Thursday, September 24, 2015

Google Forms for Parent/Guardian Contact

It seems so simple and so obvious that once you start using it, it will be unfathomable to switch. It most schools, administrators require teachers to not only contact home for those in danger of failing, not turning in assignments, and an array of behavior issues, but to also document those contacts. Required or not, documentation that the teacher is doing everything in their power to make sure that all stakeholders are aware, both positive and negative is a best practice. Most teachers design nice spreadsheets or tables, print many copies, place in a binder to record it.

What purpose does that serve? Besides covering the bases, what purposes does recording that information? The end must justify the means.

In comes Google Forms. Last year, I utilized a simple Form to record every contact with parents last year, ending up with over 380 contact events (email, phone, letters, etc.). It was fast and efficient, but it still failed to prove any useful data. Did that student have issues with other teachers? A time of day? Did that teacher also call home?

This year, my principal collaborated on expanding some options on the Google Form for parent contacts and sent it schoolwide. Teachers get updates when certain students they mentor appear on the form, administrators get updates on the grade level they oversee.

I've added a form below. Feel free to "Make a Copy"

Edit Form

Live Form

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Short Movie Clips and CCSS Complex Characters

The environment often dictates the amount of educational technology that a teacher can implement. Using some of the awesome programs found on Tweet, blogs, and Google searches, often becomes a dream for some teachers, who then turn in disappoint to feel that they do not have the technology needed to integrate at all.

Soft-edtech refers to using the minimal amounts of technology typical found in schools. Most schools have some sort of projection system, whether portable or installed, that a teacher can display their computer or at the very least a DVD. Two of my classes utilize 1:1 technology for the academy and I often find myself finding ways to Soft-edtech the same lesson that has high-student involvement and media and technology implementation.

After reviewing complex characters, their traits, and motivations, students were provided a document that outlined the three clips, all under five minutes, we would watch and analyze. While viewing the clip, students recorded their evidence of the protagonist's thoughts, emotions, and pertinent actions. In the next steps, student took the evidence and composed a response to the character's feelings/emotions that were specific to that scene. For instance, an answer of "Nemo is sad" is insufficient and students must utilize for specific and sophisticated vocabulary. I tier the resources handed out that have lists of such words. Next, students use their evidence and the character's emotions, to determine the character's motivation for that specific scene. Regardless if they've seen the movie or not, they must utilize the evidence in that one clip to determine what is their immediate motivation. This often leads to a discuss of how character's often have a couple long-term motivations, but several smaller motivations
when faced with conflicts in the rising action. Finally, students use all of their analysis to predict upcoming conflicts in the next scene, which we do not watch. I often phrase it for students to consider, "Based on the character's emotional state and their immediate motivations, what will oppose or try to prevent the motivation from becoming a fulfilled dream or goal. One note, students must phrase this using protagonist versus antagonist + antagonistic element.

Regardless of the level, all students are engaged in analysis and critically thinking about characters.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Transparency in Planning

Professional Development Goals
  • Describe the need for transparency in planning
  • Setup and organize Google Calendars for Online Planning
  • Setup and create units and lesson plans using TeacherCal in EduSync
  • Embed calendars in class website

Transparency in Planning
  • Students learn more efficiently and retain more information when they know where they are going
    • Lessons are no longer just for teachers to organize lessons
    • Become a road map for students to know where they've been, where they're going, and how they're getting there
  • Strengthens connections between all stakeholders involved
  • Reduces paper, ink and creates a green planning classroom
    • Saves expenditures on items
  • Extends learning and resources beyond classroom walls
  • Easier to plan with those who can't be in planning sessions
    • Special education, ELL staff, etc.
  • Provides a chance for prelearning
    • Shift from students needing extra time after to having access beforehand
      • Students read a text before coming to class who may need to read it two or three times compared with their peers
Google Calendar
  • DeFlitch models Google Calendar as Example
  • Create Calendars and review settings
    • Note on attaching Google Docs, Slides, etc.
      • Always click share anyone with a link can view
    • "Make Calendar Public"
    • Color Code Calendars
  • Export/Embed Options
Edusync Setup and TeacherCal
  • DeFlitch Models and reviews TeacherCal
  • TeacherCal Account Creation
    • Click Sign Up
    • If you plan on using Google Classroom at any point this year, use the district's Google Account for creation
      • If not or you have all you information in another drive, use that information
  • Create a lesson and view in Google Calendar as well
Embedding Google Calendar
  • Embed in Class Website
  • Create 2-3 lesson plans in TeacherCal

