One Multifaceted Way to Reduce Cheating When Teaching Remotely

No, it’s not by using a lock-down browser.

Let’s Be Real…Cheating Happens

Let’s think about what is going to happen when you combine online students with in-person students in a synchronous classroom. The students online have the advantage of being able to cheat without the teacher being able to see what they are doing, even if the teacher is closely monitoring the virtual meeting.

Yes, you can scramble the questions and answer choices.

Yes, you can create two forms of the test.

They will still figure out how to cheat, especially if you are testing them to death, which many teachers are wont to do. Many of us are trying to give students many opportunities to earn points and earn a good grade, so there are multiple quizzes and tests within a marking period. We have good intentions. We are helping them play the GPA game, maintain their rank, etc. However, if each test is an essay test, most teachers would go crazy trying to grade them all fairly and effectively. Therefore, we use methods that are almost always graded for us: multiple choice, short answer, matching, and so forth. Right?

Human beings learn to be more efficient in many ways; some of them are at the expense of others. Cheating is one. In the business world, managers will try to take credit for the work of their team, even if they had nothing to do with the work product. That’s cheating too. Nothing is more repulsive to me than that behavior. I don’t care if managers also say they have to take full responsibility for team failures too. That reasoning isn’t good enough.

In the programming world, a world from which I came, people have mastered the art of efficiency. It’s what has made open source so popular. Please, take my code! Make it work for you! We allow people to take code snippets and widgets and put them into their programs, all for the sake of convenience and rapid development. Think Bootstrap. Think jQuery. Think of all the queries you’ve done against data. In my opinion, that is ok. People expect you won’t reinvent the wheel with each program. The developers hand out their code willingly, and even produce links to embed style sheets and code into your own code so it will call their site instead of asking you to put their code into yours. If they know and approve, is it still plagiarism?

In the academic world, it sure is. In the programming world, eh, not so much. It’s sharing and no one expects every developer to start from the beginning each time they start a new project. In academics though, especially when sources aren’t cited, it is plagiarism. It’s cheating. In my mind, it’s as repulsive as the manager taking credit for a team’s success without acknowledging the hard work of individuals.

When I catch a plagiarist, I go ballistic.

The More They Create, and the Less You Create, the More Ownership They Will Assume.

Since we already have enough this year to be wary of and upset about, shouldn’t we try to eliminate at least one source of frustration? I’m going to do my best.

Use Multiple Choice, Fill-in-the Blank, and Matching Quizzes for Formative Assessment Only

These type of assessment questions have their place and fit nicely with other forms of formative assessment. Instead of entering a score for the number correct, give the students a handful of completion points. Students can identify their strengths and weakness so that they can focus their studies on personal needs. Teachers can identify class and individual strengths and weaknesses so they can reteach what the students need retaught. This prep work can help everyone be more successful. Teachers and students will feel more confident approaching a more rigorous examination. That extra confidence might curtail cheating, because the students will feel they can do the work on their own since they are prepared.

Use Authentic Assessments That Help Students Express Pride in Their Progress

Authentic assessments, those which ask “the student to ‘do’ the subject”; simulates ways in adults work in the adult world (yes, that includes guidance for future teachers!); are rigorous and require critical thinking and other 21st century skills; and allow “appropriate opportunities to rehearse, practice, consult resources, and get feedback on and refine performances and products.”

For some reason, as I typing the previous paragraph, I was thinking of Hogwarts. What if the wizards had released Harry, Hermione, and Ron into the world with ONLY textbook knowledge or other vicarious experiences? Sure, they tried to protect the young wizards by forbidding magic outside school. Still, they had authentic experiences. But do you think they would have fared well without them? I just remember all those crazy experiments and other activities they sprinkled through the books and in the movies. What if the young wizards only had those experiences through video, passive learning, or reading? I shudder as I think about it, even though it might prove to be great fiction.

