What I’ve Been Reading

Here in Canandaigua, there are less than 25 days of school. While I’ve been busy with planning and managing IB exams, a professional development session for Regents exam week, preparing end of year technology integration documents, writing a presentation on blogging and personalized learning, and final units and projects for IB 12 and English 103, I’ve managed to squeeze in a few new books that I thought I’d share.

While there’s a great deal of energy spent in the taking care of all the end-of-year stuff, there’s also some time when I’m saying, “Next year…” As we reflect on what’s happening right now in our classrooms and schools, those moments come when we start to lay the ground work for changes we’ll make when September comes around. With that in mind, these books gave footholds for things that I want to be experimenting with as I move into the summer, and fall.

Below are several loose goals that I’m thinking will drive my work next year and the books that will help.

  1. Teaching composition through the design thinking process:

Read Gamestorming.


This is definitely not a cover-to-cover read. Take a look at the first chapters, and then surf the activities that come after. There’s lots here.

Gamestorming is a book of games and activities facilitators can use for individuals and groups to get them thinking. It’s a simple as that.

Games are grouped into different categories, such as opening, exploring, and closing. All are shaped around design thinking. For the English and composition teacher, there are lots of potentials for helping students to generate topics and to spend time iterating on these ideas.

Last week, I passed the book along to my wife because she does work in human resources, leadership coaching and professional development. This isn’t just an educational book, it’s a book for anyone who wants to create participant-centered thinking spaces in classrooms, in training, or in strategic planning.

2. Asking what we really mean by engagement, how to get kids producing evidence of their engagement, and building a culture of engagement in the classroom.

Our professional development coordinator connected me with Fisher, Frey and Quaglia’s Engagement by Design. Fortunately, she also was able to connect several of us through a Zoom meeting last week with Doug Fisher.


This books prompts readers to think beyond behavioral engagement and consider how we cognitively engage behavior in learning spaces.

The other book with tie-ins to engagement and classroom culture is The EduProtocol Field Guide: 16 Student-Centered Lesson Frames for Infinite Possibilities.


Teachers, if you are going to read one book this summer about creating culture and getting students to engage in the work, this is the book for you. The protocols are simple, straightforward and with clear steps for how to do them in the classroom.

3. Technology integration to have students become creators (and really practice the whole 4C thing):

Another book that gives some detailed processes and protocols for thinking about integrating technology paired with the four-Cs, look to Cultivating Communication in the Classroom by Lisa Johnson (@TechChef4U). Because I’m hoping to sharpen instruction around presentation, use of social media, portfolios and curation, this book explores each of these areas with guiding questions for teachers to consider what skills are needed for each area and clear how-tos for a range of ways we build digital communication skills in our students.

Final thoughts:

Each of these books provide ample meat to drive summer thinking and planning. I’m looking forward to looping back through these books in late July and August as I start planning the next school year.

Monitoring Progress in Schoology

I spent time this week working my way through Monica Burns’ new book #FormativeTech: Meaningful, Sustainable, and Scalable Formative Assessment with technology.

In this book, Burns’ writing meets the needs any educator, be it the new teacher wanting to get a handle on the importance of formative assessment, the teacher new to technology looking to leverage the power of apps, or the teacher who sees themselves seasoned in both formative assessment and technology’s power to get feedback from his or her students.

I’m leaving this book with this thought: We cannot talk about formative assessment enough. According to Fisher and Frey, we need to engage in formative assessment every five to ten minutes (qtd. in Burns loc. 246). I’m staggered by this.

As I’ve written about before in my blog, as a technology integrator, I’m working to find ways to continue to use the tools we know how to use to do the things we want, rather than find new tools that we have to learn, purchase, and use with students. At Canandaigua, we’re continually finding new ways to put Schoology to use to help us with this.

Below is a short Tech Tip I made to help teachers see how we can use Schoology as a formative assessment tool when working with them on long-term projects.

It’s no new news that to use technology effectively, it needs to be driven by solid pedagogical objectives. When I said, above, that we can’t spend enough time talking about formative assessment, I mean it. We can help teachers see the power in tools like Schoology, Schoology assessment, Kahoot, Quizziz, Recap, Mentimeter by reminding them that constant check-in with students is necessary.



Inform CA!


It’s been a busy couple of weeks in English 103. Kids have been making Google Sites to inform on issues, creating ads to bring traffic to those sites, and building surveys to collect information from peers on those issues. Yesterday, the project went live and public. Ads were posted in our school’s central atrium, for ease of access for the eighty-plus students in this class, and at the same time, opened these sites and surveys to the entire faculty and student body.