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Put Down the Cards and DiiGO

In my mind, it wasn’t too long that I remember heading to the library with a large stack of notecards hung on a metal ring. We spent days in the library doing nothing but finding information related to a provided topic and recording every piece of textual evidence on a new page, as well as recopying down all the MLA information for the book. Even when we got a chance on the computer, the same process remained, which always made no sense. Why couldn’t I just copy and paste the information to a document to print at the very the least.

Today’s generation has numerous tools that not only make research more efficient, but also more meaningful. Last year, I first implemented Diigo for our students. I thought it would go as another ho-hum tool that students would feel was forced upon and use because they had to use it.  The exact opposite happened. Students spent hours researching and annotating websites. While they started the year highlighting irrelevant information or entire paragraphs and section, almost all became advanced, choosing very specific and powerful information.

Diigo Preparation

To prepare, I created two accounts (before the Diigo Education account was available). I went through and recorded each of the steps for creating an account, installing necessary tools and locations of where to access information. I then went through each of the assignments as a student to consider any issues they might have, but also how the completed assignment looks on the teacher end.

As students add to Diigo, I setup the notifications to email me so that I can glance who is doing research, when they are doing it, and what they are doing.

I advise anyone who is unfamiliar with Diigo to follow the same tactics.

Diigo Groups

I create and assign my assignments through public groups. The group is named after the topic of our research (MRSA in Southern U.S.) and students tag all of their research with key words, as well as adding to the specific, relevant group. This alters the concept of research as being an individual, information gathering task that only benefits one. Instead, we are taking the concept of research to a social aspect, where students complete research that others can use for their own writing and product creation.

To make sure that all students complete research, I usually assign that students post two-four websites with annotations (highlighting and stickynotes). To all groups related to the assignment. I usually don’t give a prescribed amount of how many annotations, because all websites /online materials are different. When instructing and directing students, I explain that the amount must be relative to the information in front of them. What is good? What is valid? What is relevant? What proves their thoughts and conclusions?

Students then begin their research, tag their sources, add to groups and then my phone vibrates with a detailed email of their work. When I setup these notifications, I was clueless to how much high school students like to read and consume information they are interested in. Students stay up, researching at midnight, poring over so many websites that seem to further their understanding of their topics.

I found that students also use Diigo in ways I never thought of for them. Students were finding poems, stories, and articles read in class online through searching Google. Not only could they take screenshots, but they also would annotate the text online…Students did this with ZERO direction from me and ZERO prescription to do so.

This is a must have tool for 7-12 educators in all content areas, particularly those required close/critical reading for assignments or research opportunities. I bet most of you will also find this useful and begin using it in your professional studies as well!

Monday, August 24, 2015

DeClutter Your Drive

As districts and teachers continue their push for full Google Apps for Education in the classroom, many teachers find themselves in a traditional dilemma. Clutter. Since copying began, filing cabinets and teachers' desks alike, rarely see the light of the day. This now spills into the digital world as teachers jump into #GAFE and begin saving, copying, creating, and more in their Google Drive. Google Drive is an amazing space for educators, but as the digital push continues, many of us find hundreds file folders on our Google Drive.

In the whirlwind of planning, teaching, grading, meeting, etc., etc. teachers don't have time to organize their Drive. As I continue to work with many veteran teachers beginning their #GAFE journey, they often have to root through folders because they don't remember what they named the file three weeks ago. Most of those teachers can state a week or a day the activity is used.

This is where EduSync utilizes intuitive design to help teachers. TeacherCal, a transparency and communicative planner, automatically organizes all of the teacher's documents as they embed and attach them to their lesson plans.