Authentic assessments are not just teacher-created. That is what makes them cool. Teachers and students work together on it, so both understand what is expected from the other. How it works in the adult world: a manager sits down with a teammate for a conversation about what is expected, provides resources for the teammate to be successful, and establishes regular check-in meetings with the teammate to support progress. Additionally, a good manager listens to the teammate express concerns and answers questions; a good manager also changes course upon feedback from the teammate. Teachers and students can replicate this process with a conference during which they develop the assessment together, develop the rubric together from a sample, and discuss the challenges the student will face. They can also establish future conferences to discuss emerging challenges and celebrate victories.

But Heather, you might say, I have 150 students! How am I supposed to do this? I would say it could be done this way.

  • Pick a course or section you think will benefit MOST from this type of assessment. You don’t have to do this with each class you have at the same time.
  • Design a general “authentic assessment” that offers choices to students that they can mix for their own project. Hyperdocs are good for this. Use a theme, a concept, or a skill to focus the students. Try to ensure that it can apply to future experiences, so it answers the question, “Why do I have to do this?”
  • Hold a “group” conference for each class, during which you introduce the assessment and the sample rubric for the assessment.
  • Show them a sample project plan, which will help them to organize their time, tasks, and steps. Project planning is a terrific 21st century skill to foster.
  • Explain to them that you want them to come up with an assessment that suits them using the general guidelines you provided.
  • Let them work on project development in a collaborative document they share with you (Google Docs or Google Sheets, for example) and respond to the comments as they come up. Some students will be fine; others will need a bit of help. Set a deadline and be sure to give them credit for their hard work.
  • Evaluate their progress and rubric before they start the project. Once you release them to start working, continue to be open to asynchronous communication about their progress.
  • Let students help each other. Provide class time for them to work with their peers before coming to you with questions. Sometimes, peers can explain things to each other better than teachers can (the same is true with managers and reports).
  • Be generous with deadlines, especially the first time around.
  • Celebrate everyone’s work, especially the first time around.
  • Put their work to use, so it does feel authentic.
    • For example:
      • Infographics: If you are lucky enough to have a poster printer, print them and display them. Ask the students to present their infographic to the class. Many students need help with public speaking. The more we have to social distance, the more we need to collaborate verbally. Students will need these skills to succeed.
      • Presentations: Ask the students to walk through the presentation with the class. Perhaps the students could even create a short quiz for the students to take after the presentation. Future teachers will appreciate the practice!
      • Podcasts and Videos: Assign the media to the other students and have them complete discussion postings in which they offer constructive, respectful feedback. Discussion forums are still a thing; learning how to create posts that don’t “flame” other people is a critical skill.
      • Portfolios: Help the students create a virtual gallery walk with their portfolios. Tools like Wakelet, Padlet, and others can help with this. Let the other students evaluate the portfolios, like aspects of them, and make constructive comments about portfolio elements.
      • Reports: Compile reports into an e-book that students can share with friends, family, and others in school.

If you have more ideas, I would love to read them!

Final Words

Once we acknowledge humans are efficient creatures, but we also want to be proud of ourselves and our work, I think we can see possibilities for assessment that go beyond our comfort zone. Authentic and open-ended assessments bolstered by formative assessments are one way to help students build the confidence they need to put the urge to cheat aside and produce work of which they can be proud.

Unit 0: Building Community

One Way to Adjust to Teaching in 2020-2021

Feature Image by J. Kelly Brito on Unsplash

Note: I teach in a district fortunate enough to have a 1:1 program. Therefore, I can implement a Unit 0 completely online knowing my students have access to the technology they need to be successful.

Dear Students, Parents, Community Members, Fellow Educators, Staff, Administration, and School Board Members,

Welcome to the 2020-2021 school year, one in which we reaffirm the purpose of education, build learning communities in novel ways, and discover new ways of schooling together. Administrators, teachers, and staff have been working diligently to redefine what school is for each district, both physically and academically. Soon, if not already, school doors will open to students. This unprecedented school year will begin.

There are so many concerns to address.

