A Group Doth Not a Team Make

Guest post by By Chad Dumas, Educational Consultant, Author, Trainer, and Collaborator

Author of Let’s Put the C in PLC: A Practical Guide for School Leadershttp://www.NextLearningSolutions.com


#LetsPuttheCinPLC #Teams

You’ve likely heard the cliché, “There’s no ‘I’ in TEAM.”

While this is true in a literal sense, the development and growth of individual members, coupled with the development of the group, is what makes all the difference in whether or not a team is effective.

Element Three of what school leaders need to know to create a collaborative workplace environment is all about teaming. Let’s take a look at a few practical applications of what it means to build teams: Effective grouping, Focusing the work, Using protocols, and Networking.

Effective Grouping

First of all, the ideal group size is three to five; effectiveness of groups tends to diminish with six or more members.

Second, just because a grouping of staff makes sense to you doesn’t mean that it makes sense to everyone else.


Use data. Both professional practice data and student learning results.

While it may make sense, scheduling-wise or from a theoretical perspective, to group a Special Education teacher with the Algebra I teachers, or the elementary Counselor with a specific grade-level, or all of the “specials” together…it may not make sense for the purpose of improving professional practice and results for kids. Group for improving practice and for student learning only, even if it’s harder.

Further, groups don’t need to be set in stone for all eternity. Flex. Use that data. And Talk.

Here are two questions that can be helpful in talking with colleagues about appropriate groupings:

  • What does your student data show you about what their needs are? (Student data)
  • What do you need to learn in order to be able to meet those needs? (Professional practice data like observations, evaluations, and self-assessments)

These questions, openly asked and genuinely pursued, create possibilities for groupings that will build a collaborative environment, maximize the time of staff, and improve both our practice and results for students.

Focusing the work

Of course, thoughtfully and collaboratively grouping staff together is just the first step. What is the “stuff” of effective teams?

Quite simply, the focus is on improving teaching and learning. This is the filter through which we ask ourselves if we are doing the right work.

Not field trips. Not bus coordination. Not arrival and dismissal schedules.

Improving teaching and learning.

The work to improve teaching and learning can be thought of in three big areas:

  • Working, planning, and thinking together
  • Reflecting via dialogue regarding professional issues
  • Observing and reacting to teaching, curriculum, and assessment

If we are doing any of these three, while focused on improving teaching and learning, then we’re doing the right work.

Using protocols

No one ever trained us how to collaborate. And it doesn’t come naturally.

Sure, we can get along. But collaboration to improve teaching and learning? That’s a whole other realm.

One effective answer? Protocols

I’m reminded of a study from Google from a few years ago. They looked at teams in their organization and tried to figure out why certain teams were successful and others were not.

What made effectiveness was not the degrees of the individuals. Or their expertise. Or how much they liked each other.

What made effectiveness was two things: 1) Social sensitivity and 2) Equity of turn-taking.

Social sensitivity involves the ability to read each other’s non-verbal cues and then respond accordingly. And turn-taking is just making sure that everyone has a voice and that one or two individuals don’t overpower others.

In times of heightened awareness of equitable practices for students, it behooves us to also consider equitable practices with adults. In other words, making sure that all voices are in the room, no matter their color, gender or other reason someone may not be heard. And beyond simply being heard, making sure that all voices are valued as we welcome and encourage diverse views.

While social sensitivity is more nuanced and requires time, patience, and a host of other characteristics, ensuring the equity of turn-taking is a relatively simple proposition that can be solved through the use of protocols.

There are lots of protocols that can be helpful. A couple of my favorites are Trios PPPI (from the Thinking Collaborative) and The Last Word Protocol (from the School Reform Initiative).

Here are two great resources of protocols and strategies for improving our practice: School Reform Initiative and Adaptive Schools Strategies.

Before you jump in, two pieces of advice:

  • Know the protocol REALLY well before using it, and
  • If at all possible, try the protocol out with those who don’t have a vested interest before using it with colleagues.

I’ve seen protocols fall flat on their face more than once, and then this leaves a sour taste in people’s mouths. So don’t wing it.


Finally, observation can be a powerful tool.

Engage each other in observing effective teams in action. Go and visit–be a mouse in the corner and just observe.

Then reflect with each other and make changes to your own practice.

We learn a ton by seeing others, comparing their practice against our own, and then making changes to improve our work.

The Power of One

Never underestimate the power of one person to alter the dynamics of a group.

A few years ago I was in a meeting with both building principals and district leaders.

It was heated.

Whatever the topic was, passions were flying. And little movement was being seen.

At one point, a member lifted their palm-up hand in front of them and, in a calm voice, said, “So….[with an appropriate pause]. It seems as though we’re concerned about three things. First… Second… Third…”

The entire room was stunned into silence as the temperature came down, we looked at each other and said, “Yep–that’s about right”.

Had she not done this, I don’t know how long we would have gone nor how futile our efforts would have been.

While there is no “I” in “TEAM,” there are definitely individuals. And an optimum number of individuals doing the right work, focusing on improving teaching and learning, and learning from others are the foundation of high quality teams.

Question for Reflection

  • What steps might I take to increase the effectiveness of our team(s)?

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Check out Genially!

