Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Light Up Literacy

Problem:  According to a study conducted in 2014 by the U.S. Department of Education, 19% of students are illiterate when they graduate from high school (Source: Statistics Brain). This means almost one in five high school graduates cannot read and write as they enter the work force or continue to higher education.

Solution:   Light Up Literacy. Reading Yoga. 9 Squares. Book Tastings. 4 Corners. 1 Minute Papers. Sentence Stems. Interactive Notebooks. Graphic Organizers. Socratic Seminars. Word Walls. Tic-Tac-Tally. Sketch Notes. Poems. Exit Tickets. Choral Reading. Kahoot. Chunking. Stations. 3-2-1 Summary. Concept Maps. Quizlet. Split Vocabulary. Flash Cards. Ping Pong Summary. Popcorn Reading. Fact or Fib. Think-Tac-Toe. Frayer Models. Jigsaw Reading. Think-Pair-Share. Story Time. Shake and Share. Echo Reading. Current Events. Interactive Words. Word Scramble. Ozobots. Elbow Partners. Venn Diagrams. Comic Strips. Silent Video Scripts. Writing Yoga. 
     Most of the literacy pushes in education occur in the primary grade levels where students really love to read and write because of the passion and focus that occurs on each campus and classroom.  Unfortunately, I feel like we really drop the literacy ball in middle and high school when most of the reading and writing, according to other teachers, is the sole job of the reading/writing/ELA teachers.  REALITY CHECK!  Students needs to read and write to be successful in ANY secondary grade level and ANY content area class!

    After being chosen to be a part of the third cohort of TED-Ed Innovative Educators, I wanted to put my project pitch into action and Light Up Literacy was born.  The project starts with a short lesson on literacy using the TED-Ed platform that is intended for any educator or administrator that wants to incorporate more reading and writing in their classroom, campus, or school district.  This literacy lesson shows how literacy is all around us in the real world.  The lesson concludes with a few short assessment questions and a discussion board to allow for collaboration between educators across the globe.

    The Light Up Literacy Challenge is a 20 day calendar that has effective reading and writing strategies incorporated daily that can be implemented by any educator regardless or grade level or content area.  It can be modified to meet the needs of any educator or student group as it has almost limitless options with extra reading and writing strategies offered and even a blank calendar with the option of creating your own literacy challenge.  Participants are encouraged to share their daily challenge activities, photos, and/or videos on social media using #lightupliteracy. Upon completion participants receive a certificate of completion via email after providing evidence of completing the entire challenge. 

The Light Up Literacy Challenge is an educational collage which blends technology, the lead4ward instructional playlist, social media, a teacher's evaluation and appraisal system, and ultimately more reading and writing in every secondary classroom!

If you would like to learn more about how to incorporate Light Up Literacy in your classroom, campus, or school district, please email and follow @lulchallenge on Twitter.  You can also check out #lightupliteracy and the Light Up Literacy videos below to get more insight on how you can incorporate more reading and writing strategies in any classroom.  Let's shine the light on literacy together!

Reading and Writing Yoga Video

Literacy in PE Video

Literacy in Elective Classes Video

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Promoting Literacy in the Workplace

According to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 32 million adults in the United States and 19% of graduating seniors cannot read (for more information check out the article here). Most of the literacy programs within the education system are focused at the early childhood and primary levels.  I believe we need to start emphasizing this more in the secondary grade levels and even in the work place.  This love of reading should be instilled not only in every child, but also in every adult.  Here are a few simple ways to promote literacy in your workplace.
The book basket I started in my
office with books from some of my
favorite authors.

1. Start a Book Basket.  If you do not have a basket you can use a box or bin instead.  Make sure you place it in a high traffic area, such as the mail room, the lunch area, or where everyone signs in and out.  The idea is that these books are easily accessible by any colleague in order to promote leisurely reading.  Bring a few books that are laying around your house that you have already read and donate them to your workplace.  Everyone can take a book as long as they promise to bring at least one back to share. When the book has been read, it should be brought back so someone else can enjoy.  This will also hopefully inspire some collaboration and discussion about the books. 

