Sunday, July 16, 2017

Taking learning to the next level through structures that allow for TWIRLS... #flipblogs

Design Credit: Matthew Moore
Credit: Andrew Swan
Introduction & Background
A random Twitter conversation between myself, Andrew Swan, and Matthew Moore led to the launch of a flipped learning chat modeled after good flipped learning practices.  You can read the goals and purposes in the image above.  I hope this encourages many of you to open up the walls of your classrooms by blogging about the prompts that will be posted to the #flipblogs hashtag.  Here is my attempt at going back in time to share a moment from my classroom.  If you'd like to read more, check out my weekly reflection posts (2011-2012, 2012-2013, 2013-2014) or my book, full of practical strategies, examples, and recommendations at  I hope to chat with many of you during the Twitter Chats on #flipblogs!

Credit: Andrew Swan

I was in my 5th year of teaching when I started flipping my class.  I remember having an unfulfilled desire every year: I wanted my students talking more and writing more in my math class.  I tried so many strategies that I learned about in different workshops, but I was not able to find a way to successfully and consistently provide opportunities for my students to talk and write to the extent that I desired.

One of my first posts when I started blogging back in 2012 was titled TWRLS, and briefly explains the transformation I began seeing in my students being able to show their thinking through writing, reading, listening, and speaking. (Note: Later I added and "I" in the middle for "Interacting" and it became TWIRLS.  Someone at a webinar I was hosting mentioned it in the chat and I loved it, so I added it!). 

It was so rewarding and gratifying to find a way where daily my students were taking their learning to the next level and expressing their learning to me (and their peers) in many more ways than just solving rote problems.

So, how did flipping my class allow my students to demonstrate TWIRLS (Thinking, Writing, Interacting, Reading, Listening, Speaking) effectively and consistently when I tried for so long with success?  I believe it can be pinpointed to 2 things, all that deal around structures that provided the time and space for students to do so.  If you've read my blog before, you know I am a fan of structures, because I feel like having consistent and clear structures help to set students up for success.  Here's a very brief overview of the structures I feel helped to make the transformation for my students.  For more info, check out the 4 part series I wrote in August of 2016 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

1. Pre-Class Structures
Students don't "Watch a Video", they complete a WSQ.  I'm going to just direct you to the 4-part series linked in the previous paragraph (Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4) or to my book to learn more about how to utilize the WSQ method effectively.  Please ask questions in the comments and I'll clarify or direct you to a more specific place.

2. In-Class Structures
Class time transformed from having students be able to just work on practice problems and get individualized attention and support to a place where I was actually able to talk with every student every day (it's not just a coined phrase - it can actually happen!).  Because we started class with a WSQ Chat (see part 4 linked above) and then provided opportunities for students to process their learning and demonstrate their understanding through blogging (see more student blogging resources here), I began to see that it wasn't just me (the teacher) who could demonstrate TWIRLS in class.  It became my goal that my students were always the one demonstrating the most TWIRLS on a daily basis.

In my classroom...
I can't just pick one story to share in this I decided to pull a video from the archives where my students share about their experience and how the flipped classroom helps them demonstrate TWIRLS in many ways.  It's 10 minutes long, but I think hugely valuable to give a window into my story.

Also on at

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Purposefully Using Technology in a World Languages Class (Guest Post)

This is in a series of posts by teachers in the TUSD Connect Fellowship for the 2016-2017 school year.  I hope you enjoy reading their reflections on the impact of technology in their classroom, specific tools and strategies that have made a positive impact on teaching and learning, and their goals moving forward.

Cross posted from

When I decided to become a TUSD Tech Fellow I really did not know what to expect from the program, nor did I fully understand the magnitude of the impact it would have in my class and myself as an educator.  What I did know was that I wanted to implement the use of technology in a purposeful way to take my Spanish classes to another level.  Essentially, I was looking for ways to  make meaningful connections between my students primary language and Spanish to help them increase their development of a second language.  Incorporating technology into my classroom has allowed me to develop an efficient way to cover more content while spending more time practicing the use of target language.

Let’s take a look at some ways in which technology has impacted my classroom.