Genially has been on my list of tools to check out for quite some time and I finally made it a point to get started. After seeing so many awesome presentations and hearing the conversations happening in different educator communities on Facebook and Twitter, I decided to dive right in.

As a language teacher, I love giving my students a lot of different choices for creating with the language to not only help them to build their language skills but also technology skills and also promote digital citizenship. For each level of Spanish, I often provide multiple digital options for students to explore so they can find something that sparks curiosity for learning. I’m always excited to learn from the students based on all of the unique choices they make for creating something that is of interest to them.

Where to begin

I started with Genially by choosing using one of the Genially templates that caught my attention. All of the templates available are very visually engaging and make it so easy to get started. I used the inspiration in the template to write a quick story and added some extras so that I could show my Spanish II and III students what a presentation might look like. I knew that they would be excited to try Genially, especially after their responses to seeing my story brought to life with the vibrant and colorful backgrounds, animations, GIFS, characters and more!

The first project was for students in Spanish III to create a book describing their childhood or write a fairytale. When I provide choices in platforms, they always include tools we’ve used in the past and one that is new, especially one that I want to learn more about. That’s when I brought in Genially.

What is Genially?

For anyone who doesn’t know, Genially is quite a versatile and interactive platform to create pretty much anything that you might want for your classroom. Use it to create choice boards (next on my list!), interactive images, presentations, and even digital escape rooms There are so many options for what can be added into your presentation like sound, hyperlinks, social media buttons and so much more. The best thing about it is that there are so many ready-made templates and options to choose from that it is easy and quick to get started.

What I think is so awesome about Genially is you can use it to create a class website, a newsletter, a book, a flyer, and so much more. You can add icons to each page and make it more interactive by adding in hot spots similar to some other tools out there like Round.me or even Thinglink.

What makes it really beautiful and a standout when it comes to presentations are the choices that you have with animations that enable you to bring your presentation to life. You can spend as much or as little time as you want on it, adding a variety of visual effects with transitions between the pages of your presentation. You can add videos, social media links, or even 3D images to your presentation. I love that students and educators can find exactly what they need to create something amazing with Genially.

Great for hybrid and fully virtual learning

Genially is collaborative so you can work with other educators or have students work together on the same project. Especially as we are working through challenging times with learning environments, having a space for students to collaborate and create makes a difference. You can choose from more than 1200 templates in 12 different categories, with hundreds of additional resources available including illustrations, figures, icons and so much more.

When I think about the possibilities for my classroom, my students have opportunities to create so many types of content throughout the year. Whether they make infographics for project-based learning, introduce themselves in an About Me, create a health poster, design a family scrapbook or create a flyer for a school club, these are just a few of them many ways that we use presentation tools and especially interactive presentation tools in our classroom.

Beyond my initial purpose for trying this amazing tool, I discovered that I can do a lot within one space! Create infographics, lessons, posters, presentations, quizzes, social posts, and even use it for gamification!

Students in my Spanish II class had to create a travel ad or brochure for travel to a Spanish speaking country and also write a postcard as though they took the trip. Students loved creating with Genially and being able to include so much in one beautiful presentation. I love that I have these new resources to share with students and other educators.

If you are looking for ideas, start with the templates on the Genially site. I have been planning to have students create announcements, timelines or anything that they choose to design as a way to share their learning.

Click here to try Genially for free!

A great choice for all educators, give students a chance to create!

Something else that I thought was pretty awesome was when I learned about collaboration between Genially and Flipgrid. It’s easy to find different topics available in Flipgrid’s Discovery library to get started quickly and what is also so helpful is that you can reuse the different genealogy presentations available and then make it your own.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Bringing STEM into Every Classroom Space

In today’s world, we need to bring STEM into our curriculum and our classrooms. Regardless of whether we are in the physical classroom or virtual space, there are many options available. The benefits of embedding STEM activities into the content that we teach is that we help our students to develop the essential skills needed now and in the future, regardless of their next steps after high school. According to the World Economic Forum, the job outlook for 2022 focuses on skills such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and emotional intelligence. There will be an increasing need for STEM skills, as it has been reported that the United States will need to fill 3.5 million STEM jobs by 2025.

As many schools may have to transition throughout the year, We need to have some options available that will work well during these times. Bringing in new ideas and innovating is something that will help to keep students engaged during what might continue to be a challenging year.

In implementing a STEM curriculum, many options require specific equipment or access to certain websites, but there are a lot that are available free to educators and students that can be used regardless of where learning is happening. Just taking a strategy like genius hour provided my eighth-grade students with an opportunity to explore a topic of interest and engage in designing something. The benefits are that the topics covered and ideas shared in class will go far beyond simply just the curriculum. It will also help students to collaborate more and build their knowledge in more meaningful ways because they are learning from and with their peers.

Helping students to understand concepts like coding or computational thinking, artificial intelligence, or augmented and virtual reality, are STEM/STEAM-related topics. As a language teacher, I never thought that I could bring these topics into my classroom until I began teaching my eighth-grade emerging technology course and connected it with the language arts. Once I did that, I realized that I needed to create more opportunities that will help students to be prepared for whatever their next steps may be. To do so, I must be willing to try new ideas, to innovate, to take risks, and be open to learning from the students and letting them lead more.

