Work with Us – Getting Smart is Hiring!

The Getting Smart team is expanding and we are looking for passionate and talented people to join us! We have the following part-time positions available:

Part-Time Roles

Writing Coach

As part of our commitment to lifelong learning, we are looking for someone with writing and coaching/teaching experience to help our team improve how we write, storytell and communicate. This candidate should have strong education experience as well as experience writing in multiple forms such as blogs, reports, case studies, papers and books.

We are looking for someone to host a writing workshop for our team and provide continued on-demand coaching on a retainer basis for several months. To be considered for this opportunity please send an email to [email protected] that includes:

  • A summary of your writing experience
  • A summary of your experience coaching authors
  • Your resume and/or link to your LinkedIn profile
  • Your hourly rate or usual project fee

Project Consultant

To build team capacity and knowledge we are always looking for creative and talented consultants to support our project work. To learn more about opportunities and provide us with your information please complete this application.

Staff Writer

We are seeking experienced bloggers interested in researching and writing about learning innovations. This regular paid blogging position would research, curate and post blogs 1-4 times monthly and be noted as a regular contributor for GettingSmart.com. If you are interested in joining our writing team please submit a writing sample via email to [email protected] with the subject line “Staff Writer”.

Teacher Blogger

Our network of teacher bloggers commit to posting 1-2 blogs monthly about lessons learned in their classrooms, writing product and book reviews and sharing best practices. To be considered for this paid blogging position please send an email to [email protected] with the subject line “Teacher Blogger”.

We look forward to connecting with you!


The Power of a Network: Living Bridges Driving Purpose

By Corey Mohn

Eight years ago, a program launched in the heartland of America that seemed…how shall I say this…a little crazy! A school board decided to push the boundaries of traditional education: what would solve that age-old challenge in education known as “senioritis?” What would increase engagement while better preparing students not just for college, or even career, but for life?

Enter The Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS), born in the Blue Valley School District in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kansas. At its beginning in 2009, it had no place to call home, and just over 100 early-adopter students to its name (out of a school district of more than 22,000 students). The crazy idea for these pioneering students? Fast forward them past high school and college – welcome them into a professional environment, treat them like adults and give them an authentic project in which to sink their teeth.

After a few years of learning-by-doing and failing forward, the program began taking off. The initial 100 students became 200, then 400, then 800. Initially-hesitant business partners doubled down. Project partnerships multiplied. Soon CAPS was no longer seeking out relevant work for students – the partners were reaching out to CAPS on their own. It turns out, high school students can add value – and lots of it – to the bottom line of a business. And, business leaders care a lot more than you think about developing talent pipelines for their industries.

As word began to spread across the K-12 landscape, other districts wondered if they could create a similar program to empower their students. The Blue Valley School District then had to decide if it was going to double down and go all-in. The easy decision would have been to hold cards tight in the name of protecting this unique brand of student support. Instead, CAPS kept a door open for others wanting to play.

Today, I sit in awe of a burgeoning network of school districts – more than 60 districts across nine states to date – committed to five core values:

  1. Profession-Based Learning. Instructors develop real-world, project-based learning strategies through collaborations with business and community partners. These interactions enhance the learning experience, preparing students for college and career.
  2. Professional Skills Development. Unique experiences allow students to cultivate transformative, professional skills such as understanding expectations, time management and other essential business values. These skills are critical to providing students a competitive advantage in their post-secondary education and professional careers.
  3. Self-Discovery and Exploration. Students realize their strengths and passions by exploring and experiencing potential professions. This allows them to make informed decisions about their future, while learning to exhibit leadership.
  4. Entrepreneurial Mindset. Instructors create an environment where creative thinking and problem solving is encouraged. An innovative culture is key to fostering entrepreneurial learning and design thinking.
  5. Responsiveness. CAPS supports high-skill, high-demand careers through ongoing innovation in curriculum development, programs and services based on local business and community needs.

As a network, there are things we can do together that we cannot do alone. I would liken our network to a “Do It Yourself Community” as defined in the book Bold, by Peter Diamandis: We share a “massively-transformative purpose” (MTP), we fuel ourselves with our passion for this purpose, and we connect to add value to each other via “living bridges.” As we all care so much about giving our youth the best chance to live a happy, fulfilling and prosperous life, we are willing to partner and take and share risks together in order to make an impact.

As Victor Hwang states in his book The Rainforest: “If you listen to the whole symphony, rather than the individual instruments, the music is clear.” We welcome all to open our door, try out an instrument, and feel the power of our network’s symphony.

For more, see:

Corey Mohn is the Executive Director of the Blue Valley Center for Advanced Professional Studies in Overland Park, Kansas. Follow them on Twitter at @coreymohn and @bvcaps.


