Thoughts on teaching, learning, technology, and leadership from the field

Category Archives: things I wonder about

apple-256263_960_720Dear teachers,

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week. I hope your free Chik-Fil-A sandwich or BOGO Chipotle burrito was delicious. I hope your PTA and administration wrecked your diet with baked goods and goody bags attached to cute little sayings. I hope your kids remembered to say thank you. I hope a few wrote you sweet little notes that are worth more than to you than the kids could ever imagine. I hope some saintly parent donated a few reams of paper or other desperately needed supplies to your classroom.

I wish though, teachers, that you didn’t have to rely on the kindness of parents for donations. Or that you didn’t have to pay for them out of pocket. While the discounts this week, the platitudes from politicians and celebrities, the knickknacks, the junk food are nice, the reality is that a week of appreciation is not sufficient.

This week, in Texas, we heard that schools will still be measured by test riddled with glitches.

This week, in Detroit, teachers held “sick outs” to call attention to the budget crisis so severe that their paychecks, their livelihood, the roof over their heads and the food on the table of their own children, is in jeopardy.

This week, the Center for Education Policy released the results of a study showing that teachers today feel stressed by poor leadership, a lack of voice in national discussions about education, and over emphasis on standardized testing.

Here’s what I wish you had instead of Teacher Appreciation Week.

And, I wish that on your hardest, bleakest days that you remember the optimism and enthusiasm you had when you walked into the door of your first classroom. I sincerely hope that you never lose it entirely, even if it gets occasionally bruised and battered. I wish for you the strength and the courage to keep pushing for kids, their families, the future of our field, and the future of this country.

<3, Amy


Now that I’ve had some time to process the data from the word frequency analysis, I’ve put together some thoughts on how we can use this information.

We know that the most effective vocabulary instruction is taught in context and embedded in learning. Teachers should not use this analysis to create vocabulary lists for students to memorize in isolation. The primary use of this tool is awareness about the assessments and to inform instruction.

For instance, in 8th grade Social Studies, we know now that we may not need to be concerned about whether or not students know the word “abundant” or “abundance” as these words have only appeared 4 times in 3 years. For words with lower frequency, students will need to use context clues. However, the term “colonial” and associated terms like, “colonies,” “colonist,” “colonization,” “colonize,” and “colony” have appeared 46 times in 3 years.  With such a high frequency, it is worth our time to ensure students know the meaning and have seen some of the various forms of the word prior to testing.

Awareness of word forms is especially important for our ELL students and those with learning difficulties. Knowing which forms have been used can help teachers enrich the language they use with students and design writing and reading prompts which encourage the use of multiple forms of the word. Here is an example of a cartoon students or teachers could create to use the different word forms. Pixton is a super easy, free comic or storyboard maker!

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Please share any other suggestions on how to use this resource in the comments!

I was working with a middle school campus this week in starting to think about STAAR preparations. As most schools are, we are concerned with preparing kids for the vocabulary they’ll face on the test.

Which got me to thinking, what are the most common words that kids will face? I know that several places have lists of words but I wasn’t able to find one with a frequency count, so I’ve created one.

I used all of the released STAAR tests from 2013-2015. The program I used pulls all text  – directions, passages, graphic organizers, etc. It will not pull words that are part of images, like maps or cartoons. It scrubs all of the punctuation and capitalization.

I’m sharing the files – feel free to dive in!


Much of my work lately has involved getting ready for a big 1:1 push at our high schools next year. This involves making sure that our curriculum will be ready and friendly for technology use, teachers have tool, and we, as leaders, have a knowledgable background about best practices for 21st century learning.

So, to that end, we do what any educational organization does – we start a book study. The book study is Horn and Staker’s Blended (affiliate link)- really great read about creating new learning experiences with technology!

And, of course, we hire consultants to come in and teach us about what it means to support 21st century learners. Things like, the teachers should be the facilitators of learning while students explore their passions. Education should be flexible and emphasize real-world and relevant content. We need to value creative and communication skills, etc.

faculty_img18_lrgHere’s my problem though, I keep having this overwhelming sense of deja vu. Like, are all
of these things we want for kids really so brand new? Haven’t we wanted those things all along?
I started my doctorate last summer. I’m just about to the point where I have to pick a focus for my dissertation, and I’m thinking it might be something along the lines of looking at these current goals through a historical lens. My short working title right now is, What would Dewey do?

In 1919, the Progressive Education Association adopted the following 7 Principles as their core philosophy.

I. Freedom to Develop Naturally

The conduct of the pupil should be governed by himself according to the social needs of his community, rather than by arbitrary laws. Full opportunity for initiative and self-expression should be provided, together with an environment rich in interesting material that is available for the free use of every pupil.

II. Interest, the Motive of all Work

Interest should be satisfied and developed through: (1) Direct and indirect contact with the world and its activities, and use of the experience thus gained. (2) Application of knowledge gained, and correlation between different subjects. (3) The consciousness of achievement.

III. The Teacher a Guide, not a Task-Master

It is essential that teachers should believe in the aims and general principles of Progressive Education and that they should have latitude for the development of initiative and originality.
Progressive teachers will encourage the use of all the senses, training the pupils in both observation and judgment; and instead of hearing recitations only, will spend most of the time teaching how to use various sources of information, including life activities as well as books; how to reason about the information thus acquired; and how to express forcefully and logically the conclusions reached. Ideal teaching conditions demand that classes be small, especially in the elementary school years.

IV. Scientific Study of Pupil Development

School records should not be confined to the marks given by the teachers to show the advancement of the pupils in their study of subjects, but should also include both objective and subjective reports on those physical, mental, moral and social characteristics which affect both school and adult life, and which can be influenced by the school and at home. Such records should be used as a guide for the treatment of each pupil, and should also serve to focus the attention of the teacher on the all-important work of development rather than on simply teaching subject matter

V. Greater Attention to all that Affects the Child’s Physical Development

One of the first considerations of Progressive Education is the health of the pupils. Much more room in which to move about, better light and air, clean and well ventilated buildings, easier access to the out-of-doors and greater use of it, are all necessary. There should be frequent use of adequate playgrounds. The teachers should observe closely the physical condition of each pupil and, in co-operation with the home, make abounding health the first objective of childhood.

VI. Co-Operation Between School & Home to Meet the Needs of Child-Life

The school should provide, with the home, as much as is possible of all that the natural interests and activities of the child demand, especially during the elementary school years. These conditions can come about only through intelligent co-operation between parents and teachers.

VII. The Progressive School a Leader in Educational Movements

The Progressive School should be a leader in educational movements. It should be a laboratory where new ideas, if worthy, meet encouragement; where tradition alone does not rule, but the best of the past is leavened with the discoveries of today, and the result is freely added to the sum of educational knowledge.

Pretty sure if I crossed out 1919 Progressive, this could pass as principles of any one of a number of current organizations.

I wonder – if we’ve been saying for nearly 100 years now that we want this for education, why hasn’t it come to pass? What has been in our way?

In the spirit of full disclosure, posts may include an Amazon affiliate link, which means that I may get a commission if you decide to purchase anything from Amazon. I only recommend products that I use and love myself, so I know you’ll be in good hands. You won’t pay any more and it helps support my internet shopping addiction.