  • How do we keep those in the building and those who live with them safe from this highly contagious virus?
  • How do we address fears and concerns the stakeholders have?
  • How do we organize the physical environment?
  • What is the first day going to look like?
  • How do we ensure rules are followed?
  • What about the COVID-19 slide that exacerbates the typical summer slide? How will students catch up?
  • What are the expectations for teaching and learning?
  • How are we as a learning community going to overcome the challenges of multiple modes of learning (online (synchronous/asynchronous), in-person, hybrid, etc.)?
  • How can we assist families during this time?

Certainly there are many more to address, but these questions might cover most of the major categories of questions.

To facilitate this process, I offer “Unit 0 – Building Community.”

What Is Unit 0?

Instead of starting with unit 1 in our curriculum, we can start with a unit that prepares us all to adjust to new ways of “doing school,” teaching, and learning. Since many school districts are having meetings with all the stakeholders, issues of safety, conduct, policy, and procedures can be introduced during those meetings and reinforced in real time. For example, monitors in the hallway can reinforce unidirectional movement, social distancing, and mask compliance.

Many school districts have posted their reopening plans, complete with contingency plans for when infection rates increase. They are sharing videos of what the online options look like. In other words, school districts are attempting to be as transparent and helpful as possible.

What happens the first day in any particular classroom? I believe we will all have procedures to follow, but that there will be slight differences in each classroom. Hopefully, there won’t be too many, because consistency is key. I want to be doing everything properly and like the other teachers so that students are not overly confused or have to hold too many rules in their heads. Learning is hard enough. Learning during a pandemic is harder.

In Unit 0, which could be implemented by any teacher, these are the issues that remain.

  • Seating arrangements
  • Introductions
  • Examination of Feelings
  • Team Formation and Agreements (Norms and Rules)
  • Technology Training
  • Syllabus and Curriculum
  • Diagnostics / Benchmarks

Seating Arrangements

Since we need to maintain six feet between students, every teacher’s room needs reconfiguration. Most teachers will tell you it is going to be challenging; our rooms aren’t huge and some of us don’t have the furniture we need. Smaller class sizes have alleviated some concern about space. Something I thought of last week is to number each desk I have (22 in all) with even numbers in red and odd numbers in blue. Odd-numbered periods can sit in the odd-number desks; even-numbered periods can sit in the even-number desks. That will give me time to make sure all the desks from the last period are cleaned before another student sits in it.

If I have more than 11 students in the class, I need to use the tables I have, of which I only have a few. Keep your fingers crossed; I hope this works. If this plan is sustainable, on the first day I will explain to the students which seats to take as I greet them at the door. I can complete seating charts once everyone is settled.

In the LMS course, I will upload a document explaining seating arrangements. This is in support of my contention that everything should be online. I will not upload seating charts however; that can be completed in the gradebook.


To facilitate introductions, I plan to use our LMS’ discussion feature because some students chose the online-only option. The question I am going to pose for discussion is “What is your avatar? Why does it best represent you?” Most students should know what an avatar is, I expect. They will be asked to search for a picture that best represents them, save it to their desktop, and then upload it as a response to the discussion, along with some commentary about why they chose that picture. Students will then respond to a few classmates’ posts in a positive way. I will also respond to each posting with a positive message.

Not only are the students going to learn about their classmates, but they are learning how to use the discussion feature of the LMS and they are stretching their writing and response muscles.

I doubt this will be a silent exercise. I am banking on the students already knowing several classmates. If it starts out silently, I will do my best to ensure that there is some sort of chatter. We will need to start forming our class team. Speaking of which…

Examination of Feelings

This exercise combines practice with assessments in the LMS with students sharing their feelings about our current situation. What is on their mind? What questions do they have? How are they feeling? Assessment tools might be the best to use because the results are private. This assessment would not be graded, of course!

Team Formation and Agreements (Norms and Rules)

This is a PNG of a poster I am going to hang in my room, and that I sent to the students in PDF form at the end of last year. It is to remind the students it is their education, and they should take full advantage of this opportunity to think, explore, and take risks. To support them, we will form a team to study literature to better understand the human condition and our place within the human family.

How should our class function? I don’t think that should be up to me entirely. Instead, I would like us to come to an agreement on a limited set of rules. If memory serves, five is usually a good number.

