Reflective Practitioner....If you've been in education long enough, you've heard these two words, but how often do you actually practice reflecting upon your teaching practices? Today I'm going to walk the walk, instead of just talk the talk, and I'm going to be open and honest about making my grade book and grading practice more fair, equitable, and reliable. If you missed my original post on this, you might want to visit my previous post (click here). Once you've read my previous post and you're spitting nails, come back here to continue on with your rage.

First, let me give praise where praise should be given. The English Department I work in is INCREDIBLE. Did you hear me scream that? I mean it! None of the changes we have made to move towards a more fair, reliable, and equitable grade book would have been possible without the incredible collaboration on behalf of this department. We have spent hours, and I mean hours, discussing the 15 Fixes for Broken Grades (this guy should start paying me, LOL). Yo Ken, how about a shout out or some moolah? I digress, I digress...Anyway, because of my colleagues I have been able to wrap my head around all of these changes and do what we believe is right for students. We are reading the entire book this year as a review, and each PLC we discuss what is working and what our concerns are. This post will be the first of many of what we have learned throughout the year. BUT before I get to what we've learned so far, here are the changes we have made:

1. Every English course at every level is in complete alignment when it comes to curriculum and summative assessments (aka products). Our standardized, grade books almost look exactly the same; I say "almost" because at some levels some teachers have different process assignments in the grade book, but they are worth the same amount of points as their course-alike colleague's process assignments and count for a very small amount. This is mostly at the younger levels such as freshman English where these students are trying to figure out the high school world after spending three years in middle school (bless you middle-school teachers). The process assignments do not exist in the upper-level English classes. The summatives we chose to put into the grade book for each category were discussed, analyzed, and reflected upon before we decided to use them. This is key! You don't want a summative that doesn't align with standards or the formatives you gave along the way. Speaking of standards, each grade book is set up with reading, writing, language, speaking and listening categories. Each category is weighted the same throughout all course-alike classes. For example, all English 1-2 teachers weight the reading category at 30%.
2. We have gone through all the 15 Fixes for Broken Grades and discussed them ad nauseam, which we are currently doing again this year. This helps to remind us of what we used to do and why we aren't doing it anymore. We have agreed upon no extra credit, no penalty for late work, no group scores, no penalty (on the academic side) for plagiarism. Wait, don't get your panties in a bunch just yet. We created a rubric for citizenship where things like late work, plagiarism, and unwanted behaviors are accounted for. Instead of having these types of behaviors count against students on the academic side which would give us an unreliable grade book, they count on the citizenship side. Citizenship is no longer based upon whether or not you like a student but on responsibility, accountability, and behavior.
3. Each teacher has sent home a letter to the parents explaining what standards-based grade books and grading practices are and why we have switched. Many teachers went over this information during parent night where I'm sure the parents were enthralled with the information especially after realizing they were supposed to be in Culinary Arts and not English 1-2. Shout out to Mrs. James. Girl, who wouldn't get confused when you have eight kids?!
4. We created what we call The English Academy where students who have "missing work" have to attend a lunch session on Wednesdays where they will complete that missing work with an English teacher. I know what you are thinking, 'I ain't given up my lunch hour for no kids," but if there are ten of you in a department and you rotate each Wednesday you most likely will only have to do this 4-5 times a year, if that. I don't do math. We created an attendance log in Microsoft Teams (don't groan WCSD people) where we keep track of the students who are assigned to each English Academy Session, what teacher they will go to, and what work they will complete. Did I mention the people in our English Department are angels?

Five weeks into school, and here is what I have learned and experienced:

1. I am refreshed. All of these changes and have changed the game for me, and it's like I'm looking through a different lens. I look forward to seeing what these student-centered fixes can do for kids.

2. We have created a different environment in each of our classes. It's as if there is more room for students to make mistakes and not feel like they are constantly being penalized for everything. I'm having more one-on-one conversations with kids about their performance and what they can do better in order to become proficient. On the same note, our classrooms have become more equitable and fair.

