts of bolts of that learning pathway, how students navigate it, the face-to-face learning experiences (whole group and small group) vs the self-paced ones, the role the formative practice plays and how it impacts student ownership, autonomy, and self-assessment. Not to mention the depth of learning, the mental dexterity required to complete some of the experiences, and the metacognition included in reflective opportunities along the way. But I want to hone in on the grip that fairness has on so many classrooms.

I fear too many classrooms are focused on being equal with students, in the interest of fair practice. But let’s be clear about equality.

Image Credit: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

What we really want in our classrooms is equitable and responsive teaching. Being fair and equitable is giving kids unique and specific supports so that all students have an opportunity to succeed, or learn. That means we have a responsibility to provide those supports when possible. So what practices fly in the face of equity? Consider whether your own instruction rides on a conveyor belt of one-size-fits-none instruction. Let’s consider what equitable grading practices look like. Are our grading practices handcuffed by equality? I know some teachers that allow redos or reassessment in their class, for example. Hats off to those teachers for recognizing the value of iterations in learning, something that applies to nearly every single profession in the world. But, in the interest of being equal with all students, teachers give partial credit to the second or third iteration or redo. The most typical response here is this practice ensures fairness to those students who got it the first time. Are we punishing students for learning at a different rate than we’re teaching?

I appreciate you reading this far. After some recent work in a classroom, I began to reflect on fairness, equality, and equitable teaching. The pathway I provided represents just one example of how instruction can be designed and innovated in ways that provide students healthy and equitable experiences. I think it also points to the greater world in which we live. If teachers still consider themselves the master of content in their class, they’ve been outsourced by Youtube and Google. We’ve got to start providing students opportunities to learn how to learn. That doesn’t mean they do so in the absence of a teacher, but it does mean the role of the teacher has to change from delivering content to managing student learning. Are we providing kids opportunities to inquire, filter information, and apply it in authentic ways? Think about how much learning we omit because we hold students hostage to arbitrary timelines.

June 12, 2018

I had to discipline, now how do I recover the relationship?

I’ve been blessed with some opportunities to speak and write about prevention.  It’s true, the best classroom management strategies are founded on prevention.  Stop the behavior before it starts.  I fully endorse the writing of handwritten notes.  I’ve blogged and spoke a lot about my 3-pronged approach during the first week of school.  Seek out those tough kids like a shark.  Find something positive during the first week of school.  Recognize it publicly, write a handwritten note, make a phone call home, hold a short conversation somewhere outside the classroom, etc.  There are a number of ways you can make positive contacts with tough kids during the first week of school.  The entire philosophy of SAMS and COSTCO are built on positive touches with customers.  Research suggests that it takes 7 positive contacts for a customer to return.  This post is intended to provide support to those teachers who may or may not have done that, but still have to deal with what we all may face: I still had to discipline that kid.  I would never advocate against the use of discipline.  I’m a big supporter of restorative practices, but I know in all schools, we still have to support teachers who had to utilize a form of discipline.  In the case where we’ve invested a lot of time and energy into a student, it can be a real challenge to recover a relationship once we’ve had to resort to a form of discipline.

So let me lay out a common scenario: Jared was a tough student last year so you anticipated him being a tough student this year when you noticed him show up on your roster over the summer.  You invested in positive tools that seemed to yield some effective response in Jared.  He seems to be putting forth more effort for you in your class.  The investment you made in connecting with Jared’s heart seems to have paid off.  For some unknown reason (there’s almost always a reason, recognize the feedback), Jared has a terrible day in your class.  Perhaps he even has another terrible day tomorrow.  Whatever the case may be, you have to report Jared to administration and schedule a meeting.  Know this, despite the magnitude of your efforts to turn Jared around early in the year, the relationship between you and Jared is damaged.  That’s not to say you did anything wrong.  That’s not an indictment on your use of discipline.  It’s just a fact.  The relationship is surely to be damaged.  It’s irresponsible for us to expect Jared to return to our class with a renewed spirit, ready to reengage in learning with a respectful attitude.  That would be nice wouldn’t it?  See, some kids may do that.  I’m not talking about those kids.  If you’re reading this and can’t seem to recognize which kids I’m talking about, consider yourself fortunate to have worked with a different kind of student.

