Thursday, December 31, 2015

4 Things I Love About OneNote Class Notebook

1. Instant Delivery
I LOVE that I can instantly deliver class content (handouts/notes/images/links) by placing them in the Content Library.  The Content Library makes my documents read-only until they are placed in a student notebook tab which means I don't have to worry about my master copy getting any unintentional (or, let's face it, intentional) adjustments by students.  Students can copy those documents/links/pages very easily and paste them into their notebooks within seconds of seeing them in the Content Library.  Easy, quick, and reliable!

2. Collaboration Space
The Collaboration Space has been instrumental this school year as my students work in groups to answer their driving questions.  Students love that they can see what their group members are working on.  It helps group leaders keep other group members accountable and makes this type of collaboration accessible for everyone in the group.  I love to be able to monitor what they are doing and enjoy having one location for all group work.

3. Audio/Video Recording
Having students do quick audio/video responses to prompting questions or lessons in class has become a frequent practice in my classroom.  Not only does it allow me to gauge student understanding, but it also provides a venue for students to practice their speaking skills (a long-lost set of standards and skills that middle schoolers desperately need).  They enjoy listening to themselves and are more thoughtful in their responses when they are being filmed/recorded.

4. Inking
Grading essays became so much easier when I implemented inking in OneNote.  Students submit their papers on a 'turn in' page for their assignment which not only allows me to see the timestamp (monitoring edits), but also allows me to easily find their work.  Then, I pick up my Surface Pen and ink directly on their essays.  I also provide audio feedback directly on the page in their notebook so that they can listen to my comments as well as read any editing that I've indicated on their essays.  I love not having a stack of papers and students love that they can see the feedback I add to their essays as quickly as I complete it!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Swaying Away in Humanities

This is the second month that my Humanities students have been using Sway.  Primarily, it has been used to facilitate group consensus statements. 

First, I should probably define a consensus statement.  In Humanities, we do a great deal of group discussion before we "answer" open-ended or critical thinking questions.  The groups then developed a consensus statement, which is a well-written glimpse at the discussion.  It is almost as if this statement is a window into the discussion.  All group members should agree on the statement and everyone's ideas should be represented. 

I've had students create consensus statements and submit them in a variety of formats: a single paragraph answer that is read to the class, a class Verso discussion, and a Sway.  My favorite, when doing a novel study, is using the Sway.  Students are always amazed at how easy it is to make a well-designed response.  They add to their group's Sway so that by the end of the selection/novel, they have some culminating answers that will help them prepare for the assessment and will capture the most important aspects of the piece.

Pros of using Sway for this activity:
  • Simplistic
  • Easy to share
  • Many authors can manipulate the content, but it appears cohesive due to the layouts

Cons of using Sway:
  • Difficult to change groups
  • Limited in the types of responses at this time (voice recording would be AMAZING)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Using Sway

As an English/Language Arts teacher, I find that I typically have my students writing in one, at times boring, format- the typical word processed paper.  Writing encompasses over half of my state standards and a large portion of the standardized test, so having students practice this as often as possible is a necessary evil.  Students quickly type responses to prompts or questions and then I read through them, grade/respond, and hand them back (either virtually or on actual paper- archaic, I know).  Thanks to Sway, I'm finding that this process is much more enjoyable for both my students and myself!

Recently, I have been having my Humanities students write their "responses" in Word within Office 365.  After they have completed a series, these students then add these "responses" to a Sway and create a digital newspaper, complete with images.

Not only does this break up the monotony of grading multiple assignments written on the same topic, it also adds a higher level of understanding on the part of the students because they have to consider visual appeal, add images, and make design choices that they may not have done previously.  Additionally, the ability to share when using Sway has been invaluable.  Students can very easily see each other's work by sharing the link in their OneNote Class Notebooks, emailing it to their parents, and even sharing information online with the world! 

I created a very basic Office Mix to introduce Sway to my students.  They watched the tutorial and were able to complete their first Sway (by copying and pasting from Word in Office 365) within minutes.  Students had very few questions and really enjoyed the 'remix' and design features.  I am definitely using this tool throughout the remainder of the school year!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Instructional Coaching- Life made easy with Office Mix

If there is one tech tool that has helped me make the transition from full-time Language Arts teacher to a half-time teacher and half-time instructional coach, it is Office Mix on my Surface Pro 3.  I'm often asked to create tutorials for strategies and techniques demonstrated during our weekly PD sessions for teachers who want a refresher course or were absent.  Where do I turn?  Office Mix!  This effective PowerPoint add-in easily allows large PD-leading PowerPoint presentations to become intimate and usable tutorials. 

It is a tech-coach's dream because I only have to perform the tutorial ONCE and it is forever recorded and is easily shared with any colleagues who may want more practice or to try things with the video.  Countless teachers have commented that they love these videos.  Little did they know, it is our familiar go-to (PowerPoint) with a little more razzle-dazzle!