Here are seven resources that I plan to bring into my STEAM course and Spanish classes this year.

1. Ashtrix.Provide students with the opportunity to learn about robotics, coding, artificial intelligence, and more. Available to more than 4,000 students in over 20 countries. The resources are available to students in elementary through high school and even for college-level students. Through Astrix, students can explore these different topics and engage in more interactive and hands-on learning. Astrix offers an Android app developer program for younger students.

2. Code Wizards HQ. Online coding classes available for students ages 8 through 18. With Code Wizards, students can enroll in three week accelerated courses or a twelve-week regular schedule coding class. There are three different grade bands with multiple levels within each that end in a Capstone project for students. Code Wizards also offers an AP Computer Science preparatory course and a high school internship program.

3. Cubit. Provides hands-on learning opportunities for students regardless of grade level or content area. Cubit is focused on project-based learning and provides teachers with resources including sample projects and curriculum to get started with STEAM concepts in the classroom. It offers a drag and drop programming system that makes it easy for anyone to get started right away.

4. Daily STEM. A platform created by Chris Woods where educators and families can find many ideas for exploring STEM activities. One of the features is a “STEM everyday” post where educators share their ideas for STEM activities, a quick way to find ideas in this new school year. Daily STEM also has a podcast that features how educators are bringing STEM into their classrooms.

5. Microsoft. There are several resources available for free for educators to choose to bring the STEM curriculum into the classroom. The options include Minecraft educationMake Code, and Hacking STEM. Educators can find guest speakers, engage in free training online through courses offered, and explore Microsoft partners such as Micro:bitKano, and NASA for additional STEM resources.

6. Spinndle. Educators can explore the resources available for implementing project-based learning (PBL), design thinking, social-emotional learning (SEL), and STEAM-related activities into the classroom. Spinndle provides free downloads for student-led learning experiences related to passion projects, STEAM activities, and inquiry-based learning. Choose any of the topics available and have an outline, activities, and materials to get started.

7. Tinkercad. A free online web-based resource for use by educators, students, or anyone looking to get started with some coding, 3D design, and more. Tinkercad is a great option for beginners or anyone looking to build their design skills using 3D objects, even circuits, and additional choices. It is also good for promoting collaboration between students when educators create their classroom space for students to join. There are eight different categories of lesson plans available for areas such as art, design, engineering, language arts, and technology. Lessons come with rubrics, overviews, standards, and a list of materials needed for completion.

As we start the new school year and try to embrace the challenges that may come with it, I think it is important to take some risks with trying new ideas and bringing new learning experiences in for our students and ourselves. When we give students opportunities to engage in more student-driven, independent, hands-on learning, it attaches more meaning and authenticity to the work that they’re doing. It sparks curiosity for their own personal interests and of course, their specific needs can be better met. It also gives students a chance to engage in something different and helps them to build the types of skills that they will need moving forward.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Blogging, Vlogging, and Podcasting with Microsoft Teams!

 by Laura Steinbrink, posted in education


I have written two previous posts where I talk about how to use Google Classroom as the hub for student blogging and authentic feedback in a safe place. My original post, Blogging with Google Sites? Google Classroom to the Rescue! Let the Commenting Begin! focused on using Google Sites with Classroom to connect students and give them a platform for authentic feedback. More recently, I updated this idea in Google Classroom STILL to the Rescue: Blogging, Vlogging, and Podcasting! where I broadened the scope of how students can express themselves through the various tools now available. Continuing to broaden my own horizons, I explored Microsoft Teams as a hub for students to receive authentic feedback from peers and am very excited about the amazing potential that it has.


Let’s Get Started! First, create a Team just for this purpose. It needs to be separate from the Team you use for your regular classroom assignments and activities. Set it up with a title that is easy for students to distinguish from your normal class Team, and also reaffirms the purpose of this new Team. Create a channel for each student, and then invite or manually add your students. Adding a channel for each student is easy.

Click the three dots next to the title of your Team.

After clicking the three dots next to the title of your Team, a drop down list will appear. Click Add channel.


Now fill out the channel name for the student you are adding. Create a channel for each student joining the Team. Each time you click Add channel, you also have the option to feature the channel in the channel list. Up to 10 channels can be featured. You can use this to highlight student blogs each week, bi-weekly, monthly, or however you wish to do it. While all channels are available to students, only 10 channels populate in the column for students to see as they work in Teams. They can access the other channels too, making this prime real estate for you to use to empower student voices.

By clicking the checkbox here, the channel you are creating will show up in the channels list when students open Teams.


Once you have created a channel for each student and have added students or had them join through a code or invitation link, students can now click on their own channels and add the link to their blog. I suggest having students create a blog on a site or with a tool that they are comfortable with first, and then they can feature posts where they write, vlog, or create a podcast. The site or tool chosen needs to be able to easily embed or feature a variety of post types, including audio and video. My students learn how to use Google Sites, Wakelet, Adobe Spark Page with this purpose in mind. Microsoft Sway would also be a good tool for this. Once I teach students how to use each tool, they can then decide which tool suits them best for their blog site.


