Just Try-It Tuesday: Text Coding


TRY IT OUT Tuesday!

When reading, have you ever read a few sentences, paragraphs, or pages and stopped realizing that while you did read every word, you have no idea of what you just read? I imagine the problem is worse for those that lack prior knowledge, skills, interest,and attention spans – people much like my students.

Image result for image of confused reader


Just Try-It Tuesday: Text Coding: I am sure there are many factors that cause us to “zone out” – but for our students I have noticed that a lot of times when I assigned any reading to them, they had no problems decoding the words – but they didn’t have any purpose to what they were doing.  In fact – the only reason they were reading the words is because I asked them to; they were being passively compliant. Once I noticed this, I began to try some simple strategies designed to get readers to be a little more intentional while they read. I wanted them to have something going on upstairs while reading. In order to encourage more engaged reading, I simply gave students a purpose for reading the text by asking them to read with a pencil in-hand and code the text.

Text Coding isn’t anything new, high-tech, or innovative; in fact, many of you may even do versions of this.  Dr. Forget’s MAX Teaching refers to this strategy as INSERT notes. Text coding is simply a method of annotating text that follows a certain code.  A general example may look like:


Directions:  As you read, write at least 1 symbol for each paragraph.



Even a simple code like this will help some readers approach the text more actively than they would have without any direction. Now they at least they are forced into thinking;  a tiny voice in their heads is bugging them while they read: “Do you agree? disagree?”  As their teacher, I want to be that annoying voice in their heads while they are reading: “What do you think of that?  What questions do you have?”

I was never able to really get inside their head while they were reading, but asking students to code the text helped me see their thinking in a way.  I could look over their shoulders and determine which students were understanding the main points, which students were lost completely, and which parts of the text were giving the class problems.  When the reading was done, I now had a little data to inform the next part of my instruction.  Students have also already committed to writing making it easier to start a discussion.

“John, I see you have a ?ed in paragraph 3, what is your question?

“Eric, you put a star in the first paragraph, why?”

Another reason I like this is that it really puts most of the burden of learning on the students.  As a new teacher, I would often ask  students to read I immediately followed that assignment up with some whole class questioning – met with that awkward silence and maybe a few cricket chirps.  So, I did what any well-intentioned teacher would do; I summarized for them exactly what they were supposed to have read. I did all the work; they conned me into it.  They knew if they didn’t do the work of reading and understanding that  I would do it for them.  They were used to that.

I was finally able to use text coding to trick THEM into doing the work.  All they had to do was write a few symbols.  That wasn’t the important part.  It was the discussion and activities afterwards that were meaningful.  They already committed their thinking to the paper; now they had to do the explaining – not me.


The easiest way to do this is have students actually mark on the text. Sometimes this is impossible, if you are using a text book.  In this case, you can use sticky notes, or simply have students write on notebook paper and log the page and paragraph number for each entry.


There are plenty of variations of text coding that can work for any subject area or topic. Here are a few examples in various subject areas.  The important thing to note is the adaptability of the strategy. Before assigning a text for students to read, ask yourself “what conversations do I want my students to have in their heads with the text?” Then design a code that forces students to have that conversation with the text.

Themes of Biology







 Scientific Method

P – problem

H – hypothesis

T – test

A – analysis of results

D – draw conclusions


C – control

E – experiment

DV – dependent variable

IV – independent variable

S – constant (remains the Same)

 Themes of Geography

L      – Location

H         – Place – Human Geography

P     – Place – Physical Geography

E      – Human/Env. Int


M    – Movement

R     – Region

?     – I don’t understand this.

Sheet Music

M    – melody

A     – accompaniment

O         – ostinato

C     – climax

P      – phrase


S: setting

RA: Rising Action

X: Climax

FA: Falling Action

R: Resolution


TRY IT OUT Tuesdayb

 Just Try-It Challenge:  Find a reading passage you plan to use in the near future and develop a code that will give students a real purpose to read the text.  Follow the reading with carefully planned discussion where students use explain their code to their peers and whole class.

You should have a few pre-planned “destinations” for these discussions that are dictated by your learning target.  But,  you will often be pleasantly surprised at what your students will pick up on their own.


If you create your own code, please share it with me, or include it in the comments below.