3. I've been getting "Is this for a grade?" or "Is this going into the grade book for reals?" but my response is "I'm not sure" when you damn well know I know. I follow it up with "Instead of focusing upon the grade, let's focus upon the skill set we are learning and why it's important." I'm trying to train students out of doing things for a grade instead of doing things to actually learn something. We trained them into this mind set, and we can train them out of it.

4. The feedback we are giving to students on formative assessments (process work) is helpful and allows them to perform better when it is time for the summative assessment (product). I will say that I'm giving more feedback which is more work, but it's so much more rewarding. Through my feedback I've also been giving students a second chance to show me what they learned by redoing assignments, and some actually take me up on the opportunity.

5. When it comes to missing work, giving students a zero or giving students a 50% skews the grade book either direction and makes the grade unreliable. The best thing to do is to write the word "missing" as a comment in the grade book and assign them to the English Academy until the assignment has been completed.

6. It is important to still input process assignments into the grade book as long as we check the box "not included in grade calculation." This appeases administrators who are hell bent on making sure we put things into the grade book; it shows parents student performance on process assignments which is usually a good indicator; and it helps us keep track of students who may need additional support.

7. During academic warning time, some teachers did not have any academic warnings because they did not have any product assignments for a grade in the grade book yet. One of my colleagues, who is amazing, came up with the idea to instead write emails to the parents of those students who had not been doing well on the process work. Thus avoiding any issues with not communicating with parents about student performance.

8. Building relationships in the first few weeks of school is so important to this process. I think putting in the hard work to make connections with students and showing them that you truly care about them and their learning makes this system run smoother. I let my students know that this is not a punitive classroom but a classroom where mistakes can be made, and we'll work together to learn the skill sets and content.

9. This is not something you can just jump into all of a sudden. I'm still learning as I go along, and if I wasn't a part of a dedicated department who effectively collaborates, I would struggle working through different issues of my transition. This takes TIME, and I mean lots of it!

We realize that this system is not flawless, but it has changed our practices in ways we never imagined. I know it's the beginning of the year, and we are going to have a lot of good and bad learning experiences, but so far it feels pretty damn good to do what is best for kids.

Keep on stressin' on,
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Michon Otuafi
0 Comments, not the delicious fruit that makes the inside of your mouth hurt (no, just me?) or the weird Emoji you use on SnapChat to tell everyone your relationship is "complicated." Pineapple also has a meaning in education when it comes to teacher observations. Have you ever heard of a Pineapple Chart? Two years ago, I came across the Pineapple Chart while browsing for educational pins on Pinterest. After doing further research, I found this amazing post from Cult of Pedagogy on these types of charts (click here). 

First let me explain what it is. A pineapple chart is actually a calendar where teachers go to sign up to have other teachers observe their lessons and instructional expertise. Teachers can visit the chart and decide who they would like to observe when, based upon the area of focus, lesson, and/or instructional strategy. This is a different way of doing traditional instructional rounds where teachers are subbed out for half a day so the principal can guide them through random classrooms during random times hoping to catch something that is inspirational or innovative. Although there are times when this type of instructional round can be effective, most times you don't get what you want out of this system. In fact, in my experience, the only thing I got out of this system was the fact that students sit a lot. With the Pineapple Chart, teachers can observe other teachers on their prep and choose specifically what they want to see from whom. For example, if I know that today during my prep Mr. OutDoUsAll is teaching a lesson on figurative language with a special emphasis on engagement and movement, then I would go observe his lesson for 10-20 minutes during that time. I would get more out of that 10-20 minutes than a half day of random walk-throughs. I understand that some teachers don't want to observe on their prep, but I much rather observe on my prep when I see fit than have to take a half day for a sub to watch my class, or to blindly walk through rooms hoping I'm going to get something out of an observation. Teachers are in full control concerning when they want to observe and why which makes it much more meaningful and effective.