Create an assignment which will provide students with the blog post prompt. Include rubrics, either as a resource for the assignment or by using the built in feature within Teams. To assist with saving time when grading the blog posts, have students submit their posts by a simple copy and paste from their blogs into a Microsoft Form. You can attach the Form via a link to the resources for the post prompt. This will save you a lot of time. Having one place to view and grade instead of clicking through each blog to read, view, or listen to each post is so worth the little extra time it takes to create the Form. This doesn’t require a lot of extra work from you students either. It is simply a copy and paste of either the text or of the link to their video or audio product.

The form does not have to be fancy or take much of your time to create.


Now let’s let the commenting begin! Teams allows students to reply directly to the post dropped by the student on their channel. You can also reply. Students should be taught how to give actionable feedback so that they can help their peers become better writers. This is a safe space to develop writing and analyzing skills. Teams makes it easy for students to respond in a variety of ways, including emojis, gifs, praise, attachments, and more. Digital citizenship skills can be practiced here in a safe environment, providing teachers with the opportunity to provide support and instruction as needed.

Example of what sending a praise could look like in response to the blog post.


Teams allows students to interact in ways that mimic social media, providing guided practice on how to respond appropriately to others. Students read posts, current or older posts, written by their peers, and then they respond by commenting or “replying” to those posts. A lot of magic can happen when we let students access the creativity of their peers and then provide feedback. Teaching students how to be assessment capable learners helps them develop into adults who can assess their own work, revise, and turn in better products.


If you haven’t tried Teams yet to allow students to provide feedback on the work of their peers or with students from another district, state, or country to help improve the quality of work, then I strongly encourage you to dive right in and try this. There is a lot of power packed into Microsoft Teams, and we should harness that power for our students. Always consider the needs of your students first, and if blogging, vlogging, and podcasting is something you want to try, then start setting up your Blogging Team and get started!


**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Early Childhood Education Myths

Guest post by Kris Jenkins, @PreK33

 Myth 1: “It’s Only Babysitting” 

Ugh…  Did you know that ninety percent of a child’s brain development occurs between birth and five years of age?  That’s right! NINETY PERCENT!  Holy cow!  That means that in every moment a child is awake, it’s a learning opportunity,Early childhood learning is divided into five primary domains. Those are: social, emotional, physical, communication, and cognitive, or thinking on their own.  All of these things, along with a child’s health and safety, are things that every early childhood educator must keep in mind on a daily basis.  Most all early childhood educators that I know, get into this profession because they absolutely love children!

Myth 2:  “All you do is play all day.” 

The great Fred Rogers said, “Play give children a way to practice what they are learning.”  Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imaginations, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development. Through play, children learn how to interact with the world around them. Children cannot do this through screen time.  Screen time is not true interaction or playing. Play needs to include some form of physicality, whether that is fine motor or gross motor.

Myth 3: “Anyone Can Be a Preschool Teacher”

To teach public school preschool in Kansas, the teacher must have Early Childhood Certification. In my own educational experience, I graduated with a double major in Elementary Education and Early Childhood Development, with a minor in Music Education. I then went back to school and got a masters degree in Education.  Teachers are constantly taking workshops and classes in order to keep current with educational trends and how best to serve the ever-changing needs of their students and their families.

Myth 4: “Parents Don’t Need to Be Involved in Preschool”

Say what?!?  Families are entrusting their child’s teacher with the best of them, their children!  Families know those children better than any teacher could ever hope to. It is vitally important to the child’s education that their families ARE involved. Teachers and parents need to work in tandem to help each child be successful in school. Right now, with the pandemic, it’s hard for parents to be involved. Many schools are keeping parents out in an effort to curb the spread of the virus to the school population. You can still keep parents in the loop though texting, a variety of apps, newsletters, social media, and a good, old-fashioned phone call.

Myth 5: “Surely Preschool Teachers Are Paid Well”

The average annual cost, per child, for child care in the United States is $8,300 a year. In the program where I work, most of that funding is through a grant from the state.  The yearly enrollment fee, per child, for our program is $65…for a year! This goes to offset the cost supplies for learning activities.

The reality is that preschool teachers are amongst the most undervalued professional out there, ranked even lower than janitors. Yet these teachers are tasked with providing learning opportunities for our most valuable natural resource–our children. I’m lucky. I do not work in a private preschool setting, although I have. Because I work in a school district, I am paid like all other teachers, based on education and experience.  Still, teachers fresh out of college, with student loans to pay, can barely make it on a starting teacher’s salary. This leads to many truly amazing teachers leaving the profession, even though they love children. It’s a sad commentary.

Several years ago, when a parent said to me, “It’s only preschool,” I’m not sure they expected the “education” they got, but that kiddo never missed another day of school that year!

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Smart Review of WriQ from Texthelp

Digital tools, especially in remote learning environments, have enabled teachers to provide more authentic and timely feedback to students and engage them more in learning. Texthelp offers a variety of tools for helping students to improve their reading writing and math skills. Texthelp recently announced their global launch of WriQ, a cloud-based writing assessment and achievement tool. WriQ can be used across grade levels, from fourth grade and in graduate programs, and across the core subjects.