The video above further demonstrates how this works! Good luck as your rejoin your new students this year!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

TeacherCal (EduSync) Planning with Transparency and Collaboration in Mind

In the video, I reviewed features of TeacherCal as both a planning tool for teachers and a way to expand transparency to other teachers, students, parents, and administration.

When I began using Google Calendar to write lessons, it didn't take long to see that the basic box to create and event didn't not meet my needs while planning. One could the box is plenty enough but for teachers, the display must instigate productivity and the separation of the aspects of planning were just not there in the native Google Calendar.

In comes TeacherCal! Now this application utilizes the collaborative essence of Google Drive, integrating all GAFE into the planning process. From the pictures alone, any educator can see the value in the organizational side of TeacherCal, which then pushes your planning to Google Calendar, where all stakeholders can access your planning. This meets my goal of nullifying the question "Mr. DeFlitch, what are we doing today?" Students should always know what they are going to do and when they are going to do. The research is out there proving that students learn better when they have map and TeacherCal provides students the map they need to achieve maximum success. Additionally, this further utilizes Universal Design for All by providing a transparency atmosphere for students to prepare before they learn. If students struggle with reading, for example, then they must know where to find when they are going to read and what they going to read BEFORE they begin the timeslot the teacher assigns the reading. This provides additional time for the student before the lesson begins and is particularly needed for special education student, who require extended time on numerous activities. Rather than a students needing an extra day or two AFTER the lesson to master it, they can use a day or two BEFORE the lesson, so that they experience the learning task at the same level as others.

Have a great week educators!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Technology Professional Development (Plickers, Kahoots, Edulastic)

I was asked over the summer to present and provide professional development on several online assessment tools for both formative and summative assessments. Our district continually searches for new ways to make the gathering and use of data more efficient for teachers and administrators. I believe the primary heart behind this for all is to reduce the amount of time teachers spend doing the grading and compiling of data and more on the use of the grade. Teachers need more time allotted to reflect on their data and consider numerous questions. This evaluation discourse, which should occur both internally and externally, focuses on establishing trends in the data compiled to determine effectiveness of the previous instruction and the improvement and planning of future instruction.

Teachers can ask...
Where are we now?
How did we get here?
Where do we want to go?

These question are at the heart of data chats and can simply drive the conversation to more in-depth discourse.

For the professional development, which lasted around three hours split into two days, I was assigned Plickers, Kahoots, and Edulastic. All of the materials will be provided at the end of the post.


This program provides an effective way to compile data and mainly for formative assessments. This is a low-tech solution with high upside that should replace the purchasing of expensive clicker systems. Teachers print off response cards that utilize similar QR Code technology. Each card is specific to the student and limits responses to true or false or multiple choice. The teacher sets up questions on the mobile application or the Plickers website. To use Plickers, the teacher must have a smartphone or tablet. After presenting the question, the students turn the cards to designate their answer at the top of the card. The teacher then scans the room using their smartphone or tablet's camera. As the camera recognizes the card, it translate the streaming image into the student's individual response. Class responses can also be displayed to further reflection and discussion of the question.


Kahoots is an engaging formative assessment that gamifies the classroom. It is very similar to trivia
games seen in local pubs or restaurants, where a trivia questions pops on the television screen and people try to answer the fastest for the most points. As part of our professional development, I used a Disney Kahoot Quiz and the staff was 100% engaged and excited. This is true for the kids as well. I'd challenge any teacher to implement Kahoots and not see the excitement and engagement it brings for students. During our end of year surveys last Spring, my students reported Kahoots as one of the best things of the year and many of my lower-level students reported that it made them come to school because it was so fun.