15 ways to use Twitter in the classroom

To be literate in today’s high-tech society, involves understanding the new ways people are accessing and sharing information.  While there is a lot of trivial and obscene content found  on social media, used correctly it can be used to help people gain instant access to important news, information, and ideas.  twitter best practices

It seems social media is here to stay and our students will be at a disadvantage if they do not learn how to to use it responsibly.   Instead of chalking it up to a distraction, or one of those things that “kids” do – is it not our responsibility to help them leverage social media as a tool for learning? How can we teach students to be good digital citizens if we don’t allow them to practice the behaviors of digital citizens?

One way to approach this is to think about the results of a google search.  If someone were to google your name, would they hire you?  The answer to this question isn’t JUST about avoiding posting irresponsible and obscene content; it’s also about creating a digital presence that helps you get hired.  One could argue that having no digital presence is a disadvantage in a competitive job market.  How can we help teach students to create a digital footprint that is beneficial to them?

My goal today is to share a few ways teachers can help students begin to use the forces of social media, specifically Twitter, for good rather than evil. Image result for good vs evil image star wars

Before we begin here are a few important definitions:


To get some content for your news feed, get following some people.  You can follow as many or as few accounts as you want, but if you want to follow a lot of people, you can categories them by putting them into lists – just select lists from your profile page to set one up.

The Twitter search bar is pretty powerful, and is a good starting point for finding people.  Once you are following ten or so people, Twitter will start to offer you suggestions of people to follow along the themes of the people who you have followed. Once you are following someone, you will receive every tweet that they post into your news feed.


Some of the people who you follow may follow you back, but not always (celebrities or businesses probably won’t).  As a general rule, following back is considered Twitter etiquette unless they are completely irrelevant to you!

A follower is someone who will receive all of the tweets that you send out.  If one of your followers re-tweets your message (i.e. shares your message) then all of their followers will see the message too – this is how tweets can go ‘viral’!


To enable people to follow particular subjects, people tweet using a hashtag.  For example, if you wanted to spread your message about LinkedIn, you would just put ‘#LinkedIn’ in your tweet – then, someone who uses the Twitter search bar to search for ‘LinkedIn’ will see your message.  They are a good way of following and contributing to a particular subject.

– See more at: http://www.socialmediatoday.com/content/twitter-101-beginners-guide#sthash.ChNaxc1v.dpuf


  1. Creating Hash-Tags for learning communities to share ideas and resources and celebrate successes.  #oklaed is a great example of this!
  2. Teacher tweets one thing a day about what students are learning in class using school #hashtag (#PCOed).  This gives other teachers and parents a brief glimpse into some of the cool things students are learning about.
  3. Teachers upload brief demonstration videos that address common student misconceptions.
  4. Teachers can use twitter as an easy way to share articles or other important links with students using classroom #hashtags.
  5. Students summarize learning using classroom #hashtag.
  6. Students upload video asking school related questions, summarizing learning, or demonstrating mastery of a skill using class #hashtag.
  7. Admin can share great things going on all over the building using school-wide #hashtag.
  8. Get feedback on your ideas. Putting ideas on twitter gives you access to a real-world audience – especially when using a relevant #hashtag.
  9. By training students how to use social media, we can insure that they are not avoiding a digital footprint, but creating a positive digital footprint.
  10. Using twitter can help connect you with a network of like-minded colleagues, experts, and others who can help answer your questions or provide  you with feedback on your ideas.
  11. Connect with parents. Share good news, important dates, and timely study tips.
  12. Participate and/or lead Twitter chats. Where a moderator leads like-minded colleagues set a day and time to answer questions on a given topic for about an hour. #oklaed hosts a twitter chat every Sunday evening at 8:00.
  13. Allow students to tweet important points or questions during your lecture.
  14. Live tweet a text.   Students reading a text tweet their reactions, comments, questions, using a certain #hashtag.
  15. Extend learning outside of school hours by hosting Q&A sessions or encouraging students to ask each other ?’s using classroom #hashtag.

I understand that many teachers are not comfortable with Twitter and would rather avoid using social media altogether  – and for good reason.  I understand this perspective, but feel ignoring the issue altogether does little to help train students how to create a positive, and professional digital footprint. I am not advocating that we replace what we are doing in-class with online activities. I am simply advocating that we find ways to supplement our in class instruction using social media.

I don’t think Twitter – or any social media should necessarily be a required assignment.  Simply providing students with the option of sharing their class-related ideas  on social media can help them practice how to use social media responsibly.  Modeling  and reinforcing effective digital citizenship is how we can teach them to use social media as a tool.  Knowing they will have teachers, and other professional as an audience may be enough to convince them to think a little before tweeting.