Adobe Spark- Part of the curriculum that we have at the TUSD Foreign Language Department requires that we read children novels in Spanish to help develop vocabulary, grammar, reading comprehension and speaking fluency.  Last year I began to tinker with the idea of incorporating technology to help elevate the level of my students proficiency by using Google Drawings to help my students develop sequence maps to help them review the reading and practice engaging in using the target language as they shared their maps in groups. (See a post about this lesson series from Jose's class here.) This year I took this idea to a different level by having my students use Adobe Spark to create a presentation with images and a voice over recording to show to the entire class.  This was an amazing idea as I was able to not only facilitate student engage in making connections of concepts presented in the novel with their own background knowledge as they created their presentations but it also helped me make sure my students were practicing the use of the target language.  The best part of it all was that I was able to present the sequence maps to the class and have the students listen to each other’s work, reflect,  and give each other feedback. Thus, ensuring that the students not only got feedback from myself but also from each other.
Click here to listen to a student presentation of a summary of one of the novels we read in class
Click here to listen to a narration of sequence of events that take place in a bullfight).

Let’s Recap- If you’ve ever attempted to learn a second language you would agree with me that you need to engage in continuous practice and receive feedback to be able to continue to develop fluency and pronunciation.  Let’s Recap allows my students to do just that in a one on one setting with their webcam which helps reduce the affective filter (barrier that we create that interferes with the reception and processing of comprehensible input).  In the past students were required to present one on one in front of myself, the class, or a partner to practice speaking in the target language.  Let’s Recap allows my students to independently answer prompts that I provide and it allows me to review their work instantly and provide feedback.  I like to draw comparisons of the use of Recap to an athlete watching tape of themselves and going over it with a coach or on their own because it allows my students to hear themselves and see my notes to identify what their areas of improvement are.  Thanks to this tool I have seen my students increase fluency and pronunciation in the target language and it has reduced their affective filter during presentation as the practice makes them feel more comfortable when they are presenting.  In addition to that, the use of Recap has increased participation in the target language in my class as it’s help develop self confidence in my students

Click here to see a screenshot of an image of the responses I receive from students
Click here to see a screenshot of the feedback I provide to my students

Looking Ahead...
Part of my teaching philosophy is that you never become a finished product, hence, I´m always looking for ways to improve my lessons and my approach to teaching.  One of my goals for next year is to continue to explore ways in which I can incorporate technology in an impactful way for my students to increasing reading comprehension.  In order to do that I look forward to incorporating many reading comprehension activities for our novels in different ways including using Actively Learn to ensure all of my students have an opportunity to collaborate and learn from each other.  I believe that working with Actively Learn has a variety of tools that will allow me to spend more time facilitating class discussions to practice the use of the target language, as well  to help me understand my student´s way of thinking when it comes to annotating the reading and answering comprehension questions (click here to see a sample of student work i.e. annotations, student answers, and teacher feedback).  

Another goal that I have for next year is to dedicate some time to screencast (record) grammar lessons so that my students have access them at anytime during and after the unit.  Screencasting lessons will provide another platform for my students to learn and review independently, thus, giving me more time in class to design more activities to practice the application of grammar in written, auditory and oral forms.

Looking Back...

Being part of the TUSD Tech Fellow Program helped me identify ways in which I can incorporate technology tools in a constructive way to challenge and help my students reach their academic goals.  The thing that I liked the most about being in this program was how it challenged me to reflect on teaching in so many different levels.  It was surprising to me to realize how engaging in deliberate reflection has helped me grow in so many aspects of teaching i.e. delivery of content, informal formal assessment, incorporation of technology, and pedagogy.  Essentially what I realized is that sometimes just thinking of ways in which I could incorporate technology in meaningful way as part of lesson led to a thorough reflection session which at times ended up without the incorporation of technology into the lesson; nonetheless, going through the reflection process allowed me to evaluate the lesson and make changes based on the highs and lows from that particular lesson from a year ago or from a previous lesson that I may have taught the week before.  

Post Author: Jose Miranda
Mi nombre es José Miranda y soy maestro de español en Beckman High School.  I’m in my second year of teaching and have absolutely enjoyed every bit of my it.  I love teaching Spanish because it reminds me of myself at a young age as I was learning English.  It wasn’t something that happened right away nor was it easy, but when I look back I realized that I had lot’s of fun doing it. As a teacher it’s unbelievable to see a student breakdown the barriers of language and fully engulf themselves in having fun with the language as they continue to develop it.  

Monday, June 5, 2017

My Year of Looking Through the Lens of Technology (Guest Post - Erin Thomas)

This is in a series of posts by teachers in the TUSD Connect Fellowship for the 2016-2017 school year. I hope you enjoy reading their reflections on the impact of technology in their classroom, specific tools and strategies that have made a positive impact on teaching and learning, and their goals moving forward.