If there is one technology tool you explore and implement this year, drop everything and head to Edulastic after reading this post. This program may be one of the most transformative programs for
teachers and while it works for formative assessments, its power to realign and engage students in summative assessments is awesome. Many states have or are transitioning to 100% computer-based standardized testing. The day of handing out paper booklets, pencils, and students answering seventy plus multiple-choice questions are soon at the end. These assessments now include drag-and-drop, resequencing, paragraph questions, hover-to-higlight, and more. These test skills will also push teachers and students this year to design more technology enhanced assessments. Furthermore, Tennessee includes pictures, audio (music or speech clippings), and video on the assessments. Students must apply higher-level analysis of more forms of media. This presents several issues, especially for those practicing backward design. Not only do teachers' lessons now include more various modes of information to analyze, but their assessments must be enhanced. Edulastic fits every need for teachers in the 21st Century. After creating numerous assessments and providing professional developments to teachers on its use, I can't imagine teaching and assessing without it. I would even go as far to say that I am pushing to digitize any traditional "worksheets" we utilize into the Edulastic system. Not only does it provide the most technology enhanced assessment possibilities I've ever seen, but also focuses on data enrichment for reflection and planning for teachers and administration. Students can sign up without an email after the teacher provides a short code to the class. After students take the assessment, teachers receive the graded assessment (often the second the student finishes) and mastery reporting on the class and students, as well as standards and skills reporting to the lowest denomination of the standard. Teachers can reassign assessments for students to try again, which it automatically redistributes questions and answer choices. Additionally, teachers can release a detailed report to the student, who can now click on the questions missed to see their answer choice with the correct answer choice. Going one step further, teachers can provide overall feedback on the entire assessment for the student or provide individual feedback and instruction on individual questions. Talk about powerful!

Look at just some of the questions offered for technology enhancement...

Here are the resources used for my professional development, which includes guides. Feel free to make a copy via Google Drive.

Professional Development Google Folder (Plickers, Kahoot, Edulastic)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Organizational Upgrades

Every year I try to reflect on issues that the environment may have caused throughout the year. During this reflection, I mainly focus on inefficiencies of my room or procedures. This year, I made some slight changes in some of the procedures and environment dealing with the ancillary aspects of running a classroom.

1. Late Work/Redo Folders
Students often forget to turn assignments in, are absent from school for a few days, or are handed their work back to redo. Last year, I had a single bin with a date stamp. Students stamped the correct date and then turned in their work. This folder/bin was used for any work turned in beyond the original due date and more specifically, work that had already been graded. On Fridays, I had to spend some time sifting through the periods of the work turned in before grading. This year, I added a leveled organizer and a folder for each period. The folder has the directions for turning in work with or without a late pass for their work. This is now setup by the door so students can do it upon entering or leaving the room. Students still stamp the work, but I added a brief form they have to fill out explaining why the work is in this folder.

2. Essential Question Posters
Each nine week module has three to five essential questions that drive everything we read and discuss. This year, my collaborative partner and I decided to make these into a poster and laminate them to display from the onset of each nine weeks. I already used this as a reference chart on the first day of school to get students thinking about their upcoming work. These questions have to be engaging and abstract, something to sparks open debate and can have multiple answers. Although, I really don't call them answers, because if it could be answers it wouldn't be as debatable. Think of them more like supported responses.

3. Behavior Form Clipboards
I want to provide immediate feedback on behavior this year. I found and adjusted two forms that are printed and hung on clipboards by my teacher-computer cart. This way I can easily grab the clipboard fill-out and give the students the form. One form is adapted from the Awesome Citation, which is given to a student for being awesome for a variety of reasons. I'm hoping this provides reinforcement of exemplary behavior. The other form is a behavior notification form. The teacher only fills out the top and the students must fill out the form, take it home to get signed, and return it in two days. If the student does not complete these tasks then the teacher calls home, notifies office, writes up, etc. as needed per the behavior.

4. Student Crates
I stole this idea from another teacher in the building, but it is worth sharing. I use a bookshelf beside the door to house a different color crate with the period number on the front. Students can keep their notebook and folders in this crate rather than placing in locker or taking home. If they have homework, then it is their responsibility to not leave it in the room. I found that students were able to maintain more of their work and notes throughout the year.

Have a great year!

Friday, August 7, 2015

A New Year: The Ramblings of Emotional and Tired Teachers

As many of you are already teaching in the new year, attending professional developments, or soaking in the last minutes of the sun, it is imperative to reflect and progress for the 2015-2016 school year. It is no secret that teaching as one, if not the top, profession for burnout rate. In a piece for THE Journal, Cheryl Scott Williams writes, "They start out intending to make teaching a lifelong profession. However, according to the report, young teachers leave the profession at a rate 51 percent higher than older teachers and transfer to a different school at a rate 91 percent higher than their older colleagues. Studies also show that the national teacher-turnover rate costs school districts approximately $7 billion annually.(Read more at  Let's begin this year anew and reflect on some thoughts and practices to push past those emotions and stressful points.

