Finding My Tribe – Building Community {#FlipClass Flashblog}


I’ve never met a stranger.  In my younger years, I was the student that got moved multiple times, because I’d talk to WHOMEVER was beside me.  As I’ve grown older – that has never changed.  As many times as I’ve arrived at a new place and said, “I’m just going to sit here and listen….” it never works.  If I feel strongly about something – you’re going to hear about it.

Maybe that’s why in my 17 years of teaching, I’ve always been able to “find my tribe” – educators who have the same mindset as I do.  Educators who are passionate about teaching and learning and kids and having fun.  Because that’s the best part about teaching, IMO, the fun we have on an HOURLY basis.

I mean, who else is going to believe the crazy things that happen?  Who else is going to be the shoulder you cry on?  Who else is going to give you that amazing idea that you’ll use in your classroom tomorrow?

Closing ourselves off in our classrooms closes us off to learning new and creative strategies.  It hinders us from learning and growing; it starves relationships.

Now, because of the internet and being a connected educator means that your tribe can be next door or across the country!  How amazing is it that I’ve found so many another people who love teaching and children and learning as much as I do?  It still blows my mind when I send out a tweet – AND GET AN IMMEDIATE RESPONSE!  And I can’t help but think – if there is someone is every part of the world that loves teaching and children and learning as much as we do where I am; there’s NO WAY we can’t change the world!

Don’t you agree?

Until the next time,


Continuing to Grow…


Tonight’s #flipclass #flashblog focuses on reflecting on successes and failures for the year.  What will you change for next year? What worked this year, & what didn’t? How can you turn failure into learning?

With this being my first FULL year of #flipclass I’ve definitely experienced many successes and failures.  I feel a lot more confident with how I’ve decided to flip my class and really how to begin!  When I started flipping at the end of last year, it went so well!  By the time I got to that point, my students knew how crazy I was and I could trust them to work well in groups without my supervision.  It’s amazing how much sixth graders grow and mature in just a short few months.

When I started this school year, I wanted to start the way I ended last year and my kiddos just weren’t ready.  They were still learning me and I them – so I didn’t have a good handle on who would work well together.  I floundered… SS partner (who was also flipping) talked a lot about how to adjust to something that worked for our kids.  I was SO frustrated those first few weeks!  But I learned…..I modified…and I adjusted.

My biggest change for this year will be to start the way I adjusted to…!  Also, I plan to put more thought into what projects the students will do throughout the year.  I’m really proud of the way that I decided to flip writing.  Writing is now ongoing instead of 3 weeks a quarter.  We have a reading and writing focus every week and video days are mostly on Mondays and Wednesdays. Writing Lessons include:  Perfect Planning, Developing Well Structured Paragraphs, Enhancing Content, and Putting on the Polish.  We just use a different prompt and type every month.  So every month, students have a finished writing piece.

I also want to incorporate more novels in my classroom. The students enjoyed the 4th quarter the most, because they loved our novel studies.  We read The Giver and they did a FABULOUS job!  They were so involved in the novel – they shared their love for it with everyone.


In failure, it forces me to be creative and think outside the box.  For struggling readers, English can be torture.  I want students to enjoy coming to my classroom even though it will be tough!  I’ll continue to revamp and adjust, because there’s always room to grow.  My kids deserve it!

Until the next time,




Just THINK….Doggone It!

Metacognition refers to awareness of one’s own knowledge—what one does and doesn’t know—and one’s ability to understand, control, and manipulate one’s cognitive processes (Meichenbaum, 1985).

Metacognition….I NEVER use that word with my kids.  But that doesn’t mean that the process is not encouraged.  In my classroom we talk about strengths and weaknesses, how I expect them to be responsible for their own learning, how I expect for them to be independent and critical readers and thinkers.

During class discussions students are encouraged to expound on their thinking.  When they turn and talk, you can hear words like “I think……because…..”. I think that is SO powerful!

We reflect often….what’s working….what’s not working.  What will help them become better….stronger.

