Disrupting Thinking 2

This podcast is the second in a series about Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst. It is also intended to be a companion for the summer book study at octelasbs.weebly.com

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This section features a review of the Three Big Questions!

Sketchnote of 3 Big Questions

(Yes this is the actual sketchnote from the book! I created it summer of 2016 when I was studying Nonfiction Reading: Notice and Note)

Student anchor charts:



‘Skinnying’ my standards…

Twitter is an important part of my personal learning network. I love it when I get great ideas to explore and try in my classroom! In March, I was tagged in a retweet/share by our district assistant superintendent, Dr. Amy Crouse. The link was to a post on The Teaching Channel website called “Skinnying the Standards into Six Buckets”. Screen Shot 2017-05-06 at 8.59.01 PMIt was a fabulous lesson from a high school language arts teacher, Sarah Brown Wessling, on how to ‘bundle’ standards to make them more accessible for herself and her students. She outlined 4 important steps and gave teachers a peek into her classroom to see her standards sticks in action. For Sarah, the result was “six buckets…that (she) could use to hold the literacy standards and have them easily accessible so that (she) could call on them every day”. It was genius and I knew I needed to do the same!

Of course the ELA standards for high school students looks and feels a bit different in 3rd and 4th grade. I loved the idea but needed to wrap my head around ‘skinnying’ the standards for my students. I thought about her buckets: Create a context, Read closely, Analyze, Expose Precise Thinking, Write to Transfer, Build Stamina. Taking to heart a quote from Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros “If you want to be innovative, you have to disrupt your routine”, I knew it was time to dive in. This was it. The big idea that could tie together how I have students consider their learning in my classroom.

I have always found explicitly naming standards a weakness of mine. I took to posting them and there they are… another thing on my wall to be ignored. I needed something tangible and something I could ‘manipulate’. This was it! Sarah Brown Wessling used adorable paint containers and paint sticks. This was something I could get my hands on and wrap my head around!

So the work began… I first examined her six bucket categories and came up with these:Standards buckets


Big ideas felt like an “umbrella” for including those skills we teach students for comprehension strategies: questioning, determining importance, main ideas, summarizing, inferring, recount/retell, author’s purpose, elements of plot, and then synthesizing for determining a lesson, moral, and/or theme. Here were those standards under reading literature and informational text 1, 2, and 3 dealing with Key Ideas and Details.

Connections, relationships, and patterns is where I felt those reading Craft and Structure standards (4, 5, 6) fit. Here I put character traits, point of view and perspective, text structures, nonfiction text features, IMG_0083.jpgsynthesizing information, and poetry vs. prose (in terms of structure). These standards challenge students to look across texts for comparison and more deeply within texts to construct meaning.




Reading Closely is about looking more intently at text and diving into both what the author is telling us and how the text “speaks” to us. This skill is embedded in multiple ELA standards and in my opinion is best presented to students through the thinking strategies we teach them. Since deeper thinking is often so abstract for younger students, I have found these approaches have helped make it more “concrete”. In this bucket, I put a variety of more complex ideas:

  • Examining images (because we learn to really look carefully at messages images convey)
  • Working with TBE (text based evidence) as we look at the words a writer actually uses and what it tells us as readers, which invites careful analysis and reflection
  • Annotating seems simple, but helping a child understand how to pay attention to that little thinking voice in their head as they read is difficult. Here I work on realizing what is on the surface of the text, what lies deeper “below the surface” and what thinking they have that might be beyond the text. Annotating or “making tracks” when we read is a powerful way to bring that thinking out for discussion, reflection, and evaluation
  • Be a text talker then goes with TBE… that is helping students use language that differentiates what they think vs. what an author things. It is one of the first steps to getting our students to be independent thinkers
  • As students start to extract meaning from texts, they make assumptions or Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 10.10.15 AMdiscoveries; they make claims and so I want to challenge that thinking through supporting claims they make often with evidence in the text or other valid sources
  • Finally Book-Head-Heart, which is a new strategy outlined in Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst. This has been a classroom thinking game changer for my students and I and is worthy of a separate discussion altogether.

My next bucket, Building Stamina and Fluency, covers a variety of standards in reading foundations, writing, language, and speaking and listening.