My motivation for this project


Details About the Process

At the start, we told students that they had to create a web-site to inform peers about an important problem within the issues they were researching, that they would have to make an ad, and develop a survey to collect opinions of the peers on these issues. I’ve found in this project, those first days are the challenge as there are a lot of pieces for students to digest.

To keep things organized, all of the content and resource material are housed in Schoology. While we put these materials in as a series of steps, students jumped around between tasks and steps as they needed to. Little direction instruction was given. Instead, students watch videos, completed readings, and as teacher, I walked around to provide assistance and answer questions. If you look below, you’ll see the layout.

informca schoology

This project was done by students over the course of 2 weeks. We originally aimed for a week and a half, but students needed time.


Below are some pictures of ads that students created.



Reflections and Future


Cilantro & a Reading Round-up

Several books have come across my desk that I’d like to write about briefly.

The first is Beyond Literary Analysis by Allision Marchetti (@allisonmarchett) and Rebekah O’Dell (@RebekahODell1).

As I’ve written about these writers and what I’ve learned from them in the past on this blog, particularly around infographics. I’m a huge fan of their work and the Moving Writers blog. When I learned that they were writing a book about literary analysis, I flipped.

After over twenty-one years as an English teacher, most of the them teaching courses like AP Literature, English 102, and IB English Literature HL, I’m starting to feel pretty spent teaching literary analysis and explication.

Knowing that their book was coming, I had a feeling that I’d be rewarded in the reading, and be given ways to breath new life into analysis for students and for myself. That feeling proved true when the book arrived and I dove in. Full disclosure, I started the book on the beaches of Playa Mujeres, just north of Cancun in Mexico during winter break. I wasn’t going to work over break, but I just had to read this book. In writing my review I might be experiencing  a strange synthesisia of white pages, good writing, sunscreen and cilantro.

If you are familiar with Marchetti and O’Dell’s work you know that they preach the gospel of the mentor text. Not familiar? Well, the concept is simple enough. Have students read the work of professional writers, identify the moves made by these writers, and work to replicate it in their own work. Makes sense, no?

Beyond Literary Analysis is broken into three main sections, making for clear reading when reading from cover to cover, but if you are looking to surf the book, each section provides distinct information.

First, Marchetti and O’Dell redefine analysis into 4 simple parts.

Second, this book is practical. They focus on the common issues found when working with the four parts of analyssi in student writing, provide a chart of these issues, and then activities for each of these issues.

Here is an example of such a chart:


Each of the exercises or protocols to improve writing is described on a later page.

In the third part of the book, there’s a close look at specific analysis assignment with different kinds of texts.

Throughout the book, these writers give lots of examples of student work and the moves that writers can make. Excellent models to use when working with students.

I’ll be honest. This is a book that I’ll reread over the summer, and put into action next year. While certainly, the strategies provided can be a savior when you are looking for dealing with a problem tomorrow, what I love about these writers is that they approach the concept of mentor texts as an entire driving philosophy that makes for good writing program. My IB kids are 5 weeks away from examining. We’re engaging in full on-slaught exam prep, so looking at analysis in NPR blogs or Radio lab podcasts isn’t where I’m going to focus my energy. Still, these teachers give us a way of approaching a curriculum and working with students over months.

Plus, I’m thinking about bringing back reading-logs. I want kids reading and reflecting and engaging in mentor text work on a regular basis. The sustained change in the practice of teaching analysis and getting kids to produce it, i’m not looking for the Friday bandaid. I want to practice in sustainable change. While I hated reading-logs when I first started teaching, and quickly abandoned them, I want students consuming input on a regular basis and reflecting on what they are learning about these texts as writers. Some form of reading-log combined with blog post may be a way to do this.

I also got to read Angela Stockman’s (@AngelaStockmanHacking the Writing Workshop. I’ve been into Stockman’s work for a couple of years now since I read her first book. Stockman is very accessible on Twitter and friendly at Edcamps.

Like other books in the Hack Learning series, Stockman’s new book offers concrete suggestions both in the book as well as with QR codes, which take the reader to shared Google Drive folders with additional resources. Reading this book was a multimedia extravaganza where I read and highlighted the book, and zapped QR codes on my Chromebook.

If you are looking to start a workshop, or looking to reinvent what you do currently, this is the book for you. Here at Canandaigua Academy, we are slowly working to redesign one of our classrooms to be a project-based, learning space with flexible seating. Stockman’s book will help us elevate that space into a room that works to foster productive work for students.

These books are made by writers who get the teaching profession. I believe they know the needs and temperament of the weary, March-drained teacher, much because I suspect that they live these lives themselves. As such, these books are straight-forward, practical, and give you stuff to work with immediately, if that’s your need.