Angel Island: Ellis Island of the West

To embrace experiential learning, I recently planned a field to Angel Island for my students. The purpose of this trip was to examine the impact of early 20th century immigration on American Literature, specifically poetry.

We explored the US Immigration Station and journeyed back in time through the engraved poems on the walls of the barracks. Excitedly haunting.

To keep young minds thinking and reflective, I developed an interactive activity packet that incorporates concepts from Facing History And Ourselves, specifically from Race and Membership in American History: The Eugenics Movement. This packet is also aligned to the four broad 11-12 CCSS: Reading, Writing, Speaking & Listening, and Language.

If you find yourself searching for a little extra something to keep your students intrigued and bring in some cross-curricular connections to US History, check out this packet. In fact, you may not even have to journey to Angel Island to complete it. Modify it to your heart’s content, but if you do use it, drop a little line of credit my way, please. 🙂

Angel Island Activity Packet


Two Writing Strategies using Google Docs

This past Sunday, I met a super great teacher, Sarah Press, during the weekly #caedchat. The topic was about reading (a super great follow-up to this year’s keynote speaker, LeVar Burton, at CUE 2014.

At one point, we got to a question regarding how we can motivate students to read, to get them excited, what strategies we use, yada, yada, yada. There were so many amazing ideas circulating that my brain was oozing from my ears. The level of creativity is incredible, and I was so glad that I was able to be part of that.

Sarah inquired more about two my strategies: Combined Commentary and SOC Reflections. Both of these use GDocs.

Combined Commentary – super great to elicit active reading and to generate annotated responses to reading. This is collaborative. It’s bloggish with post/reply style, but perhaps easier to scroll through and track info along the way.

SOC Reflections – 20/20 concept. Read for 20 minutes (no stress on how much is read, just that there’s 20 minutes of reading). Write for 20 minutes. Writing is in a Stream of Consciousness fashion, and no stopping allowed. This is really great for authentic assessment on a chunk of reading, and another great way to promote active reading – thinking/reflecting about what was just read.

In both strategies, students have the opportunity to return back to these documents when it comes time to writing essays, holding class discussions, etc.

For a walk-through and visual, check out the 2 3-minute videos linked above.

Let’s make the best of it: Common Core and Writing

Here’s a short and sweet post. Knowing that I didn’t have to implement CCSS at the beginning of the school year, I still went along and did so that I can practice with the standards and plan out my units aligned with at least the broader standards at hand for 11-12 ELA: Reading, Listening & Speaking, Writing, and Language. Specifically, I wanted to make sure that, as an 11th grade English teacher, my students are as best prepared in writing as possible.

Writing argumentation, narration, general essays, and research, in and out of timed settings, is a skill set regardless regardless of career or content area. If you can’t write well, how can you communicate your thoughts, intentions, and findings well? As a professor of mine once said, “Fuzzy writing = fuzzy thinking.” You don’t want people to think that you think fuzzily (is that a word?) based on what you produce in terms of writing, do you?

So I went ahead and designed writing rubrics aligned with the 11-12 Writing standard of CCSS that could be applied to the different writing formats within the curriculum.

I’m not saying that they are perfect and the end all be all of writing rubrics aligned with this specific set of standards. I’m saying that it was a good starting point for me to work with this school year, and now that I’ve had time to work with them for nearly a full school year, I’d like to share them out with you.

Use them. Don’t use them. Share them. If you have ideas on how to improve them, let me know.

I do, however, request, that if you do find some use with them, give me some line of credit? Please? Would really appreciate at least that much 🙂

 CCSS 11-12 Writing Rubric – Narrative

CCSS 11-12 Writing Rubric – Essays

CCSS 11-12 Writing Rubric – Argumentation

CCSS 11-12 Writing Rubric – Research Paper

Process vs. Product

I recently posed the question of when does scaffolding become too much – too much of it, for students and for teachers.

“Instructional scaffolding is a learning process designed to promote a deeper level of learning. Scaffolding is the support given during the learning process which is tailored to the needs of the student with the intention of helping the student achieve his/her learning goals (Sawyer, 2006).”

When I think of IS, I think of learning the scales before learning to play a whole song on a musical instrument. You have to learn the basics and the fundamentals that can be applied later on. As a child, I hated the rudimentary approach to the holistic learning. Why not learn the notes to the song and then just go ahead and learn to play the song? Did learning the scales help me play Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” any better? I wanted the excitement of learning to play the cool pieces, not what I saw as the dull essentials that took the fun out of the big picture. Do the small goals really help to the big goals?

Now as a teacher, I try to empathize with my students when it comes to learning in the classroom. Here, though, replace scales with sentence structure and the whole song with some form of writing – essay, short story, narrative, expository, persuasion. Essays require formal writing skills (e.g. MLA, APA). Short stories require certain elements (i.e. plot). Narration, expository, and persuasive writing each have their own characteristics that make them what they are. And without learning the basics, you can’t write the intended piece. You can’t manipulate the basics until you have learned them. Think of Maria explaining to the children that the individual notes are “only the tools we use to build a song. Once you have these notes in your heads, you can sing a million different tunes by mixing them up.” This is perhaps an answer to the former question – the small goals of learning the notes helps you sing or play the bigger piece at hand. By learning and understanding the characteristics of Magical Realism allows you to write a Magical Realism tale – you can’t write one until you know the basics.

Now that I think I have resolved my question of do we or don’t we need the small goals, to which the answer is yes, we do, I’m still left to wonder when does how much become too much? Understand by Design – the backward design. We know what the goal is, but how much scaffolding (i.e. “performance assessments” in the UbD framework) is too much?

While the intention of the strategy is positive, too much of IS may create an overwhelming environment. Let me list some rhetorical questions that I’ve been grappling with.