2. Write a Weekly Reflection or Newsletter. Writing is a great way to reflect on what has happened and can help you plan out for the days or weeks to come.  It also provides a sense of accomplishment once you realize all the things have been completed.  I am required to turn in weekly reports to my director which helps me plan out my upcoming week, lists what I have accomplished, and allows me to reflect back or ask questions on things I am still unclear about (check out one of my weekly reports here).   You can also reflect by writing a newsletter to your staff, campus, workplace, or even parents.  This is a great tool to communicate with those you work with so everyone is on the same page.  An example newsletter used by one of the campuses I work with can be found here (thank you Mrs. Stumbaugh for sharing!)  This is a great way to get messages sent out quickly and encourages your staff to read important articles or get any updates or news related to the workplace. 

3. Practice Reading or Writing Yoga.  Read or write silently for at least ten minutes. You can easily turn your workplace into a relaxing yoga studio by dimming the lights or adding party or holiday lights.  Turn on a wax burner or oil diffuser to stimulate your nostrils.  Play some instrumental music to set the tone and maybe bring a rug, beanbag, or pillows to allow you to get more comfortable.  You can even brew some hot tea or make some hot chocolate to stimulate your taste buds too!  This environment will really help relax all your senses and provide somewhat of a mental break from the stress and workload that you may be faced with.  I highly suggest you try it out!  You and your colleagues will be amazed on how energized and relaxed you will feel afterwards. 

4. Write a Thank You Note.  Many times we get caught up with work that we forgot to thank those around us.  We take for granted those people that mean the most to us and those whose work goes unnoticed.  Take a few minuets to write a small thank you note to someone that you work with that has done something for you or that rarely gets noticed for their hard work (the janitors, cafeteria ladies, security guards, and secretaries are a great place to start). I guarantee this small act of kindness will mean the world to whomever you deliver it to.  Let them know that you care and you are grateful to work alongside them.   

5. Create a Book Club. Get a group of colleagues to commit to read a book that everyone agrees upon and set weekly or monthly expectations for what should be read.  Try to meet over breakfast, lunch, or happy hour to discuss.  If everyone is crunched for time, you can start a slow twitter chat and pose questions to each other regarding the book.  Last year I participated in a campus book club.  We read, "Teach Like a Pirate," by Dave Burgess (great read for any educator!)  All staff members that participated were encouraged to meet three times after school where we participated in discussion questions and activities about the book.  At each session many instructional strategies were also modeled and reinforced (check out an example activity here).
My gratitude jar which sits on my desk as a daily
reminder that I should always be giving thanks.
6. Start a Gratitude Jar.  Take some time to write down what you are thankful for on some post-its.  Keep them in a plastic or glass jar and place it near your computer or someplace in your office were it is easily noticeable as a daily reminder to constantly write and add to our growing  gratitude jar. 

I hope you get a chance to incorporate all or at least a few of these ideas in your own workplace in order to promote a lifelong love of reading with all of your colleagues.  Remember, the best gift you can give your colleagues this holiday season is a chance to get lost in the magical world of books. Please share the literacy love in your workplace. Peace, joy, and happy reading!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Enhancing Vocabulary in ESL Learners

Differentiating lessons is sometimes difficult to do with many types of learners and different student populations such as English Language Learners, Special Education, and Gifted and Talented students all within the same classroom walls.  Here are ten helpful tips to ensure that your English Language Learners (ELL/ESL) are understanding your lessons and truly soaking in the academic vocabulary from your class.

1. Interactive Notebooks.  Notebooks are a great way to teach your students organizational skills and promote more reading and writing within your classroom regardless of what content you teach.  My ESL students' notebooks were like their bibles because they were so rich with information which enabled these students to truly succeed in class.  Their notebooks were filled with highlighted notes, pictures, foldables, and other graphic organizers which helped students simplify their learning and served as a great tool for studying before a quiz or exam.