"Wait, why is it called a Pineapple Chart?" you ask. Because "The pineapple has long been a symbol of hospitality; it's used in the chart in the spirit of welcoming one another into our homes [classrooms]" (Cult of Pedagogy).  Why are you getting so caught up in the name? Focus people focus! Here is a sample Pineapple Chart taken from Cult of Pedagogy:
Now this wasn't just something I read in a blog and thought 'That's a great idea, moving along.' When my principal, at the time, asked all the department leaders at our school about instructional rounds for first semester, you could hear the collective groan echoing in the conference room. We groaned not because we didn't value observing other teachers, but because it meant a half-day away from the classroom hoping to observe something fabulous but no guarantees. This is when I suggested using the Pineapple Chart. Yeah, go ahead and throw those words out there in a meeting so you can get some real weird looks. The principal told me that he'd like to hear more about it. Throughout multiple meetings, the principal and I set up an idea concerning what this would look like at our school and presented the idea to the other department leaders. We all agreed we should give it a try. The principal sent out an email we created that explained the process and how everything worked. Teachers were required to do a total of 60 minutes of observing, but those 60 minutes could be broken up into different observational times.We posted calendars for September-December outside of the main conference room in the office. Teachers signed up to BE observed on the calendar including important information such as name, block, area of focus, room #, and time. This is where other teachers would go to see who they wanted to observe when during their prep time.

I sent an email each week with who signed up to be observed, so that even teachers who said they didn't have time to go down to the main office to look at the chart (calendar), didn't have an excuse.

Also, instead of having everyone observe at one time, we gave each department a certain amount of time to go and observe. For example, the first departments to observe were English and world languages, then it was PE/ROTC/FA/CTE, etc. As teachers observed, they had to fill out an observation form created by the principal. This helped to guide us through our reflection activity during PLC time.
Once each department observed over its certain allotment of time, the principal met with the teachers during PLC time to do a wrap-up activity to see what they learned from their experience.  We used a gallery walk with our areas of focus posted on poster-size sticky notes, so teachers could write down what they observed under that area of focus. Then a discussion occurred about what take-aways we had while observing. Many teachers found something they would like to try in their classroom, or they found that they could be doing things differently to make their lives easier!
                                                                             Pictured Above: Our Areas of Focus Set by Principal

Now, did everything go perfectly? No! It never does, but most of us agreed that this was much more beneficial than how we previously did instructional rounds and/or observations. The benefits far exceeded the negative aspects, and the best part was that it gave teachers so much freedom to see who and what they wanted to see when they wanted to see it. Who is ready to try out the pineapple chart? The article from Cult of Pedagogy is a great way to get more information; it includes how it would work at the elementary level too. Too soon, okay, okay, sorry!

Keep on stressin' on,
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Michon Otuafi

 Calling all teachers. Don't be mad at me for this post since we tend to get a little touchy when it comes to our grading system and grade books, but...

I want you to take a look at your grade book, and ask yourself this question: Is your grade book fair, equitable, and reliable? At first, we naturally say, "Why of course it is! Stay out of my grade book you pompous, know it all!" But upon careful examination can you really say your grade book is all three of these things? I can't, but I'm changing this! 

I was inspired this year after I attended an English Department Leader Meeting where we discussed equity in grading. After a presentation by two other awesome English teachers, I decided to purchase a book called A Repair Kit for Grading by Ken O'Connor. This book is such an easy read and makes so much sense to me. There are fifteen total fixes to broken grades:

Fifteen Fixes for Broken Grades
Fixes for Practices that Distort Achievement
Fix 1: Don’t include student behaviors (effort, participation, adherence to class rules, etc) in grades; include only achievement
Fix 2: Don’t reduce marks on “work” submitted late; provide support for the learner
Fix 3: Don’t give points for extra credit or use bonus points; seek only evidence that more work has resulted in a higher level of achievement
Fix 4: Don’t punish academic dishonesty with reduced grades; apply other consequences and reassess to determine actual level of achievement
Fix 5: Don’t consider attendance in grade determination; report absences separately
Fix 6: Don’t include group scores in grades; use only individual achievement evidence