In my position as an administrator, I’ve had the privilege of working with teachers and spending time in other classrooms.  I didn’t have these opportunities as a classroom teacher.  Since then, I’ve noticed that a lot of teachers may make an effort to invest in preventative strategies, but a lot of teachers still struggle when it comes to recovering, renewing, and restoring a relationship that may be damaged after discipline occurs.  I created the following strategy to help inspire and guide teachers in restoring positive relationships with kids.


August 20, 2017

A Blurry Focus

Ask any educator what their focus is and I imagine most would tell you the focus is always: learning.  Yea, that’s got to be the most common answer.  Yet, if you take a look at some common practices through the lens of learning, I think it would reveal a blurry focus, at best.


Here is a list of common classroom practices that we should all reconsider this year.  If you’re brave enough to reconsider these practices, you’ll find yourself taking steps to bring the focus of your classroom on learning.

  • Extra points for limited bathroom trips.  If you’re students claim that mother nature calls every day during your class, giving extra points in an effort to stymie mother nature is definitely blurring the focus in your classroom.  Especially in the secondary level, school is too often viewed as a game to students.  Those who win are good at leveling up, collecting extra points, and taking advantage of silly bonuses like this one.  Great teachers don’t have to give extra points to keep kids from hiding in the bathrooms during their class.
  • Handing out participation points.  So you say the focus is on learning?  Do you know what those daily participation points do to a student’s grade?  The answer many teachers would give is just unfortunate: it gives some kids a boost at the end of the grading period.  That response is not one that reflects a focus on learning.  It reflects a focus on giving As.  Stay with me till the end here.
  • Detailed rubrics for A-B-C-D-F handed out in the syllabus at the beginning of the year.  I know what you’re thinking, “hey now, I’m just being clear about what it takes to get an A.”  You are clear, and now the game is on.  I guess it’s possible to clearly state your tolerances for mastery in a detailed rubric like that, but I haven’t seen one.  Far too often I find those rubrics have the silliest language about numbers of sentences, numbers of problems, time spent on _____, etc.

So what is more effective than those practices?  I’m no psychologist but I think a lot of times the thing that blurs the focus in many classrooms is the teacher’s need for control.  You can sharpen the focus on learning by giving up control.  It almost sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it?  It may sound scary too, but it’s true.  Instead of detailed rubrics spelling out the limits for A-B-C-D-F, let’s be sure your grades reflect evidence of, you guessed it, learning.  What evidence of learning does a participation grade reflect?  If teachers are brave enough to look in the mirror, they’ll eventually admit that participation grades are used as a classroom management tool to bait students into participating in their class.  Think about it, the only way you can get kids to pay attention is to hand out points for it?  Sitting quietly and breathing doesn’t reflect learning and it shouldn’t impact a student’s grade.

I’m not suggesting you keep the requirements for an A a mystery till the end, but classrooms with a true focus on learning put the responsibility for establishing the bar in the hands of the students.  Classrooms with a focus on learning have clearly defined learning targets that students can articulate.  The tests align with those pre-established learning targets.  Here’s a challenge for you, during your next class, ask your students what mastery would look like for any of your learning targets.  Can they articulate it?  If not, the focus is blurry.  If your students can provide evidence of what mastery would look like, your focus is on learning.  When your students complete an assessment, do they get an opportunity for a retake ?  Is their actionable descriptive feedback provided?  If not, the focus isn’t on learning.

I’d love to hear from you.  Leave a comment or a tweet about your thoughts.


July 6, 2017

Spark Excitement Leading Up To Your PD

Ever read the announcement for school or district provided professional development and let out a big sigh?  When you hear about professional development, what emotions rise to the surface?  I have heard plenty of teachers clammer over the thought of attending PD.  I also know many teachers who look forward to the learning opportunities in their school or district.  Either way, I hope your professional learning experiences don’t elicit this feeling:

Source Unknown

I want to arm school and district leaders with ways they can engage their participants before their PD events in order to generate excitement, ignite the conversation, and spark momentum heading into their professional learning experience.