  1. Does every piece of IS require grading and thus increase the amount of grades in the grade book?
  2. Does more IS = more grading for teachers
  3. Does more IS = emphasizes the minute picture rather the big goal for students

Let’s be honest – there is a great deal of emphasis on grades. High school. College. Transcripts. Jobs.  Can we and should we change the grading approach? That’s a color of a different horse and too much to take on for the intention of this reflection, but it does deserve recognition for future discussion. I digress. Should scaffolding be graded? Should the process be graded? Grades, yes, can reflect students’ process – think of quiz grades indicating a students’ ability to perform before the final exam. How do you measure mastery of the process? Should the grades be left to the final product with only feedback up until then?

I think that I’m in line with many in the field of education in believing that through Inquiry-Based Learning, Problem-Based Learning, and Project-Based Learning, students learn the life skills required for outside of the brick and mortar school systems – team work, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity. But even with that, those with the powers at hand like to see success, and see/define success through posted grades.

Scaffolding paves the way for feedback, for mastery, for an understanding of the fundamentals. But on what do we, or should we, place the emphasis and at the very least, what goes into the grade book – the process or the product?

Is #flippedlearning a Controversy?

Recently, I attended and presented at the annual American Education Research Association Image conference, this time located in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. But using social media, specifically Twitter, I felt anything but love.

This conference attracts a different type of audience compared to say Image, Image, and Image. Papers, that’s right, papers that are submitted as proposals and blindly peer-reviewed are based on research, not anecdotes. There is fierce competition as to whose study is better, fear of research fraud, and divisions of multiple facets of perspectives ranging from curriculum design, teacher education, educational policy, organization and leadership, LGBTQ issues, and minority studies to just name a few.  Imagine 20 some thousand researchers in some realm of education vying for recognition as the best; and then not to mention the multitude of SIGs (Special Interest Groups) that allow members to be part of sub-specialty areas of interest.

Membership within Divisions and SIGs might very well be deepening a closed minded approach to education. Are we losing, or have we already lost, the bigger picture at hand? At the very heart of our work, we must strive for what is in the best interest of the students. Don’t we? Shouldn’t we?

So you might ask yourself, why do I attend and present at this type of conference? Because I genuinely enjoy conducting research and educational theory, and then aligning findings and basic fundamentals to practice. Consider that as my way of blending my learning.

Of the three papers I submitted, two were accepted – 66% acceptance rate is pretty darn good. One such paper is based on the instructional concept of flipped learning, but supported by theory. So it’s not just anecdotal, it’s theoretical.

As many of us are so familiar with presenting at large conferences, we know that we ironically cannot depend on technology. Needless to say, the room in which I was scheduled to present my panel-based paper did not have reliable Wi-Fi, if it did in fact kick in. So afterward, I took some key points from my paper and tweeted them out, with a #flippedlearning and #aera14 attached. The basis for my research was examining the theoretically-based cognitive implications and learning outcomes when using this given instructional design in a specific content area with a specific sample of a larger population – math and undergraduate nursing students. I didn’t explore the pragmatics of the implementation of the instruction because first, that wasn’t my intention and second, I’m the one who supplied the materials to conduct as controlled of a study as possible. No malice intended.


Perhaps I had forgotten that I was within the lion’s den or perhaps I’d become so accustomed to collaborative and team support from attendance and presentation at ed tech conferences that my own vulnerability and naiveté placed me in a peace, love, happiness state, or perhaps I really do live in a sheltered yet progressive educational part of the country. Regardless, I did not think that my few tweets would garner such negative responses. Some responses included:

  • “I read it as a dreadfully diminutive model of teaching.” BUT…



  • “#flippedlearning is a cop out…corporate privatization technique – socialize the risk, privatize the profit” BUT…


  • “And that’s part of the failure of #flippedlearning…reducing pedagogy to the transfer of content.” BUT…Image

Dispersed throughout such comments were two aggravating phrases:

  1. “IMO” – in my opinion
  2. “…how I define…”

Those two phrases are empty. When it comes to research, personal opinions don’t really matter (they do, but they don’t), and how someone personally defines something (unless you are a well-versed, highly published scholar in the respective area) means dirt. Subjectivism has no place. It’s all about objective presentation based on what the literature says. Personal stories like “In my classroom…” or “I do it this way…” are not generalizable facts. Comments should be supported with relevant research. And that wasn’t happening.

These negative responses came from only 3-4 people out of thousands, and lasted for a couple of days, but who knows who . Maybe it lasted longer; I don’t know because I had finally asked the tweeters to remove me from their mentions. It’s not because I wasn’t interested in reading their concerns. I wasn’t interested in reading their constant negative viewpoints without any proposed solutions to their concerns, and above all, I wasn’t interested in conversing with people who had no interest in learning about the theoretical foundations that do in fact support the cognitive implications and the learning outcomes of #flippedlearning that I initially hypothesized.

Trained as an instructional designer and educational theorist, I approach situations as methodically and rationally as I can. I thrive on learning as much information as possible before making a decision. And maybe that’s why I was taken so aback when (what I deem as) irrational comments started coming in about #flippedlearning. When someone does not know the entire presentation, don’t jump to conclusions and automatically negatively criticize 140-character snipit of a bigger whole. Ask some bigger, non-derogatory questions rather than assuming and attacking.

After the initial shock, I took some time to reflect on this trendy instructional design that is intended to help rather than hinder, to aid and facilitate rather than suppress and overwhelm. And what I began to question, “is #flippedlearning a controversy?”

  1. What about the schools that do not have technology to flip?
  2. What about the students who do not have Internet at home?
  3. What about the students who do not have technological devices outside of school, if in fact the school has such devices?

Cognitive load and learning outcomes aside, how accessible is #flippedlearning outside of Silicon Valley?