These first six changes really help with the RELIABILITY and EQUITY of your grade book. For example, if I mark a student's paper late and only give him/her half credit, what am I really telling that student and/or parent? I'm not telling them anything about performance, I'm saying something about behaviors or compliance. This makes my grade book unreliable because it's not centered upon a student's academic performance. Now if I want to mark down his/her citizenship grade because of his/her amazing ability to turn everything in late, then that makes more sense. I can hear your groans through the screen you're staring into. I know, I know, you don't think citizenship matters, but it does if citizenship is attached to what teenagers value most: freedom. For example, if a student has lower than a "C" in citizenship, maybe she doesn't get to attend the school dance. Or if a student fails to turn in a crucial essay, maybe she gets marked down in citizenship and has to attend what our department is now calling "English Academy." This student then has the opportunity to perform on a standards-based task during his "English Academy" time (AKA lunch). Marking a student's paper late and taking off points rarely corrects the behavior, but a little loss of freedom works like magic. Many of the consequences for compliance tend to be taken out of the academic achievement side of a grade book which means that our grade book would not be a reflection of student performance, but instead is a reflection of whether or not a student can "play school." That gives me an icky feeling.  Yes, we can still teach them to be responsible citizens, but we have to do it in different ways. Furthermore, we must be careful with extra-credit. If a teachers says "Bring in tissue boxes for extra credit," the student who can't afford to buy tissue boxes is now at a disadvantage. This isn't an EQUITABLE practice. Plus, how does bringing in extra tissue boxes correlate to a student's academic achievement? It doesn't, damn it, and now I'll have a whole bunch of students with nowhere to blow their noses. These first six changes will get rid of grade inflation and grading based upon compliance. It's a hard pill to swallow, but it's just what the grading doctors ordered. 

Fixes for Low-Quality or Poorly Organized Evidence
Fix 7: Don’t organize information in grading records by assessment methods or simply summarize into a single grade; organize and report evidence by standards/learning goals
Fix 8: Don’t assign grades using inappropriate or unclear performance standards; provide clear descriptions of achievement expectations
Fix 9: Don’t assign grades based on student’s achievement compared to other students; compare each student’s performance to preset standards
Fix 10: Don’t rely on evidence gathered using assessments that fail to meet standards of quality; rely only on quality assessments
These four fixes are really about making sure that your grade book is RELIABLE and  appropriately aligned to standards. For example, if your grade book is set up into categories such as "Homework, Participation, Classwork, and Test/Quizzes," then how can you really say what standards your students truly struggle with or excel at? If I have low quiz scores, what the hell does that mean? But if my grade book is set up to reflect standards, then I have a better idea of how each student is performing based upon standards. In English, the grade book should be set up into categories based upon "Reading, Writing, Listening & Speaking, and Language." We have to be very methodical with whatever we put into the grade book when using this system. I will no longer walk around the room, look for completed homework, and then give everyone a 10 out of 10 under the category of "homework." This doesn't accurately reflect performance on any of the aforementioned standards. Instead, I have to thoroughly collaborate with my colleagues who teach the same English classes as me in order to figure out what type of product tasks we want to put into the grade book. This provides FAIRNESS across each course because each student is getting the same experience for the most part. Process grades such as rough drafts, quizzes, etc. shouldn't necessarily go into the grade book because the student is working towards proficiency of that standard, but product grades like a final draft of an essay should! Now of course I still grade process work and provide students with feedback, but I don't punish them by putting it into the grade book when we are working towards proficiency. What this means is that I will have fewer assignments in each category, less inflation,  and more accuracy. This also means that the products I do choose to put into the grade book need to be reliable and directly tied to standards. This is something our English Department spent 8-10 weeks on; we looked at our grade books together to see if they were fair, equitable, and reliable. As much as we hated to admit it, we couldn't say they were. Insert crying emoji. We are now working towards making sure anything and everything we put into the grade book is a product-based task that is directly aligned to standards. It takes a lot of work, but we feel really good about what we are doing.  In fact, we are having conversations that I haven't had in my entire career thus far. Imagine that, veteran teachers who haven't heard it all!