I've linked a few samples of recent tutorials that I created for my teachers below.

Office Mix can easily be added to your PowerPoint through a quick download.  Our tech department recently sent it out for all teacher computers.  I'm excited to see my colleagues begin to play with this efficient, effective, and exciting new tool!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Ready, Set, Launch!

After a summer full of professional development, my brain is absolutely packed with new and exciting tools and strategies to try in my Humanities classroom.  One tool that I am going to implement day one is the OneNote Class Notebook.  I use my Surface Pro 3 and Surface 3 to run this amazing program.  I've played with it quite a bit in the past, but have never used it as a primary tool in my classroom.  This year, I've fully committed to being as paperless as possible, and the OneNote Class Notebook is the tool that I'm going to use to help me achieve this goal!

To introduce the OneNote Class Notebook to my students, I first showed them THIS VIDEO from the OneNote for Teachers website.  I then had students login to their Office 365 accounts, and open OneDrive.  I had previously created their OneNote Class Notebooks and shared those with them, so they were able to click on their 'Shared with Me' link and see the notebook.  They then launched OneNote Online by clicking on the link.  After the program opened, they clicked on the 'Open in OneNote' button at the top.

At this point, I began to play the tutorial video for OneNote Class Notebooks.  Students watched the video and walked through the steps on their own Class Notebook pages.  It gave them a great overview of the program and allowed them to "try" things while still being directed.  Since the tutorial was doing the "teaching", I was able to walk through the classroom and help my 30 students navigate and troubleshoot any issues.

We had a few glitches and a few computers struggled to load the full version of OneNote, but after the initial class period (48 minutes), students had a working knowledge of the program and were ready to begin the next lesson using the program.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Vocabulary Activity: Fortunes

I always struggle making vocabulary engaging (beyond the gestures and worksheets).  One activity that always has my students excited to interact with words is called Fortunes.  I true Chinese fortune fashion, we create fortunes for each other using vocabulary words in context.  This activity allows for creative writing while being brief.  With the time constraints on teachers in our high-stakes testing situation, Fortunes is an activity that can be completed in under 10 minutes.


  1. Pass out a small slip of paper to each student.
  2.  Ask students to write a "fortune" on the slip of paper in a complete sentence.  I use the slide (image below) to guide their fortune writing.  I place emphasis on the no death/dismemberment section because, let's be honest, middle schoolers love that kind of gore and, though it catches their attention, it has no place in the ELA classroom.
  3. Have students fold up their fortunes and place them in a hat/container.
  4. Redistribute the fortunes by having each student choose one out of the hat/container.  
  5. Read the fortunes aloud and see what their futures hold!  Note: they LOVE doing this part!

7th Grade Humanities

This year, a colleague and I are embarking on a new challenge: a collaborative co-taught Humanities class.  The class is going to encompass both 7th grade Language Arts AND 7th grade Social Studies. In an effort to best prepare our students for the state test along with our need to have a different type of class for some of our students, we have developed an inquiry based curriculum that is driven by a large project.  Before I get to the nuts and bolts of the class (see future post), I thought I'd share some of the steps that we have taken in order to get this class up and running.

1. Get approval and support from the building level administrator.
We are super lucky because our building administrator is very supportive and is willing to take a risk with us.  I can't tell you how important it is to have you administrator behind you, especially when you're taking a risk.  Props to Mr. R!  He helped us create a course description and helped us go through some of the steps below.  We couldn't have done it without his guidance and support.

2. Get approval from district administrators
This involved quite a few emails.  We emailed our course description, a list of supplies that we would need for the class, and a description of how students would be selected for the class.  Again, we were very lucky.  Our superintendent saw a value in what we are trying to do and was very supportive.

3. Get approval from the school board
We pitched our class to the Board at a meeting.  We presented our course description, rationale, resources requested, and fielded questions from the Board members.  They all seemed very excited about this class, but were concerned about the application/selection process.  Thankfully, our building administrator was in attendance and helped us answer some of the more difficult questions.

4. Determine the schedule and capacity
After getting approval, we then had to see when and where this class would take place.  We wanted to be sure that students in this class were getting the same amount of class time dedicated to Social Studies and Language Arts as all of the other students in their grade level.  For that reason, the scheduling was somewhat difficult.  We had to find 2.5 class periods for these students to be together.  We also had to consider a class capacity.  This was difficult because we were essentially taking two classes (roughly 50 students) and determining how many we could fit into a single classroom.  For the first year, we decided that we would accept 30 applicants.  In the future, this class will most likely be available to 50-60 students.  Thankfully the class coming up to 7th grade is relatively small, so it didn't impact other classes that much.