  • Writing in organized paragraphs sounds simple, but I find for my 3rd and 4th graders this is a micro-skill that impacts them as writers across genres.
  • Written response in my classroom is a routine activity that focuses on being able to respond to text thoughfully. Since I am not “officially” my students writing teacher of record, I build writing skills in this way. With frequency and repetition, my students build their thinking fluency and writing stamina.
  • Self-editing deals with conventions. Anything I can do to help my students apply skills learned and make them more automatic or fluent is critical. I find labeling this as “self-editing” helps bring ownership of the standards that fall into this category stick.IMG_0085.jpg
  • R-A-C-E responding stands for ‘restate’ the question, ‘answer’ the question, ‘cite evidence’, and ‘explain evidence’. While this sounds like a ‘test strategy’ and for the most part is, I feel this ties into supporting claims and thus helping a student think more carefully and deeply about their own reactions to what they read. Stamina and fluency is then built with repetition and practice; the more I ask my students to think and reflect the more this becomes a habit.
  • Read Challenging Texts is not just about text complexity. In my classroom, I promote texts that challenge are thinking and often that is through picture books as well. This is about mindset and again fluency and stamina with more depth and complexity is built through repeated practice. Anything I can do to motivate and interest my students in going ‘below the surface’ is a win.
  • Rules for Discourse is language I use to help my students learn how to be more effective speakers and listeners through discussions. These ‘rules’ include explicit instruction of making eye contact, respectfully agreeing and disagreeing, and listening carefully and attentively to others before commenting.


Analyzing also crosses multiple ELA standards. Here lie broader categories such as comparing and contrasting, evaluating texts on the same topic, evaluating author’s claims, mood, author’s tone, and drawing conclusions. I also added point of view/perspective to this bucket as well even though I put it in another bucket: connections, patterns, and relationships. I did this because helping students just identify PoV/perspective is more surface level than really analyzing how point of view and perspective differ and impact the message of the author.

IMG_0087.jpgFinally I decided to go with Being a Wordsmith because of the many ELA standards that deal with vocabulary and language development. Here my sticks represent: using context (to determine meaning), using resources (to find minding and related information), parts of speech (as grammar is a big part of Language standard 1), synonyms/antonyms, root words, figurative language, phonics skills, and increase vocabulary. I added “Language of the Discipline” as it is a part of the depth and complexity work I try to do with my students. This includes working with domain or content specific vocabulary.

So there are my buckets. They look great, but what matters is how they impact student learning. To introduce these, I revealed them right after spring break as way to review for upcoming testing. I went over each bucket and as I pulled out a standard stick, students started remembering discussions, tasks, and lessons we did for each stick. They pointed out anchor charts or flipped to pages in their comprehension notebooks to jog their memories. It was so powerful. IMG_0089.jpg

However, I didn’t want things to stop there, so I created 6 mini-buckets with a mixture of standard from all buckets that I could have students work with collections at a time. Now when we are having a discussion and we want to mix it up, we grab a mini-bucket!

Needless to say, this really shows how just ONE Tweet can be a game changer! I am so grateful to the PLN I have on Twitter for the fresh, innovative ideas!




#DigLitSunday : Motivation


Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 8.28.48 AMSo what motivates our students? What reasons do they have for wanting to learn? I believe every student wants to learn…the challenge is motivating them to learn what I ‘need’ them to learn because let’s face it, we have required content to teach.

I am not a fan of rewards. In real life we do not get “rewarded” for things we are expected to do. I ask my students, “When is the last time your mom or dad was pulled over by a police officer and congratulated or rewarded for stopping at a red light?” They laugh of course, but it is true. What motivates us to comply? Reasons might vary but the bottom line is that we behave in certain ways because it is expected of us. First and foremost, I teach my students that. What motivates them to follow expected behaviors in my classroom…the continued privilege of learning in my environment.

Beyond expectations, I work to inspire my students to be passionate learners in every way I can. But sometimes my students may need a bit more. Here’s where I have turned to gamification, or the incorporation of game like elements in my classroom. I haven’t met a student yet that doesn’t love some type of game. For this reason, I am working to gamify more.

I became intrigued with digital badging probably 2 years ago. The thought of collecting symbols of achievement interested me because I love to collect things (anyone who knows me, knows I have issues…) I keep this in the back of my mind and it stayed on my “to do” list. Back in February I attended OETC (Ohio Educational Technology Conference). One session I attended was on digital badging. The presenters were UC professors and they worked to convince me to use badging. They made some wonderful points, but I didn’t need to be convinced; I needed to know HOW. So during the session I multi-tasked and came across Alice Keeler’s website with a detailed explanation of how to use Google Sheets and Drawings for digital badges. It took me about 6 hours of trial and error to set it up, but the next week I launched a badge catalogue complete with a spreadsheet with earned badges already for each student. My 3rd graders LOVED it! Here’s the “launch”:

Now I have a selection of more than 50 badges students can earn. Some are part of required tasks and others they can pick and choose.

