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

Thoughts on Using the Word Frequency Analysis

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!

Untitled (1)

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


STAAR and EOC Word Frequency Analysis

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!


Seeking Learning Partners!

Hi, all,

I’m seeking 4-6 teachers to serve as Learning Partners for a project looking at student-centered learning environments. Any location, school type, content areas.

Teachers will share images of their classrooms, give and receive feedback about the images shared, and receive a collection of research/resources about student centered learning environments.

For more information, see the project overview.

To express interest in participating, fill out this form.



Sketch Noting and My Perfectionism, a Confession

So, I’m kind-of a perfectionist. Like, a competitive, need-to-win perfectionist. Maybe this is a result of being the first born in my family – both in siblings and the many younger cousins. Maybe it’s from pressure to success as a first-generation college student. In any event, I like to be good at things I do and I don’t really care to do anything else. If I’m going to do something, it needs to be done well and on time. And (if I’m completely honest), if there’s any chance that my work could be compared to anything else, it needs to be worthy of winning.

I also have a deep desire to be creative. I have closets filled with crafting things – knitting, scrapbooking, stamps, paints, baking pans, cake decorating tools. But what I really want to be able to do is to paint and draw. The problem is, I’m not good at either. (No, really, I’ve tried. I’ve taken lessons even.)

So, instead, I doodle. I’m a compulsive doodler, my mind wanders if I’m forced to sit still. Doodling keeps me occupied but I always tried to hide it. When asked if people could borrow my notes in school, I responded one of two ways. If I liked the person well enough, I’d copy my notes over on a clean sheet of paper or I’d manage to photocopy notes and cover up the doodles. If I didn’t really like the person that well… well, I’d rather them think me stand-offish or rude and not share my notes rather than show anyone my doodles.

Then, a little more than a year ago, I saw something about sketchnotes. Sketchnoting is a process of taking visual notes. So, I practiced in secret, with plain paper and pen, watching TED talks. I poured over beautiful, professional drawn notes and thought, man, I could never do that… but I kept sketching because I discovered that incorporating doodling into my notetaking helped me focus and process information.

I graduated to a sketchbook and pens. I practiced sketching my personal reflection and notes from sermons after church. Then, I tried in a few professional development sessions, sitting in the back, not drawing attention to myself. Last summer, I attended the ASCD L2L Conference as part of the Emerging Leader program. A colleague noticed my awesome pens. Then, the test… she asked what I was drawing. So… I showed her. And she thought it was cool. And then I showed a few others. So I tweeted a picture. And people liked it.

Mr. RogersI know that my art isn’t that great, especially compared to some others who sketchnote, but it is mine. And it’s helped me embrace a weakness and turn in into… not a strength, but an asset, maybe? I’m not afraid to share my work anymore, even when it doesn’t look like what I’d hoped it would. I’m back and forth between pen/paper sketchnoting (mostly for church) and digital sketchnoting with the Paper by FiftyThree app and Pencil by FiftyThree, which I love beyond words – it is the best stylus for iPads, hands-down – and I’ve tried many on the market.

Sketchnoting changed my professional practice and improved a personality quirk. I’m still a perfectionist, but at least I’m learning to love the process in at least one area. It is helping me move toward a growth mindset. What secret thing in your heart do you want to do but dare not for looking foolish? Try it, you might be surprised!

If you want more on how to get started on Sketchnoting (and the story how those private art lessons I took went), here’s my article in January’s ASCD blog.

In the spirit of full disclosure, this post includes Amazon affiliate links, 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.

What would Dewey do?

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. 


Visual Analysis: Which Amendment?


Here’s a great picture to practice visual analysis with your kids. How many different amendments (and/or laws) make this image possible?

Start by giving kids a tool, like an acronym of components to look for, to analyze documents. I like TACOS (time/place, action, caption, objects/people, so what?) but OPTICS (overview, parts of the picture, title, interrelationships, caption, summary/so what?). In either case, people tend to take images at face value – if it is a photograph, it must be true, right? This isn’t even a really exciting image at first glance. Giving kids a framework for how to think about analysis and images is really important.

How do I know? This was one of the primary  source texttilesdocuments on
the 2010 AP World History DBQ. I served that year as a reader for College Board and I saw WAY.TOO.MANY essays about why the geishas were making giant rolls of toilet paper.

The voting image comes from a lesson from Texas Law Related Education (LRE). If you haven’t every checked them out, you really should. Everything they do is fantastic – from lesson plans to workshops – and FREE. They have a great collection of games for students. Check them out at

So, how many amendments (and/or laws) did you come up with? I see at least 2 amendments, possibly 3.


Sketchnotes from TSSSA and TCSS

The Social Studies conferences were great! I’ve been transitioning to digital sketch notes with my Pencil and the Paper app by FiftyThree. I’ve tried several apps and styluses but these really seem to work for me.

I learned a great new tool through Twitter. I typically share notes as I finish with whatever hashtags are appropriate. challenged me to share my notes through their awesome timeline maker. It is so easy to use – I created these straight from my iPad!

Here are my sketchnotes and pictures from TSSSA and TCSS 2015.