I Threw Out Some Books

I went one to one this year. each of my grade 7 students got a chrome book. And it was amazing. One thing I didn’t anticipate was that the consumption of print media drastically went down. Now I’m going to take full responsibility for this as I’ve been wishing and dreaming for technology forever. And when my wish came true, I jumped headfirst into it. We used our devices for everything! But with all things, balance is important. What is out of balance right now is that my students aren’t reading a variety of texts – specifically print.

pile of books
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I have fought hard for my classroom library. I spent lots of my own money on it. I have begged borrowed and stolen books for it (often from my own children!). I have invested lots of myself into my classroom library. However, in the last few years, that has slowed down. I haven’t added very many new books to my collection. And it is becoming stale. So today I went through my collection and started throwing things out.

pile of books in shallow focus photography
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Now before you get up in arms, I am not pitching willy-nilly. It was very clear in my desire to increase the quantity of books that I have often overlooked the quality of these books. Some of these books are quite old. And I’m not talking in the classic sense, I’m talking literally old. And not that good. But this was where I was when trying to build my collection years ago: I would take anything!

It is both kind of liberating to go through and try to freshen up my collection. I do think there is a need to spend some money and I am curious about how to go through with it. I’m sure I can make a case for investing in classroom libraries for next year. Perhaps I can borrow and beg from my principal and community council.

There are a couple things I had no problem with. I had a collection of dictionaries that I tossed without a second glance. I did not feel any guilt about throwing these things out. Honestly I can’t remember the last time I had my students open up a dictionary. Now that being said, I do expect proper spelling from the students. It’s just a technology makes it so much easier than thumbing through the cumbersome dictionary. And you should’ve seen the size of the thesaurus! Out it went!

black and white book business close up
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So balances is something that I need to work on. I want to rediscover and re-focus on the love of (print) reading next year. I want to strike a good balance between technology and print.




Single Point Rubrics and Robots

This year I’ve been trying to deepen my assessment. I teach intermediate. That means we are dealing in percents. I’ve been resisting the idea presents because to me, traditionally, an 8 out of 10 equals 80%. This would be a level four or an A. However, my experiences with percents have often been a misalignment to the matching level. What I mean to say is this: just because it student gets 8 out of 10 things right doesn’t necessarily mean they have demonstrated a level 4 mastery. Now of course this means I need to look more deeply at my assessments to ensure there are level 4 opportunities. And that my assessment accurately reflects what the student can demonstrate. I know this bias doesn’t always reflect percentages but it has been my past experience. Currently I’m looking to broaden that experience.

I’ve also long resisted the traditional rubric. I did enjoy it when I first started using it but over the last few years I’ve become disillusioned. It just seemed like a lot of work for me and it wasn’t giving me the pay off that I wanted. And then I moved to learning goals and success criteria. But I didn’t find a way to make my rubrics match that.

This year online I came across a single point rubric. Found this really exciting. No longer was I wasting my time with unnecessary leveled boxes. The reason I discarded rubrics is because I didn’t want to spend time on level one and level two. My focus was the target of level three.

Single point rubrics allowed me to focus on my success criteria. I was then able to focus on our goals and assign a level accordingly. I feel I’ve done away with meaningless qualifiers as they don’t mean much for students. Now I’m able to focus on the learning.

I’m still not sure it’s perfect but I am moving forward.

Now what I do feel constrained with is how to take this rubric and translate it into a percent.

Over the last few months I’ve been using my single point rubric and then collecting each number to then divide out of a total. This would give me a percent. There were a few problems with this. If students got all level fours they would end up with 100%. For some reason my mind resisted this as 100% always seem to be almost unattainable. If a student got all level threes they would then get 75%. This to me seemed OK. However the problem was if a student scored a level two or level one consistently for each point. If the students scored level two they would end up with 50%. The students scored level one they would score much below 50%. This didn’t match our traditional percentage and letter grade and level alignment.

Generally if a student was scoring level two they should get somewhere between 60 to 69%. If a student is scoring at a level one would be somewhere between 50 and 59%.