Image result for image twitter in the classroom

If managed well, allowing the option for students to use social media during class may have the additional benefit of cell phones transforming from a constant distraction to a tool that students are using to learn.  Using social media might be just the thing to engage those students that crave attention; the difference is that we are managing the content they post, so that they receive attention for the right things.  Every student is different and if technology is the piece that will engage some of our learners, than we should  find ways to take advantage of it.

Just Try-It Tuesday: Involving Students in Assessment

It is no secret that it is a difficult time to be a teacher. In today’s test focused world many seem to try to whittle down student learning to a single number.  Students are much more than that number.  While I don’t believe that any test will ever be able to accurately measure learning with complete precision, I do believe that teachers can use formative assessments to help increase student achievement.  I also believe to make this process even more successful, we have to find ways to put students in the driver’s seat as best we can. Below I will discuss a few ways of doing just that.

TRY IT OUT Tuesday!

Today’s Just Try-It Challenge: In order to involve students in the assessment process help them to answer 3 questions:

  1. Where am I going?

  2. Where am I now?

  3. How can I close the gap?

Where am I going? whereami going

Sharing Specific Learning targets with students: Telling students exactly what you want them to learn and why it is important to learn it is just common sense.  It is difficult to hit a moving, or hidden, target.  Writing the target on the board (I talk about this more  here.) is a strategy to help with this, but if that is all we are doing, there may be a good chance students still can’t answer that first question.  Learning Targets should be part of our conversations with students.  We should create opportunities to make targets part of conversations with each other.

Clearly explain criteria for success:  I mentioned moving and hidden targets earlier.  Now picture a bulls eye.  What can we do to help students hit the bulls eye?  We have to show them where the bulls-eye is, and if possible make it easier to hit.  In other words students have to know what success looks like. Likewise, they need to know what missing the mark looks like. Scales/Rubrics used well are a great way of clarifying to students what different levels of success look like. However, when creating these, be sure to include concrete and descriptive language. Adding examples to rubrics is a great way of making success criteria more concrete.

Use “anchor papers” and modeling to clearly distinguish strong work from weak work:  The term anchor papers, as I am using it here, refers to student samples that represent each level of quality on a rubric or scale. Using these models helps students SEE what success and failure during the “input” stage of a lesson.

I have spent some time recently in math classes, I find most math teachers do this really well.  They spend a lot of time modeling how to complete each step of a complex process. As a result students,when it is time to practice independently  students have access to successful models in their notes.  Many math teachers also use error analysis exercises to show students common misconceptions and what weaker work may look like.  If we take the time to ask students to reflect on these models and error analyses, students will get a better idea of where they are going and what to avoid.

Sports Metaphor: Many coaches enter games with a specific game plan.  We are going to focus on stopping the run(football), or we going to attack the wings, and so on. A lot of times these plans are designed to take advantage of an opponents weakness, or counteract their strengths.

In order to execute a game plan, the players need to know a few things:

  • What is the game plan? (Communicating targets)
  • Why is it going to work? (Communicating targets)
  • How do we execute it? (Communicating targets)
  • What does it look like when done correctly? (Defining Criteria for success)
  • What happens if when not done correctly? (Defining Criteria for success)

If players are able to answer these questions in practice, chances are when it comes time for the game, they will be able to execute the game plan successfully.

Where am I now?

Image result for bullseye

Co-create rubrics with students:  Rubrics help students answer the question “What does success look like?”  However, just handing students a rubric doesn’t guarantee they understand it, know how to use it, or really care about it.

Involving the students in creating a rubric can address all of these issues.  This can be done by showing students “anchor papers” or examples of student work and asking students to analyze the work and determine the characteristics  that lead to high quality work.  Students will also be able to point out some “what-not-to-dos.” When students are involved in creating a rubric, they obviously have more awareness of what success looks like, but more importantly they have more ownership of the end product.  Once these co-created rubrics are clear, students will be able to use them to peer/self-assess.

Post-test self assessment reflections: After formative or summative assessments, it is helpful to help students analyze and reflect on their own performance.  Simply looking at the overall % of questions they got right doesn’t give them any actionable information. A self assessment would require students to reflect on their performance in regards to their learning targets. Ideally, students would be able to compare results to other assessments on the same target, so they could track any growth.

We want them to understand exactly where they were successful (this helps validate any efforts they put into the product) and exactly where they were not.  When students know exactly what they need help on, they are more likely to make an effort to improve.