As I reflect back over the past ten months, I would have to say that being a part of the TUSD Connect Fellowship has been one of my favorite things about this school year. It isn’t just that technology has reinvigorated my teaching  practice and made the content more engaging for my students, which it has, but rather it is what I have gained through the process of having an instructional coach. In September, when I began this process, my expectations were simple:

I will know the fellowship has been successful if feel more confident about integrating technology and if my students are ready for what’s next because of what they've done this year.

Oh, how far we have come. I have to say “we” because I truly believe that it was having the opportunity to have purposeful, one-on-one coaching that has made this such a transformative process. If someone had asked me last year what tech I consistently used in my classroom, I would have replied “Powerpoint, books, pens, and highlighters. Those are all technically tech, right?” My greatest fear with infusing technology into my curriculum was that it would cause my students to become disconnected from each other and from me. I had horrifying visions of a sea of forty heads all zoned into computer screens searching for answers on Google, rather than thinking aloud and arriving at conclusions with another human being. Perhaps I had been reading too much dystopian literature, but I worried that technology would somehow suck the life out of the content and the process of learning--I couldn’t have been more wrong.

How Technology has Helped my Students Stay Connected

Despite my many fears, this year has taught me that tech can enrich student discussions. Two of the new discussion activities I created this year that I am most proud of are a Four Corners Discussionwhich focuses on how to move online discussions into classroom discussions, and a Six Person Panel Discussion, which focuses on using technology to increase student independence and talk-time. My belief that the increased use of technology in my classroom would cause a decrease in their When I polled my students, both of these discussions were ranked as their favorites for the year.

How Technology has Encouraged my Students to Become Lifelong Learners

I am always searching for ways to encourage my students to “wonder” while learning. As I mentioned earlier, one of my main concerns with technology is that it would students to search for answers online, rather than actually engaging in the critical thinking required to arrive at their own conclusions. My Adobe Spark Blog is about a three-part project using the video slide show technology to encourage students to explore essential questions over a lengthy unit of study.

How Technology has Inspired Creativity in Me and My Students

One of my biggest revelations about technology in the classroom is that it won’t drain humanity out of my curriculum. The projects I have designed this year that make me proudest are the ones which reflect both how technology has inspired my creativity, and my student’s. My Student Podcast Blog on students podcasts is a perfect example of how technology can be used to make a richer learning experience.

Participating in this tech fellowship, and working with an instructional coach, has been the best thing I could have done for my teaching practice. As I look forward to the next school year, my main goal is to build on what I have created this year. While I have specific ideas about new ways to use technology (hello, Google Sites), what I am most focused on as a professional is continuing the cycle of reflection that has been established by my coach this year. I never thought that I would grow as much as I did, and I certainly never thought that I would be as excited about what technology can bring to the classroom as I am.

This year has been a journey for both me and my students. As I have grown, they have grown, and I am looking forward to what is to come next year.

Happy Summer!

Erin Thomas has been teaching English Language Arts in Tustin Unified School District since 2005. She received her B.A. in English, teaching credential, and Master's in Education from Concordia University, Irvine. Erin grew-up in a house filled with books, in fact every room contained its own bookcase, which instilled her a life-long passion for reading and a love language. As a teacher, Erin hopes to foster that same love of literature in her students by giving them opportunities to read deeply and often, and by encouraging them to share their understanding of what literature reveals about the human spirit.

Getting Detailed with Tech (Guest Post)

This is in a series of posts by teachers in the TUSD Connect Fellowship for the 2016-2017 school year. I hope you enjoy reading their reflections on the impact of technology in their classroom, specific tools and strategies that have made a positive impact on teaching and learning, and their goals moving forward.

I see technology as a tool to enhance the skills necessary to tackle an English course, rather than a new skill to be taught. I often ask, “What technology enhances the skills I am already teaching?”. As a fellow, I was able to explore a wide variety of tech tools that help build writing skills. Most of the technology that I’ve grown to appreciate and value were tools that helped my students understand the key components in an essay. One such example is Verso. Verso allowed me to hone in on skills, such as introducing evidence, writing topic sentences, and developing analysis. In addition, the feedback was quick. Categorizing student’s answers by grade level allows students to see how they would be graded, what quality of work they were producing before they actually earned a grade. This form of formative assessment gave students the space to ask questions about their writing, which fostered more individualized conversations about their writing. In addition, the anonymity provided students with a wide variety of examples. This fostered good conversations about writing quality. As a result of several Verso activities, students asked questions and evaluated their own writing in a way I was not able to see before.