I spoke with Martin McKay, Co-Founder, and CEO of Texthelp, about the launch of WriQ and its benefits for students and educators. WriQ, which started in beta in 2019, is a free extension for Google Documents or a Microsoft Word add-in. It can also be upgraded to Premium for the district and school administrators, who can see overall student progress that can be used to support instructional decision-making for a district or school’s entire curriculum or compare their schools and districts against national norms.

McKay wanted to prove that these learning tools worked. McKay said that WriQ was created because of teachers’ need for tools to help students build their literacy skills. Through learning analytics, teachers can see how much time students spend reading and better understand student maturity in reading, which helps to optimize learning.

The Texthelp team spent two and a half years working on WriQ by collecting data from over 85,000 teacher-graded documents, which then made it possible to create standardized norms for each grade in areas including accuracy (and text maturity for example. With WriQ, teachers can see how students are performing in comparison with peers across the United States.

Benefits of these tools

Teachers need to be able to assess students and provide authentic and meaningful feedback while also tracking student growth over time. With WriQ,  the data is easily accessible to teachers, and with the way the platform is designed, it also leads to increased student engagement in learning. When it comes to reading, teachers are looking at the students’ words correct per minute (WCPM) score. The score involves assessing correct pronunciation, whether there were missed or repeated words, additional words inserted, or words were mixed up. The work can be quite cumbersome for teachers looking to provide feedback to students as they are reviewing student work to come up with the WCPM score.

Now through the automated process in WriQ, it measures all of this and more. It will provide word count, vocabulary age, the time on task, accuracy, spelling, punctuation, grammar, and teachers can give feedback to the students directly in the document.  Focus is on correct word order and spelling accuracy, text diversity, text maturity,  grammar, and punctuation.

How does it work

With access to their own Dashboard and WriQMeter, students are able to track their writing burst measures, along with other key analytics, in real-time to help them understand their own writing progress. Teachers are able to assess students and track their growth in writing skills in a less time-consuming way. McKay said that it also removes subjectivity and decreases the amount of time spent by teachers who are grading papers by hand through the use of rubrics. WriQ promotes consistency in assessments and can be used to measure multiple areas of writing skills. Teachers can look at accuracy, maturity, pace, and productivity. As students write, their progress is monitored and then a single WriQ score is provided. When teachers have the WriQ score, they then look at the chart to see how students compare to the national standard. The WriQ score helps educators to have a better understanding of each student’s progress as well as tracking class progress as a whole. Knowing how each student (or school, district, or even state) is performing with regards to writing is difficult. The WriQ score helps teachers to better understand student progress, at the student and class level. With this data, educators can give more meaningful, personalized feedback, with greater clarity that will help to improve student achievement as well as build their confidence in writing.

Motivating students

In order to promote engagement and the improvement of writing skills, WriQ gives “nudges” to students as they write. These positive nudge notifications and achievement badges appear when students write more and they see the real-time feedback in their own dashboard, the WriQmeter. The WriQmeter allows students to view the cumulative work they have done, their total words typed, and more. As they work, students receive badges for typing more words, increasing the length of their writing bursts, and for writing more academic words. McKay said that students benefit from this somewhat gamified writing experience and that the “nudges” are a way to reward and encourage positive behavior. He said, “we need more than measurements to get the kids to think about writing in a way that is fun.” Students can set goals to improve their writing and also work toward achievement badges, which adds fun to the writing process

It comes down to the process of how we write. When writing, we go through a period of thinking, composing, and then transcribing, pausing in our thoughts, and then repeating the process. We have “bursts of writing.” McKay said research shows that the length of these bursts is indicative of the writing skills. A longer burst of writing leads to being a better writer. With these digital tools, we empower students to develop their writing at their own pace and be more independent in tracking their progress on a daily basis as well as long term.

Benefits for teachers

For teachers, WriQ helps with evaluating student writing across a number of criteria with the goal of helping students to increase proficiency. It enables teachers to focus more on instructional planning, providing personalized instruction, support, and encouragement to students, rather than extra time on grading. It helps with providing actionable and comparative feedback to students right when they need it. Teachers can see students’ writing history and bursts of writing. The burst length can provide teachers with a more beneficial and informative way to measure writing fluency. By having access to the data for burst lengths, teachers are able to see which students may need additional support and those that are mastering the writing process. It helps teachers save time in assessments and they see each student’s progress and track scores over time. The data can be imported from Google classroom.

McKay said that WriQ keeps students motivated, engaged, and achieving in writing. It puts them in charge of their own learning and helps students to think in a meta way about writing, which leads to a habit of writing. He cited research that shows that if we do something for 19 days, it becomes a habit. The goal of WriQ is to help students become more active and interested in writing and sharing their ideas through the encouragement provided within the platform as they write.

Highkey Relationship Building

 by laura steinbrink,

Simple. Powerful. Effective.


Teaching during a pandemic presents a lot of problems for educators to face and solve daily, and clearly I haven’t solved the problem of posting regularly since the 2020-21 school year began. However, as we ended the week before the holiday break, I realized that there was something I could share that would benefit teachers both online and those teaching face to face. Something that wouldn’t be overwhelming because we already have it in our toolboxes, although it occasionally falls behind other tools and is temporarily forgotten. The tool is a reversal of our everyday role at school. It’s the teacher becomes the student and the student becomes the teacher tool, or the “Padawan / Master swap” for those like me who are Star Wars fans.