Fixes for Inappropriate Grade Calculation
Fix 11: Don’t rely only on the mean; consider other measures of central tendency and use professional judgment
Fix 12: Don’t include zeros in grade determination when evidence is missing or as punishment; use alternatives, such as reassessing to determine real achievement or use “I” for Incomplete or Insufficient Evidence

The next two fixes, particularly #12, usually make teachers want to throw their district-outdated, desktop computers out the window or at me. Yes, you read that correctly. When a student doesn't turn in work, you don't issue a zero, you issue an "I" for incomplete. This is a tricky one that would require support from your admin. team. When a teacher puts a zero into the grade book, it's like telling a kid "There ain't no way you're coming back from this one, kid!" Once again, this makes the grade book unreliable because the student didn't really earn the F; he just didn't turn in the work. This is when something like the English Academy comes in handy. Students who don't turn in work will lose freedom, hence why you need admin,. support. They will have to come in on their own time to make up an assignment. When we have rules like this, students begin to see that what we assign is important. We aren't saying, "Welp, you didn't turn in that assignment, so that's a zero. Moving along..." Instead we are saying, "It's really important that you do this assignment, so I'm asking you to come attend the English Academy to complete it." Students are not getting away with not turning in work. If students fail to attend the English Academy, there will be further consequences such as detention and so on. 

Fixes to Support Learning
Fix 13:  Don’t use information from formative assessments and practice to determine grades; use only summative evidence
Fix 14: Don’t summarize evidence accumulated over time when learning is developmental and will grow with time and repeated opportunities; in those instances, emphasize more recent achievement
Fix 15: Don’t leave students out of the grading process. Involve students; they can and should play key roles in assessment and grading and promote achievement

These last three fixes I've somewhat discussed in previous explanations of other fixes having to do with process and product assignments, but #15 is also really important. I'm not sure students really even understand the grading system. I'm not sure we understand the grading system anymore. Grades should be a reliable, fair, and equitable source that show what skill sets students have obtained throughout high school, but as of right now, many grades are just indicators of compliance or desired behaviors that aren't even related to achievement.
We have to start to change the way students think about grades. Right now it's just about a point system. Students don't even know why they earned the grade they earned, they just know they did some work and got some points. Instead, we have to show them that each thing we have them do is tied to particular standards which in turn shows what skill sets they have as writers, readers, mathematicians, scientists, etc.  Wouldn't that give more meaning to school? I would hope so!
I'm sure some of these fixes have you all pissed off, but the book goes on to explain how you can implement each one of these changes. And they make SENSE! Believe me, when I first read some of these fixes, I thought 'You can go stick that fix right up your...' but then I realized that I was just stuck in my old ways. By "old ways" I'm talking about my own experiences with education from kindergarten until now. I've been so used to a broken grading system that I didn't realize how broken it was until now. But I'm going to work hard to ensure that my students value what they are learning in my classroom and understand that their grade is an accurate reflection of what they have achieved in our class in regards to standards and skill sets.

Keep on stressin' on,
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Michon Otuafi


Cults...Do you belong to one? Well if you're a teacher and you don't know about this one, lend me your ear! Cult of Pedagogy is a website that is committed to "making you more awesome in the classroom," which by any English teacher's standards is an understatement. Cult of Pedagogy features blogs, podcasts, and videos that are all centered upon enriching, enlightening, engaging, and I've run out of "e" words. Anyway, let me take you through the blog portion of this site:

Blogs- the blogs are separated into three different categories: The Craft; Go Deep; and Teacher
Soul. Each of these categories is further separated into different educational topics such as: Instruction, Classroom Management, Technology, Learning Theory, Leadership, Career and PD, Book Reviews, Hot Topics, Attitude Adjustments, Working Together,Inspiration, and Stories. My favorite educational topic is the Instruction one. This particular page offers information on the most effective teaching practices that you can implement into your classroom.