Five Good Rules

For this exercise, we could combine learning how to use a collaborative tool such as Google Docs with rule generation. A thought for an activity just occurred to me: “I Promise… You Promise…” Let me talk myself through it for a moment. Feel free to let me know what you think about it in the comments.

  1. Share a Google Doc with the students that contains a list of items I promise to hold myself to this school year.
    • My promises would include 1) To care, respect, and treasure every student; 2) To be patient and kind; 3) To guide you to the information you need to help you build the tools to be successful; 4) To address YOUR needs; 5) To be rigorous in my approach and equitable with my feedback.
  2. Ask the students to open the doc from the link posted on the LMS. Explain that everyone has editorial rights to the document, so they can add their promises. They should start their entry with their name and then create a list of their promises. Everyone should respect everyone else and not edit anyone else’s entries. They are welcome to include rules they have learned over years of schooling, but at least two rules should represent thoughts they have about how they want to behave this year and for years to come.
  3. Using the comment feature, students can highlight what they LIKE about their peers’ entries and make positive comments. This teaches one aspect of constructive feedback.
  4. Using qualitative analysis techniques (yep, you read that right), we as a group can find the most common promises and then form rules that make sense for us as a group.

I know this could take a few days. This year is going to be different in so many ways. We need to be careful, gentle, and kind – and to take the time to emphasize that we are interdependent beings in a community. Building a community takes time.

Technology Training

The students may be surprised to learn that their technology training has already begun. After all, we entered the course and then used the discussion feature and the assessment feature. We also used Google Docs. Now, I would turn to how to use the technology we have effectively and independently.

Main Categories

  1. How to write an effective email (Please, dear heavens, complete the subject line!)
  2. How to manage email (filters, labels, when to check email, etc.)
  3. How to set up a folder for the course in Google Drive
  4. How to use Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, and Forms
  5. How to use the LMS and Google Calendars in tandem to manage your time
  6. How to set up a portfolio on the LMS
  7. How to send your teacher a message on the LMS
  8. Recommendation: Install the LMS app on your smartphone and turn on notifications
  9. How to navigate the course
  10. How to use “native” LMS tools and third-party tools integrated into the course
  11. What SSO (Single Sign-On) means, the tools used for SSO, and how to use them
  12. How to gain access to other tools, like signing up for an e-card for our state’s library system

There must be other things to cover, but the students might be on overload if I put too many other items on this list. Like everything else, tutorials will be added to the course for them to review.

Syllabus and Curriculum

Saving the syllabus and curriculum for next to last might seem odd, but if you think about it, shouldn’t the students understand how things are going to run before they dive into content and activities? That is why I saved this task for later in Unit 0.

Diagnostics and Benchmarks

A common saying among teachers is to “meet the students where they are.” With the COVID-19 slide and summer slide looming before us, it is more important than ever to find out where they need the most help before starting the course. Therefore, I recommend including diagnostics and benchmarks at the end of the unit.

Our evaluation of the results will help us to modify Unit 1 to meet the needs of our students and help them be most successful during what is going to be a challenging year.


Mrs. Heather MacCorkle Edick, M.S.Ed

Teachers: One Way to Make Everyone’s Life Easier This School Year

Screenshot of a Course I Created in Moodle

Put everything online as soon as possible. My school’s LMS is not open yet, so I used a personal Moodle site to capture a screenshot of what I am talking about. Who knew that it would take 45 minutes to do it, but I think it’s worth it if I can help someone else. Because I am disorganized, it took me much longer than it should.

Therefore, my advice is this:

  • Create course and unit sections (or, weekly sections, if that is your preference) first.
  • Create folders next (for example, a texts folder)
  • Plan the assessments so you can get them on the calendar. You can edit them later; for now, get them on the calendar. Use your LMS calendar to your advantage; it will save you from going crazy about due dates.

Don’t Leave Your Content Folders Disorganized

I did that. My files are all over the place. Take the time to organize your hard drive or your cloud drive before you start to build your course. It will, I promise, take you a lot less time to get your materials into the course. You may also find that you have “holes” in your content (for example, a missing graphic organizer or other tool) and you can plug those holes before transferring everything to the course.