The second tool I found beneficial in the classroom was EdPuzzle. I used EdPuzzle in a variety of ways: reading assignments, writing scaffolding, mini lessons. I found the most success using it as a reading tool. I uploaded the audiobook of Romeo and Juliet (scene by scene) and then inserted my reading check questions in the video. I found this useful for both my strong students and struggling students. The strong students were then able to move onto analysis during class discussion. The struggling students were given a scaffold and important parts to focus on while reading. Students the next day were able to focus on analysis and close reading, as opposed to plot-based questions. In addition, EdPuzzle kept my CP students accountable for reading, which is a common struggle.   As the teacher, I could go into EdPuzzle and look at student responses to the questions and open up class discussion with questions students struggled to answer. I was more clearly able to see which areas of the text my students needed to discuss.

My goals for next year are to improve class discussion. I want to foster a stronger sense of community in the class so students feel safer to discuss their ideas without judgement. In addition, I want to provide stronger annotation/close reading instruction. I hypothesize that if students feel confident about their reading skills they will more likely discuss their ideas in class and in front of others.

The technology that I used this year helped me scaffold writing structure, but next year I’d like to focus on refining students understanding English Language Conventions. I hope to use EdPuzzle in order to create interactive lessons featuring important grammar concepts.

The number one benefit of the Tech Fellowship was the reflecting I did. I felt that I had to think more critically about what strategies I was using in the classroom and if those strategies were really meeting my goals. The fellowship forced me to change some of my teaching practices because I was recognizing some students’ needs were not being met. On the other hand, it also helped me stay confident in some of my current teaching practices.

Transitioning from Teacher-Based to Teacher-Facilitated Learning with Technology (Guest Post - Ken Cooper)

This is in a series of posts by teachers in the TUSD Connect Fellowship for the 2016-2017 school year.  I hope you enjoy reading their reflections on the impact of technology in their classroom, specific tools and strategies that have made a positive impact on teaching and learning, and their goals moving forward.

For me this year technology has impacted my classroom by making me more efficient and taken off the load of having to be the source of information transfer to the students.  Technology has also improved quality of learning as well as the teaching process itself, making it easier to check understanding of ideas and concepts that were once too difficult to check in the traditional manner (verbally or with quizzes).

In the past, my use of technology had been limited to using Haiku as a discussion board and an avenue to take auto-graded multiple choice tests.  I had briefly dabbled in Google Classroom, but underutilized the potential it had.  By becoming involved with the Tech Fellowship, I have gained the confidence to try new tools that I would in all likelihood never have sought out and tried on my own. If it had not been for the Tech Fellowship, I feel the students in my class would have not have been exposed to the same learning environment.  I am truly glad that I took the chance to enter into this program.

Technology has put the learning into the hands of the students in the form of sites beyond that of the old standards of Google and Wikipedia.  Now students have immediate access to tools such as GoFormative, Quizizz, and Edpuzzle (click the links for sample lessons / assignments used).  These tools allow students to gain knowledge either on their own or through collaborative learning - providing students of different learning styles and preferences access to the material. In addition, I have used Haiku discussions in class allowing all students the ability to enter into a class discussion regardless of their public speaking comfort level. Lastly, Google Forms is an easy way to collect data from students on how they perceive the value and effectiveness of a lesson or concept, especially a new way of introducing a topic.

One specific lesson I'd like to share revolves around a hyperdoc my coach and I created about the most important Supreme Court cases that Earl Warren had a part in deciding. The hyperdoc walks you through the 5 tasks that students engaged in over the course of 3 class days.

The goal of this assignment was to expose the students to historic Supreme Court cases that have an impact on our lives as a whole, both through rights of the accused as well as free speech issues.  Students know of their rights but assume that these rights, lawyer, remaining silent, evidence obtained from illegal searches being inadmissible have always been the case.   
By organizing the assignment this way, students understand the time frame in which so many iconic Supreme Court decisions were rendered.  They are amazed that these rights they take for granted were argued and decided less than 60 years ago.

Looking Forward...
Next year I would like to start to emphasize and use hyperdocs more to create more long term assignments of more than just a day or two allowing deeper understanding of the impact both short and long term in the material covered in CP US History. I've already started to work on one with my coach about US Foreign Policy over time. It is still a work in progress (I'm prepping it for next year), but you can check out what I have so far here.