Many of my favorite posts from the Instruction page center upon classroom discussion strategies. One of the most helpful posts has been Deeper Class Discussions with the TQE Method which influenced me in creating TQE journals to enhance our class discussions. You can buy the journals I created here.
The TQE Method encourages students to document their Thoughts, Questions, and Epiphanies as they read. Normally my students center their reading discussions upon the questions I create, but the TQE journal allows them to explore ideas they had as they read. I have found that this method covers information I didn't necessarily think to cover since I can't enter the minds of all of my students all of the time; I know, shocker! My students meet in small groups after they have read the previous night's, assigned reading, and discuss their TQE journals; the conversation is generated from the TQE Journals which helps my students to further enhance their understanding of the text and encourages them to explore the text through their peers' eyes. After the students discuss their TQE Journals in small groups, we have a whole-group discussion based upon their findings. This method has changed our analysis of our assigned reading; the students are more engaged since it is their own thoughts, questions, and epiphanies that drive the conversation, not their old, English teacher's. 

Another one of my favorite posts focused upon discussion strategies is The Big List of Discussion Strategies. This post features over 10 different discussion strategies that range from "High-Prep; Low-Prep; and On-Going." Under each one of these categories are at least three different discussion strategies some I've heard of before, and some I have never tried. The gallery walk is a more recognizable strategy but the post also includes information on other formats such as Pinwheel Discussions, Affinity Mapping, and Backchannel Conversations, just to name a few. If you find that you continue to use the same discussion ideas over and over again, then venture into using some of these new discussions to spark student engagement. I particularly like Backchannel Conversations which involves having a digital conversation right alongside an activity that is happening in class. I use this strategy as my students partake in triangle debates or fishbowl discussions. As other students are vocally discussing important aspects of a topic, the other students can silently comment or ask questions using YoTeach! YoTeach! allows students to leave comments on an open forum using their cell phones or Ipads. I leave YoTeach! on my Promethean Board, so the while there is a live discussion occurring, there is also a digital one occurring alongside it. This encourages engagement from EVERYONE, not just the students who are a part of the live discussion. I have found that this strategy also helps those students, who tend to be more reticent join, the class discussion. Plus, come on, we know if we add innovative technology to our discussion, we are more likely to have students participate. 

This post doesn't even begin to cover all of the amazing resources Cult of Pedagogy has to offer, but hopefully it sparked your interest in the blog. Further of my blog posts will feature more information on all of the other parts of the Cult, but for now drink the kool-aid and join me!

Keep on stressin' on,

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Michon Otuafi
National Board for Professional Teaching Standards

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards...I'm sure if you have been through the process, you probably felt a little sick just reading those words, but then you reminded yourself of all the benefits you now reap because of your certification! If you haven't obtained your National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Certification, now is the time! Here are three, solid reasons why you should pursue NB Certification:

#1 Growth: When you are in the middle of the process, you swear you aren't learning anything, and you would like to pull all of your hair out, particularly eyelashes. You also hate watching yourself on the videos because you have weird mannerisms. Oops, maybe that was more of a personal experience. BUT... When you are on the other end of the process, you understand that even though it might have been a bit painful, you grew and learned so much about who you are as a teacher. Here are some things I learned: A. How I'm not as great of a teacher as I thought I was; B. How to collect data on students both academically and personally and identify needs; C. How to effectively assess students and break that data down to the nitty gritty to inform your teaching;
D. How to differentiate instruction to not only further support students but to challenge them also; E. How to effectively collaborate so teachers, students, and other stakeholders benefit; F. How to vary instructional strategies and formats to foster an environment where students are engaged and thrive. I could go on and on, but I really need to get to #2 and #3.
#2 Connections/Relationships: If you decide to pursue NB Certification, you will absolutely need to join a cohort. Northern Nevada offers one of the best, maybe I'm biased, cohorts around. Being a part of an NB Cohort provides you with an opportunity to be supported through an arduous process, and it also builds relationships. As a member of the cohort, you will be exposed to teachers and candidate support providers (CSPs) outside of your own school building. You will bond and collaborate with these teachers and CSPs and in doing so, you will learn an abundance from them, and they will learn a lot from you. These bonds will never be broken because going through Boards in a cohort is like having a baby, (I know since I've had four); it's excruciating but the payoff is amazing. Since this is something you go through together, these connections and bonds will last forever. You now have contacts from multiple schools, who you can commiserate, I mean collaborate, with for a lifetime.
 #3. Raise: Woot, woot! If you work for the Washoe County School District, you will obtain an 8% increase in salary for getting your National Board Certification. Do you realize that's larger than most steps/raises on the WCSD Teacher Salary Schedule? It might feel like endless hell while you are smack dab in the middle of pursuing your certification but that 8% increase in salary feels pretty damn good. Think of what you could do with that increase in salary; you might be able to afford cable, go out to eat every once and awhile, or you could maybe save up for 10 years to go on a vacation! I kid, I kid!