Another consideration: Some LMS’ will allow you to upload a folder of content that can be expanded after it is uploaded. Here is a GIF showing how that works in Moodle.

GIF Demonstrating How to Upload a Zip File to Moodle

Create a Toolbox for Your Students (and Yourself)

Into the toolbox can go all the things that students will need at points throughout the year. In my case, that includes the syllabus (a 43-page monster with several appendices, essential knowledge and essential questions for the course, a link to a classroom provided by the College Board, rubrics, annotation forms, and a writing toolkit. These are things the students will need throughout the year. I’m positive I will be adding to the toolbox as we go. Use folders to make the first impression of the toolbox less intimidating.

When Creating Unit/Weekly Sections, Ensure Your Students Know Why They Are Working on Something

In a previous post, I mentioned a paradigm I am using called POINT. To put this idea to good use, I have decided to include a unit essay that explains the POINT to the unit and includes all aspects of this paradigm for planning.

After that essay, I included a folder of the texts we are going to use and then the assignments we will complete in chronological order. Whenever I added an assignment, it was transferred to the LMS calendar.

LMS Calendar

Teach the Students How to Use the Calendar

To avoid questions such as “When is this due?” and to avoid excuses such as “I forgot,” teach the students how to use the LMS calendar. Many LMS’ now feature a calendar AND the ability to subscribe to it using, say, Google Calendar. That way, the calendar will sync to the external calendar and the students will be able to see all the deadlines (curricular and extracurricular) in one place. If you change a deadline, students will see that too. In addition to letting them know during class time or through announcements, their calendars will be updated.

Final Word: Use the Same Content for In-Person Learners and Those Online

There is no reason to create one set of lessons for in-person learners and another for online learners. If you have all the materials they need online, then you can use your course to everyone’s advantage while teaching. If the online students are doing things synchronously, this idea makes perfect sense. If they are not, you may have to include recordings, but these will also serve your in-person students well, as a review or a way to keep the pace if they are absent.

It is highly likely that at some point this year we are going to be fully virtual. If we are prepared for that eventuality from the beginning, everyone wins.

Thank you for reading.

What’s the POINT? Important Considerations for Unit/Lesson Planning during the COVID-19 Crisis and Beyond

POINT is another acronym for unit and lesson planning. You know, we needed one more to beef up the alphabet soup of educational jargon.

Created by me using VideoScribe

In a previous blog post about practical considerations for teaching and learning during the COVID-19 crisis, I mentioned yet another acronym for teachers: POINT. We all need another acronym for teaching and learning, right?

I know that answer as well as anyone, but please hear me out.

POINT stands for

  • Purpose (Goals)
  • Objectives (SWBAT/Standards)
  • Indicators of Learning (Diagnostic, Formative, Summative)
  • Negotiables for Differentiation
  • Tasks/Steps

A Little Background: UbD and HyperDocs

I have been inspired and motivated by Understanding by Design (UbD) for a long time. A site called TeachThought features a number of articles on UbD, and its founder, Terry Heick had many conversations with Grant Wiggins before he, sadly, passed away. (ASCD also offers numerous texts on the subject.) My main takeaway from UbD is that we need to know WHY we are teaching something before we dig into the planning. If our purpose and goals are not aligned to meaningful learning, then what’s the point?

More recently, I have been influenced by a method tied to virtual and online learning: HyperDocs. Their virtual lesson template library is intriguing. You can the library here. Their lesson plan templates, when complete, are “meant for students to use.” They guide the students through the process, one step at a time.

A basic template includes the following checkpoints.

  • Engage
  • Explore
  • Explain
  • Apply
  • Share
  • Reflect
  • Extend

I was drawn to the “Explain” aspect immediately. Do we spend enough time explaining why students are doing something? Do we keep the standards and big ideas mysterious, or do we share them? Can we adequately address why the lesson is important, WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) questions, and how the outcome of the lesson is going to make their future explorations more meaningful and fulfilling?