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Building Confidence and Curiosity with littleBits Code Kit

When you have a nine-year-old son whose reason for living is coding, a Google Hangout on a Thursday afternoon with an actual product designer, is a life event, something I’m sure my son Oliver is hoping will lead to future job offers. From the enthusiasm of their conversation to the promise to keep in touch, I’d say Oliver’s first real networking event went very well. David Sharp, Lead Product Designer at littleBits, spoke with us for nearly an hour, sharing his obvious passion for innovation and a keen understanding of the creative person’s desire to “level up” whenever possible, to always say, “Yeah, this is great, but . . .” leading to a constant learning cycle. The littleBits mission is so exciting, it is worth sharing in its entirety:

“Let’s empower the next generation to have the creative confidence & curiosity to always ask why. To test ideas without fear. To take feedback without ego. To use their brains and hands to solve real-world problems when there isn’t a clear right answer. With littleBits, kids learn how to be more than just consumers of technology. They become inventors.”

The fact is, littleBits is an easy-to-use electronic building blocks platform that is challenging enough to keep my son engaged, yet easy enough for me to follow and comprehend so that I would easily be able to share with my classroom. This dichotomy of challenging yet accessible is no accident, as the app and its component bits in the building kits were tested and approved by an educator advisory council that met monthly, and the designers visited classrooms in the NYC area to see what implementation would actually look like.

One of the most telling stories in our conversation is about the microsite for educators using the new code kits. David had noticed that teachers were copying the lesson plans the company was creating into Google Docs so that they could adjust and innovate as their classroom required. Instead of being offended, littleBits responded by now providing all lesson plans in Google Doc and Google Slide form so the teachers introducing coding and making to their students have the same freedoms to “level up” as the entire platform promotes.

As if I wasn’t already blown away, we ended our conversation with David explaining that the philosophy of littleBits was to “provide new areas of exploration, moving into the realm of being able to tell stories, for kids who want to do more, including musical expression.” The site has excellent tutorials, and I was able to create with inputs and outputs. However, the true test came when Oliver opened what is called a “Blank Canvas.” Here’s what he did. The website promotes this type of free style innovation; when you create, you can add to the littleBits website gallery, and see what other creators are up to.

If you are starting to think this might be too complex for you, or if you aren’t ready, that’s where the tutorials come in. Here’s an example that helped me get started. The instructions are easy, the tutorial entertaining, and I can easily see using it in my own classroom. Even though I teach ELA, I would love to use coding and making as a part of a “How to” assignment, where students are required to create step by step directions. I think the tutorials are a great example of this type of communication, and clearly, a skill that will be needed as we continue to move towards global citizenship.

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This isn’t a typical review, but this isn’t a typical product. Instead, as impressive as the app and website are, the coolest part of littleBits is the belief system at its center. Throughout our conversation, David was explaining to us how to get started and provided us the backstory. Within that though, is a belief in the very process of creating and exploring. As one does when writing about a person, I looked David up on LinkedIn, and a part of his profile has really struck me:

“Everything has the potential to be a building block for some new and surprising creation. The whole world is a construction kit. Currently, my work focuses on helping people rearrange the pieces of our world into new ideas and devices.”

Then, it occurred to me why I loved littleBits so much. It isn’t just what the kit brings to you, but rather, it is what you bring to the experience of design and learning that matters. The difference between this philosophy and other construction or maker kits I’ve observed Oliver experiment with is that it is crucial who Oliver is, and that is exactly the same philosophy I have for a classroom. Check out littleBits coding kits here, and find out what you can bring to the world of coding.

For more see:

littleBits provided the STEAM student set and access to online PD for this review. If you are interested in having GettingSmart.com review your product or book, please contact [email protected]

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Getting At-Risk Students on a Path to College

By Dennis Pierce

Marcus Gause, the principal at a middle college high school in Guilford County, N.C.,  remembers one student who arrived in his program with lackluster grades and questionable self-esteem. The student’s father was in prison, and he lacked the motivation to do schoolwork.

Four years later, this student was graduating from high school at the very top of his class, with nearly two years of college under his belt. Today, he is close to completing a business degree—and he’s not yet 21.

Although this student would not fit the profile of a student taking early college credit in most school systems, in Guilford County, he is not all that unusual.

Like a growing number of school districts, Guilford County Schools (GCS) has programs that enable students to earn college credit while they’re still in high school. But these programs aren’t just serving the top students in the district, who would already be on a college track.

In Guilford County, there are 14 such programs altogether, including nine high schools that operate on college campuses. Some of them, called middle colleges, target students considered to be at risk of dropping out—making college both attainable and affordable for students who otherwise might not attend.

Remarkable impact

GCS has offered early and middle college options since 2001 and has seen remarkable success, despite serving a largely urban and low-income population. In 2016, all but two of its early and middle college high schools had a 100-percent graduation rate, and the lowest rate among the other two was 97 percent.

In all of these programs, which are smaller than traditional high schools, students take high school courses taught by GCS instructors during their first two years. During their junior and senior years, they take college-level courses taught by college instructors, and they can graduate with up to two years of college credit tuition-free.

At the STEM Early College at North Carolina A&T University, for instance, students can focus on one of three career pathways: biotechnology, engineering, or renewable and sustainable resources. “For many of our students, this program is their ticket to reaching their goals,” said Principal Jamisa Williams. “Their tuition is covered, and they are two years ahead of their peers when they graduate. That’s money in the bank for them.”

While the STEM Early College program attracts high-achieving students who want to get a jump on their college experience, the Middle College at North Carolina A&T—where Gause is principal—is very different. It focuses on young men who feel disengaged from school and are in danger of failing.

The program seeks to reengage these students by accelerating their learning so they are no longer bored with school, while connecting the skills they are developing with practical careers such as entrepreneurship or app development. The Middle College at Bennett College is a similar program just for young women.

“We accept students from all academic tracks, and not just the ‘A’ students,” said Gause. “Students who are struggling in a traditional school setting often benefit from a smaller learning environment. We have class sizes of 10 to 15 students, so we can focus on students as individuals. This gives us a chance to work more often with them one-on-one.”

Guilford County’s early and middle college programs are changing students’ lives. But it’s not only academic achievement that defines the success of these programs.

“The social-emotional skills and confidence that students are gaining are tremendous,” said Nakia Hardy, chief academic officer for the district. “They are able to advocate for themselves—and that’s ultimately the real benefit.”

Keys to success

The success of these programs begins with collaborative partnerships between GCS and its higher-education partners. GCS receives state funding to offset some of the cost of tuition. In addition, the district has clearly articulated agreements with its college and university partners that spell out which services each is responsible for providing.

For instance, at the STEM Early College at A&T, the district covers the students’ transportation and food service, the state reimburses the district for tuition, and the university provides complete access to all resources a full-time A&T student would have, such as free tutoring from the university’s Center for Academic Excellence.

What’s more, all of the early and middle college programs in Guilford County provide extensive support and wraparound services to help students succeed.

When students are accepted into the Middle College at A&T, for instance, program administrators take them on a tour of the university, make sure they know where they can turn for help, and go over what is expected of them. A freshman seminar teaches them how to study effectively, and learning facilitators from both the high school and the university are available to guide them every step of the way.

Another critical factor in the programs’ success is the attention they pay to forging strong personal relationships with students and fostering a close-knit sense of community.

“In our first week of school, there is no teaching allowed,” Gause said. “We are building relationships with students; we are having conversations to get to know who they are. We organize activities such as a basketball game with staff versus students. We let them know that we are real people, and we see them as real people as well. And when challenges do come along, and we have to get over those hurdles, we are able to get over those things together.”

He added: “Every student who walks through these doors is going to be loved and respected. It’s almost like a brotherhood. And our students really support one another as well.”

The school’s strong support system helped the young man whose father was in prison begin to come out of his shell. Getting involved in mentoring younger students put him on a path to success.

“From ninth grade through his senior year, he was involved in mentoring, such as coaching basketball at the YMCA. Something went off in him, and he said: I have to live up to the students I’m mentoring,” Gause said.

He added: “In education, you can get burned out quickly with all the things you’re dealing with. But that’s one of those stories that keeps you coming back, that keeps you motivated.”

For more, see:

Dennis Pierce is a freelance writer with 20 years of experience in covering education. Follow him on Twitter: @denniswpierce.


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7 Ways to Become A More Connected Educator Today

By Rachelle Dene Poth

Learning is no longer confined to the physical interactions that occur within the classroom, school or community. We can learn anywhere and at any time–it simply requires a decision to take steps toward expanding your learning community and connecting to others. This is true for our students and especially for educators.

Becoming a more connected educator has never been easier, and the benefits can extend beyond the teacher to their classroom as well. Connecting to other educators and learning new tools, strategies or ideas often creates teacher inspiration that can spread to students and help them become more engaged.

Where does one go to become “connected?” It can feel overwhelming to figure out where to start, but the effort is worth it. Here are several ways I recommend becoming more connected–today, tomorrow and in the near future.

Connecting Today

1. Join a PLN. Making the decision to join a Personal or Professional Learning Network (PLN) is a great first step. Connected educators rely on their PLN (sometimes referred to as one’s “tribe”) to ask questions, share resources, offer support and be supported. It is a reliable and reassuring way to gather feedback, especially when trying new things or taking some risks.

2. Start Tweeting. If you don’t have a Twitter account as an educator then definitely create one. Knowing what I do now, I recommend that you create your account, start searching for people you know or admire in education and follow them (most will follow you back and help grow your follower numbers) and then find an education chat or hashtag to explore.

If you’re not sure where to start, ask some of your colleagues if they use Twitter and which chats they follow. Or if you Google ” Twitter chats ” you can find great websites listing resources to help you get started. One of my favorites is C yb rary man (Jerry Blumengarten @cybraryman1). Check out his page for a list of chats, hashtags and a schedule to find something that meets an area of interest.

  • Hashtags: You can’t go wrong simply by following #education, #edchat, #edtechchat, #teaching and/or #students (just to name a few). Just type the hashtag into the search function on Twitter and you can view the latest Tweets discussing that topic.

If you want to quickly experience the benefits of being connected through Twitter, ask a question and include one of these popular hashtags in your tweet – see how quickly people respond and the new “followers” you have.

3. Reading Resources. There are also blogs and books you can check out today that focus on helping educators become more connected. One book I recommend is “What Connected Educators Do Differently” by Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul and Jimmy Casas, which offers great insight into the reasons for becoming connected and how to get started.

Connecting Tomorrow

4. Online Communication Platforms. Chatting through Twitter opens up global connections that can lead to other avenues of communicating and PLN building through platforms such as Voxer. Voxer is a walkie-talkie messaging tool that enables live conversation and sharing of resources, video, images and more. There are groups created specific to certain themes, a book study, Twitter chat groups and even smaller discussion groups.

These are great tools for connecting with other educators and as a way to enable your students to connect with other students instantly, simply by sending a Vox and asking for someone to talk with your class.

5. Join an Edcamp. There are many organizations offering classes and Edcamps throughout the country and world nearly every Saturday. Edcamps are opportunities to access free, authentic PD, meet other educators, experience an “unconference” and create the “schedule” for the day, surrounded by diverse people and perspectives. The great thing about Edcamps is that the topics are based on the interests of those present, making it more personalized. But even better than that, it’s a further opportunity to establish connections made through Twitter, add to your PLN and meet with other educators and nearby schools to expand your learning circle.

Future Connections

6. Attend Industry Conferences. Setting aside time to attend local as well as national conferences are fantastic opportunities to take that next step and once you have connected on Twitter or through Voxer, to meet face-to-face with members of your newfound PLN.

There are many conferences you can attend based on current hot topics, your interests and/or what you feel are areas you’d like to focus on growing. Many are annual events, so if you missed it this year, you can sign up for the next. Check out this list of 25 education conferences to see when things are being held and plan ahead to attend several throughout this year and next.

7. Become a Member. While you are at conferences or just searching online, take some time to research different memberships available through education-focused organizations:

  • One possibility is joining the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) or one of its state affiliates. Being a member of ISTE provides great opportunities for learning and connecting. There are online Professional Learning Communities through which opportunities such as webinars, Twitter Chats, book studies and online discussions promote interaction and networking. Being a member opens up many doors to educators and learning experiences around the world.
  • You can also consider becoming an ambassador through educator programs such as Common Sense Education, Google Certified Educators or any of the EdTech companies that offer this opportunity. These communities also plan events focused on networking and ways to promote new learning experiences.

Conversations and growth through connections help us to transform our thinking, change our perspectives or get new ideas. If we want to transform student learning, we have to first think about bettering ourselves!

For more, see:

Rachelle Dene Poth is a Language/STEAM teacher in the Riverview School District. Follow her at @Rdene915 on Twitter.


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Better Off with a Benefit Mindset

By Ash Buchanan

Over the past 10 years, Carol Dweck’s Fixed and Growth Mindset concept has taken the world by storm.

It has helped a great many people overcome their life challenges, and get closer to ‘fulfilling their potential in life’. It’s an amazing achievement, raising global awareness of the role our inner lives play in shaping our ability to learn and grow.

However, are we starting to see the limits of a growth based mindset? Is it time for the next evolution in mindset concepts, by positioning our aspirations for growth within a purposeful and leadership based context?

In this article, I explore the emergence of a third mindset – the Benefit Mindset – that is redefining success in education.

What is a Benefit Mindset?

The Benefit Mindset describes society’s everyday leaders who choose to promote wellbeing on both an individual and a collective level. They question ‘why’ they do what they do and believe in making a meaningful difference.

How is a Benefit Mindset different to the Growth Mindset?

The Growth Mindset is based on the belief that with effort, we can learn and grow. The Benefit Mindset goes a step further. It’s based on the belief that with effort, we can use what we have learned to lead – and make a meaningful difference for ourselves and the world. We can choose to bring out the best in each other and innovate in ways that really matter.

When we choose to make a meaningful difference, we become an everyday leader. Someone who promotes wellbeing on both an individual and a collective level.

This evolution in thinking is not to suggest concepts like the Growth Mindset are less important. Learning how to grow and differentiate ourselves through deliberate practice is integral to every person’s development. The difference is, students adopting a Benefit Mindset use their development and uniqueness to make valuable contributions to the communities and ecosystems they belong. They choose to use what they’ve learned to lead.

Why is a Benefit Mindset so important?

We live in an increasingly uncertain and disruptive world facing a broad range of complex challenges such as social inequity, widespread mental health issues and climate change. It’s a climate that’s challenging students to not only develop 21st-century skills, but also cultivate an inner compass and the navigation skills to come together and resiliently rise above them.

Developing a sense of purpose and the leadership capacities to play a valuable role in society is becoming vital – for the wellbeing of students, as well as the wellbeing of our world. It’s about developing a culture of thinking about me and we together, so the key questions young people ask are not how they can learn and grow in isolation, but rather, how we can come together and become co-contributors to each other’s flourishing.

Interweaving learning and leadership

“School is about producing leaders. It doesn’t mean bosses; it means people who can genuinely make a profound transformative contribution to their society as a part of how they live their lives” — Peter Senge

If we truly want to give future generations the best opportunity to thrive, we had best prepare them with the learning and leadership skills to find their way in an increasingly complex world.

Growth Mindsets are valuable, but they also have their limits. It’s only when young people position their aspirations for growth and learning within a purposeful and leadership based context that they more fully set themselves up for a healthy and resilient future.

It’s time to boldly reimagine what’s possible in education — and prepare young people with the mindsets they need to thrive in the years to come.

For more on mindsets, see:

Ash Buchanan developed the Benefit Mindset as part of the Master of Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Melbourne. Connect with him on Twitter:


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How Schools Develop Student Agency

Through the tenets of agency, we help students see effort and practice in a new light and associate both as growth paths and, ultimately, success. We can provide students with the skills to rebound from setbacks and build confidence as they welcome new challenges. Instilling the principles of agency helps students find personal relevance in their work and motivates them to participate actively, build relationships and understand how they impact themselves and their communities.  –New Tech Network

Developing student agency. Given the rate of change in the world, helping young people take charge of their own learning is more important than ever. This post includes an interview with Alix Horton, a School Development and Literacy Coach for the New Tech Network, as well as a few thoughts from Randy Ziegenfuss, a Pennsylvania superintendent.  

What is agency? In short, managing your own learning. New Tech schools share rubrics that identify the ability to develop and reflect on growth mindset and demonstrate ownership over one’s learning. Below is the rubric for fifth grade. 

How does NTN measure agency? 1) Growth mindset, or the belief that through hard work you can get better, and 2) Learning strategies to gather information, manage stress, and work with other people in order to do the learning you need to do.

What builds agency?  Carnegie Corporation identified culture and authenticity as key:

  • Culture and relationships that make student feel like they matter in the school community, and
  • Authenticity: purposeful work that matters to students. students will have a lot more persistence and agency if the work is purposeful through high quality project-based learning.

We expect elementary students to tackle and monitor learning with a lot of teacher support in terms of what questions to ask, where to look, how to gather information. A high school student has more ability to ask questions, find resources and find answers on their own. There is a handover component where teachers are doing more support at the lower levels and handing the work to students at the upper levels.

Why is agency important? Having a growth mindset affects how a student persists in overcoming learning challenges. Persistence and the ability to manage one’s own learning is an outcome that will serve a student well for the rest of his or her life in any capacity.

How is agency developed? What agency looks like in first grade is very different than 7th grade or high school. The NTN agency rubrics step down the demands by focusing on fewer learning strategies with more expectation of teacher support at the lower levels. Kindergartners will need a lot of teacher support to manage frustration, work with students and manage their learning process. At the lower grade levels we focus more on social emotional learning– managing emotions and dealing with frustration.

Have an example? Washington Discovery, in Plymouth Indiana, wanted to address growth mindset with their third grade students (featured image). By having the students prepare for a 5k race, the students were able to focus on growth mindset in a tangible and concrete way. The students read about agency in abstract ways and then trained for the race and encouraged others to join the race. In addition, they had a community partner and raised money for an accessible playground for differently-abled students. This allowed them to learn about the challenges that others may face and how others persist.

The driving question for the Dare to Dream project was, “How can we convince people to do something even if it is challenging?” Student products included five paragraph persuasive essays (prompt above), T-shirts with handmade designs, commercials for the run, a map of the path–and of course the race!

Agency in Salisbury

Last year superintendent Randy Ziegenfuss lead the Salisbury Township School District in a community conversation about what graduates should know and be able to do. They developed a new profile of a graduate which serves as a compass for all learning activities.

Too much of education has been about the map – following a prescribed path, learning “delivered to” the learner, standards, grade levels, leadership hierarchies, and on and on,” said Ziegenfuss. He added, “Learner-centered embraces the compass over the map.” Randy sees agency as key to developing the agility to thrive in a world of exponential technology. Below is a picture of the Salisbury vision for learner experience. 

To promote learner agency, Salisbury teachers “recognizes learners as active participants in their own learning and engages them in the design of their experiences and the realization of their learning outcomes in ways appropriate for their developmental level.” They identify three components:

  • All learners are active participants in lifelong learning, engaging personal choice and voice as they progress through competencies.
  • Learners should have opportunities to develop entrepreneurial attitudes and skills.
  • Co-curricular and extracurricular activities provide valuable opportunities for building character and developing cooperation.

For more on agency see:


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6 Tips for Creating Powerful Assessments for Your Students

By Melissa Maypole

Assessments are no longer simply tests that students fret about or neglect to study for. As you may well know, today’s environment of heightened accountability for educators has made assessments stressful for not only students, but for teachers as well. Not to worry, though. Assessments can actually be powerful (and even fun!) tools to evaluate how well your students are mastering the material you’re covering in class and how well you’re doing covering said material. Just follow these 6 simple tips:

1) Begin with the end in mind.

For years, teachers have planned their lessons in a linear fashion. First, we create daily lessons aligned with objectives followed by tests to assess the objectives each lesson addresses. Logical, right? Sure, but this traditional method of teaching and assessing learning may not necessarily be the most effective way to go about things. Instead, try creating an objectives-based assessment first, and then plan activities that target the learning goals the assessment evaluates. This not only ensures that the assessment aligns to your students’ learning objectives, but it also allows the assessment to help drive your instruction, meaning you’ll know for sure that you’ve actually taught the material and skills that require mastery.

2) Communicate your purpose.

The purpose of a traditional pencil and paper test may be fairly cut and dry to your students—I answer a bunch of questions and it tells the teacher if I’ve learned the material—but this may not be the case for a more open-ended assessment such as a project or essay that a student may see as busy work. In order to get the outcome you want from your students, it’s important to let them know why they are doing something, including what skills and knowledge you’re expecting them to demonstrate mastery of. One of the best ways to do this is to create a clear rubric and give your students a copy prior to beginning work on the assignment. This way, there will be no question as to what you expect your students to demonstrate, and it may even motivate many to perform.

3) Blend assessments into your teaching.

Highly effective educators use assessments to adapt and enhance instruction. Instead of treating assessments as intimidating bookends to curriculum units, successful teachers assess learning more frequently and less formally with the intention of using the results of the assessment as an arrow toward the next steps in the learning process. Create opportunities for non-threatening, formative checkpoints in your instruction. Give deliberate and targeted mini-quizzes that allow you to assess common misconceptions and truly know in real-time where your students are tracking. Craft your quiz by following assessment-writing best practices outlined in this article.

4) Identify and avoid bias.

Since assessments are such an important tool in your teaching toolbox, it’s important to ensure that they are as authentic and targeted as possible. This means making an intentional effort to check for any biases that may affect students’ performance or invalidate your results. An assessment should be designed in parts that specifically test single, targeted skills, and unintended bias will quickly invalidate your efforts. Although it may seem impossible to create an assessment with zero bias, we can still do our due diligence to identify and remove bias.

The most common types of bias in assessments are those that inadvertently assume knowledge other than the specific skill being tested. This bias can be blatant such as assuming knowledge of a certain cultural group, for instance, or it could be hidden. Hidden biases are often found in the language of the assessment. Teachers must be especially careful not to create written assessments that are on a higher reading level than their students, so that a mathematics assessment, for example, doesn’t unintentionally assess how well the student can read the problem as well as the specific skills.

5) Consider non-traditional assessments.

Nothing crushes classroom morale faster than announcing a pop quiz or traditional paper and pencil test. In order to incorporate some fun into your assessment repertoire and keep your students engaged in their learning, you’ll need to think outside of the box. Create a game or activity based on specific learning objectives to mix things up while bringing out the very best in your students. Or consider tying in a cross-curricular semester-long project that connects the material together and forces a higher level application of skills. You can pepper in traditional mini-assessments throughout the span of the project to determine where your students are, but the journey here is much more fun.

6) Follow up.

We all know that assessments provide feedback to us teachers—they let us know which material students have mastered and which material they still need to work on. They also tell us how well we’re delivering the necessary information and facilitating learning in our classrooms. Don’t forget, though, that assessments can and should provide vital feedback for your students as well. After all, if we want them to be in charge of their learning (and we do!), then we must give them the necessary information to make and reach their learning goals. Reviewing the results of a quiz or test has the potential to help students realize their deficits and detect meaningful patterns in their errors. These are discoveries that are crucial to correcting misconceptions and directing future learning. When planning a review or follow-up on an assessment, keep in mind that sooner is always better. The quicker you provide learners with feedback on their performance, the more meaningful this information will be.

When crafted carefully, assessments can be incredibly powerful tools for learning. Well-planned assessments provide teachers and students with the necessary information to gauge progress and plan the next steps in the learning process. When we assess learning clearly, frequently and without bias, we get a better picture of how well we’re doing with instruction and how to best serve our students in the future.

For more, see:

Melissa Maypole is an English Teacher with a Master’s of Science in Education, and is a contributor at Wisewire.


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Supporting Digital Citizenship Development as a School Counselor

By Syrenna Kononovitch

There is no avoiding the integrative nature of technology in many aspects of our lives. Academia is seeing a huge influence and impact of different tech tools in subject education, test-taking, college applications, PowerPoint games shows, podcast listening and much more.

Some schools provide Google ChromeBooks or Apple iPads to their students to promote educational achievement in the form of access to websites, downloadable applications or other online academic media. But technology in education doesn’t just stay at schools. At home, students are submitting assignments electronically, researching history facts for their essays and watching YouTube videos assigned by their teachers on topics relevant to their current lesson.

There is no doubt that technology has increased the impact of interactive education for students across the country. The Department of Education cites the following positive Effects of Technology on Classrooms and Students:

  • Independent and Peer Learning
  • Increased Motivation and Self Esteem
  • Gaining Technical Skills
  • Increase in Ability to Handle More Complex Tasks
  • More Collaboration with Peers
  • Increase in Use of Outside Resources
  • Improved Design Skills with Attention to Audience in Presentations

However, coupled with the positive factors of technology in education comes a need to address security and online behavior. Digital citizenship can be defined as a set of competencies that students should reach. CommonSense.org incorporates eight topics into its digital citizenship curriculum from K-12:

  1. Internet Safety
  2. Privacy & Security
  3. Relationships & Communication
  4. Cyberbullying & Digital Drama
  5. Digital Footprint & Reputation
  6. Self-Image & Identity
  7. Information Literacy
  8. Creative Credit & Copyright

These eight topics are also areas that teachers, school counselors and principals work on to support the positive character development of their students. No longer is student development based on academics. The need for students to become digital citizens in a world heavily influenced by technology comes to the forefront of character education.

Student Social Interactions Online

A considerable concern in digital citizenship is the communication between students and others on the world wide web. With new social media applications being developed every day, many younger students are making accounts and interacting with peers from their school and beyond.

The initiative to join these social media applications is influenced by their developmental need to win the approval of others and form their own identity, as presented by Erik Erikson and the psychosocial stages of development. While a part of child development, families, school counselors and teachers are still tasked with ensuring that these students participate in appropriate behavior both online and offline.

Interactions between students and with others on the internet can pose concerns on cyberbullying. A relatively new term coined on the negative interactions that take place through technology, cyberbullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that students become involved in relating to a real or perceived power imbalance.

To address digital citizenship and cyberbullying, school counselors aim to collaborate with principals, teachers and student support staff in providing students with a digital education on internet safety with the evaluation of appropriate and inappropriate online behaviors/ communication.

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) reviews the role of school counselors in student use of technology:

  • Collaborate with families and school personnel in addressing appropriate and responsible use of technology in academic, career and personal/social pursuits
  • Develop school policies on technology use in classrooms and school
  • Respond to incidents that occur online which impede learning
  • Assist in the detection of at-risk behavior
  • Address digital citizenship through tech literacy, reputation and social awareness

Fusing digital citizenship with a school counseling curriculum could promote positive and appropriate behaviors in school by students, teachers and other staff when it comes to the use of technology. It is not enough alone to like the use of technology in today’s education, all participants should understand how it works and proper ways of using it.

Resources For Digital Learning and Citizenship

Below is a list of several resources from organizations that promote the education and learning of positive digital behaviors, how to appropriately use the internet, and ways to collaborate with school personnel, parents, and the community in providing a safer digital world.

  • Our Space: Being a Responsible Citizen of the Digital World: The GoodPlay Project and Project New Media Literacies collaborated to bring educators an organized lesson planning guide for appropriate engagement in digital media from social networks, online games, social media, and informational resources.
  • Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy offers Media Smarts, their comprehensive resource on basic digital & media literacy, teaching youth to engage with different types of media, and what issues they may encounter online.
  • The Internet Keep Safe Coalition (iKeepSafe) aims to certify digital products that are compliant with federal and state requirements for handling protect information. iKeepSafe provides educators, parents, and the community with resources on building healthy digital citizens.

For more, see:

Syrenna Kononovitch is a school counselor and co-creator of the School Counselor ToolKit from OnlineCounselingPrograms.com. Follow them on Twitter: @CounselingEd


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A Gifted Ed Teacher’s Secrets to Success

By Stephen Noonoo

Today’s colleges of education generally do a good job prepping new teachers for the traditional classroom. For teaching students outside the mainstream, the training is less robust. At least, that’s what Alison Alowonle discovered when she stepped into her first student-teaching job in a gifted ed magnet school 13 years ago and fell in love with the students.

When she moved to a classroom of her own, she started small, clustering increasing numbers of gifted students each year before designing her own pullout program at Excelsior Elementary in Minnetonka, Minnesota, picking up a certificate in gifted education along the way. This year she was one of 11 finalists for her state’s 2017 Teacher of the Year award.

“Gifted” is a label that’s often difficult to quantify, but there’s little doubt Alowonle’s elementary students are exceptional. To qualify for her class, students must demonstrate an IQ upward of 140 and pass through a simulation designed to test their intellect. But intelligence alone is not what makes them unique. According to Alowonle, her students also exhibit high levels of inward motivation and drive; “intensity” is one of her favorite words to describe it.

Here, Alowonle shares her recommendations for engaging gifted students.

Q: How does your “looping” model of teaching work?

I teach students for two years in a row. My homeroom is fourth- and fifth-graders: 21 students, a mix of boys and girls who are together two years. It’s nice because the fifth-graders are really the mentors, and then the next year the fourth-graders loop around and get to take on that role. It’s a really great chance for them to grow in leadership. What’s nice about that looping piece is that you can hit the ground running. You know half your students already at the start of the year. They know the rules and they can help teach the new kids. You don’t have to spend a lot of time in that “getting to know you” phase. We get a lot more instructional time that way, too.

There are kids here who have been ostracized or isolated as gifted children, and they come here and suddenly they’re with like-minded peers. They feel comfortable to talk about things they’re interested in, and not be met with confusion or be laughed at. They feel like they can be themselves.

They are very diverse in their interests and personalities. There are a lot of athletic kids and others who don’t even go near athletics. The one common area they have is their intensity. A psychomotor intensity, rapid speech, creative intensity, imaginational. They’re all very intense in their own way, and then they’re brought together in that commonality.

We do a lot around the whole child, the social-emotional learning. For instance, during the first few weeks of school, we talk about executive functioning. We look at the brain and why we react the way we do emotionally, and how we can calm ourselves when we’re in a state of fight-or-flight. My students are unique in their intensities and emotions.

Q: Are there any other ways you’d say your students are in any ways different from those in a traditional classroom?

They are similar in many ways. Just like most classrooms, I have kids who are calm and can sit all day and don’t need to say “look at me,” and then there are others who can’t stop moving or talking.

However, the child in my class who is quiet is usually very intense on the inside. They go deep in their thinking and are quick-processing for the most part. Instead of needing five examples of something before moving to the application phase, they might need only two examples, or even just one. The pacing between this and a regular class is very different. It’s very speedy. There’s not a lot of “sit and get.”

Q: Taking all that into consideration, how do you typically organize lessons?

It’s a lot of project-based learning here. For instance, in chemistry we’ll work on learning the properties of atoms and bonds and we’ll go through the whole chemistry unit, but then it’s peppered throughout with different labs they can do. At the end of a unit, they complete an individual project where they can ask themselves, “What do I want to do with this?” They can do some experimenting at home, or in the classroom. The only criteria I have is to incorporate something from the unit and then go deep with it.

Q: How do you grade and assess students of this caliber? Are they naturally competitive?

Yes, they are competitive. They all like to do well and they’re close-knit. It’s very much like a family. There’s a lot of encouraging, but also some competition. We use Marzano’s rubric, a 0-4 scale, which is really great for kids in general but especially for gifted kids.

If you get a three, we’re saying, “You got it. You picked up what I was throwing down.” Anything above that is where you have a chance to go above and beyond and do something I haven’t taught you with it. Maybe one of the literature assignments I’ll give is to take the protagonist and tell three of their character traits and find evidence in the story as to why these character traits are true to this character. If they pick their three traits and they give evidence, you get the three. But if a child goes through and doesn’t just cite pages but uses direct quotes, and I haven’t taught that it would get them a 3.5 or a 4. It allows them the opportunity to reach and figure out what can they can do above and beyond.

Q: You spend a lot of your time working not only with kids but with their families as well. What does that entail?

The family is super important. That’s a huge component for me. I think the most important thing is to almost over-communicate things. I send out a very detailed weekly newsletter about what it looks like to be a child in this room for a week. I write down what we’ve been doing each day, in each subject, each project. Especially because a lot of students struggle with executive functioning, planning and meeting deadlines. I lay it out for the parents: Here’s what you might want to be asking the child. Here’s something you can do at home to extend the learning going on the classroom. It’s very helpful.

I’ll also send periodic emails to check in with parents to let them know how things are going. I always try to touch on the positives, which is something they’re not always used to. I’ve had responses from parents saying: “I’m really surprised by your email. I thought this was going to be another email about how my child was sent home today,” because their child has had difficulties in the past. I’m not talking about all the students in my class, but there are definitely those who have been a round peg in a square hole, and school has been hard for them. As a parent, conferences aren’t going to be the most fun to go to. Your child is constantly off task, or reading a book instead of paying attention.

I think, as a parent, ‘What would I want to know?’ I would like to know some anecdotal information about how my son is doing. If you put yourself in those parents’ shoes and ask, “What kind of relationship would I want with that teacher?” That’s what I try to put forth.

Q: Do you have any advice for teachers looking to learn more about gifted ed or move into that space?

I think it’s important to get some sort of education yourself. I have my gifted education certificate. Those classes were really helpful for me. The training you get in college is really skimpy. Gifted ed is actually grouped in with special ed. I’ve even gotten out my old college textbook and there’s one paragraph in there on gifted kids. Things have changed now, though: you can get your master’s in gifted ed and there are staff development opportunities.

But you also need to get hands-on experience. If you’re a regular third-grade teacher and you have a gifted program in your school, get to know that gifted ed teacher. Pop in during your prep or lunch time and see what’s going on. It’s a great opportunity to get to know these unique individuals.

For more, see:

Stephen Noonoo is a freelance writer, editor and ed tech consultant. Follow him on Twitter: @stephenoonoo


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