If you are at all interested in pursuing National Board Certification and live in Northern Nevada, you should think about joining the Northern Nevada Cohort or contact Nicolette Smith (the guru)!

Keep on Stressin' On,

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Michon Otuafi

Seesaw... no, not the kind you find on a dilapidated playground. I'm talking about the Seesaw  Website/App. This website/app was recommended to me by our librarian who is uh-mazing! This resource can be used in many different ways but most teachers use Seesaw for feedback, reflection, assignments, and assessments. Here are a some ways you can use it in your classroom:

1. Flipped Classroom: Seesaw allows teachers to post a recording of themselves instructing on any particular subject. Teachers can then use this recording and post it as an “activity” and ask students to watch it and take notes at home. When students return to class they can focus on what they’ve already learned from the video and move forward with an activity. This minimizes the time the teacher spends “instructing” and leaves more time for discussion, questions,  and/or important activities during the small amount of time in a period/block.

2. Technology Gallery Walks: This is my favorite way to use SeeSaw. I use it a few different ways when it comes to gallery walks. When my students study imagery in poetry, I assign them to bring one line of imagery to life from the poem Thou Blind Man’s Mark. The students create these beautiful presentations of a line of poetry and then use Seesaw to record themselves answering the following questions: "What line of imagery did you choose and why? Why is it impactful or important to the rest of the poem? How did you go about bringing this imagery to life? Tell us about the most important elements of your creation." Students record their answers to these questions and post their recording to the "class journal." The next day, the students bring in their creation and set them up around the room in a huge circle. Next to their creation is their name and the title of their creation. All students have an iPad from our rented iPad cart, and they walk around with headphones and listen to their peers' explanation (recorded in Seesaw) of their creation as they are looking at it. Once they have listened to their peer's recording, they must comment on the journal. Their feedback should be more in depth than just "good job." I ask them to comment on the artist's choice of colors, symbols, images, etc. and to engage their peers in conversation about their creations. This activity gives all of the students a chance to understand how each student came up with his/her creation. This also gets rid of the sometimes eye-gouging experience of one at a time presentations that take an eternity and force the teacher into a boredom-induced stupor.

The other way I use Seesaw as a resource for a technology gallery walk is through a sort of speed-dating novel review. Each quarter, my students are required to read an outside reading book of their choice. At the end of the semester, they choose one book they absolutely loved. Using Seesaw, they are assigned to record a review in the "class journal" section for their class. In the recording, they must include the title, author, genre, brief summary (no spoilers), and a recommendation. When they come to class, we set up the desks in two long columns and place the books on the desks with the student's name right next to it. Students once again grab an ipad, slip on their headphones, and go book to book listening to their peers' reviews figuring out what their peers have read and what book they might "date" next quarter. The students really enjoy hearing what their peers have read and almost always choose their next outside, reading book from this activity.

3. Discussion Thread: Seesaw can also be used as a discussion thread for important questions tied to something you did in class to help further understanding, or you can use it as a formative assessment as students work through a required reading. A teacher can post the discussion question(s) in the activity section of Seesaw for the class. You can be the one asking the questions, or the students can be the ones creating questions and answering their peers. I would highly suggest discussing levels of questioning if you want the students to ask the questions. Discussion threads can be a hot mess, but when properly set up, they can be truly beneficial for everyone. Ways for the discussion to be effective can be found here .