2. Making Models. ESL students always needs visuals to help solidify their learning of new academic vocabulary and what better way to do this than to have the students build or create a model of something they are learning about.  This is an engaging and fun way to make the vocabulary come alive! Check out the bacterial and viral models made by my ESL biology students.  We later used these at open house to infect all the parents! Making models with food or candy is also always fun and provides the students with an instant sweet treat afterwards such as the DNA candy models shown below with the "Picture This" strategy. I love using pictures for directions because the language barrier is taken out of the picture and students just have to "figure it out" based on the pictures. This encourages collaboration between students to ensure the end result is correct.

 3.Role Playing. Many students are kinesthetic learners and need to make or do something to reinforce their learning.  This strategy is a great way to get your students up and out of their seats during the learning process.  They now take on the role of a specific vocabulary term or process and become one with it.  This can easily be done with yarn necklaces using words or pictures. The sample pictures illustrate how my students took on the role of different parts of the protein synthesis process and worked together to make a polypeptide chain.  Popsicle sticks are also a cheap, quick, and easy way to turn any lesson into a role playing activity.  Just use tape or glue to attach the image or word on the stick and voila, you now you have a quick role playing tool.

4. Interactive Vocabulary. An inexpensive way to make quick and easy vocabulary lessons is by incorporating index cards.  I use the colored variety with my ESL students to stress the importance of prefixes and suffixes.  Students can easily see how the root word stays the same, but the definition changes slightly based on the prefix (i.e. autotroph vs heterotroph or multicellular vs. unicellular).  I always have my ESL students paste or tape these into their interactive notebooks and place simple one or two word definitions underneath the flaps.  If the word ever comes up again and they are stuck on what it means, I have them use their notebook to look it up.  This empowers these students to find the answers on their own using the tools that are available to them.

5. Index Card Activities.  As you can probably tell by now, index cards are one of my go-to teacher tools for great student-centered vocabulary lessons.  I love them because they are so versatile when it comes to stressing vocabulary in the classroom. During every unit we always had an index card vocabulary activity to reinforce the academic vocabulary.  Sometimes students would only have half a word and have to find their other half and provide me a definition or example as a pair.  This encouraged group collaboration and also promoted the speaking strand from the ELPS (English Language Proficiency Standards).  In a different unit they may have to find their twin and explain why it is important in the current unit we are studying and what vocabulary words are associated with the images provided.  These can also be used as a matching, sequencing, or grouping activity. These short and fun vocabulary lessons can be created on the fly and can be used for quick warm ups, reviews, or exit tickets.

6. "I Am" Poems.  Most students, especially ESL students, are not big fans of writing because they feel limited in how they can express themselves in an unfamiliar language.  Sentence stems are a great way to give students that extra push and help start off their writing (which is another strand of the ELPS).  I love "I Am" poems because now students use first person and become a vocabulary term.  They normally have to write out their function, justify why they are important, and explain how they compare to another vocabulary word.  This helps students make connections between words in a non-intimidating fashion.  This also ensures that students cannot cheat or copy off each other because each student is given a different word.  An example of an "I Am Poem" that one of my ESL students created is below.  The underlined portion is the sentence stem that was provided to the student.  In this particular poem each student in the class was given a different cell organelle to personify in their poem.
"I am a chloroplast.  
My function is to convert energy from sunlight to food.  
I am green because I have chlorophyll. 
I am found in a plant cell.  
I am similar to a mitochondria because I use energy. 
I am a chloroplast."

7. Student Made Dictionaries.  Many teachers with ESL students are given a class set of dictionaries for students to use throughout the school year.  Within my first few years as a secondary science teacher of ESL students, I rarely saw students using these dictionaries even when highly encouraged to do so.  So I decided we were going to make our own that were a little more user or student friendly and that only had the academic vocabulary that my students needed to learn.  I have organized these different ways throughout the years, sometimes grouped by unit or content; but, my favorite version so far has been the Dictiona-Ring which is illustrated above.  Each student had their own ring which took us part of a class period to set them up.  We used index cards (white and multi colored) and student hand held one-hole punchers.  Students then organized the cards in their rings alphabetically as we went through them in class.  This made the words easier to locate in the future and it also taught the students how real dictionaries actually work.  We always wrote the word in the front of the index card and drew a picture and a simplified definition was placed on the back with important key words highlighted.   When my students were assessed they were always allowed to use their personal dictionaries.  By the end of the year their dictionaries had grown tremendously and were worn out, but the students could reflect back on all of the words they learned throughout the year.  This is also a great strategy to use to review academic vocabulary before a major exam or state assessment which can be taken home by the students to be used as a study tool and separated out into individualized flash cards.