1. Rainy Day Box
Begin the year reflecting on the students you've helped. It should be a mandatory practice, one I've conveyed with all student teachers, to keep a rainy day box. I a box where you put cards and letters from students, parents, and staff. I also tell them to take pictures of kids learning and growing to add to these artifacts of happiness. I usually spend the opening minutes of the first day with kids flipping through these and I feel invigorated by how I've helped so many children already in my career. If you have students write and turn in a reflection of you as teacher at the end of the previous year, reread these. I often find that the writing reflects the positions: we all start the year stressed, figuring out how to grow thirty-five students in six different periods, but end up a family as the year ends. The train ride may be long, full of stops, and numerous challenges, but the destination, a child succeeding in this world is worth it. Review those memories. Keep that box, because rainy days will come.

2. A Big Heart
Remember that your students are not just test scores, data points, and gradebooks, they are people and more importantly, children. During summer readings and training, we focus so much on the how and what to teach that we forget the why and who to teach, are starting points for becoming teachers. Remember that all students are different, have different levels of skills and interests, but more importantly background. Some times, those backgrounds are more important and more demanding that learning puns. Throughout my career, it still doesn't amaze me the amount of issues students face by thirteen or fourteen that most in the country have only thought as of fictional. Drug problems, abuse problems, family problems, and so on. Have a big heart and not a big stick. Remember that a student's psychological and emotional growth can sometimes trump the lesson.

3. Love the Challenge
Be as excited as students are to return. Teaching is not a job, it is not a profession, it is a lifestyle. If you look at this profession in the context how others view the traditional job/profession, you will be swamped with all of the paperwork and meetings and planning, etc. Choose to find every challenge exciting and alter your thinking. A challenging student with numerous disciplinary points and emotional disorders should be welcomes because you (Yes you! Teacher barely getting the posters up and rushing through your seating charts and nights of dreams filled with your worst thoughts manifesting) will change that student's life. We teach our students to love challenges and that they can't grow without facing new challenges and new ideas. We must follow suit and love and be positive about our challenges and welcome a challenging student. Those challenging students are the best thing for us as teacher professionals and as human begins. We can't grow without them, so welcome them so that we can grow.

4. Find Your Rock
A professor at Penn State, who was involved in public education for over thirty-five years, as asked by a student my sophomore year: "How do you deal with all the stress and emotions of teaching?" His answer, a rock. Early in his career, he became overwhelmed and his home life was suffering from bringing the stress and worry home with him. One afternoon, after a day of challenging students and then arguing with his girlfriend, he picked up a large rock and went to throw it and stopped. He felt all his emotions and thoughts flood through him and into his rock. The next day, he took this rock to his desk and began a new practice. At the end of the day and before walking out the door, he touched the rock, holding it for ten seconds. He placed all his emotional stress and worry into the rock before leaving. He took work home and graded papers, but didn't bring the emotional valleys and downtrodden thoughts to his home. The next morning, he placed his hand on the rock for ten seconds and retrieved those worry, if needed. Teachers cannot become robots and remove the heartache that goes with knowing so much about 200 or more students (high school teachers) a year. We feel, we cry, we dive through the darkness with our students, but to remain a caring rock for our students, we must find a place to hold those thoughts so that we don't become overwhelmed.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Narrative Writing Mat & a Poetry Writing Activity

These days I sit and struggle with the addition of narrative writing to our state standardized writing tests. It is befuddling to consider creative narrative writing as something that is standards-based, as it relies heavily on the ingenuity and individuality of voice of the author. Not to even mention the history of authors not having formal education or being kicked out of schools! In the end, my students must become better writers and hopefully, their development of voice will show the results in their scores. While working on the Narrative Writing Mat (posted below), I reviewed previous lessons that worked over the years that students reported as impacting their writing and engaging them in school.