4. Exit Tickets: Finally, teachers can also use Seesaw as an exit ticket. Of course this depends on your students' access to technology, but the teacher can post the exit ticket on the app under "activity" and students can answer the question using their phone, ipad, etc. This is a quick and easy way to collect information from your students.

Hopefully, this didn't throw you into the boredom-induced stupor I previously mentioned! I'm always looking for new technology for the classroom, and this has been one I've thoroughly enjoyed using. Try it out!

Keep on stressin, on,

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Michon Otuafi

Controversy...I love controversy just as much as any Real Housewife from Bravo TV; wait that's drama not controversy. Anyway, controversy in a classroom can be an eye-opening experience for students, but it takes an abundance of scaffolding before students can have meaningful, civil discourse. So where do you start?

Before one can dip her pedicured toes in discussion strategies like Structured Academic Controversies, one must first teach her students how to listen and talk to one another (click here). I think some people have this idea that we don't have to teach children how to listen, but have you been around any children lately? Why do you think we are now teaching SEL strategies? Moving along, students need guidance when it comes to what active listening is. Before even getting into the discussion part, introduce your students to active listening: "pay attention, show that you're listening, provide feedback, defer judgement, and then appropriately respond" (  Your students can't have a worthwhile discussion or conversation if they don't know how to actively listen. Heck, I know adults who don't know how to actively listen. Now we move on to the discussion part. As silly as some people may find it, accountable talk is a great way to start students off with having meaningful discussions. Accountable talk shows students what it means to "carefully listen to each other, build on each other's ideas, paraphrase and seek clarification; and respectfully disagree" ( We can't expect students to know how to talk to one another when most often the only way they communicate is through a screen, not face-to-face, so in the age of millennials we must teach this skill set. BTW, no offense to millenials, I'm actually one! Don't stop reading... Once you have done a few practice discussions with your students using active listening and accountable talk, you must teach norms and expectations of small group and class discussions. You can come up with these norms and expectations as a class, such as "Allow your peer to finish his/her thought before you speak; remember to use accountable talk, especially the discussion stems, etc." Having these norms and expectations in place will help the discussion go smoothly. Now let's talk about more rigorous discussions like structured academic controversies.

SACs, yes most kids laugh at that acronym; come on they're teenagers. Where was I? Yes, SACs are a great way to have students use all of the aforementioned skills sets like active listening and accountable talk, and it also teaches students to find common ground on controversial topics. Most often we see SACs in history like this one (click here), but SACs can be used in ANY classroom. A SAC is a method that helps students move from a mindset of debate by shifting the goals from winning a classroom discussion to understanding alternative positions and coming up with a consensus. There are five basic steps to a well-organized SAC:
1. Organize student into four-person teams made up of two pairs.
2. Each pair reviews materials that represent different positions on a charged issues. For Frankenstein I use "Is genetic engineering a good or bad thing?" For Fahrenheit I use "Technology has more pros than cons." The teacher assigns the positions in order for the students to prepare for the SAC. Students may not agree with the side you assign them, but that is part of teaching them to see all sides. I provide the materials for them but also ask them to do their own research outside of class.
2. After reviewing, annotating, and filling out a pre-SAC handout, each pair comes together as a four-person team; one pair acts as presenters, the other as listeners and vice-versa.
4.  Rather than refuting the other position, the listening pair repeats back to the presenters what they understood. Listeners don't become presenters until the original presenters are fully satisfied that they have been heard and understood.
5. After the sides switch, the pairs abandon their original assignments (or sides) and work toward reaching a consensus. If consensus proves unattainable, the team clarifies where their differences lie.
(adapted from

As an extension to the lesson, I use the SAC as a basis  of evidence for an argumentative essay. After completing a SAC, I usually have students turn all of their research and discussion notes into an argumentative essay, where they get to decide what side they choose to write about throughout their essay. They already did the hard part, now they have to write about it!

Keep on stressin' on,

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Michon Otuafi