Looking Back
I cannot begin to state how effective this fellowship has been on my teaching.  I went from someone who would not use certain lessons that fellow teachers would use because I was unfamiliar with technology or a techno-phobe.  I was leary of using technology solely for the sake of using technology.  Students having their computers in class has gone from once or twice  a week, to nearly daily, such as having a pencil and paper.  The fact that I was willing to try technology to help my students to engage in their learning by the use of technology helped me to get over the fear of the use of technology for things other than attendance and grades. It also help me to see that the things that worked best in my classroom and worked best for my students were usually technology-based.

Ken Cooper is a US History teacher at Beckman High School as well as the ASB Director for the school. He enjoys teaching and the interactions both inside and outside of the classroom. Before coming to teach in Tustin Unified in 1996, he student taught at Troy High School in Fullerton and worked in Orange Unified.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Thinking About Thinking: Google Forms as a Metacognitive Tool by Tracey Kent

This is in a series of posts by teachers in the TUSD Connect Fellowship for the 2016-2017 school year. I hope you enjoy reading their reflections on the impact of technology in their classroom, specific tools and strategies that have made a positive impact on teaching and learning, and their goals moving forward.

One of the most valuable parts of my two-year experience as a TUSD Connect Fellow has been the focus placed on reflection. During each meeting, my digital learning coach and I reflect on just about everything related to my classroom: student learning, lesson objectives, tech tools, instructional practices. All of this reflection has inspired the use of one of the most impactful tech tools in my teaching arsenal: the Google form.

Google forms have made a significant impact on guiding the instructional practices in my classroom. For most new activities, I request that my students fill out a Google form afterward in order to give me feedback on how effective the lesson’s components were, how much the design of the activity influenced their learning, and how much engagement the activity generated. For example, for our study of the The Great Gatsby, I decided to use Desmos (yes, this is still the post of an English teacher) to facilitate a discussion on symbolism. In small groups, students were given elements from Chapter 5 of the novel to discuss. They were asked to determine if the element was a “symbol” or “not a symbol” and to provide textual evidence with the rationale of their classification. Each group had a student recorder who typed responses for the group into Desmos (I wanted to ensure that the focus was on discussion, rather than each student clicking away silently and independently on their own device). After the class discussion activity, students were asked to complete a short Google form for homework, giving me feedback on how the activity went in their opinion. I find this type of feedback to be invaluable when designing activities to facilitate learning. This activity is only one example of the many types of follow-up forms that I ask students to complete. I have found that these forms help to tailor my instruction to my students’ specific needs.

Students also experience the metacognitive benefits of Google forms. They take greater ownership over their thinking by reflecting on the relative success of a learning experience. They consider what aided their learning, what hindered it, and what was negligible in impact. Forms empower students to think about thinking. Students are also able to rate their own performance and the performances of others in collaborative work. For a major group project, my students were scored on their “professional collaboration.” They were asked to fill out a Google form, rating each group member’s preparation, collaboration, and performance for their project. I received these scores on the corresponding response Sheet, and I averaged students’ evaluations of their peers’ contributions in order to determine their grade. Students rated themselves as well so that their self-evaluation was fairly included in the average score. Google forms also allow students to reflect on the writing process. As part of an essay revision workshop, students volunteered to peer tutor for extra credit. After they completed the tutoring session, they were asked to reflect on the challenges and benefits of peer tutoring and to consider how the process affected their own thoughts about writing. Assignments like these make manifest a student’s thoughts and capture a critical part of the learning process.

Teaching and learning alike are stimulated and refined through reflection. Having an awareness and understanding of one’s thought processes is an important component of any educational endeavor. Students and teachers can benefit from metacognition, and the subsequent reflection it engenders, and the use of technology like Google forms helps to elicit and capture these helpful thoughts.

Tracey Kent has been teaching English at Arnold O. Beckman High School for the past ten years. A lover of learning and literature, Tracey received a Bachelor's degree in English, a single-subject teaching credential, a Master's degree in teaching, and a Master's degree in English literature all from the University of California, Irvine. Teaching combines Tracey's passion for literature, writing, and grammar (yes--even grammar) with her love of learning. She delights in helping to nurture her students' sense of curiosity and nourish their intellects. Tracey is enthusiastic about all forms of expression--literature, art, film, music--and it is this appreciation of culture that most informs her teaching. Technology's impact on art and culture fascinates Tracey, and she looks forward to discovering ways in which she can use technology to help enhance students' literacy.

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