8. Play-Dough Creations. Play-dough always makes things more fun and engaging for students because students can let their creativity juices run free to create masterpieces that represent academic vocabulary.  The great part about play-dough vocabulary is there is never a wrong answer because all students think differently.  This creates a safe risk-free learning environment because if a student messes up, they just smash and roll up the dough and try again!  Working with play-dough is also a great stress reliever for both students and teachers!

9. Vocabulary Sticks or Strips. Popsicle sticks is probably my second favorite go-to teacher tool, because just like index cards, they are so versatile when it comes to their functional abilities within the classroom.  I use Popsicle sticks for student randomization, to vary questioning verbs, and for reviewing critical vocabulary.  Students randomly choose a Popsicle stick or strip (from sentence strip paper) and have to possibly create a flash card for the word wall, they might have to design a sculpture using play-dough, or act it out silently during a class vocabulary review game.  Great way to provide options for your students and promote student choice in your class.

10. Interactive Word Walls.  In my ESL Biology class we had an ongoing interactive word wall which I titled the Dissect-A-Word Wall. Using simple bulletin board paper, tape, and index cards my students and I added common prefixes and suffixes found in the biology academic vocabulary throughout the year.  Under each prefix and suffix was a simplified one or two word definition.  This word wall was interactive and stood in front of the class near the projector or board so when we ran into a prefix or suffix we had already learned I would have a student come up to the wall and remind the class what it meant. We would then try to figure out the new meaning of this new word together based on what we already knew.  My students were also allowed to use it during their assessments.  They could just stand up and silently use the wall to help them understand a specific question or answer on their assessment. It was a living bulletin board as we added new parts of words as they came up throughout the year.

I hope these tips will give you some ideas to use in your classroom to ensure that your ESL/ELL students are truly understanding the meaning of and applying the academic vocabulary from your content area into their permanent vocabulary bank.  Please feel free to share any other ideas or strategies that have worked well for you and your students.  Happy Teaching!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sweat Out Some Summer Learning!

The brain is an active organ that we need to keep stimulated all year long.  Here are a few suggestions on how to keep exercising your brain throughout the summer to ensure it does not turn to mush like it seems to do with our students every year.

1. Read a Book - This could be an educational book such as Chicken Soup for the Teachers Soul or Teach Like A Pirate or a personal read or newest best seller.  I have just started reading Me Before You before I go see it in the theaters.  You can even invite your colleagues and create an informal book study that meets weekly at Starbucks to also get your coffee fix in too!

2. Meditate - Take care of your mind and body and find peace.  This year I did a free 21 day meditation course by Oprah and Deepak which was a great way to practice relaxation and eliminate negative body energy, and eliminate unnecessary stress.

3. Start an Idea Diary - I am sure you have a famous "TO DO LIST" somewhere.  I know I have too many to count!  Instead, jot down your ideas that come up throughout the summer in a small notebook that you conveniently carry in your purse or car.  Inspirations come from everywhere and these great ideas tend to be forgotten if we do not make note of them somewhere. Just remember to read over them before the start of the school year.

4. Create a Blog - Everyone has a story to share that many educators can learn from.  Reflect out and share some of you great ideas and creative activities virtually.  Weebly, Wordpress, and Google Blogger are a great place to start. 

5. Learn Something New - Go out on a limb and try something that you have never done before not related to education.  Sign up for a yoga class, get a new cookbook, learn how to make origami, construct a robot....the list is endless!  Who knows, you may find your next creative passion or hobby!

6. Go to a Face-to-Face Session - It is nice to visit with colleagues and other educators during summer professional learning opportunities.  Sign up for a  technology Edcamp, content specific workshop, or pedagogy session in your area to ensure that your teaching skills stay sharp and up-to-date.