But for me, they greatest joy is when we are able to have thoughtful  discussions about the text.  In the beginning – I pushed them.  And we fought….LITERALLY. Now, they push each other.  They discuss, debate, and develop their skills.  It hasn’t been an easy road, but it was well worth it.

I couldn’t be more prouder.

Until the next time,


The Struggle Is Real!


“The struggle is real.”  Lately that is the phrase that consumes me.  My principal is leaving.  Arguably the best principal I’ve ever met is leaving. Dealing with standardized testing and unmotivated kids.  My principal is leaving.  The overshadowing fear that next year I might just have to pack my things and move into a school that was designed 100 years ago for elementary kids.  Did I mention my principal is leaving?  I am definitely in a perpetual state of struggle.  And although I have faith that these things will work out – it still keeps me in a “tizzy” as my goddaughter says.  But, if we didn’t have to difficult with the difficulties in life, those “storm” – how would we appreciate it when the rainbow shows it’s beautiful self.  I know that this will pass and I’m thankful for the lesson I will learn as I’m going through it.

Today’s #flipclass #flashblog focuses on struggles in the classroom. So, I will pull my self out of this den of despair and share my thoughts on why, despite the fact that we despite it/them, struggles are a necessary part of life and therefore a necessary and integral part of my classroom.

I believe that children crave structure and discipline.  Despite their attempts the thwart and get over – they want to be in a safe and structured environment.  And despite their incessant whining – they appreciate being challenged.  The transition from elementary school to middle school is difficult.  No lie. But our kids grow up so much in these short few months.  I am so proud of so many of them.  They begin to take responsibility and ownership of their actions and their work.

On many of the creation projects they have, I don’t give a lot of direction.  I tell them to “figure it out” or say, “That’s a great question for Google!”  They do and they amaze, not only me, but themselves.

Sometimes I wonder how “the powers that be” decide upon what is appropriate grade level text.  Much of the text in our lit book is waaaaaay to hard for many of my students.  But they need the challenge, so I provide optional an audio version for them to use.

So they whine and complain….I laugh and ignore…..and support!  And when they succeed at something they thought they would NEVER be able to do – the grin on their faces makes my heart sing.  Because that’s what I live for…..their smiles.

Until the next time,


Is It Because We Call It Homework?

Homework – that dreaded word….. Is it important?  Is it useless?  I’ve always felt that homework was an integral part of the a child’s education.  I still do.  After seeing this article published by Edutopia (Homework vs. No Homework Is The Wrong Question), I’ve grown ever more confident of my opinion.

When I was able to teach English for 90 minutes a day, I didn’t stress much over homework.  For me it’s always been some form of independent reading, reading comprehension practice, and vocabulary practice.  When I moved to a new school and I only had 60 minutes (if I’m lucky), I began to depend heavily on homework to make sure that we are able to cover everything.

I love how the author of the Edutopia article asks, “What do we believe should happen after the end of the school day to help ensure that students retain what they have learned and are primed to learn more?”  How many of us have seen the image below?

Credit: Nagy, W. E., R. C. Anderson, and P. A. Herman. 1987. Learning word meanings from context during normal reading. American Educational Research Journal 24: 237–70.


I just don’t have the minutes during my class time, so it becomes a staple of my homework.

My homework definitely varies.  In the beginning of the school year, students had two days of basal reading and two days of independent reading.  But, it was really difficult the next day in class when students hadn’t read the text! After a few weeks of seeing my students struggle with the reading, I began creating videos of the reading to assist them.  Most of my videos are done in class, and the homework is an extension of the concept.

About halfway through, I changed it up…..again!  Ss would read, listen to, or watch the text video in class on Monday (first read) and then they watch the “concept” video at home.  That worked a whole lot better, because they’d get a “second read” in class and then we could discuss it, because I knew EVERYONE had had at least one read.