5. Pitch the class to students
This was the interesting part.  We held a meeting in the morning for any interested 6th graders.  We had a packed house!  Even after talking about the requirements, we still had many students apply.  I'm sure that it partially is due to the fact that this is a "special" class.  A video promotion and talk given by both of us (the teachers for the class) was enough to encourage many students to complete the application.

6. Hold an informational meeting for parents
We held a meeting after school for any interested students and their parents.  We aim to have full transparency with our curriculum and wanted parents to know that there would be a different teaching and learning style in this course.  Many parents came and asked great questions.  They were able to look at the class resources, see the course description, ask questions about grading, and get to know the teachers a little before the applications were due.

7. Select students
Students had to 1- attend the student meeting, 2- have a parent attend the parent meeting, and 3-submit an application. If they did all of those things, they were put in the running.  After we had a list of perspective students, we asked their 6th grade teachers to let us know if any of the applicants struggled with group work or independent thinking.  After that, student names were literally placed in a bucket and drawn out.  We emailed parents and let students know if they were accepted.

We are currently working on our curriculum, which I will share in detail at a later time.  Hopefully this listicle will help you if you are interested in starting a new class at your school! 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Vocabulary Activity: Gesture Like You Mean It!

I don't know about you, but vocabulary is one of the most difficult lessons to make "fun".  Sure, my students have done Marzanno's drawings and the perfunctory exercises, but I always struggle finding ways to make vocabulary lessons enjoyable for both my students and myself.  One of the best strategies that I've used in my classroom with my 7th grade students is to do hand motions with the words. 

Credit for this activity goes to my high school Spanish teacher, Mrs. Smoker, who always required gestures when learning new words.  Kudos to you, Sra. Smoker.  The Spanish may not have stuck, but I DID get something out of those classes.

After introducing, pronouncing, and defining vocabulary words, we create gestures that go with each word's meaning.  I must be honest, some students who are "too cool for school" roll their eyes, but eventually, peer pressure takes over and they are emphatically waving their arms like the rest of the class.

Throughout the week, whenever there is a moment of free time, I will announce a word, and expect that my students will immediately do the motions (and, for the most part, they do).  Not only does this break up the worksheets, it REALLY HELPS them learn their words.  I even witness a student or two each week performing their gestures discretely under their desks as they take their weekly quiz.

We use Word Up Flocabulary in a very abbreviated form.  My colleagues and I call this "Frankensteining" (which we know isn't a real word).  The entire workbook is too daunting to complete for every unit, so a smaller portion with different exercises is used instead.  We really like their word lists (words that they can actually use in their writing) and the students enjoy the raps.  If you subscribe to their online version, they have videos as well.  Fun!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Writing Quality Constructed Response Questions

During the last post, I discussed my main strategy for teaching my students HOW to answer constructed response answers.  Rigor is often a topic that is discussed at professional development meetings that I attend/facilitate.  How can we create an accessible but rigorous curriculum?  how can other content areas support what we are doing in Language Arts?  How can content areas be assured that they are hitting the literacy standards for their area?

Creating quality constructed response questions can help emphasize analysis and using textual evidence in ANY content area and can help increase RIGOR.  We're really talking about asking students reach at least level three in the Depth of Knowledge Levels.

First, I share with teachers three ways to create a quality constructed response question.

Then, I share the rubric that is used by our state.  I always encourage teachers to use the rubric that is on the state assessment so that students are familiar with exactly what is expected.  This also allows teachers to gauge where students are during their class work.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Constructed Response Ninjas

When I introduce constructed response questions to my students, I am met with the typical middle school response to anything that makes them think: a groan, slouching in their chairs, and eyes to the ceiling.  The concept has, it seems, been drilled into their brains for many years, but they still can't seem to master the skill of answering such a question.  A few years ago, my district brought in Smeckens to help us with Language Arts mini lessons and preparations for the state assessments.  The strategies that they taught, along with the collective ideas from other amazing department members in my school, have helped me make my students Constructed Response Ninjas.  Now when my students encounter the dreaded constructed response questions, they meet it with the confidence and stealth of a trained ninja.

Introductory Lesson:

This lesson is taught the first week of school (as constructed response is a part of EVERY unit throughout the year).  We begin with a brief introduction of the question type and answer format called Yes Ma'am (acronym courtesy of Smeckens).

Yes Ma'am Challenge Lesson:

After the initial lesson, and A LOT of practice with the basic format, we take it a step further by completing a Yes Ma'am Challenge.

A few things to note:
1. Smeckens is amazing.  Highly recommended and extremely valuable.
2. We use the acronym Yes Ma'am, but move away from calling those questions "Yes Ma'am Questions" and instead use the term Constructed Response.  We value the acronym, but feel that it is important for our students to know the official term for this type of response.
3. My colleagues, who helped create these lessons, rock!