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"Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all" –Aristotle

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The Human Faces of High Stakes Testing

I spent the weekend with my baby sister, and during the course of our girl’s weekend, we discussed her 14 year old daughter who was struggling in school. Because I am an educator, my sister is able to discuss with me the kinds of modifications and accommodations her daughter is receiving in school, knowing I would not only understand all the coded language of education but also that I would be able to provide her with advice. Unfortunately, the area she lamented the most was the dreaded STAAR tests, Texas’ measure of learning and “college readiness.” The absurdity of that particular statement is neither here nor there and is a subject for many past and future posts, but suffice to say, her 8th grade daughter must take an ELA Reading test, along with a Math, Science, and Social Studies test later this school year. This is, of course, on top of all the eleven other standardized tests she has taken since 3rd grade, and doesn’t include the 5 standardized tests she must pass in high school in order to graduate.

While my sister doesn’t necessarily disapprove of the tests altogether, she does have issue with the immense pressure and anxiety these tests place on students as a result of the test-intensive environment of Texas public education. My sister was overjoyed by the possibility that she could opt her daughter out of state-mandated testing, which would help alleviate the anxiety and illness that these exams cause my niece. I had to break her heart: no such thing exists in Texas.

To understand the human face of high-stakes testing, you must first see the human, something the state has forgotten. You see, Masie is a beautiful, funny, witty young girl. She has the deadliest blue eyes, an infectious smile and laugh, and skin models would kill Continue reading “The Human Faces of High Stakes Testing”

Movie Day?

I’ve lived a life of utter gluttony and hedonism this past week. I’ve eaten just about everything in sight–you know, as long as it had high fat and sugar content. I’ve napped every day, a couple of times twice a day. I didn’t go Black Friday shopping with my sister and nieces, opting instead to stay home in my pajamas while my husband headed to the deer lease for his boy’s weekend. I’ve read four books, none of which I intend to teach at all. I’ve stayed up late watching recently released movies (including a few Pixar movies because we all know those movies aren’t actually for children anyway).

Ahhh. Thanksgiving break.

Continue reading “Movie Day?”

What does “college-ready” mean anyway?

here-and-now-413092__180Discussions in education have become a veritable Tower of Babel with enough acronyms to make any bowl of Alphabits soup a solid summary of every school’s August professional development. Amidst the calls to revise standards (CCSS), reduce the impact of testing scores on students and schools (ESSA, NCLB), or to eliminate standardized testing altogether in favor of more authentic and reliable means of gauging student learning, terms such as “college and career readiness” (CCR), “21st century skills” (21C), “EQ v IQ,” “critical thinking” (CT, HOTS, DOK), and “grit” (well, that one didn’t change) seem to lose their meaning for anything other than keyword Google searches and SEO development. Continue reading “What does “college-ready” mean anyway?”

Differentiating Instruction through Reading Choice

IMG_5112In my previous post Building a Culture of Reading through Choice, I discussed how teachers might create more avid and willing student-readers by offering multiple texts from which students may choose rather than one compulsory text read by the entire class. I received many emails asking how I implement this in my classroom, how I choose books, and how I facilitate student learning when there are several different texts. Since so many people were interested, I thought why not just write another post? As any teacher knows, if one student asks a question, there’s probably 8 or 9 others who were wondering the same thing but were too shy to ask. So–to those of you who emailed: I hope this helps; and to those who were too shy to ask: don’t be! (I know–completely unhelpful advice).

As I stated before, I don’t like being told what to read, especially if I’m told to read it because it’s a “classic” and “canonical.” On my own, if still a bit begrudgingly, I decided to read Moby Dick and David Copperfield because peer pressure still has some power and I had to see what Continue reading “Differentiating Instruction through Reading Choice”

Correlation between Critical Thinking and Developmental Levels of Critical Writing

As students develop the cognitive ability to analyze, evaluate, and create, their ability to articulate their thinking in increasingly complex forms of writing also evolves.
As students develop the cognitive ability to analyze, evaluate, and create, their ability to articulate their thinking in increasingly complex forms of writing also evolves.

Judging a Book by its Cover: Teaching Theme

Things Fall Apart Cover art
Theme seems like a no-brainer–it’s the universal truths we find in a text that make it relevant to the human experience. Yet teaching theme can be quite challenging. Students have difficulty grasping the concept, and I am not sure if it’s because they don’t know how to phrase a theme statement or if they simply don’t have quite enough life experience to recognize grand human truths (we’ll set aside semantics for now and operate on the premise that there are “human truths” by which we live). Continue reading “Judging a Book by its Cover: Teaching Theme”

Building a Culture of Reading through Choice


Getting students to read can sometimes be a monumental task. With so many other engaging multimedia entertainment options for children to choose, assigning chapters to be read for class often results in students arriving in class without having completed the required reading. I can’t say I blame them. In my own education, I’ve been assigned some texts that were real snooze-fests. And if we are being totally honest, I am much more unlikely to read a novel that is assigned–perhaps there’s a bit of passive-aggressive behavior in that. I don’t like being told to read something because it has “literary merit” and is part of the canon. Continue reading “Building a Culture of Reading through Choice”

Renovating Teaching Strategies


I have had occasion in the recent present to think a lot about renovating. In fact, I’m hiding upstairs in a small nook I’ve cleared of construction dust and grime while the flooring guys are laying wood floors downstairs. I don’t know if it’s the heady perfume of new carpet, freshly painted walls, or floor glue, but the complete renovation–upstairs and downstairs–of our 20 year old house has me waxing philosophical about many things.

Firstly, you never really fully appreciate how much stuff you collect in 20 years of marriage until you have to move every. single. bit. from room to room in the inevitable Construction Shuffle. Nothing is left untouched. Questions like “When did we get this?”, “Have we ever used this?” and “What the hell is this?” get asked often, usually by me. My rule of thumb: throw it out if it hasn’t been used or worn in a year or if the technology is obsolete. My husband, however, is a hoarder. The only people I know who Continue reading “Renovating Teaching Strategies”

Global CXN: The Technology Challenge, Part 2

Part 2: Technology and Time Difference

TOS students celebrating their first place win in Olympia Athletics, but their joy is not dissimilar to our joy in finding solutions to our technology issues.
In my last Global CXN post (click here to read Part 1), I talked about how our group started and the initial “getting to know you” stage of the interactions. Once students learned a little about each other and found a common project to undertake, work got underway and students have enjoyed their collaboration. However, getting them on a reliable, functional, collaboration-friendly platform has been a hit-and-miss operation for Vietnam GCXN facilitator Daniel Rymer and me. While we have most of the kinks ironed out now, it was off to a dubious start three months ago.

When we first started in September, I knew getting our students on a platform that encouraged discussion and collaboration was going to be a challenge. Not only were we facing a 12 hour time difference that could stymie any sort of real communication, but also The Olympia Schools is a Google platform school, whereas La Porte ISD is an Office 365 school. My school district blocks all things Google except for Google Search and previous requests to unblock Google have always been met with rejection. Too, Continue reading “Global CXN: The Technology Challenge, Part 2”

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