One of my students graduated early this year, and his future plans are to go to college to become a music teacher. As my weeks with him dwindled, he suddenly became convinced that I needed to learn the 2020 slang spoken by the students, and he would teach me. While still working on his content for me, he taught me a few words a day. The fact that I took notes amused him and also convinced him that I took it seriously. He then provided opportunities for me to practice the new words in context. As an educator who teaches English and also lower level Spanish classes, I fully supported his method.


We had a lot of fun doing this, and it also helped build that relationship that is very important in the classroom. Not only was I building it with the senior who was about to graduate, but as we practiced the slang on other students, it built or strengthened connections there. A funny thing also began to happen. Other students wanted to teach me slang words. I dutifully wrote them down, had the student spell them for me and define each term. My senior then approved, or not, each new word by the other students.


My son, a freshman, soon became aware of my slang lessons, and he is alternately embarrassed and amused when I use any slang words. When my daughter finally journeyed home from college to spend Christmas with us, my son made her aware of my slang lessons. I shared some of the terms I was learning, and she was very skeptical that any of these were used outside of our small community. You too might be thinking that learning slang is not a worthy endeavor or applicable outside your community, but you, like my daughter, have missed the mark. Allowing a student to share a passion with you is a great way to build a relationship, but learning that passion yourself with the student as the teacher holds even more power.


Show students that you care and are truly interested in them by having them, your students become the teacher. Your teacher. Invest your time into learning what they want to teach you. Learn from as many students as possible, and practice so that you truly learn from them. The power of this is simple. It does not take much time. Consider how you can use this tool as the 2021 school year begins. Building the relationship you have with your students is the tool that provides a solid foundation for student learning, autonomy, voice, and also the desire and inspiration to learn. Such a simple tool, yes, but one that we can all wield.


Now, for fun, here are the slang words my students have taught me so far. Keep in mind that the meanings may not exactly correspond with the Urban Dictionary or how your students may be using them. This is merely how my students, here in rural Missouri, are using them. Also, my Master (student) said that many of these can be combined, so mix and match to your hearts content.

  • cap–false, lies, fake
  • no cap–truth, for real
  • minty–perfect, awesome (like mint condition)
  • drip–cool stuff like your outfit, swag, etc.
  • sweaty–(from video gaming) over the top, too much, working too hard; a person who is way into something with intensity. Whatever the person is doing they are in the thick of it, pedal to the metal.
  • That’s a flex–bragging openly, not subtle
  • That’s highkey a flex–straight up and outright a brag
  • That’s lowkey not a flex–when one thinks they are flexing, but totally aren’t.
  • Weird flex but okay–a brag about something unusual, like a dog with 7 toes.
  • G.O.A.T./G.O.A.T.ed–Greatest of All Time (the best)
  • cash nasty–a good deed, someone did something nice for you
  • uncash nasty–Opposite of cash nasty. Someone did something not nice to or for you.
  • on jah–similar to cap, meaning truth, but stronger, like swearing it’s true.
  • hate to see it–used when a negative happens, or used sarcastically when a positive happens
  • love to see it–used when a positive happens, or used sarcastically when a negative happens.
  • aight bet–okay
  • aight g–in response to see you later, meaning okay, homie (friend, bestie)
  • g–homie, friend, bestie (use with those closest to you)
  • yeet–excited exclamation
  • cuh–dude or cuz (cousin)
  • Icy–super good or super cool
  • Fire fit–awesome drip or super good drip
  • spill the tea–Tell me the scoop or gossip
  • Go off–Kind of like “you be you” or knock yourself out, with a slightly negative connotation like you’re talking nonsense. Basically, “what you’re saying is wrong or crazy, but if you want to keep going I guess I won’t stop you.”
  • check the fit–look at my (the) outfit
  • slaps–super good (That pizza slaps!)
  • hit different–super good (That pizza hit different!)

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

What’s in my Toolbelt? My Toolbox:

Guest post by Debbie Tannenbaum

On Episode 52 of EduDuctTape, Jake Miller discussed how when we look at all the technology tools available to us, it can be overwhelming. It’s like walking into a hardware store. With so many options, it can be hard to find what you are looking for. Sometimes, you need to narrow that search, in order to find what best fits your needs.

He discussed certain tech tools being on our toolbelt- we use them all the time. There are other tools we use less often, but take them out as needed- those tools would be in your toolbox. There are still lots of great tools out there that we might not use, but that’s okay.

So with that thought in mind, I thought I’d share my toolbelt and toolbox tech tools in this post.

My Technology Toolbelt

My technology toolbelt has changed quite a bit over the years. In the past two years, I have really worked to refine it. To make “my toolbelt,” a tool needs to be very versatile and provide students with opportunities to learn and process information anywhere and anytime.

  1. Flipgrid: It is no secret that I am a huge Flipgrid fan! I love how Flipgrid’s video based discussion board allows students to share their thinking anywhere and anytime. Flipgrid is not only versatile, but gives students opportunities for student to student interactions something that all of our students need in our current educational settings. In my 4/23/2019 post, I share my Flipgrid journey- check that out.