Flipgrid is on fire!  Matt Miller put together this awesome blog post including 15 ways Flipgrid can be used in the classroom.  Consider this number 16!

I launched a Flipgrid topic to the #wvedchat network recently.  West Virginia’s statewide technology conference is coming up July 18 and I used Flipgrid to encourage conference-goers to record a short video response sharing what they are excited about for this year’s conference.  We’ve received some great responses so far and you can view them or respond here.  Consider using Flipgrid to generate some excitement leading up to your next professional development event.  Your session leaders could even record a mini-commercial detailing what participants will learn by attending their session.  Or you could use Flipgrid after your event to collect feedback or testimonies about what your participants will take back to their classrooms and schools.  Finally, you could require participants record their video response in order to be entered into a door-prize drawing during your PD event.  Flipgrid offers a great opportunity to increase the energy heading into your professional development sessions.

#The Hashtag#

Every conference or professional development event should be using a backchannel.  Recently, I was fortunate enough to follow the learning at two huge educational conferences by following the conversations across the conference hashtags: #ISTE17 & #ModelSchools.  I’ve never been to either conference, though they’re definitely on my edu-conference bucket list!  School and district leaders have a great opportunity to model an effective instructional practice by encouraging participants to exercise their voice across the event hashtag.  The hashtag also provides participants an opportunity to share their learning during the event.  Using curation tools like Storify, educators can capture their learning during the event and use that archive as evidence of their growth during evaluation conversations with school or district leaders.  I love what Dwight Carter did during Model Schools to reflect on what he learned during various sessions.  You can view this reflection by clicking here.


There are advantages to using Facebook and one of them is that nearly everyone is already there.  Meet your event participants where they are and create a Facebook event for your professional development dates.  You can use the comment sections in the event posting to generate excitement, provide thought-provoking questions, or preview some details about your event using pictures/videos.

February 9, 2017

Professional Learning: Discipline Over Default

I’m a huge fan of the content produced by the Focus 3 team of Tim and Brian Kight.  They recently started releasing podcast episodes and they are fantastic!  I’ve read the book Above The Line but I’ve yet to see Tim or Brian in person.  This morning I listened to episode 2 of the podcast, titled Discipline Over Default.  Tim and Brian struck me this morning because the topic related so much to the journey of my own learning.

Let’s review the history of professional learning for educators.  In fact, let’s separate periods of history into pre-internet and post-internet.  Both periods of history have this one thing in common.  Educators have always been provided learning opportunities by the school-district.  Professional learning days have always appeared in the calendar year.  Those days are typically called professional development.  Before the boom of social media, educators also attended conferences, read books, or subscribed to education literature.  The connection to other educators primarily took the form of face to face collaboration that appeared in various formats within schools.  The disciplined educator became a disciple of their craft by engaging in those learning opportunities and sharing their learning with others, given opportunities to do so.

Since the boom of social media, professional learning opportunities have skyrocketed.  I’m learning via the podcast produced by Tim and Brian and I’m sharing my learning via this blog I created.  That’s just an example of opportunities that didn’t exist for educators of the 20th century.  Listening to the podcast episode just reminded me that the real barrier in education is still the same as it was yesterday.  The barrier is discipline over default.

A disciplined educator feeds intention over impulse.  Auto-pilot for educators is simply relying on whatever learning opportunities the school and district provides, but as many education leaders have been proclaiming for years now, we’re experiencing rapid change in the way technology impacts our learners.  If we aren’t discipline driven in pursuing improvement, we are rapidly approaching irrelevance.

January 27, 2017

What Do I Do Now?