With vocabulary I began alternating roots and affixes with vocabulary units that would help improve students written vocabulary (a way to improve the “voice” in their writing). The first few weeks, most of the kids were bombing the test!  So I began adding a vocabulary homework component – just a way for them to practice.  It helped…..scores drastically improved!

In addition to assigned homework, other activities are totally optional.  I just provide incentives for those students who complete them.  What they are able to come to terms with themselves is that if they take the initiative to do the work, they see an improvement in their grades which makes them more likely to continue to do them.

I do like this question that the author’s poses, “Maybe what we need is a new word for all this. Instead of “homework,” how about “continued learning” or “ongoing growth activities?”  I’m going to try it out next week (no homework this week because of standardized testing) and let you know how it goes!

Until the next time,



Innovative Classrooms

To look up innovate in the dictionary your find:  to introduce something new; make changes in anything established.  What does that look like in the classroom?  It can look like so many different things.  Technology is a great way to innovate the classroom, but it’s not the ONLY way.  I’ve been using technology for years to innovate my classroom.  Years ago, I was the first of the teachers in my school to allow students to use my classroom computer to create content.  Back in the late 90’s my students created PowerPoints to showcase research.  I created Jeopardy games that engaged my students.   I purchased computer software with my own money that would help students to deepen their learning.  And it worked! Students were excited about learning and it showed!

For me, the Flipped Classroom would definitely be considered innovation in my classroom.  In recent years, I have continued to use technology.  We had access to netbooks and my students were able blog and connect with other students.  We also used ActivExpression devices which allowed me keep all students engaged; but once I heard about the Flipped Classroom I felt that was the game changer for me.

Now students are actively engaged, but they do so at their own pace.  If they didn’t understand the information, they can always rewind the video or go back and review their materials without hindering another student.  This time of year, I get really proud because they have learned to be pretty much self-sufficient.  They spend the majority of their time figuring out their problems on their own; they don’t come to me until they’ve exhausted their own repertoire.  Plus it really frees up my time to work with students in small groups and on an individual basis.

Since there are only a few of us flipping in our district, I think that would be a great way to change instruction.  It’s definitely where I plan on starting!

Until the next time,



To Grade or Not to Grade….That Is The Question

Tonight’s #flipclass #flashblog focuses on grading.  I’m sure that I will definitely be in the minority when I say that grades are necessary.  Do I think that grades are necessary all the time? No.  And maybe not even with all students.  But my students need grades.

I work in a high poverty school.  When you ask the boys what they want to be when they grow up, they all say some type of professional athlete.  If you ask them to come up with a second choice…they can’t.  They are each going to be the one who MAKES IT!  They don’t do my homework or study or read because they have practice. In the fall it’s football practice…in the winter – it’s basketball practice… the spring it’s baseball practice.  In this agricultural town where the unemployment rate is 5.8% and the job growth is -0.03% my students need to find a way out.  They need the opportunities to see other options for them.  They need to see that their education is a priority.  One that is more important than any sport they can play. But I digress….

Do I make grades the end all be all? No.  In class, we talk about determining our individual strengths and weaknesses.  I stress to them that the goal is mastery.  If they don’t do well on an assignment they can always redo it.  I work with them in small groups and on an individual basis to see what they know and what they’re stuck on.  I stress to them that it’s not who learns the material the fastest – the important thing is that the skill is learned.

Do I think that the 100 point grading scale is ridiculous?  I do.  How can there be 30 points to show that a student is passing and 69 points to determine failure.

Maybe they don’t need grades, but they need to be held accountable.  If a student feels that the assignment will not be graded – they half tail do it.  So, although I don’t put every grade in the gradebook, they don’t know it.  So, I guess my issue is not necessarily with grading but with accountability.  When I was growing up, my parents held me accountable for learning.  They made sure that I did those things that would make me successful.  That’s not always the case.

So I’m sure you’re saying “MAKE UP YOUR MIND!”  So here are my final thoughts.  Grades are a necessary evil as a part of holding students accountable.  Are my students more than a grade?  Heck yes!  Do we focus only on grades in my classroom?  Heck no!  And so continues this tight rope that I walk….