2. Google Slides: I believe that Google Slides is one of the most versatile programs out there. Not only can you use it to present, but there are so many more uses. One of my favorite ways to use Google Slides is for collaborative slide decks. I love how this use allows students to see each other’s thinking and comment on it. Another great use is the linking feature. My students have used this feature to make an app like experience (Thanks Micah Shippee for the suggestion) and Choose Their Own Adventure books. Google Slides also offers a great way to share video ad free and edit as needed. These are some of my favorite ways, but there are so many more.

3. Pear Deck: Pear Deck takes the power of Google Slides to a new level. I love how these interactive questions give every student a voice. This has been extremely vital in our current educational setting. In last week’s post, I shared the amazing ways my staff has been using this awesome tool.

4. Wixie: Wixie, like Google Slides, is a fantastic kid-friendly creation tool for students in elementary school. Its easy interface combined with royalty free images, photographs and sounds make it a great way for students to share their learning. Like Google Slides, it also allows collaboration and now you can even add video into your projects. In my 3/19/2019 post, I share all the great things Wixie can do!

5. Padlet: I have a love/hate relationship with Padlet. I love all the amazing things that Padlet can do, but wish that it wasn’t freemium. Luckily, this year, my school has a Padlet Backpack subscription. Like many of these tools, I love how it helps students to interact with each other and see each other’s thinking. Padlet allows many ways for students to respond video, audio, text, and drawings and gives students choice and voice as they respond. The variety of formats make this tool one that you can use so many different ways.

My Technology Toolbox

The technology tools in my toolbox are also valuable. I love using them but find that they are more specialized and pull them out of the toolbox as needed.

  1. Smithsonian Learning Lab: The Smithsonian Learning Lab brings the magic of any Smithsonian museum to your device’s screen. I love using this tool with students and it works particularly well with the Thinking Routine, See, Think, Wonder. I shared all about one of my awesome experiences using this tool in my 11/2/2019 post.

2. Pear Deck’s Flashcard Factory: Pear Deck’s Flashcard Factory is amazing tool that many people do not know about. It allows students to create collaborative flashcards. This program like the others works in any environment. This fall, my students completed this in breakout rooms and loved it! You can use this for any subject area, even math. I shared all the amazing ways Flashcard Factory can benefit your students in my 12/15/2019 post.

3. Adobe Spark: Since Adobe Spark was not approved for student use under age 13 in my district until last year, it is a relatively new tool for me. I love the ease in which students can use the components of this tool: Post, Video, and Page. If you click it, you can change it. Last year, my third graders used Post to make collagasauruses- I described this in my 3/8/2020 post. My fifth graders used it to make illustrated picture books about light and my sixth graders made awesome trailers for their American Revolution Museum exhibits.

4. EdPuzzle: Students are visual learners and look to video based platforms such as YouTube for everything. EdPuzzle capitalizes on that and makes any video interactive. This is an amazing tool for flipped learning and a huge library of premade videos are available. Plus, you can edit and make your own video interactive. In my 3/4/2019 post, I share all about EdPuzzle.

5. Google Forms: Google Forms is a great way to check in with students. It allows you to gather formative data and easily converts into a Google sheet. You can add videos, pictures and even your voice inside a form. Plus, using the branching features inside of Google forms, you can create responsive assessments. In my 3/13/2019 post, I share all about Google Forms.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Guest post by JILLIAN DUBOIS

I was interviewed by a good friend on Sunday who recently started up a new podcast (@Brad_Hughes). Our discussion took an organic path as we conversed quite easily about students, our educational experiences, and the back story from the book that I authored and illustrated, Liv’s Seashells. (@codebreakeredu)

The casual banter took a bit of a serious tone when I was asked to describe my journey through the sorrow and grief of losing my father + sister to what has brought me CONTENTMENT and JOY. This morning I listened to the recording of our podcast and had to stop for a moment to collect my emotions.

Honestly, it’s oddly humorous to be asked questions and then give unrehearsed answers having no powers of recall to remember what was said. As I listened to the show, I could hear my ability to hold complicated emotions together as I spoke.

I reflected heavily on the words that were expressed through our dialogue.


Grief sucks.

I would never wish it on anyone. It’s ugly. It’s dark. It’s a myth that it makes anyone feel better to say, “Oh, but they are in a better place.”

I would think…”Really? For them, yes, but not ME. I’m still HERE. Hurting, aching, full of regrets and unfinished conversations, wishing I could just have a few more days, months, or years with them.”

Not a day goes by that I don’t replay their final breaths on earth in my mind. I remember every milestone. The birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays that are void without them. There is an intense presence of loss when you know they should still be there experiencing all of the celebrations + family gatherings.

Which leads to…

Grief Myth #225: You will move on and get over it.

NOPE. You won’t move on, forget, find closure, or get over such a loss. It’s not like that at all, and to anticipate that as a normal behavior is detrimental to the grieving journey. While there is no one-size-fits-all blueprint for the process, each person finds their way to restoration.

Grief does not keep us from living a healthy emotional life and loving others. We are created with an amazing capacity to manage our thoughts, feelings, and inner self. Our expressions are unique and tailored differently with purpose.