7. Watch a Webinar - If you cannot make it out to a face-to-face session, try the flipped classroom approach and join via instant or playback webinar.  Last week I hosted a webinar for my Astronomy teachers using Starry Night High School.  We were all speechless about the awesome interactive program they have to offer.  If you've never watched a webinar I invite you to join Edmodocon 2016 this August to learn more about how to use Edmodo in your classroom, school, or district.  By the way, your truly is one of the guest speakers! 

8. Join a Twitter Chat - I am relatively new in the twitter world, but I have really learned so much.  Some great chats that I recommend are #leadupchat (for lead teachers and administrators), #satchat, #falconedchat (for my fellow falcon colleagues), #pblchat (for those interested in project based learning), #ntchat (new and seasoned teachers welcome), and #tmchat (for more ways to use thinking maps).  Come to explore, collaborate, steal, and share ideas from other fellow educators across the globe!  Please feel free to follow me @aguzmanscience!

9. Plan Ahead - The summer is a time for teachers to re-energize and gain back their spark and passion for education.  Decide to take a risk and try something new in your class.  It could be to try the flipped approach, make it more student-centered, or try a PBL?  Do your homework, plan, and be prepared to ensure that your work is successful.

10.  Reflect on the Year- Many teachers have their students (or teachers) fill out evaluations or questionnaires.  Make sure you take some time to really read and learn from what your students (or teachers) have to say.  What worked well?  What failed miserably?   Also check out your state assessment data and see where your students excelled and where they needed improvement.  This can be a great start to determine how you can do things differently and how you can plan to ensure that next school year is even better! 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Summer School Blues

My daughter Sol while we were in Spain.  
This is exactly how I feel right now, 
a bit overwhelmed, but excited to get 
back into my teaching groove. 
So I have been an educator for the past eight years and never have I once taught summer school.  Since I was always teaching throughout the academic school year, summer was my time to take a break, unwind, and enjoy the simple things in life like sleeping in late, hearty breakfasts, poolside tans, and family field trips to the zoo or local park.  This year I decided to take the plunge and give it a shot.  Why you ask? Not because I am insane (or at least that's what I believe), but because I want to ensure that I am always rooted to how teachers feel deep in the trenches of their classroom since my current position is at the district level.  I want to make sure my strategies are still sharp and I still have the magic teaching touch!

I will be teaching an EOC prep class for students who did not master the Biology End of Course (EOC) exam along with a Biology class for students who did not pass the course and just need credit.  I plan to conduct the class 100% hands-on and inquiry based focusing not on teacher-centered lectures (because this obviously did not work the first time) but instead inquiry based science labs and problem/project based learning, commonly called PBLs.  My only enemy will be time.  I have a year's worth of curriculum to jam pack into 16 half day sessions.   So I have decided to omit most supporting Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) an only focus on 16 Readiness standards which leaves me to teach one TEK a day!   I started creating a calendar to ensure I keep on track with my tight schedule, which leads me to my second problem...budget.  Apparently science school has NO BUDGET!  Are you kidding me?  One of the main science process TEKS is that 40% of the class should consist of student labs.  This is a little hard to do with NO BUDGET!  Looks like some of my hard earned cash for summer school will be going right back into education as I prepare to spend on much needed lab items since I cannot even fathom teaching a Biology class without hands-on labs!

When I was in the classroom I took teaching and learning for granted and although I had lots of hands on activities and labs, I still felt my classroom was fairly teacher-centered and a bit too structured.  I am hoping to try new things in summer school such as PBLs and having the students have more of a major role in grading their own assessments and reflecting on their progress day by day. Ultimately I am hoping for an engaging, fun, out-of-the box type of learning experience that will motivate my students to love science again (a trait I believe they lost in middle school somewhere) where I am a facilitator and my students take center stage in their own learning!  

Please follow me on twitter @aguzmanscience for the month of June where I will be tweeting out daily biology labs and activities my students are working on!  I am hoping to inspire other educators along the way and provide innovative activities and strategies that can be stolen.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Testing Is Over...What Next?

Many students believe the school year ends after testing is over sometime in the beginning or middle of May.  Students think their time left in school will be a mixture of yearbook signings, class parties, and movies.  However, for many districts, there can be anywhere from two to four weeks of school left.  Sorry to bust your bubble, but in my science class #maymatters!