Sports Metaphor: Think of a team (any sport) that just lost a game. They obviously know they lost, but may not understand why they lost. A good coach can usually pin point these reasons by analyzing the game. A coach may have team watch film and discuss when the team effectively executed game plan and where they failed to execute (Co-creating Rubrics).

The next step for the coach would be to help each player understand their own strength’s and weaknesses in regards to the game plan (Post-Test Self Assessment). The players should understand the things they should keep doing, and the things they need to do differently. Just like athletes, students need feedback to help pinpoint what’s working and what isn’t.

How do I close the gap?


Small groups: When teachers and students are aware of weaknesses, addressing them in small groups can be beneficial.  In a small group, a teacher can address a specific area of focus to only the students that need it.  This has several benefits:

  • It honors the learning of students that mastered the content.
  • Small groups results in more repetitions.
  • Small groups allows for timely feedback.
  • Students are more likely to ask questions in small groups.

Independent practice using other resources: (back to text):
Occasionally, when students fail they may have the capacity to use resources to get them back on track.  So, rereading a chapter (or more likely “actually” reading the chapter) prior to practicing may be the only intervention needed.  Providing students with directed time to access proper resources and additional practice may help them fill the gap.

Student led conference:  In some situations, short, verbal, student-led conferences can be the most efficient ways of addressing misconceptions.  Student-led conferences occur when the student is in the driver seat and reflects on mistakes or misconceptions and/or explains to the teacher how they have improved their learning or addressed a misconceptions.  These can take several forms, but ultimately involve the student being accountable for their learning by discussing how their work is evidence of mastery.

Involve parents: Parents can sometimes be an untapped resource.  It is true that some parents struggle to be involved in their students’ education.  This lack of involvement seems to increase as students get older.  However, this does not always mean that parents aren’t concerned and do not want to help.  In some cases, it may be that parents just don’t know how to help.  By the time students are in high school, the subject matter is very complex, and most parents aren’t experts in the subject matter.

Rather than overlooking them as a resource, it may help to communicate with them exactly how they can help. This may be as simple as keeping them informed about learning targets, due dates, projects, and tests, but can also involve sending them simple practice exercises or questions to discuss their kids.

Sports Metaphor: Coaches are great at identifying specific areas of improvement their players need.  Here are some ways coaches help players fill the gaps:

  • While the team is working on something else, a targeted group of players  work with an assistant coach on a specific skill (small group).
  • Coaches may assign certain players to do spend practice time watching a  speed/agility training video and practice independently using a  speed ladder (independent practice).
  • Coaches often discuss outcomes of matches with individuals and allow the player to lead the discussion asking them questions like “How did you do?” or “What do you think you need to work on moving forward?” These reflective conversations help players be accountable for their learning and provides them with a plan to improve” (student-led conference).
  • Youth coaches communicate often with parents about their child’s progress and share quick, easy activities that parents can help their kids with at home. (Involving parents).TRY IT OUT Tuesdayb

Closing Remarks: The most successful people have an idea of where they are headed, where they are currently, and what to do in order to get to where they want to go.

The answers to three questions are not easy to come by for all students.  We may be tempted to simply give them the answers and expect them to improve, but the real learning occurs when we create situations where students answer these on their own.




Just Try-It Tuesday: Adding Movement to Your Classroom

Most of us who have been in education for sometime have more than likely heard this phrase: “The mind can only absorb what the seat can endure.”

While this statement is a bit of an oversimplification of a complex topic, there has been a lot of brain-research* done that links physical movement to increasing engagement and academic performance.  I don’t want to spend much time dwelling in the research or theory, but if you are interested in accessing the research, I have listed a few names you may want to begin with below.

[*For information on Brain Research  and it’s connection with instruction consider work of Eric Jensen, David Sousa, Laurie Materna.]

Despite substantial evidence that movement is effective with helping students learn, we often expect students to be at their best while sitting still the majority of the day.  This is not an attack on any current practices, or a call to have students move around just for the sake of moving. This is a challenge to empathize with students who spend the majority of an 8-hour day sitting.  How can we adjust many of the practices we currently use to add a little movement?

TRY IT OUT Tuesday!

This weeks Just Try-It Tuesday  Challenge:  This week challenge yourselves to get your students up and moving at least once per hour.  Use any of the tips below, or create your own activity then reflect on the results.

While there are many ways to add movement in the classroom, I am going to focus on two general categories:

Move to Discuss:  Small group and whole-class discussions occur in just about every classroom every day. With small adjustments, we can add movement to these discussions to engage and energize students.