Sorrow is natural. We live in a world that sees heartache and suffering on a DAILY basis. We have permission to grieve. ANY type of loss. We should allow it to be conveyed in an unadulterated and explicit manner however we feel comfortable doing so.

There is NO shame in grief. We learn to carry it with us and to integrate loss into our lives. Share, listen, cry, shout, find an outlet for release – whatever it takes.

Our tears are an autograph of our love and pain. BUT. They do not exclude JOY.

There is a time when the angst and pain slowly evolve into contentment, peace, and joy.

I cannot remember the exact moment when that happened, but I know that it felt like I had come out on the other side of the mourning into a beautiful realization that the loss was lighter and I could take deliberate steps toward healing.

With JOY.

Perhaps the greatest conductor of this healing was that I was able to write my emotions into a blog and then my book. This book became the connection between the purpose and the pain.

It was clear. We grieve because we loved. Deeply.

We remember because we STILL love. Even as we move into the understanding of the void, we recall the treasured memories, the laughs, the challenges, and the brokenness.

Our souls have an amazing capacity to hold everything we need. There IS room in our hearts to carry forward heartache and JOY together. We can embrace the peaceable satisfaction and contentment. It’s well-earned.

And one glorious day we find that the JOY is stronger than the grief.


Listen to our podcast episode here: https://anchor.fm/brad-hughes/episodes/Episode-1–Featuring-Jillian-DuBois-eoifle/a-a498a30

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Pear Deck to the Rescue

Guest post by Debbie Tannenbaum @TannenbaumTech

It is no secret that I am a huge Pear Deck fan! As my district and school have navigated virtual learning, it has indeed become a game changer. As a result, we became a Pear Deck Premium school this year. Pear Deck has not only enabled my teachers to create amazing interactive experiences, but also to examine their students’ progress through the teacher dashboard.

During my weekly tech tips, I have been sharing all of the amazing ways that my teachers are using Pear Deck. I have been truly astounded the amazing ways that they have been engaging their students using this tool. So I asked them if I could amplify their awesome work on my blog; luckily, they said yes.

Ms. Liberatore

Ms. Liberatore really loves doing assessments in Pear Deck- EVERY assessment, for EVERY subject is done in it. She loves it because it forces the kids to stay with her on each question (since in first grade they read the questions and answer choices to them).

It also really helps her to know which kids have not started their slide yet from the names at the bottom. That allows her to prompt them to get going and helps so she does not have to go back to a question just for one kid.

** She has really been loving doing word searches on Pear Deck. She had been previously trying to do them on Google Slides with moveable circles, but then realized – how easy would it be for them to highlight it in Pear Deck

Ms. Char loves using the Pear Decks for math and science in particular. Being able to guide the students step by step through some of the lessons and then giving them immediate feedback is extremely helpful, particularly in the virtual setting. 😊

She also likes the takeaways and the ability for the students and parents to look at what the kids have written or drawn on each of the slides. It helps deepen their understanding and allows me to see those students who are really struggling. It holds them accountable for doing the work because I can see who is and who is not responding.

Ms. Char

Ms. Oberdick

As the librarian, her favorite way to use Pear Deck is for class read-aloud lessons. It has been a fantastic way to allow students to see the pictures in the books clearly and engage with the story. Students can interact with the text and illustrations and share their thinking and questions as we read together.

TIP: She tries to incorporate at least one of each type of Pear Deck slide (text, drawing, draggable, etc.) in each lesson to differentiate and keep it interesting. If she wants to make a lesson asynchronous, she utilizes the audio feature and record the story text on each slide. She also loves that she can share a spreadsheet with classroom teachers for formative assessment and participation tracking purposes.

Ms. Field

Ms. Field uses Pear Deck for her students to make mood meters.

Ms. Layton loves using Pear Deck. In math, she uses it for spiral review and would you rather questions. During language arts, she has students reflect on what they have read and share thoughts in books. Lastly, during social studies and science, her students use Pear Deck to do reflections, check in questions and thinking routines like See, Think, Wonder.

Ms. Layton

Kindergarten Team

Ms. Bryan, Ms. Philips, Ms. Belcher, and Ms. Lazcano

In Kindergarten, the teachers have been using Pear Deck in a few different ways. In Language Arts, they’ve used slides with 2-3 letter cards on them. They give a letter sound and students move a colored dot to the card representing the sound. They’ve also done letter card slides and had a “snowball fight”. They make a sound and students use the white large pencil tool to “throw snowballs” at the corresponding card.

In math, they’ve used slides to have students fill ten frames, draw lines from groups of items to the correct number, and draw to represent numbers that we call out.

They’ve enjoyed using Pear Deck in our instruction as a way to engage all students at the same time. It’s beneficial to be able to use the teacher dashboard and watch in real time as they practice the lessons. They can see if students understand letter sounds, 1-to-1 number correspondence, number writing, following directions. They’ve been impressed with how well these young students have been able to utilize this learning tool! Check out the examples below:)

So for this blog post, my teachers are the stars! I am so proud to work with such an exceptional staff. I love when teachers take the ideas shared in a learning opportunity and make it their own. True awesomeness!


**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks