From a Landing Page to a Learning Home

From a Landing Page to a Learning Home

Moving is quite the process. I’ve done it seven times in my life across three different states. But I’ve never experienced a move quite like the one educators have recently made by moving their classroom online. And this got me thinking. I wondered if my past experiences with boxes and U-Hauls might have something to offer towards navigating this particular move.

My first thought was, Well, there’s really four stages to moving.

The first is just getting all your things together, which is time-consuming and incredibly overwhelming. As you pack, you take stock of your belongings, seeing what you might be able to use in the new space. You quickly realize you don’t actually need half of the junk you have, and you can’t use half of the rest. So, you jump online and find the pieces you need to make the new place functional.

Okay, well, that sounds familiar.

Next, there’s the literal act of moving your things over. You pick a vehicle and start to load things up. If you’re the independent type, you will work yourself nearly to death at this point because, gosh darn it, you’re going to do this on your own! For others, this can be an anxious time as they realize they need help, but don’t feel comfortable asking for it. Thankfully though, we all have someone we can rely on to help with getting everything transferred.

Yep. Go on.

What follow’s next is the tedious organizational step of unpacking everything for immediate, functional use. You search through your things, opening up only the essentials, haphazardly placing them in what seems like the most logical place at the time. It’s slow, awkward, clunky. Nothing feels familiar yet, making it tough to navigate.

Ugh, that’s so true.

Then, several weeks later, you start settling into your new reality. As you do, you make small but meaningful modifications and find new potential in the intricacies of the space. You see things differently now that you have lived here for some time. Subtle things get rearranged. You get organized. You go onto Pinterest or Instagram and find the perfect piece to add. You bring in elements of nature, hang up a quote, unpack family photos and put them on display. You may even establish a motif. The space becomes an extension of your personality, an extension of you. 

I wonder if we educators are now entering that fourth stage in our move to elearning. If so, how might we start to transform our online space from a landing page to a learning home. What personal touches might we add? Can our students feel our presence in this online place? How might we bring elements of nature, culture, history, and the world outside of their homes into our shared space? This goes beyond aesthetics. It’s time to start thinking about how it feels to experience learning in your new classroom, especially if it’s somewhere we might be for a while.

What Educators Need to Know About Teaching in a Post-Covid 19 Classroom

What Educators Need to Know About Teaching in a Post-Covid 19 Classroom

In the first few weeks following the widespread school closures across the US and around the world, educators were gasping for resources and scrambling to move their coursework online. In what was an incredibly stressful and emotional time, teachers everywhere rose to meet the needs of the moment. Together, we shined. 

Having weathered that initial storm, we now find ourselves performing a type of curriculum triage [1] where learning is being pared down to its most basic essentials. This is by no means a substitute for the classroom. It’s not even online learning. It’s emergency learning online, and hopefully, this current reality will be brief.

Regardless, the impact of the present moment will create a much larger, long-term issue that we must look to address before we all go back to school. To understand this issue, let’s take a look at four factors we know to be true about our present circumstances; piecing each detail together will help to bring into view the challenge that lies ahead.

Four Present Factors Contributing to Our Future Problem

  • Reduced Instructional Time: Currently, most students in the US will miss at least an average of three months worth of at-school learning. 
  • Increased Learning Loss: Previous research has shown the following adverse effects of summer breaks. [1]
    • Student achievement scores typically drop by one month’s worth of school-year learning.
    • Declines are more significant in math than in reading.
    • The negative impact of this time off is more significant at higher grade levels.

Assuming that school starts on time in the fall, our learners will be returning after a duration of time equal to two summer breaks, and there is no data to help us understand the compounded impact on learning loss of stacking this much time together.

  • Inequity with Access and Support: Despite our very best efforts as educators, this moment is likely to be the most inequitable period of learning in decades. There is a severe opportunity gap due to the discrepancies with tech resources, internet access, and online learning opportunities. That disparity exists on a district to district, school to school, and even teacher to teacher basis. [2] This issue is only compounded by factors such as varying degrees of parental support, differing levels of at-home responsibilities, and notable differences in how conducive the home environment is for learning. In short, some learners will lack the access and/or the conditions necessary for them to consistently invest in their own education at this time.
  • Growing Gap in Levels of Learner Agency: To state it simply, some learners are diligently doing their remote learning assignments while others are not. A recent Common Sense Media poll found that 40% of U.S. teens haven’t done any distance learning since schools closed last month. [4] Consider the impact this will have both academically and on these students’ individual level of agency and conscientiousness. There are educators who will call it grit. Regardless, some students are currently developing the capacity to lead their own asynchronous learning while others, frankly, are not. When school resumes, we can expect some learners to be uncharacteristically adept at managing their own learning process while others will have spent half a year developing bad habits and/or regressing in these ways.

When you look at these truths collectively, the reality of the post-Covid 19 classroom becomes painfully clear.

Some students will enter your room up to seven months behind in their academic progress, and as such, expect the achievement gap to have significantly widened. 

The question then for practitioners becomes, “Well, what am I supposed to do about it?”

  1. Don’t get discouraged. Let this be a sobering message that activates your efforts to meet your learners’ needs and this challenge head on. 
  1. Use this time to learn. Educators currently have a surplus of the most elusive luxury for personal growth and development: time. Use it to scour the internet and social media for resources related to blended learning, differentiation, personalized learning, learner-centered learning, and so on. Learn about the strategies others have used to put students at the center.
  1. Use this time to brainstorm. Yes beg and borrow, but also build. Take what you learn and brainstorm how to transform your methodology to better meet your learner’s individual needs. Then, don’t hesitate to set to work creating the materials and resources that you will need to make your dreams a reality. Your future self this fall will thank you for it!
  1. Prepare to pre-test. Pre-assessments have long been recognized as an aspect of best practices, but after this time out of the classroom, they will be imperative. If you don’t typically pre-test, consider using this time to design those pieces. Then consider how the results might influence your instruction and activities thereafter. Expect a follow-up blog post on this topic with practical ideas.
  1. Find joy in the process. Acclaimed psychologist Jordan Peterson once said, “life has meaning in proportion to the amount of responsibility you take on,” and many educators are currently in a state of mourning; yes, over the lost of the school year, but also over losing the sense of meaning they derive from the work they do each day. So get back to that.

Teachers, consider this your call to action. I want to encourage you to give a little time each day to honing your craft as a way to better yourself

Teachers, consider this your call to action. I want to encourage you to give a little time each day to honing your craft as a way to maintain positive mental health and to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead. 

Your future students are going to need you to be at your absolute best next year.

[1] Curriculum Triage: How Do We Manage the Instructional Challenge Right Now? 

[2] Learning Loss: What It Is and What We Can Do About It

[3] US Schools Trying to Teaching Online Highlight a Digital Divide

[4] 4 in 10 U.S. Teens Say They Haven’t Done Online Learning Since Schools Closed

An In-Home Learning Strategy for Busy Quarantine Families

Originally shared as a guest post on the Parent Square Learning Network

In our household there are two teachers and two primary-age students, and during our first week staying at home, we had a problem. As adults, we still have work responsibilities, and at ages 5 and 8, the kids need help navigating the five subjects of schoolwork they receive each day.

Our first thought was to set a schedule so that routines would be established. In that way, designated times would kick-start certain subjects and tasks. 


What we quickly realized was that sometimes the kids needed support with certain tasks, and if there happened to be a Zoom staff meeting or any other commitment that prevented us from supporting them in that immediate moment, the structure fell apart. The schedule needed more flexibility.

Then, we tried a checklist.


Come on, I mean, who doesn’t love the feeling of crossing things off your to-do list?!? Well, apparently the answer to that is my children. Even though a checklist does not have to be done in a specific order, don’t try telling that to them. The checklist was frustrating, and stopping a task to take a break routinely killed all their motivation to continue on with their work.

Finally, an answer.

Recognizing the shortcomings of our initial attempts, we felt optimistic about using a “To-Do, Doing, Done” board. The idea was that every day we would write down each item on their to-do list on a separate post-it note. Those post-its get placed in their “To-Do” column, and then as they start a task, the post-it moves to the “Doing” column. Once complete, it gets moved to “Done” and five completed tasks earns a sticker that is worth 30 minutes of free time.


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Here’s what’s happened since we started. The kids now wake up each morning and run to their board to search through their list for the day. We intentionally scatter the post-its so that there is no implied order, and we like to put a fun, surprise activity on a post-it and hide it in the mix. 

Oh, and in case you are wondering, yes, chores also go on post-its.

The “Doing” column has also been a godsend. There are times throughout the day when our responsibilities as adults make us momentarily unavailable to lead them through a portion of their work. The kids now know that they can leave a task in the “Doing” column and start something else if an adult is busy.

The “Doing” column has also been great for motivation. When the kids choose to stop mid-activity, we ask them to reflect on how close they are to finishing and to move that post-it to the place between the start/finish lines in the “Doing” column that reflects just how close they are to completing that task. Last week, my daughter had stopped writing earlier in the day, but she was bent on moving the post-it to done. Seeing just how close she was to finishing, prompted her to revisit her work for an additional 30 minutes later that night.

Overall, this board has made our household happier and more productive. It’s helped us to maintain a more positive learning dynamic during these stressful times, which is why I wanted to share our story. I hope this strategy can help you! 

So from our family to yours, please know that we are thinking about you all and are sending our best wishes your way.

Teaching Can Be Challenging

Teaching Can Be Challenging

Originally posted in November 2019 as a guest post on Rachelle Dene Poth’s blog, Learning As I Go, Experiences, Reflections, Lessons Learned.

Now that we are into November, it’s likely that at some point this year you’ve been asked the question, “So, do you have a pretty good group this year?” In my time in education, I’ve heard a myriad of answers to this question – some that I don’t want to repeat. Whether it’s right or wrong or not even a thing worth discussing, I do find it interesting to hear what a teacher has to say. And actually, there is one word in particular hat comes up rather consistently when this question is asked. One that on its own doesn’t completely address the question. The word “challenging.”

This year, I am redesigning our high school’s English 4 course and am teaching that class for the first time. When the teacher who had previously taught that course retired, she politely used the word “challenging” when describing to me the group of students that she typically supported in that course. She quickly followed that up with a “Good luck!” that felt more like a warning than words of encouragement.

English 4 is an appealing option for students who are simply looking to pass an English class to graduate and pick up a few helpful life hacks along the way. Many of our students have had significant struggles with learning in the past for a variety of reasons. Those reasons have made it hard for them to find consistent academic success. For these students, senior year has brought both the liberating promise of change once they reach the end of May but along with it the stinging reality that they have navigated their K-12 education to the 12 end of that spectrum and the experience has left them feeling like they have not taken much from a system that has helped some of their peers to thrive. 

Planning over the summer was, well, challenging in its own right. I knew very little about this group that wasn’t second hand knowledge. But as I perused the gradebook and academic history for some of my students prior to the start of the year, I knew one thing: I had to give these learners the opportunity to feel what accomplishment feels like. There is a certain rhythm to success that has to be found and then felt before it starts to beat and almost swell from within. I guessed then and now know that many of these students have never heard, nor much less felt that beat, and I knew that I would be working against thirteen years of baggage if I tried to convince them, initially at least, to search for this experience in an academic setting. But I had an idea.

When I find myself feeling stagnant in my own motivation, I often start a #Five4Five Challenge. The #Five4Five challenge was created by Michael Matera, author of Explore Like a Pirate, in the spring of 2018. He posed this challenge through his Twitter and YouTube account, and I was immediately intrigued by the idea. The #Five4Five Challenge asks individuals to select one “thing to do” and do that thing each day for five days straight. What you decide to do is entirely up to you, but you have to do it once a day for each of the five days to succeed. I myself had done six #Five4Five Challenges before the school year began. I had created a vlog, done anonymous acts of kindness, set workout goals, even given up Starbucks for five days straight (that one was brutal). The goal itself doesn’t matter; it’s not about the goal. It’s about intentionality and filling your day with purpose and success. It seemed like the right fit for my learners, and so in the second week of school, I issued them all a challenge.

Now, if I’m being honest, I wasn’t exactly sure how they would respond to it. Would they laugh this off? Would they be into it for a week or two and then fade away as the grind of the semester progressed? Well, I’m happy to share that as I’m writing this, we just finished our fourth week of #Five4Fives (we go two weeks on, one week off), and the experience has not only gone well but it has exceeded all my expectations.

Our implementation has been pretty simple. We created a one-sided handout that has four boxes on it, one box for each of the first four weeks of the course. Each box contains a line for the learner to write out their goal for that week, the days of the week with a checkbox next to each day, and a place for the learner to sign their name if they complete the challenge by the end of the week. 

This is not for a grade and we try to keep our daily commitment to discussing these goals to five minutes or less each class period. We don’t always open class with our #Five4Fives, but when we do, I really enjoy it. It’s captivating and powerful for class to begin with students openly sharing their passions and accomplishments. It’s been such a positive culture piece. It’s also been encouraging to watch students fail for a day and then keep going for that week. I’ve noticed too a greater sense of resilience in the students; in the first week, most would hang their head if they had to share about missing their goal the previous day, but now they confidently share their failures too. In those moments, I try to ask, “So are you going to get back on track tomorrow?” Most answer yes and at least make that goal for another day or two that week.

One month in, I’m really glad that we don’t require that the #Five4Five goals be education related. It’s funny, despite having the freedom to set any goal they wish, several students each week still choose a goal that has something to do with school. The goals that they set often speak to their values, their challenges, and desires for change; by offering them the freedom to create the goal that they want they are more willing to follow through with it. The only stipulation we have set for the goals is that they must be measurable. 

Check out how we are doing! Here’s some of the data we have collected thus far…

#Five4Five Challenge: Number of Students Completing a Certain Number of Goals Per Week

Completed One Goal Completed Two GoalsCompleted Three Goals Completed Four GoalsCompleted All Five Goals 
Week One4 Students5 Students4 Students10 Students25 Students
Week Two5 Students4 Students4 Students8 Students27 Students
Week Three1 Student2 Students7 Students2 Students36 Students

Though I’m not sure that I needed this data to have a sense that this practice was having a positive influence on our learners, I’m very happy with the story these numbers seem to tell. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions from it.

A final piece of evidence that I would like to share comes from our weekly Flipgrid video reflections that students have gotten into the habit of recording. Every two weeks, the students create a video in which they reflect on their efforts in the course and with their #Five4Five goals. This reflection comes from a student named Luis. In week two, Luis chose to set an academic goal for himself, and I’m proud to say that Luis met his goal that week. Afterward he reflected on his experience saying, “…my goal was to do my homework for every class, and I was surprisingly successful. I picked it because junior year I was not good with homework at all and I just had so many missing assignments. And for senior year I want to be able to do all my homework and get some good grades because my grades were terrible last year. I just want to be able to see what I can do, and this goal has really helped me this week.” 

Ugh, I love that! 

So, the next time someone asks me, “Do you have a pretty good group this year?” I’m looking forward to shooting them a smirk and answering, “Yes, they are definitely… challenging.” Challenging themselves, challenging me to be a better teacher and a better person, and challenging the way I think about my responsibility to help them grow both as people and learners.

Andrew is the Host of the Westside Personalized Podcast (


The Day the Students Designed Their Test

The Day the Students Designed Their Test

As an advocate for personalized learning, my perspective is simple: I’m constantly looking for ways to foster learner agency and put students at the center of the learning. To that end, this is the story of a recent experiment with offering learners the opportunity to collaborate on the design of their summative assessment over our recent five-day mini-unit exploring Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey.”

During those sessions, we held whole-group discussions over the phases and steps of Campbell’s heroic plotline, and learners analyzed a movie of their choice and a challenging time from their own life experiences according to Campbell’s work.

At the end of the week, my student teacher and I decided to pose this discussion question to our students:

Given the content we covered and the formative experience you had engaging this material, what would be an appropriate way to summatively assess what you know about “The Hero’s Journey?”

The question was met with blank looks and puzzled faces for a multitude of reasons. Most students didn’t understand the question, so I rephrased it, “What would be a fair way to test you over this stuff?”

At that moment, there was this audible, collective exhale, a sound familiar to most secondary teachers as the moment when the class realizes, often reluctantly, that they are actually going to have to think. Then, pin-drop silence. How should we be assessed? Puzzled looks slowly evaporate leaving contemplative stares that thoughtfully search for an answer. As a teacher, this moment is as awkward or as rewarding as you allow it to be. I sat back and let that silence settle in because on some level, I had anticipated this response. I imagine that for many of them, this was the first time that they had ever been asked this question.

Slowly, almost as if they had to crawl out of their thinking to speak, I saw one student gather herself to speak.

“So, like, you’re asking what the test should look like?”

“Yes,” I said. “I mean, you’re seniors, right? I figure after, what – twelve years in this system, you should have a pretty good idea about what test can and should look like.”

Heads nodded in agreement as the silence set in again.

Then another student spoke.

“Well, so, I guess we could all take a story and break it down to show you that we know the steps.”

I nodded in approval. Then I ask, “So do you want me to give you all a story to read?”

You could immediately feel that the room didn’t approve.

Another student spoke, “No, like, what if we pick the story we want to use. That way each of us can pick a story we know.”

“That’s fair,” I said, “but should we get to pick any story. Should we get to pick one we’ve already broken down together.”

Several heads shook in disapproval and a few nos could be heard from around the room.

“Okay, so any story that we haven’t discussed in class is on the table then. So like, do you literally mean any story? Movie, book, whatever?”

“Yeah,” one student took the lead, “I don’t think it really matters if it’s a movie or a book or a series. We are just trying to prove that we know the steps, right?”

“Right,” I affirmed. “So my next question is, would personal stories be okay?”


“Yeah I think so,” another student said, “I mean, we did that for the formative, so it would make sense that you could pick your own story.”

“…as long as it isn’t the one you did before,” said another.

“Okay,” I said, trying to stay somewhat removed from the conversation.

Then there was a pause that created an opportunity for another student to speak.

“Wait, this just all seems pretty pointless.”

“Go on,” I urged.

“Like, we already broke down three movies and an example from our lives. Why do we have to do this again?”

“Great question,” I responded. “You all are the ones designing this thing, so that’s a question you have to answer.”

Then another student spoke up, “Well, for mine, I got most of it right the first time, but when Mr. Easton put feedback on it, I saw some things I got wrong the first time, and I think I would be better at it now.”

“That’s kind of how formatives work,” I said with a smirk.

The girl who had asked the question wasn’t thrilled with this answer, but she couldn’t argue with her peer’s logic.

At this moment the principal happened to saunter in for an unannounced observation. The room momentarily got quiet. I acknowledged him and said, “Hey, we are talking about how we want our test to look.”

Immediately, a student raised her hand, in a way that felt inspired by the principal’s presence in the room. She was looking to press the issue.

“I guess I just don’t get why we are even having this conversation. It just feels like we are wasting time. Like, if you gave the test right now, we could all probably finish it in the time we are going to spend talking about it, so not to be rude but, all of this seems kind of pointless.”

Cue another awkward silence, but this time an urgent one. This was one of those moments where the students were wide-eyed and wondering how I was going to respond to a public and direct affront to the work we were trying to do.
I collected my thoughts and spoke.

“Well, you know, you’ve got a point,” I responded, “this certainly does take longer, and believe me, it would definitely be easier for me to just tell you what you’re going to do and then force you to live up to my expectations. I certainly am in a position to do that. But here’s how I see it. Most of you in here are 18 or are about to be 18, right? In six months, some of you will go to college, but from what you have told me, most of you are headed into the workplace starting in June. When you get there, I want you to have both the perspective to evaluate what’s fair and the courage to speak up for yourselves within your workplace in a professional manner. What I don’t want is for you to aimlessly go about your jobs, unhappy with your employers, but only voicing those concerns with your spouse and your friends outside of work. You need to have learning experiences that teach you how to advocate for the changes you want to see and collaborate with others towards reaching a compromise in those moments. But if you want me to leave you out of that process I can…”

Our principal let out an audible chuckle and chimed in.

“Mr. Easton brings up a good point. We don’t always do a good job of giving you a chance to think through these things and talk about them, and there needs to be more of that.”

Then the conversation took off.
Fast forward.

The students decided that the test should include the following test options…

  • Option #1: Students could evaluate any story— be it from a book, movie, or series— according to The Hero’s Journey outline (providing it wasn’t a story we had discussed in class).
  • Option #2: Students could evaluate a significant event in their life according to The Hero’s Journey outline (providing it wasn’t a life experience they had previously explored in class).
  • Option #3: Students could watch a movie in class and fill out their test according to that movie.

Two of the three classes also felt that knowing something was different from being able to use it, and so they felt that a multiple-choice test was also necessary to show knowledge in addition to application. When we discussed the order of these two assessments, the group felt that the test that asked them to analyze a movie, book, TV season, or personal experience (or a movie that we viewed in class) should go first because they wanted one more exposure to the steps (in the written test) prior to taking the knowledge level assessment. Honestly, this was the reverse order of what I would have given, but when they talked it out, it made sense.

While I’m not saying that teachers should always let students design their summative assessments; what I am advocating for is that educators continually look for opportunities to empower learners outside of the familiar avenues used to afford learners’ choice. These opportunities create space for teachable moments that teachers can capitalize on in ways that foster learner agency and expand the relevance students see in the work that they are doing. So I challenge you, as you look to your own lesson plans for this week, to find one responsibility that you typically take upon yourself and share that responsibility with your students.

This post was originally shared on

#Five4Five: The Third Round

#Five4Five: The Third Round

This past week, I undertook my third #Five4Five Challenge. The #Five4Five Challenge is an initiative created by educator and author Michael Matera who encourages others to commit to doing one new-to-you (often creative) endeavor each day for five straight days.

Weeks ago, in my first #Five4Five, I created video content each day for a week that required a new-to-me element in its production, and that particular #Five4Five round had me experimenting with creating welding videos, helping 6th-graders produce instructional video content, and combining a collection of gifs into a video as a demonstration model for elementary PE classes.

My second #Five4Five pushed me into the world of vlogging, and I created a 5+ minute vlog each day over the course of that week – all of them focusing in on explaining my role as a Personalized Learning Collaborator in our district. That experience forced me to navigate the subtle nuances of vlogging as a form of expression, it encouraged me to reflect and consider how to tell my own story. Since that time, I have continued to hone my vlogging skills with a weekly recap of my week that I create and share on my YouTube channel.

And so over the course of this past week, I committed to a new #Five4Five, but this time I wanted to create something for someone else. For this #Five4Five, I decided to invest in making an anonymous, random act of kindness each day for five days. This challenge stretched my creativity in that it is surprisingly difficult to find ways to do something nice for others without them knowing that you made the gesture. That said, my chief interest in this undertaking was to use the #Five4Five to have a positive influence on others, and while I should be clear that I’m not sure that I had any impact at all (there’s that anonymity thing again lol), I’d like to think that those acts made someone’s day a little brighter and shifted someone’s perception to see the world slightly more kind. In the interest of remaining silent about these gestures, I’m not going to detail what I did, but to close, I will share one example of just how simple this can be. On Thursday morning, I made two stacks of six quarters each, wrapped those respective stacks in painter’s tape, wrote “It’s your lucky day, enjoy a free soda!” on a strip of the painter’s tape that I placed over the top of the stack, and then as I went to different schools that day, I used the strip on top to tape the stack of quarters to the staff soda machine. It was fun, simple, and hopefully a nice surprise for whoever found them.

I have truly appreciated committing to these #Five4Five opportunities for a variety of reasons. As Michael has said to me several times, creativity is like a muscle, and you need to use it to keep it strong. As life settles into adulthood, there’s a complacency that can come as a result of investing in routines, and it’s vital that we continue to commit to personal growth, particularly growth that fosters in you a new skill. I like to think of those skills as tools in your personal toolkit that can spark innovation and productivity across old and new contexts as you are then able to apply that skill in any relevant area thereafter. But as is the case with all things, the commitment to developing these skills takes a certain level of intentionality, and the #Five4Five Challenge encourages that. Lastly, I have also greatly appreciated the conversations, encouragement, and sense of community that has started to develop amongst those of us who have taken on (and continue to take on) this challenge. Accountability partners provide a mutual benefit for one another as both people strive to complete a challenging task, and once completed, those same people are the best to celebrate that accomplishment with because they have first-hand knowledge of the struggle and the effort that went into achieving it. So to close, thank you to all the #Five4Five -ers pushing yourselves and others to learn, grow, and share. Let’s keep it going! If you have not yet done your own #Five4Five, what better time to start than this week. Set a goal, get creative, and join in the fun.

Cater the Process of Learning to a Learner’s Preferences

Cater the Process of Learning to a Learner’s Preferences

In education circles and across the edu-Twitter-verse, there is a concentrated effort among practitioners to offer learners a variety of choices in their classroom experience. The choices afforded learners often include things like selecting one assignment to do from a menu of assignment options or the freedom to choose the modality through which they demonstrate mastery of a concept. Others present choice in course content, which can look like choice novel units or an extensive list of resources as supplemental texts for learners to engage in as an a la carte format. Even the recent push for flexible learning spaces has, at its core, the vision to empower learners to make a seating choice. And so to only further that conversation and goal, let’s explore how learners can have choice in how they engage in the process of learning.

So, here’s a few ideas.

The Premise of This Post

Learners have learning preferences, and instructional time should be allocated to presenting learners with a variety of strategies (choices) to support (and optimize) their own learning process across in the following tasks…


Do you teach students how to take notes? Fill-in-the-blank notes make great resources for the learner to reference later, but it does not ask them to be active listeners capable of sifting out pertinent information from a lecture or presentation. So with the goal of fostering that particular skill, ask students to take notes and equip them with several strategies as choices for how they do that.

  • Standard Choice Options (Paper):
  • Tech-Forward Choice Options:
    • All of the above method options can be done digitally on a laptop, iPad, or phone. Make suggestions to learners about which programs or apps they might record those notes in, like Evernote, Google Docs, or Notability.
    • In a presentation with slides, teaching learners to take pictures of noteworthy (pun intended) information is also a note-taking method, especially when those photos can be quickly integrated into any written digital notes being recored.


Do you give learners choices in how they choose to annotate a text? If sticky notes and marginalia are your go-to annotation jam, here are a few other options for learners to explore and hopefully find to be engaging ways to interact with a text.


Two Questions: 1. When learners work in groups, are students permitted time to hold a discussion and record their groups’ thoughts/vision(s) prior to the beginning of the task they’ve been assigned? 2. Are students equipped with multiple avenues (choices) to support the continuation of collaborative dialogue outside of class time about their work/efforts? If the answer to either of these is no, here are a few tools that make group work more of a ongoing, collaborative effort.

  • Project Collaboration: Consider assigning each learner in a group with a role for how they will initially contribute to the dialogue prior to the process of the collaboration (and/or with the ongoing task management of the group’s progress and in-class productivity thereafter). These roles might include a team leader, a recorder, potentially someone to create an agenda, potentially someone to create and manage the product – the document or slide deck being created, someone to summarize the dialogue and outline the next steps, etc. To fulfill these specific role responsibilities, encourage learners to begin to keep records from their team meetings by utilizing programs like…
  • Collaborative Learning: DISCLAIMER: The suggestions below are not supported by Westside Community Schools (or most districts) for learners to access as a school requirement. However, for secondary learners interested in collaborating outside of class time, the following programs/apps/social media sites would provide an online space for students to communicate and collaborate with one another outside of the school day. AGAIN, these are not recommended avenues for educators to require learners to use for collaboration. But, it is likely that any tech savvy teen is already using one (or several) of the following sites/apps already for social purposes, so the informal suggestion to use one of these sites/apps for academic good might cause learners to start to use these resources for academic purposes as well.
    • Google Hangouts Video chat that allows for multiple users to communicate simultaneously.
    • FaceTime Video chat that allows two users to communicate simultaneously.
    • Voxer App Social media walkie-talkie app that allows users to leave audio messages for one another – or text messages, images, videos, etc. as well.
    • HouseParty App I’ve never used this app, but I’ve had several students say that they have used its video group chat feature to collaborate on schoolwork outside of the school day.


An Exploration of Risk

An Exploration of Risk

In my current role as a personalized learning collaborator, I have been a part of numerous conversations with educators about personalized learning. From those conversations, I have observed a great deal about the creative process and about how different that process is for each educator as they design a new lesson, unit, or procedure.

For example, in my role hosting the Westside Personalized podcast, I will oftentimes close out the pod by asking the guest to offer some advice to those starting out with personalization. Given that opportunity, the guests usually comment one of two ways. Some advocate for starting small, taking calculated risks, and growing their personalized practices over time. Others passionately urge educators to jump in, to try more than they may even be comfortable with at first, noting that there is a certain energy to this trial by fire approach.

Now, over time, as these contrasting responses continued to show up, I found myself increasingly intrigued by the idea of evaluating, or at least further exploring, the concept of risk. Initially, that intrigue led me to try and tease out some elusive commonality that might unify (what I felt were) these otherwise conflicting approaches to risk. I was searching for a moral or a lesson about it; something beyond just, Risk looks like different things to different people, which sounds nice but just isn’t true. For some people, taking a risk is aiming for your ideal and either attaining it or, if not, finding yourself amongst the proverbial stars. For others, even if the ideal is presented to them, they will venture only a certain distance from the norm, from what they know and are able to control. *Note: Just to be clear, that is what I’m using as my measurement here to differentiate big risks from more modest risks, deviation from the norm.

After four days of exploring my thoughts, writing and rewriting this blog, I feel that the best way to be concise with conveying my reflections is to bullet out those insights…

  • All Risks Produce a Beneficial Change: When educators set out to revamp a learning experience in a way that deviates from what they have always done, they consistently select a lesson, unit, or procedure that they know can be better. In these instances, the teacher also tends to have at least an inclination as to what it would look like to address the issue. So the formula is simple, effort plus intentionality equals a positive and significant step in the evolution of the individual’s instructional practices. Fact. QED.
  • All Risks Alter Perspective from Lessons Learned: Regardless of the size of the risk, there will be pitfalls and shortcomings that should drive the reflective practitioner to revise the practice and make improvements in the future. This potential for failing forward sets the stage for beneficial changes that turn the immediate negative into a long-term positive.

Okay…so what’s the point of this blog post? Risks are good? Cool. Got it Andrew. This isn’t a novel idea.

True. But it’s important to first acknowledge the value of any and all risks, that should not be diminished. That said, if dramatic change is the ultimate goal, how do we think about risk in a way that encourages others to risk…more…

  • Big Risk-Takers Are Made, Not Born, That Way: Perhaps it’s not about people being, by nature, a big risk-taker or more calculated with their risks. It’s possible that big risk-takers long ago took much smaller risks, and their willingness to try new things was cultivated over a longer period of time through a wealth of experiences. A subtopic of this conversation worth considering is the role that work ethic and follow-through have on limiting the realization of a risk undertaken.
  • Quantifying Risk Is a Matter of Perspective: I know I joked about the idea of risk meaning different things to different people wasn’t a novel idea. My contention here is not to look at the individual’s perspective on the size of the risk itself but to instead focus on their attitude about the venture and its potential outcome. To undertake great things is to hold an optimism, a hope in your heart that despite the odds and the potential negative outcomes, the struggle to bring your ideals into reality is not only possible, it’s essential. It’s energizing. What you are willing to risk says a great deal about your outlook on life.
  • Culture Has a Significant Influence on Risk: If I feel supported in a risk, I am more willing to attempt it because I’m not as afraid of failure. Additionally, in a risk-friendly culture, individuals are more likely to find others who are willing to either support them in their risk and/or take on the same venture with the individual, easing the burden and responsibility of having to take that risk alone. These reflections are simple enough but worth noting here.
  • Be Transparent with Others About the Risks You Are Taking: Trying something new? Take time in class to explain your rationale and outline your plan with your learners. When the goals and expectations of any new practice are clear, students will inevitably pick up the slack in any facets lacking complete clarity or execution typical of a first attempt. In the same way, communicating your ideas with trusted colleagues and administrators is not a bad idea for receiving input before the undertaking and feedback afterward.

So, to sum it all up – Don’t be quick to overvalue larger risks. All risks are worth the effort as they produce immediate benefits along with helpful insights for the future. Develop a culture of risk-taking in your school and/or classroom, which requires you to be explicit in your communication with others about the risk(s) you intend to take. That culture, once established will make risk-taking a routine that will help both educators and learners alike develop a risk-history that allows the individual to evolve into someone who is willing to venture a significant distance from the norm. And finally – and above all – understand that the greatest factor in your ability to attempt and obtain great things is your outlook, which is a combination of your optimism, your capacity for hope, and the degree of your work ethic.


Personalized Learning Training: Year One

Personalized Learning Training: Year One

On Tuesday of this week, we held our last personalized learning teacher training of the year. To date, we have had an opportunity to spend a full school day sharing ideas with (and learning from) nearly 200 educators across our district. These training sessions, groups of no more than 22 teachers at a time, have afforded our district the space to hold conversations about the personalization of learning in a way that is both clear and consistent.

That clarity and consistency are byproducts of two key components…

  1. Our vision to identify personalized elements as both entry points for teachers and also as look-fors for observers.PL.jpg
  2. Our experience with personalization has produced enough solid examples of personalized practices that we now have the ability to share our own stories, our lessons learned (successes and failures), in a way that has supported our new-to-personalization educators with incites that have lead to positive experiences with their own individual launch.

Our trainings provided more than just time to hold these conversations. They were an investment for us as collaborators towards building positive, working relationships with our educators, and those relationships then carried over into our follow-up support during our individual teacher collaborations.

Throughout the year, our goal for these days was expressed through this quote…

Shift Thinking.jpg

…and we as collaborators held to this goal of shifting thinking around the aforementioned elements, which in turn led to educators creating their own vision and goals for professional development. This created a form of personalized, teacher-driven PD that was inspiring to be around and support as we tried to be a sounding board (and at times a bit of a tech Swiss Army Knife lol) to help bring their goals to fruition – with a personalized aspect to each.

Looking back, it’s remarkable to think about the number of positive interactions, ideas shared, and initiatives launched as a result of these training days. Every day this year it has been a joy to serve our educators in support of this common vision, and in the past month in particular, it has been powerful to watch these practices take off in classrooms across the district. We are making significant progress towards improving student learning!

In closing, I am certainly grateful to be a part of a district that values innovation and hires educators who are willing to do whatever is necessary to support each and every learner with the quality educational experience that they need. We have standards and expectations, but we also have the flexibility to be professional practitioners who can implement practices that are best for the unique learners that we serve. How special is that! We’ve grown so much in a year, and I am ecstatic about the potential our collective work has moving forward as we continue to build up our teachers over the summer, into the next school year, and beyond.


Note: To hear some of those amazing stories and to pick up some of practical, application examples of personalization in the classroom, check out the Westside Personalized podcast on iTunes. 


Deal or No Deal Review Game Template

Deal or No Deal Review Game Template

This past weekend, a friend of mine and I went to Dave and Buster’s for an afternoon of fun playing a variety of arcade games. One of the games there took me back to a review game I created in my second year of teaching. Honestly, I’d almost forgotten about it entirely; it was a game was based on the TV show Deal or No Deal.

So, this will be a brief blog post, but with the end of the year approaching, I thought sharing this resource might be useful to someone. That said, if you’re tired of playing Jeopardy, but are looking for a teacher-led review game with similar knowledge level questioning, this is a terrific game to play. The class competes as separate teams, but they are all mutually invested in each other’s success because the group ultimately makes a deal that determines the reward/prize for the collective whole. Because everyone has a stake in the game with every question, this review always generated a considerable amount of student engagement. It’s so suspenseful!

For more on the details of the gameplay, I’ve included slides within the template that have the directions and rules on it. All you would need to do is delete those slides, enter your own questions and answers, and I would recommend adding in music and even video content to really make the game feel realistic (I did when I originally used this template, but I had to delete some of those pieces because they were not mine to share).

If you decide to download this template and/or use it, I would appreciate your feedback in the comments below. Thank you! I hope you and your class enjoy playing Deal or No Deal.

Download the Deal or No Deal Template Here