Category Archives: musings

Vol.#95: New Rule

I’ve written many times about the importance of educational technology the tools that can differentiate for students, engage them, and provide data for teachers.

However, it’s not imperative that a teacher be an expert in #edtech. Like our students, there’s a range of abilities and circumstances. Also like our students, what makes the biggest difference is the approach, the attitude, the  willingness to learn

And I have to say, teachers are oftentimes the worst learners. It amazes me when teachers offer up excuses they would never allow a student to give them.

We are months away from 2016. Being a tech expert is not required, but ignoring educational technology is no longer an option. It’s in the standards. It’s part of your job.

Make. An. Effort.

So, borrowing the concept from Bill Maher’s segment of the same title: “New Rule”…

New Rule:

If you wouldn’t allow the excuse, don’t offer it as your own.

Tech Rules


I feel better. 🙂


Vol.#89: Pondering Interactive Notebooks

As a year-round school teacher, I still have a month of school left whilst also planning my next school year’s start. My students take the state standardized tests next week but my new year starts in July. Some in year round call it the “bend” (beginning + end), others the “clopening”. It’s always a crazy time.

This week, teachers at my school need to post their supply lists for next year’s students and for the first time in fifteen years, I think I will not be asking for that 1″ binder and five tab dividers. I will be asking only for one marble-top composition book and Elmer’s glue.

Interactive Reading Literature Notebooks ~ Literary Elements for Common Core 4-8 by Erin Cobb @ TpT
Interactive Reading Literature Notebooks ~ Literary Elements for Common Core 4-8 by I’m Lovin’ Lit @ TpT

I am considering using Erin Cobb’s interactive notebooks for my students next year.

Since becoming part of the TpT community, I’ve become a huge fan from afar of Erin Cobb whose TpT store,  blog,  and Facebook Page  are all titled “I’m Lovin’ Lit.”  A fellow 6th grade language arts teacher, she is able to create student engagement and interactivity where I have not: using paper.

Digital student engagement and interaction? Sure, I’m your girl. My students interact on Edmodo, collect group efforts in Padlet, and get instant feedback on their reading in ReadTheory. They complete questions on a story by scanning color-coded QR codes I’ve created on QRStuff to arrive at a Google doc which, when completed, are scored and results are emailed to students with Flubaroo. Need iPad apps for language arts? How about FREE iPad apps for language arts?  No problem.

But my notebooks… Well, I rarely “give notes”, and if so it’s usually a flipped lesson. However, the real usefulness of the notebook I ask my students keep for my language arts class? Dubious at best.

I initially considered going completely paperless. While I could do that, I think some students are tactile and need some “tangibility”. Also, parents often expect something they can touch, see, and feel that students are completing and for reference to help their child study. (And I don’t issue the literature textbook.) Creating a custom permanent reference is appealing.

In addition, I like the division this gives me. If it’s something they need for reference (content, test goals, logins, etc.) it becomes part of the interactive notebook. If it’s work generated by way of practicing a skill, its completed in a google doc, with an App, on the Edmodo wall, etc.


Hard-copy content.

Paperless practice.

Both interactive.

…I like it.

This is especially an important decision for me, as it’s not only a shift from old habits, but material management it such an issue in sixth grade. Students come from the elementary school “classroom with a cubby” and have to now travel to multiple classrooms and deal with lockers. Asking students to have different binders per class means they always forget or have the wrong one at home or in class. One big binder with everything it it is hard to organize. My students have had the most luck with large Case-it binders, but they’re too expensive to require in my opinion. Screen Shot 2015-06-07 at 2.30.25 PM

Come July, we’ll see how it goes.

How do you use interactive notebooks, technology, and/or other tools to help students stay organized? Please place your tips and tricks in the comments!

Vol.#87: Thoughts On “I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate”

I really love kinetic typography, and if the video is about education, all the better.

So I came upon this video this week:

I sent it to about a half-dozen other educators to see their take, because I really wrestled with the message.

On one hand, I really relate to the message that 17-year-old Suli Breaks passionately delivers, refusing to be reduced to a number on a test. I’ve written in both prose and poetic forms that students are “more than a score”. The insanity over standardized testing was even featured on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. (You should really watch if you didn’t catch it, and if you’re not offended by some salty language.)

Anyway, back to Mr. Suli Breaks. I found much of what he said to be powerful, relatable, and certainly fair.

And yet…

There seemed to be a hint of devaluing academics in general; a playing down of the importance of one’s education, which made me uncomfortable. Several of the teachers I sent it to felt the same.

I posed this question: How does he show he values education, if he understandably does not value the testing, and that’s all he’s known education to be? How do we expect him to separate the two?

The conversation that ensued had me thinking deeper about this and how it relates to educators. I think it is similar to the crux of the problem those of us opposing the current state of standardized testing face:

  • How do we demonstrate our willingness for accountability when it has become synonymous with standardized testing?
  • How do teachers convince the powers-that-be that we value criticism, but not uninformed critics?
  • How do we explain that we value high standards, but not high stakes?

Vol.#84: “Is This A Grade?”

They say there is no such this as a bad question, but, “Is this a grade?” makes me think otherwise. This is one of my least favorite questions of all time, and teachers are asked this by students often.

It reveals a student’s thought process on if a learning experience is important and worth their time or not.

I have tried several approaches to this question. I have tried to ban  the question from the classroom without success. I have tried consistently using the vague response, “All things in life are assessed.” They have been undeterred.  My students have even gotten savvy enough to know to ask, “Is this formative or summative”?

I decided I do not want to answer this question again. To that end, I have created a flow chart to post on my wall:

Is this a GRADE-

PS: I love you Piktochart.

If you would like it for your classroom as well, it is available in my TeachersPayTeachers store here.

What habits of your students do you try to break?

Vol.#76: Enough

saferThe fact that some people actually argue that the best response to the gunning down of innocent  school children is more guns in the hands of teachers absolutely terrifies me.

First of all, trained officers with guns were on the premises and unable to stop the shooter at Columbine High School, so . . . there’s that.

But besides this fact, every piece of data I’ve read confirms an unintended shooting of a loved one is statistically more likely than actually protecting your home. It would stand to reason that accidents are more likely than successful warding off of would-be school shooters in schools as well. Certainly, the teachers that accidentally shot themselves while at school in Utah and in Idaho earlier this school year do not bode well for the success of this”arm the teachers” plan.

Simultaneously amuse and horrify yourself fellow teachers: At your next faculty meeting, when someone is saying something so unbelievably, stupefyingly short-sighted, ill-advised, and/or unintelligent (and you and I both know that s/he will) ponder working up the hall from them… whist they are armed.

And if you can get past your horror, realize the whole plan is more than a little insulting, given our current circumstances. They can’t pay us a professional wage or give any paid professional development. (I’m paying for conferences out-of-pocket, anyway…you?) But they’ll suggest finding money to arm us? Nice.

Plus, teachers are already so over worked, so overburdened… I mean seriously. During a fire drill I am just lucky to get the little green card in the window. There are days I can’t find the stack of 120 copies  I  just  made  and you want me to be responsible for a 9mm Smith and Wesson? No thanks.

Not that I’m in denial that something needs to change. There have been nearly 100 school shootings since Sandy Hook. The fact that the school shootings aren’t even news-worthy anymore is almost as sad as the shootings themselves.

Anyway, whilst surfing the various social interwebs this holiday, I came across the following video. I can understand if some people find celebrity  “campaigns” normally annoying, but I think this one is worth the 1:23.



Vol.#71: #TeachingInNC, A Snapshot

Sure. My humble submission follows.

To be read in the slam poetry style of Marshall Davis Jones’s Touchscreen.


Not enough copies
Not enough books
Teachers spending their own thin dime
It’s a crime.
Not enough time
Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 12.45.26 PMNot enough technology
There is simply not enough me…
to go around
to these 42 students in this one class
Because class size limits…are gone.
Education is a pawn
in their reelection game.
But the more they talk of change,
the more things stay the same.

Instead of the blame, they should find the funding instead.
But their friends get deep tax cuts so it puts our schools in the red.

They vilify those that they should empower.
But those making the choices refuse to hear the experienced voices.


This student’s a “two”, this one’s a “four”
No. A child something more
than a score.

integrity, creativity, ingenuity, responsibility,
curiosity, humility, reliability, empathy…

These are not on their test
So teaching them is not part of my “effectiveness index”.

They tell us to individualize our instruction
But they standardize the tests.
It’s impossible. It’s a mess.
But NC kids are the state’s future…so as we wait for November we’ll  keep trying our best.

Vol.#61: The Merit Pay Mistake

Just my thoughts on “merit pay” for today.   20140613-025903-10743952.jpg   Carry on.

Vol.#53: Ten Ways Teachers are Soooo Not Doctors OR Surgeons

So, a colleague wrote this really insightful piece last week about whether educators are more like:

  • Doctors: trying to cure things that have societal causes of which most are out of their control


  • Surgeons: acting with precision and purpose to achieve an end and required to review outcome data to better inform future practices.

I can’t recap it and do it justice, so please read it.

Go on. I’ll wait.


Good stuff, right?

Anyway, usually I’d eat this kind of comparative metaphorical analysis up with a spoon. As some who follow this blog may know, I’ve discussed similar concepts myself.

However, I surprised myself by reacting in an entirely different, non-serious way. Perhaps it’s due to the current state of education, particularly in my own state of North Carolina, where we have to laugh or we’d cry, but my husband and I just kept riffing (and laughing) on all the ways teachers are soooo not either of these professions.

I thought others may also get a chuckle from what we came up with…and maybe add a few more in the comments.

So, I present to you:

Ten Ways Teachers are Soooo NOT Doctors or Surgeons

  • Our. Paychecks.

You knew it was coming. Let’s just get it out of the way, shall we? I made an infographic on to see what the difference was in my own city.

I was curious.

  • Credibility. Even in the face of death of a loved one, “I did everything I could.” actually means something coming from a surgeon.
  • Concrete data. A heart attack presents like a heart attack and cancer is treated like cancer, regardless of a patient’s ability, motivation, or intelligence. This makes quite a difference if you are expected to act on the information with the certainty and confidence demanded of all three professions.
  • Help. Doctors and surgeons have nurses. Physician’s assistants.  EMTs. Those people that check you in and out. Orderlies…etc.  A very small, ever-shrinking percentage of teachers have teachers’ assistants. (And anyone who thinks they don’t desperately need them should come teach a class of 24 kindergarteners solo.)
  • Teachers can’t excise a tumor of laziness or ignorance…though a girl can dream, can’t she?
  • Doctors don’t have to write plans for a substitute doctor to try to see all the patients in their care in a day. They can simply reschedule their appointments for the day if they’re out. (Actually, someone else probably does that for them.)
  • Please show me the surgeon who has 35 people on operating tables…at once.
  • Rarely is a patient unconscious on the table and still able to hurl obscenities at the surgeon or threaten them with bodily harm. (Of course, I’m just guessing.)
  • I’m pretty sure there are very few doctors  buying their own tongue depressors out-of-pocket.
  • No one ever criticizes a doctor or surgeon for the appointment not being engaging or entertaining enough.

What’d I miss?

Vol.#50: Shades of TSV

To both commemorate the new year and celebrate fifty posts on Teaching Speaks Volumes, I have updated the layout and look of the blog. The header features artwork from a very talented colleague, Lynda Boltz. Her talents can be reached at

I love using word clouds (via Tagxedo or Wordle) with students. I have created them for short stories we will study or using students’ own writing. A word cloud sizes words to highlight their frequencies of occurrence within the writing.

The following word cloud is of the first fifty Volumes of TSV. It provides a snapshot of this blog’s discussion over the past 20 months:

TSV2013Does something stand out to you in this word cloud? Please let me know in the comments…

Vol.#48: More Homework Meme

I’ve known Paul Cancellieri since 2002 and we were on the same interdisciplinary team once upon a time, so he at least knows me well enough to realize I much I just love coming up with lists about myself (#sarcasm). Paul has tagged me in the edublogosphere meme #MoreHomework. It’s goal is to help readers “get to know the people behind the screens”. I’ve really enjoyed reading the reponses others have written, such as here and here and here and here. But eleven interesting things? About me? Seriously?

However, I was tagged yet again by Jill Thompson. Also, I suppose I can’t just ignore assigned homework. What kind of example would I be setting? So, I’ve attempted the challenge, although you may notice some of the facts “about me” suspiciously deflect to others to whom I am related… #seewhatididthere?

The Homework Meme involves completing three things:

#1.) Share 11 random facts about yourself that others probably don’t already know.

  1. Despite the fact that my husband is a huuuge Superman fanatic (like…huge), I’ve never actually seen any of the Superman movies. The old ones. The new ones. Ever. #sorryhoney
  2. I’ve also never seen any of The Godfather movies, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shawshank Redemption (there’s poo involved, yes?) or anything with Bruce Lee. These first two facts taken together have my husband convinced there are things wrong with me. (There may be, but I maintain the lack of specific-movie-watching is not related.)
  3. Between teaching in a year round school since 2002, teaching summer school in South Carolina each year I taught there, and going full-time to school every summer in both undergrad and grad school, I am a teacher who has not been “off for the summer” since I was a student in 1994. I’m fine with this, since I much prefer to be indoors during the summer anyway.  #airconditioningfan
  4. My dad’s dad worked for RCA. His projects there included the electronics for the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) for the 1969 first man on the moon landing. My paternal grandfather was literally a rocket scientist.
  5. My mother’s dad was a biochemist who worked on cancer research, specifically the aging of cells. As children, my mother and her sisters were part of the his research on cholesterol, which is also still referenced by most specialists in that field today. (My mother has recollections of she and her sisters having blood drawn, but just thought that’s what all dads did.)
  6. I am the only one of my siblings without a PhD in my chosen field. #nopressure
  7. I would rather lick the floor than eat a pickle. They are cucumbers soaked in distilled pure vile evil. Just eww.
  8. I traveled to 16 countries in Europe during the summer between my junior and senior year in high school playing concerts with a group called, “The Carolina Ambassadors of Music.” With the exception of a short trip to Niagara Falls, it’s the only time I’ve been outside of the US.
  9. My marriage is both interracial and interfaith. Some people find stuff like that noteworthy. #shrug
  10. We have two boys (now 7 & 5). When our younger son was born, he was only 27 weeks gestation. He weighed 3 pounds zero ounces and stayed in two different NICUs over two months before he could come home. #scarytimes
  11. If I’d gone to Hogwarts, I would have been placed in Ravenclaw. My results from the Sorting Hat Quiz:  Ravenclaw=16,   Hufflepuff=14,   Gryffindor=10,   Slytherin=6.

#2.) Answer the 11 questions posed by Paul.

  1. If you could teach anywhere in the world (other than your current location), where would it be?  Korea
  2. Superman, Batman, Spiderman, or Green Lantern?  Why?   Superman because I love my husband and he might read this and I want to stay married.
  3. What is your favorite comedy movie of all time?   I usually watch comedy via TV shows more than movies. Current favorites include “The Big Bang Theory” and “The Crazy Ones”. Classics for me include “Who’s Line?”, “Scrubs”, and “The Office”.
  4. Would you rather have the super power of invisibility or flying?   Flying. I’d rather travel quickly than accidentally overhear things I can’t unhear.
  5. If you could drink milkshakes with any person, living or dead, real or fictional, who would it be?      Real: Neil DeGrasse Tyson. #nerdcrush      Fictional: Professor Minerva McGonagall. #idolworship
  6. Favorite dipping sauce?   Chick-Fil-A avocado lime ranch. Hate their politics, looove their dressing. Wait – unless we’re dipping buffalo wings? Then it’s homemade blue cheese dressing all the way.
  7. What one quality is your greatest asset?   I’ve been pondering this one for forever now. I just couldn’t think of a good answer, so I asked my husband to answer it for me. He said “determined”, but I’m pretty sure that’s just a way to call me stubborn and dress it in a compliment’s clothing.    Um… my self-assurance?      (#sarcasm)
  8. Put in order of most awesome to least: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, The Lone Ranger, Walker Texas Ranger, Galaxy Rangers, Army Rangers. I had to google images of more of those than I care to admit to confirm exactly what you were talking about. My maternal grandfather served the army in World War II. (In fact, he met a man on Hilton Head Island visiting from Germany whom it turned out had surrendered specifically to him over fifty years prior.) Anyway, mad respect for anyone serving their country with their life on the line and no fictional character can top that.  If pressed, I’d put Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in a very distant second since my husband was almost cast as one.
  9. What is the best way to reduce the number of school shootings in the United States? In 1996 after a lone gunman killed 35 innocent people, Australia issued comprehensive controls and banned assault rifles. Their resulting data would suggest that following suit would be an excellent strategy.
  10. What mobile app do you use the most often? I’m not addicted to Candy Crush and can stop any time I want to. Stop judging me!
  11. On a scale of 1 to 10, how dope do you dance The Robot?    3?

#3.) I come up with 11 questions for others to answer.

  1. What is the one biggest challenge you face in the classroom that has a solution?
  2. What character from a book, movie, or television are you most like and how so?
  3. What’s something other people really seem to like that you think is either totally pointless or a waste of time?
  4. Are you a “dog person” or a “cat person”?
  5. If you could time travel to any time period in history for one week, when would you choose and why?
  6. Favorite type of candy?
  7. If you could live forever, would you? Why/why not?
  8. In which House would The Sorting Hat have placed you at Hogwarts? Feel free to use this Sorting Hat Quiz.
  9. On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you feel about sushi?
  10. What’s your favorite tech tool for the classroom?
  11. You’ve just received an unexpected $5,000. What would you do with it?

Here are the 11 bloggers I nominate to continue the #MoreHomework meme. They write great stuff, and I’d love to know more fun facts from the minds behind the screen:

  1. Caitlin Tucker
  2. Amy Mayer
  3. Med Kharbach
  4. Vance Kite
  5. Jason Lineberger
  6. Troy Cockrum
  7. Steve Anderson
  8. Luke Miles
  9. Robin Bulleri
  10. Karen McPherson
  11. YOU. Yeah, you reading this. If you don’t have a blog, please feel free to leave your responses in my comments section.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer.
  5. List 11 bloggers, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.
  6. Post back here with a link after you write this.

Go on, you have homework to do.