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Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 8.44.43 AM.pngAfter reading Explore Like a Pirate by Michael Matera, I started considering other game like elements. This year I am adding item cards that can be traded for extra privileges.

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I’m also refreshing an element the GIS use before me used…a point system. Basically points have no value and aren’t tied to grades; they are something just to accumulate and track effort.  This year I’m doing “leaderboards” for those that are motivated by that (like when they play a video game, they aim for a high score). I set up two Padlets for my 4th grade groups where I can easily rearrange leaders as they change and all students are identified by their class number. Then I have a spreadsheet to keep track and total points for various tasks. So far it has been easy to track and maintain.

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The best part of “gamifying” my classroom however is the focus on mastery and not on “grades”. Students can redo and re-submit any assignment or task. This insures quality and not just mere ‘completion’. It also promotes choice. Students can chose what they want to work for and how. Through gamification I am finding that my students are motivated in ways I had never dreamed and I look forward to expanding my game landscape!

If interested in Gamification, here’s a podcast I did on it and a “how to set up” your own badging system:


#DigLitSunday “The Journey is Everything”

DigLitSundayA big SHOUT OUT to Margaret Simon for setting up a Twitter Chat on Aug. 28th with Katherine Bomer, author of The Journey is Everything: Teaching Essays That Students Want to Write for People Who Want to Read Them.  I wish this book made my summer reading list… I picked it up a few weeks ago at the HighAIMS summer institute and just today started reading it. So I will find myself following the chat to learn and then going back to the archive as I get more into the book (as I am only on page 22 right now).

Already I have been inspired by this text. As I read the essay “Joyas Voladoras” on page 3 (also found here), the reading teacher in me was coming up with so many teaching ideas for using this text with my 4th graders.  After reading Katherine’s inner dialogue, I realized the lens I was reading through was much different. I was not considering this text from a writing point of view but rather as a reader. However this is what makes close reading with students so fantastic. We interpret what we read in so many different ways… and there is no “one correct” way.

Thus I started to re-examine the essay and the use of language. So beautiful. If only I had more time with my students… I miss the chance to really help them develop voice as they write. Nevertheless as I examine the essay more as a writer myself through this book, I know I will find ways to squeeze in mini-lessons to help my students grow more.

For now, the ‘essay’ work my students will do comes in the form of reading response letters to me each week as homework. My students pick the text and have 2 menus of prompts to choose from (fiction and nonfiction). I scaffold them from writing a few sentences into full well-developed essays.  This year knowing I have about 90 eight to ten year olds to work with each day, I decided to “flip” my writing instruction and so I started a series of video lessons that take students through expectations as they “level up”. I know this is not the essence of Katherine’s book, but I do find that my more ‘structured’ essays give me a chance to teach and develop often very needed writing skills.

And so the mini-lessons are for students and families to access as needed: http://www.symbaloo.com/home/mix/responseletterresources

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 11.02.04 AM  I have 13 lessons so far for my new 3rd graders. Part 2 is working on taking students on from where this set ends; ideally as new 4th graders who have already leveled up…  The Journey to respond to text in a well written essay is everything for my readers at this time.

#DigLitSunday Digital Voice


When I think of “voice” in writing, I think of actually “hearing” the author speaking as I read their work. Student voice often comes through to me because I envision a conversation. I wish I had more time with my students to work on writing, but I am only “officially” a reading teacher for 3rd and 4th grade gifted students. With only one hour a day to spend with my precocious 8-10 year olds, I pack in everything I can.  So how do I integrate digital voice?

I take teaching discussion techniques very seriously. Children need to be taught how to have discourse: face-to-face and digitally. While I could write another post on ways I model face-to-face communication skills, I’m going to focus on digital discussion, and therefore how I promote students having a digital voice in my classroom. (On a side note, I explicitly teach 9 elements of digital citizenshipScreen Shot 2016-05-22 at 3.51.17 PMScreen Shot 2016-05-22 at 3.51.31 PM

As a Level 1 Certified Google teacher, I love the commenting features of #GAfE. However, when it comes to discussing text, my “go-to” tool is NowComment! NowComment is a free web-based application that allows teachers to turn documents into conversations! Let some former students show you how it works! Here’s an infomercial they did:


It is pretty easy to use! I love that I can not only work on response to reading skills but also teach digital citizenship.  Here’s a collection of helpful set up videos to help ‘convince’ you and get you started!


(The collection includes a lesson plan as well from ISTE’s Project ReImagined Library!)


Stay tuned… I’ll add more as NowComment is about to release some exciting new features very soon!


#DigLitSunday : Crafting Digital Media

DigLitSundayCreating is the highest level of thinking on Bloom’s Taxonomy (revised). It involves combining parts to make a new whole and producing new or original work. One of my goals has always been to show my students how to not just be “consumers” of information, but “producers” as well. For this reason, I have tried each year to encourage them to “show what they have learned” in ways that they choose.

Last year I launched some new options for my 4th graders, focusing on using mostly Google tools. I gave students their learning goal, let them choose the resources (texts) they read and then they would analyze and evaluate their resource sharing their thinking with the tool of their choice. I got many slide decks, drawings, docs, and sheets to compare/contrast texts. The focus then became on the learning…not on the technology and yet students were learning so many tech skills through their creative products of learning.

This year I look to continue this but will add a few other tools to the list of choices: notably Educreations, audio recording/podcasting, and sketchnoting (both ‘analog’ and digital’). These are tools my students have explored in the past with specific projects, but now I look to open up accessibility. This is part of my plan for students to ‘level up’ and unlock more exciting classroom privileges.

The pinnacle of creation in the opinion of my 9-10 year olds however comes in the form of video production and website building/design. A few years ago I started experimenting with having students create videos when we did virtual field trips. Students worked in small groups to explore a virtual destination and then were invited to create a video sharing what they learned with others. There were some hysterical interpretations, including a Jeopardy match, an ‘interview’ broadcast, performing of a song (written to teach others about bioluminescence), and more (see 2014 on the site). We shot these using a standard video camera but the uploading process to the host site wasn’t strong so they are not so easy to access :0(

Year two I learned how to use a green screen and we had a great time exploring it. We learned some valuable lessons however…like if your classroom is designed to be ‘green’ and you have lighting that casts green, people in your videos look ‘transparent’! I also started to upload to YouTube for better streaming when videos were shared. Videos were recorded on an iPad (I found a WONDERFUL iPad tripod stand that made it easy for students to record themselves) and thanks to Donors Choose, we had a MacBook for students to do their own editing on iMovie. Students had a great time sharing what they learned with videos (see 2015 on the site). I learned so much about my kids as I watched them practice and record their videos. The process was more educational for them than the product!

As I headed into my 3rd year of gifted reading, I took advantage of Donors Choose to get puppets for even more creativity when making videos. As my 4th graders completed “must do” tasks, they started helping me ‘re-do’ some videos on figurative language. (I had some ‘flipped lessons’ that served the purpose but lacked interest and creativity). The puppets inspired some great scripts and nice videos for teaching others. (Check out these student creations: Oxymoron, Personification, Similes, and Onomatopoeia)

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By the end of the year, we were pretty comfortable with our video creation capabilities and so our video products in our virtual field trips were the best yet (see 2016 on the site).

One thing I had floating around in the back of my mind to explore is having students create digital portfolios with websites.  I knew the potential, but wasn’t so comfortable with the tools available. I use Weebly to build sites regularly and find it user friendly but couldn’t figure out a way for my students to really “own” their own (too much supervision required for 9-10 year olds; I am a HUGE believer in digital citizenship). Google sites at the time was hard (love the new updates…BTW). Still I had a few 4th graders who were eager and so I let them explore (hopefully the links work…sharing settings may need to be adjusted as the sites are owned by the students):

Ally and Reagan: https://sites.google.com/a/students.lovelandschools.org/the-learning-club/

Ben: https://sites.google.com/a/students.lovelandschools.org/pastandpresentsports-com/

Max: https://sites.google.com/a/students.lovelandschools.org/allaboutsp/

Ryan and Aaron: https://sites.google.com/a/students.lovelandschools.org/cool-sports/?pli=1

Ellie: https://sites.google.com/a/students.lovelandschools.org/ellie-s-experiences/ 

From Ellie’s site: Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 10.30.56 AM.png
Now fast forward to a new year… as I consider all that I’ve learned with my students, I look forward to helping my students really create more of their own digital media. The emphasis will be on ‘showing what they learn’ and my role will be to provide support and facilitate their creative processes as they craft their own digital media for others to view!