So then I needed to realign my values. I calculated that if the student scored at a level two I should score them as a 2.5. This generally gave me a 65%. If a student was scoring at a level one then they would be awarded two points each. This gave them about a 50%.

But I’m still wrestling with is that idea the level four equalling 100%. What I may end up doing is assigning a value of four for a 4+ and then a value of 3.5 for a traditional level four. This may help realign of the percentages to the letter grades that I have traditionally been used to.

And yesterday something really exciting happened. I was able to get a robot to do my calculations and deliver a percent.

Now I credit my wife for this revelation. I’m pretty familiar with most traditional software programs. However, for some reason, I’ve managed to avoid Excel. The Google equivalent to this would be Sheets. Don’t know why I never dug into that program but the longer I’ve avoided it the more my resistance grew. So then I was stuck manually calculating percentages and averages. And it seem to me that it was a lot of unnecessary work.

The last night I leaned in and opened up a sheet and transferred my single point rubric from a Google doc into a Google sheet. It took a bit of fiddling and a lot of Googling but I was able to create a single point rubric with check boxes and a space for a total and percent. This saves me lots of time.

Single Point Rubric Sheets 2

Few months ago I was fortunate enough to attend a conference where I listened to Alice Keeler. There are many pieces of advice she gave gave, but one that I was determined to try was this: get robots to do the work. It’s a much more efficient use of my time. So if I could get sheets to calculate for me that would be a good thing. The robot does the work!

Today I had quite a few writing portfolios to mark. Using the sheets rubric I save myself some time. And this felt good.

So I’ll continue to work on my assessment practices. I know I have a ways to go to increase the rigor of my assessments and that my percentages need to better align with the level that I’m observing.

What are your thoughts and feelings on rubrics?


On Writing: roots or stems?

A colleague and I had a conversation about writing the other day. We were coming at it from two very different standpoints. This is someone I have tremendous respect for and every time I’m challenged by her I feel I’m growing.

This conversation started about our very different philosophies about writing. In a nutshell, I believe that the instruction of writing should be process driven and she believes it should be product driven. Both are very different standpoints. Her analogy to me was that she was providing the roots for a good writing foundation, while I was providing the stems. I viewed it actually in the opposite way. I believe that the process was the foundation of good writing where is she was focussed on the end products: the stems.

When considering these two different approaches to very powerful images come into my mind. When I’m looking at product driven instruction I see a bunch of different lines meeting at a central point. What I mean here is that all instruction is leading towards one thing: a certain product. So every student’s choices and interests need to be included but also need to work towards this one point.

lines flip
The opposite image comes to mind when I am think thinking about process driven instruction. Instruction starts at one point but then can lead us in a bunch of different directions. I start with the skills and strategies but student choice takes different writing pieces in very different directions.


I obviously believe the process driven instruction is the best way to teach writing. But I also recognize there are things I give up with in this approach. I do give up a focussed investigation into certain kinds of texts. Whole class exploration of different forms often does not happen. This is because not all students are choosing the same form to show their skills and strategies. This means, if I find it’s important, I need to conference more with small groups of students who are interested in that type of work. So this is more work for me but I also feel that the work is more efficient and better spent. Using technology allows me to be more aware of what students are doing while they are doing it. This allows much more fluid groupings that change as the writing pieces change.

But I’m open to considering. I’ve long ago understood that in order to change you must accept that some of your understanding might be wrong. So I will continue to explore these two options and continue to offer what I believe is best for my students.

How do approach the instruction of writing: process or product? Is there another option?



Leveraging Digital: creativity and innovation 

I have to admit that I love buzzwords. And leveraging digital is one of the buzzwords that I enjoy the most. In my mind, when I hear the words leveraging digital, I have a very powerful visual. I see a lever being used effectively to move a very large object. To me, digital allows us to do really great things. And often it makes work easier.


My goal over the next few posts is to share how I am using digital to promote those 21st-century skills. Now before I go any further, I do realize that we are 18 years into the 21st-century. But the skills are still important. They are also called Global Competencies, and they include: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity & innovation (from Edugains) and citizenship and character.
Today I want to talk about how I’m using digital to get my students to create and innovate in my class.


I admit that I have a pretty heavy bias towards students that can create and innovate. I tend to favour their thinking more and value their contributions. I have had some students who aren’t traditionally very successful in school but become wildly successful because I value what they can create. I do have to keep in my mind certain ideas. I have to remind myself that just because I didn’t think of it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s brilliant. I always try to look into the thinking behind what is created.

In my language and specifically my writing I actively promote creation and innovation. I ask the students create products that demonstrate their writing skills. I don’t limit them by forcing everyone to produce the same form. This is tricky at first because students traditionally travel through a form of the month approach. This is where the whole class focusses on a certain writing form. I value choice. I believe that students will be more successful if they choose how they show their learning.

So I have students actively create a wide range of products. I specially enjoy it when a new idea is introduced that spreads around the room with other students willing to try. Right now I have a student who is wants to create a spam email as a writing piece. He wants to publish it so it looks like a Jetta meant email. This idea has taken hold in my room. I have two other students wildly interested in that and wish to create their own. Of course they aren’t copying the student but are taking that idea and changing and/or improving it. This is innovation.

But I need to be careful about defining innovation. Innovation isn’t necessarily creating a never-before seen product. It could also include taking an existing product and changing it for the better. This ties in nicely with the design thinking that’s happening in my science class.

So how am I using technology to foster creativity and innovation?


Students are better able to create different writing products using technology. They can publish them with better and more dramatic ways than traditional paper and pen. They also have access to a wider range of products to inspire them. Technology also allows for better revision and creative thinking: Iteration. Students can change remix and revise the work much more easily using technology. It could be as simple as  cut and paste. It could be much more complex than that. It is these processes that are important when working towards strengthening innovation skills.

I do believe that creativity can be taught. It is a mindset that some students have leaned into more than others. I applied this concept from the growth mindset work that I have  done in math. I believe every student can be creative. They need experiences and time and practice to develop this skill. Unfortunately a lot of students believe that they lack creativity and innovation. I believe they have lacked the experiences that have allowed them to strengthen these skills. It is my job to provide more experiences and practice so they can further develop it.

Creativity and innovation is important. Using technology allows us to foster the skills. It is important.

How are you fostering creativity and innovation in your classroom?



I Love the Writing Portfolio

I’ve long been using the writers portfolio in my writing program. I like the way it helps students to focus their thoughts. There’s a few hacks that I put on it that I think are necessary.


I usually start my portfolio with the definition of the big skills and strategies we been working on. I get the students to define the skills giving examples from their work. This is a way for them to reflect on what we’ve done.

I then get them to reflect on the diagnostic assessment that we did for this unit. I get them to reflect on what they did well and what they need to work on, both in their plan and in the writing. I like this throwback to the beginning of the unit for them to consider where they were.

pexels-photo-247708.jpegThen I get them to submit a certain number of plans and writing from the practice portion of the pathway. I get them to prove that they have been working on the feedback from the initial assessment. I get them reflect on why it is good. This is my attempt to get them back to the success criteria. Did they do what was expected of them?


One piece I’ve really enjoyed adding to my pathway is for the students to re-do the initial diagnostic assessment. My thinking is that after three or four or five weeks of work, they should be better writers. They will prove this by making big improvements to the writing diagnostic assessment. I think it’s important for the kids to look at the work that they’ve done and see how far they have come. This is a real motivating factor to make these big changes. With a first copy and the second copy, they can clearly see that they’ve made changes.

One thing I struggle with, especially at the end of the writing pathway, is managing all of the assessment. One thing if you want to try to limit in the amount of practice pieces that they give me. And get them to choose only the best and that is the piece that I can assess. Plus I don’t want to mark a whole lot of things if I can just mark a couple of things!

I also need to manage feedback for this. It’s tricky when I give feedback at the end of this pathway. It’s more of a summative assessment and proof of the learning. But at the end of the pathway managing all of that work and getting the right amount feedback is still a struggle.