The end of the school year is one of my favorite times of year (the first week of school is #1 on my charts) because I am no longer crunched for time and I don't have the heavy burden and stress of a state assessment lingering on my shoulders.  In May, I pull up my sleeves and try new things, take classroom risks, and most importantly have fun with my students!  Here are a few things that have worked for me in the past and have kept me and my students fully engaged in #belltobell year long learning.

Sample student work from the
Chemistry Water Purification PBL
1. Try a PBL (project based learning) - Many teachers are afraid to try a long project such as a PBL because they don't have enough time or they are too afraid to let go of their reigns on the class.  Teaching doesn't have to be a dictatorship where the teacher is the center of attention.  Actually it should be the opposite, where students are in the driver's seat of their own learning adventures and PBL's are a great way to start.  Find some ideas from the Buck Institute and let your students loose...I guarantee they will surprise you! Here is a great idea for a chemistry PBL that I made with my teachers.  Water Purification PBL Video

2. Create a Class Newsletter - One of my first years in teaching I would create quarterly newsletters for all of my biology parents.  By my second year of teaching I decided to let my students reflect on the cool labs we had conducted by creating short summaries for their favorite labs.  I chose the best ones and included them in the digital communication I sent to their parents.  

3. Evaluate the Teacher - Create a short teacher evaluation for your students to complete at the end of the year.  I was always looking for their constructive criticism to make me a better teacher and I always wanted to tweak labs to make them more inquiry based and engaging.  I also got some insight on what my students really remembered from the year, and why those particular activities, labs, or projects resonated with the students.  Here is a very basic sample Teacher Evaluation .

Stafford Science Club Members at a
Keep Stafford Beautiful Clean Up Event
4. Plan a Field Trip - My master's degree was all about field research while taking bite force measurements of different species of sea turtles around the globe and I am all about supporting students through hands-on learning.  When I can, I try to take my students on educational beach journeys since the ocean is near and dear to my heart.  When in Miami my students and I went to the Bio Blitz at Biscayne National Park where they literally got their hands and feet wet while seining for marine creatures.  Once I took students to the NOAA sea turtle facility in Galveston where they got to learn about how conservation efforts are saving these precious sea creatures.  Yes, the paperwork is a pain in the butt, but it is so worth it and the students will never forget it!

Sample Visual Acrostic Poem
5. Bring in Guest Speakers - Sometimes it is nice to get someone else to do the teaching for you with a focus on real world applications.  Bring the real life science to your students.  I always try and involve the community in my science class and seek out science professionals to speak to my students.  One year I brought in representatives from ABC Dental to talk about bacteria's role in tooth decay and everyone got a free toothbrush!  SCORE! With all the technology now available your guest can check in via Skype or a live webinar from anywhere around the globe!

6. Acrostic Name Poems - The day after the biology state assessment my students and I always create acrostic name poems.  It is a way for everyone to debrief in a creative way.  All students pull out their book and interactive science journal and spell out their first name on a piece of construction paper with colorful markers.  Then they create a simple acrostic poem using keywords and visuals.  Sometimes it gets a little tricky with difficult letters like Q and Z, but the class helps out as needed and some words get a little creative!  These are also great review activities for unit exams using key vocabulary terms.

7. Take a Multiple Intelligence or Personality Test - My students love learning about the way they learn.   There are a plethora of online personality tests, surveys, questionnaires, etc. available online.  I always spend a day where students figure out their multiple intelligence and then we create a project where they are grouped with students that have similar interests.  Normally we are preparing for a final so students have to use their strengths and creative abilities to teach a concept back to their peers using their multiple intelligence results.  In the past some students have created and performed songs, skits, videos, and comic strips to review units of study.  The students now become the teachers in their own unique ways. Try this 40 question online Multiple Intelligence Test to see where your strengths lie!

8. Book Study - One of my favorite units of study was when I did a cross curricular project with an English teacher at my school.  We shared Pre-AP students and we decided to do a class book study together on the "Secret Life of Bees."  She had the students read and reflect in her class, while I taught the science of plant systems and the symbiotic relationships they hold with insects and other animals.  This was great for me because sometimes it is hard to get students excited about plants.  

These are just a few ideas that can spice things up a bit in your class.  I challenge you to try something new with your students at the end of the year that is engaging for both you and your students and don't be afraid to take some risks.  Let the creative juices flow for you and your students and don't forget to have fun throughout each educational journey!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Holding Students Accountable For Their Own Learning

Cameras are like students held up by a tripod support system
which includes teachers, parents, and the student themselves!
When I think of students, I think of a camera being held up by a tripod full of support.  Most of the time in education, the teachers are looked at as the sole source of knowledge and input provided to the student.  Many people forget, that the teacher is not the only one involved.  To me, the teacher is one leg of the tripod holding the student (or the camera) up.  We forget that parents and students can also help their child succeed in education.  As a secondary science teacher, I have learned to keep parents in the loop at all times, not just for the bad, but the positive things as well. A short drive by phone call can make all the different in the world for parents, students, and ultimately teachers.  

The most important part of the tripod is always forgotten...the student.   In late elementary school and especially middle and high school, it is crucial for teachers and parents both to hold the student accountable for their own learning!  This gives them a senses of responsibility and can help build up their self esteem if done properly.  As many in the field of education move towards pushing a growth mindset, student accountability can be the first step in the process.  The teacher can model how progress, not the end result should be the ultimate goal for every student.

Right now, DATA, is a big buzz word in education.  As a teacher I was always afraid of DATA.  It made me think of endless hours creating data binders, crunching numbers, and creating spreadsheets to determine what I needed to reteach or spend more time on.  After several years in the classroom I discovered that I was missing one crucial element to the data puzzle...the student.  I learned that I needed to allow the student the opportunity to dissect their own data because ultimately they were the ones being affected, why not have them do all the hard work?  It turns out it wasn't hard work at all and the students actually appreciated having such timely feedback even if it wasn't always positive. 

Sample Student Self Evaluation Sheet
After most assessments in today's secondary classroom, the student only gets back a numerical grade, because teachers rarely have time to go through and discuss the exam and allow students time to reflect on their mistakes.  This time is crucial, because this is where the deep thinking occurs which gives the student an opportunity to relearn the concept and retain it for the future. Once I moved away from paper-pencil testing and moved towards 100% electronic assessments I decided to create "student self evaluations" especially for larger unit exams, midterms, finals, or district assessments.  In this self evaluation form I categorized questions based on concepts or TEKS and students had to determine if they got the answers correct or incorrect and then highlighted or colored in the questions they got right. Some teachers I currently work with started using a color system where red means the student answered the question incorrectly and green means that they got it correct.  This allows students to see a visual of where their learning gaps are.  I also have students reflect on the assessment and choose their top three strengths and top three weaknesses which can be relative for each student. One student's strength may mean they got 3 out of 3 correct while another student may have only gotten 1 or 2 out of 3 correct and still called it a strength.  I would take these self evaluations and create remediation stations the next day in class when the learning was still fresh and student neurons could still make proper connections.  The best part of this technique was that now the student was aware of both their strengths and weaknesses because they chose them!

Sample Student TEK Tracker
Another similar tool I created was the "Student TEK Tracker" which I am currently using with the Chemistry teachers in my district using Tango software.  Every two weeks some of our chemistry teachers give their students a short warm-up or quiz (approximately 5-8 questions) which we call mini-marks or checkpoints about TEKS previously taught.  They always coincide on Thursdays to keep with their "Throwback Thursday" theme.  Students immediately get feedback and get to shade in how they did using the red and green color code.  The following Thursday, teachers have a hands on remediation activity or mini-lab based on the weak TEKS from the previous mini-mark to reinforce the concept even further.  Teachers also create their own TEK trackers for each class or for all of their classes as a whole to see what TEKS or concepts need more attention and which ones need to be assessed again in the near future...Talk about data driven instruction!

Sample Biology TEK tracker that I created to see how all the students in my district were doing and which TEKS where hotspots to ensure teachers remediated before testing in May.