For this particular lesson, I remove many of the desks from the room and have some of them line the walls of the room. Students take the notebook and a cheatsheet of literary terms. Students compose as many poems as possible during the course of the period. Students take a spot around the objects placed in the middle of the room. These objects are just random objects found in the house or a junk drawer. Students begin the period writing in any form, type, or voice they want to write in. They students' main directive is to use the objects as a muse for their writing and if they become stuck, focus on using vivid details and sensory language to describe the objects. Without notification, I buzzer goes off (I usually set this for about 2-3 minutes) and students move two spots to the right. While this doesn't seem like a lot, students quickly notice how a slight shift in perspective greatly alters what can and cannot be seen. Students start the process over again, but I often begin with a list and call them  out or write them on the projected screen. Perhaps during this writing students have to use two metaphors and one allusion or the lines must go ABBA BCCB and so on. This forces students up in Bloom's Taxonomy, where they now have to apply their mastered knowledge and skills. Also, students must be prepared as they don't have a lot of time to relearn the terminology.Students continue to move around the circle, moving two spots until back at the beginning. During their writing, I have time to walk around and provide individualized instruction as I read over student's shoulders.

Now that I've found my folder of narrative writings, I'll be posting them along the way. As promised, here is the Narrative Writing Mat to put on students' desks while their writing.

Narrative Writing Mat Front

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Technology Shock & Awe

As many teachers prepare to leave that sand and sun behind, we prepare to be more organized and more transparent for the upcoming year.The first few days, especially for high school students, is a reintegration to the resources and protocols of the new classroom. This year, I decided to place the major technology pieces used in the classroom. This front-back document is not a list of every technology used throughout our English II class, but rather the links that we use the most often. When compiling the list, I also chose to place an asterisk near those that I "strongly" suggest for students to signup and begin playing around with on their own. Self-exploration is a powerful tool and one I hope that many students will utilize in mastering 21st Century learning skills. 
The list is segmented into categories for easier reference and includes a brief description of the technology. I'm also placing this on the Class Procedures section of my course websites and LMS so students can easily click the links to navigate as well.

When it comes to technology, these resources are tried and tested in the 10th English Classroom. Feel free to download, modify, and use this list as needed at the bottom of this posting. I would strongly recommend, especially if you do not them, checking out iXL/noredink for engaging and standards-based grammar and composition practice. My classes love playing Kahoot! as well; it become a class favorite after the first time we use it. For research in any class, I strongly recommend integrating Diigo as a social-researching tool. It provides the traditional skills needed in researching, while modernizing it to fit the 21st Century college academia and career paths. Finally, Kaizena is a teacher's best friend for grading and giving timely feedback for writing. If you're struggling with grading stacks of paper in the traditional form or are just looking for an engaging new way to become efficient, I strongly encourage this Google Add-on.

Enjoy the remaining weeks of summer as we organize for the upcoming year!

Monday, July 20, 2015

CCSS/TNCore Writing Mats

Argumentative Writing Mat Front

Writing is becoming even more important  with the shift to CCSS/TNCore Standards. Students must be able to write at a higher level more often in all classes. In addition to all these demands, most of these writings derive from the student's reading and analysis of a more rigorous text. With this in mind, I took to creating and constructing Writing Mats.

Argumentative Writing Mat Back
Writing Mats are constructed from $5.00/50 sheets of scrapbooking sheets from Walmart. The information is simply printed and glued using a gluestick. During the opening days of school, I will laminate a class set for the three modes of writing in our curriculum. While some of the information is original, the majority of it is purchased on TechersPayTeachers. The bundles of Argumentative Writing and Informative Writing, from Tracee Orman, should be purchased by all secondary teachers. The supplemental material is easily manipulated to differentiate for multiple levels.

I will have these on students' desks on writing days to allow them to prepare mentally before we begin the writing task or assignment. Students can keep these, like a place-mat, under their writing and the rest of their work. Throughout their writing time, they can reference each of the sections as needed. Also, the laminated aspect is important as it will permit me to use a dry erase marker to circle or put marks on an individual student's Writing Mat. For instance, if one student is struggling with the rebuttal, I can flip to the back and circle that section with a red dry erase marker.

Argumentative Writing Mat Parts