What do I do once I have damaged that relationship?  This question was born out of a recent conversation with a student-teacher in my building.  It was a great thought and one that every educator should be considering.  I have to imagine that even the best managers of classrooms have messed up and damaged a relationship with a student before.  We’re human, after all.  So let’s set the stage a bit.  That one student who has been tip-toeing the line for several days or even weeks, decides to jump over the line head first one day.  The irritation overcomes you and you lay down some punishment.  The next day the student comes in with a chip on his/her shoulder and you are forced to dig deep into your toolbox in a relentless search to engage that student, but your efforts are to no avail.  So you’re left wondering, “how long will he/she come to my room with a negative attitude?  Do I just let this student have his/her space?  If I ignore them, I’m afraid they’ll just distract others.”  Chances are, they will distract others.  That student is seeking an audience and will do what they can to pull more students to their side (there are sides now, you know).  So what do I do now?

Let’s say for sake of this post, this student is Jeremy.  This, in my opinion, is the best piece of advice I can offer to the teacher in this situation: DO EVERYTHING YOU CAN TO PREVENT MORE JEREMYS FROM APPEARING IN YOUR CLASS.  Right now, you’ve only got one Jeremy.  But, if you do nothing, more will appear.  So what can you do to prevent Jeremy from multiplying?

No doubt, in this situation, Jeremy already has some followers or at least some people that may be considering joining the fold.  You better seek those students out like a Sidewinder missile!  Now, you have to do more than identify them.  Start recognizing anything even remotely positive that those students are doing in your class.  “I appreciate how you came in and got your stuff out so you’re ready to go, great job man!”  “Hey Daniel, I’ve never seen someone persevere over one problem quite like you have! Way to go!”  “Chasity, thank you for picking that pencil up off the floor for me!”  With each of those praises, you look them in the eye and dap, shake their hand, or high-five.  Make a positive contact if possible.  

Next, go the extra mile.  Don’t just rest on a positive praise that requires 5 seconds of your time.  Write those students a handwritten note and deliver it to them.  Make a phone call home and tell mom or dad how much you appreciate that specific behavior you observed in their child.  You want those behaviors to continue, right?  Then put in the effort.  It’s worth it!  Meet those students as they arrive at school early in the morning.  Talk to them.  If your schedule permits, see them at lunch and sit with them, talk to them.  Great relationships with tough kids don’t happen by accident.  If you’re willing to do the things few educators are doing, you’ll reach the kids few educators are reaching.

If you follow through with these actions, chances are great that you have done well to prevent more Jeremys from appearing your class.  Read my next post to determine what to do with the original Jeremy.

December 27, 2016


This is a collaborative blog post from Derek Oldfield, Jodie Pierpoint, and Paul Bailey.

Paul Bailey, Jodie Pierpoint, and I are in a Voxer book chat group reading Kids Deserve It with some other friends.  The three of us were Voxing each other recently about developing authentic relationships with students.  Born out of our conversation is this fun challenge we considered posing to our PLN via Twitter.  Our purpose is to get more educators engaged in the extra effort that is required to build true relationships with tough students through positivity.

We have designed a challenge where educators keep track of “positivity points” daily by giving high fives, writing handwritten notes, or making positive phone calls home.  We use the word points loosely because we will not be posting a leaderboard, giving away a million dollars, or any other award.  The only reward given will be a smile on a kids face, the gift of being a champion for a kid, or joy from the happiness in a parent’s voice.  Utilizing points will provide feedback for the participants to track if they are being positive throughout the school days.  The hashtag #high5challenge can be used to post photos, point totals and/or goals and gain ideas of how others are promoting positivity within their buildings.

We value the power in turning negative behavior through a simple high five or a sincere handwritten note.  In a lot of ways, managing tough kids isn’t hard, it just requires effort that few people are willing to put forth.  Meeting that tough kid in the parking lot as they get off the bus in the morning, just to slap him five and tell him you’re glad he’s here, doesn’t require a PD session or a training day.  These simple gestures send messages to kids and we believe every kid deserves to be recognized.  This is not designed to be a competition among adults.  It is set up to be an easy challenge for individuals to begin promoting positivity within their building.  Fourteen points one day with a goal of twenty the next ultimately means there will be more positivity shared. However, individuals are not to be discouraged if a colleague earns fifty points in a day.  Together 64 points (plus the points of other staff members in the building) of positivity were shared in one building on one day.