Move to Review:  Checking for understanding is a common best practice in most classrooms. There are many ways to assess students progress on a learning target.  This category focuses on kinesthetic learning activities that require students to practice a skill or deepen understanding of content.

Move to Discuss

Having kids move to discuss is a simple way of incorporating movement into the classroom.  Having students move around to discuss answers to interesting questions is a great way to engage and energize a class.  There are many variations and structures to achieve this, but the bottom line is to have students stand up,move somewhere, and discuss content. 

This can be done in any stage of a lesson to preview content and generate interest, to allow students to process content through out a lecture, or to have students reflect on what they have learned at the end of a lesson.

Variations: Line-ups, inner circle outer circle, Stir the Class, Partner appointments…

Line-ups/ Inner Circle Outer Circle: These structures involve Image result for image of inner circle outer circlestudents pairing off in either two parallel lines facing each other or in two circles (one inside the other) facing each other and rotating at different intervals.

Stir the Class/Appointments: These just involve students roaming the room and finding partners they are not sitting by.  Stir the class is more random, while appointments involve finding a per-determined partner (probably best for classes that need more structure).

Many teachers ask great discussion questions during class. The problem is a lot of the time those questions are typically only answered by students who volunteer the answer or, even worse, answered by the teacher after an awkward silence.  Asking students to stand up and move to discuss is not only a good alternative to the typical classroom – it provides a great setting where you can observe what students really do and don’t know.

A teacher’s role in this activity shifts from being the provider of information to the provider of feedback.  Here teachers can roam and offer precise feedback on the behaviors of students and/or the quality of response. While students’ role changes from simply receiving information to a more active role where they are held accountable to do something with the content.

Move To Review:

This is similar to the above but involves factual content rather than open-ended discussion questions.  These variations should work well when you want students to receive multiple exposures to knowledge they have been taught or receive more repetitions of a skill they should already be able to perform.

Variations: “Who can do it -Grid”, Sorting or categorizing, Role Play/ Dramatizations…

Who can do it Grid: This involves creating a grid with questions and/or tasks.  Students wander around the room and find “peer experts” to help with each task. Only the owner of the template can write on the paper – this ensures that each student is required to process each task.

Sorting and Categorizing: Students stand up around a work-space and work together to create a poster or use manipulatives to sort content into appropriate categories. (types of fig. language, main topics and supporting details, topic sentences and supporting  details, main topics and examples…) To monitor learning ask students to explain their rationale for their sorts.

Role Play or Dramatizations: One way to incorporate movement into quick formative assessments is to have students develop short skits, role -plays, or   tableau vivants to demonstrate understanding. This not only to helps break up the monotony of traditional paper pencil tasks, but also provides students a unique way to show their learning – but is a way for students to use creativity to explain their understanding of complex topics.

When considering these activities, each could be achieved more quickly with a simple worksheet or paper/pencil quiz. At times ,I would even argue that worksheets/quizzes would be appropriate.  Moving to review is about giving students different ways, often more rigorous, to provide evidence of learning.

You can ask students to complete a simple matching or fill in the blank  vocab quiz, or you can ask them to create a poster in which they sort vocab words into appropriate categories providing a rationale.  Both have merit, but replacing paper-pencil activities by adding movement the latter removes the ceiling for students and provides an opportunity for them to do some critical thinking.

Keys to Success:

  • Prepare high level, open-ended discussion prompts or tasks ahead of time.
  • Avoid literal or factual questions when your goal is to promote discussion.
  • Avoid open ended abstract questions when your goal is to check for understanding of factual knowledge or practicing a basic skill.
  • Make sure students are aware of the topic and process they will use to discuss (more on clear directions here).
  • Make sure students understand when to start and stop an activity (using timers and attention signals helps with this).
  • Incorporate a method that will hold each student individually accountable for what was discussed (follow up questions, written reflection, …)
  • Teach, model, practice social skills required to effectively work in groups.
  • Avoid typical group work by adhering to Cooperative Learning Principles.
  • Follow these activities with short,  whole- class debriefing sessions to identify misconceptions and build shared understandings.
Closing Thoughts

If you are looking for a way to increase engagement, rigor, and energy in your class, tweaking your lessons to include a little movement might just to the trick. You can add movement in your class to allow students to discuss important content with their peers. Or you can replace traditional worksheets/quizzes with activities that give students other avenues to provide evidence of learning.  Just Try-It!

TRY IT OUT Tuesdayb