Until the next time,


Making The Learning Stick – With Adults!

I have sat in so many horrible…horrible….did I mention horrible?? presentations!  Some forced upon me – some straight up voluntary!  Part of my issue is that I am ADHD….like really bad.  So, after a few minutes if you haven’t caught my attention – I’m gone onto the next thing.


Ever been there?


I’ve always been a tech geek, I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about the Tandy computer my dad bought for our family back in the 80’s…..and I’ve always been willing to share what I know with other teacher to help.  I’d presented at my school and for my previous school district many times but I had never considered expanding out.

As I became more involved with technology integration, I took it upon myself to attend different conferences and I began to think…”Hey!  I can do this!”  I mean, I have some amazing kids and we do some amazing things…why not share those things?  And so I did. I saw where a school district was hosting an summer tech conference and I submitted my proposal.  After that I was hooked!

I’d like to think that I am able to share what I know in a way that excites and motivates someone else.

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As I’ve evolved as a presenter, my expectations have evolved.  I really don’t expect to get “wow’ed” every time.  If I can take one piece back to use with my kids (or even in my own presentation), that makes me happy.  The part that I enjoy the most now are the connections I’m able to make through these opportunities.

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So many times I’m able to put a face to a Twitter handle (right, @bgoza?) or add to my already amazing PLN.  Sometimes I’m able to have conversations with or spend a few moments with some of my tech heroes and sheroes.  And every single time I’m able to find at least one little thing that I can share with my kids!

Until the next time,



Student Created Content

Book Review Tellagami

Many people ask me about where my videos come from and if I pull from other places. I’d spent years on perfecting Promethean flipcharts that I was determined would not go to waste. It was so easy for me to take those flipcharts and turn them into screencasts. I prefer using my own videos, because the kids like to hear my voice and I know that the content that I’m presenting contains ALL of the content that they need.  I love Flocabulary, so I use their videos for my vocabulary units and sometimes I do use Learnzillion videos, but the majority of the content that my students access are created by me.

I’m all for student creation….all for it! I think that when students create it shows that they have mastered the content shared. I love when they create because it takes them to a higher levels of Blooms.

In my classroom, students create things like Visual Vocabulary Videos, Book Reviews, and Digital Booktalks – but I’ve yet to have them create content that I would use for instruction.

ELA content is just so complex, right now I don’t think my 6th graders are mature enough to handle it. Plus, I have to continuously make them review their work for careless mistakes, I don’t think I want the hassle.

I have had students create videos that highlight key concepts and they’ve done great with that; but I’m also very particular and maybe just a tiny bit “controlling”?

Maybe I’ll get there – but it would have to be very detailed and thought out.

What are you thoughts? Student Created Content or nah?

Until the next time,

Off the Cuff

Today’s #flipclass #flashblog post:

What is your strangest/most-off-the-wall lesson ever? Where did the idea come from? How did it work?

I live off the cuff.  Anyone who knows me knows that I am THE procrastinator.  Which is probably why I created today’s video at 2 AM this morning.

I do my best thinking in the shower….or right before the kids are gonna walk through the door; so I have a difficult time coming up with an answer.  I’ll talk about my most recent activity – Visual Vocabulary Videos.

We read The Gift of the Magi every year, because I love it so; but I know that the vocabulary is really difficult for them.  This year, I planned a week long unit using some of Erin’s (I’m Lovin’ Lit) materials.

I decided that I wanted to vocab activity to be more in depth, so I decided that students would create Visual Videos. HUGE hit!  I did a little research and found out that New York Times does a yearly competition and I let students use that as a resource.  Find them here.

Students had to act out the words and they LOVED it.  I showcased my favorite last week (Idiocy – you can find it here), so tonight I’ll share another groups.

I thought they did a pretty doggone good job for two day’s worth of work!


Until the next time,