How to Use POINT

POINT is actually a cyclical process, in my opinion. For example, a purpose could come to mind immediately and then as I work on the other checkpoints, my backward interrogation could lead me to believe that my purpose is “meh.” When I created the video linked to this post, I added arrows that point backward and forward. That is because I feel it important to interrogate (love that word) each checkpoint backward and forward to ensure that everything is in alignment. If we are to teach with intention and ask our students to learn with intention, then I think it’s important to ensure the lesson’s intentions are excellent and that everything the students will do harkens back to the Purpose.

An Example

Suppose I am teaching a literature unit called “Eye-Opening Short Stories.” I decide that the purpose of the unit is to examine characters within the context of a moment in which they make a big discovery about themselves, about life, and about living within the human community.

By the end of the unit, students should be able to recognize the textual details provided by the author to indicate character, contrasts with other characters, and that character’s values and beliefs. Those details could be conveyed through the narrator, dialogue, etc. How do we know that the character has made a big discovery? Where in the text do we find that out? What are the effects on the structure or plot? Why is that important? What was the author’s purpose?

Now I have to interrogate my original purpose against the SWBAT items. I find the purpose lacking. I can ask myself, “So what?” In other words: “What’s the point?”

I can add something to the purpose, to make it more relevant to the students’ lives. Something like, “As teenagers, students are in the throes of developing their worldview. Mentor texts such as these can lead to an exploration of events within their own lives (prior knowledge) that have led to growth and maturity (new perspective). We can make connections between the chosen texts and their own experiences. Students can take away from this exploration methods and techniques for making future discoveries about themselves.”

I’m “spitballing” here on purpose. I want to show you my thought process.

This examination of the first two checkpoints informs the next checkpoint: Indicators of Learning. How do we know the students have learned something? What diagnostics should we employ before learning? What formative assessments should we perform during learning? What does a summative assessment look like?

Next, how do we differentiate learning so that each student benefits from the lessons in the unit? Some students will be more prepared for discussion and writing than others. What do we do to support those who need that extra help; what scaffolding do we use? When do we release some responsibility to them?

At this point, we should interrogate the indicators and negotiables against the purpose and the objectives, right? Are they really going to demonstrate learning as it relates to the purpose of the unit? Are we just doing assessments to do them or do they align? Are our negotiables truly going to help students progress and learn?

The last step of the process, in my opinion, is to examine the tasks and steps involved. We have decided our purpose and our objectives. We have assessments in mind and negotiables. Now, how do we execute all that through specific steps? After deciding that, we again need to interrogate (still love that word). That’s why this is cyclical. Do the tasks and steps align with the purpose? Do the tasks and steps reveal something to add to the purpose and objectives? Do we need to tweak our assessment ideas? Will the differentiation work for OUR students? Finally, do our materials work?

What Do You Think?

Thank you for reading!

Practical Considerations, Part III: Enrichment Courses

What Is an Enrichment Course? What Is Its Purpose?

In the previous post, the enrichment course idea bubbled to the surface as a solution to a problem that courses with end-of-course exams would have if we were to use the 4×4 schedule. There would be a delay between the true end of the course and the standardized test students take to fulfill graduation requirements. Alternatively, there might not be enough time to work on all the skills tested because the student is taking the course in the second semester and the tests normally occur in April. Either way, going to a 4×4 schedule would not be possible unless there is a course that provides students with time to prepare in an equitable way because, face it, only the most dedicated students are going to prepare without someone to encourage them, like a teacher or a parent. There are many reasons for this, but the most important reason is they don’t have time. Our students are so busy these days. We need to help them and an enrichment course would be an ideal way to help them.

(In case you are interested, here is a list of the current exit examinations in the United States.)

What Would an Enrichment Course Look Like?

It would start with diagnostics. There are so many companies that provide diagnostic tests aligned with the assessment anchors for state tests that it is a huge industry. I won’t provide brand names or company names. If we are paying for those services, we should use them. If we aren’t, we should consider finding the best one and use it because this year the COVID-19 slide and the typical summer slide are going to force all of us to push for progress faster and more efficiently. If we know where the students are, we can make more progress.

How? Well, one way is to use ILPs (Individualized Learning Plans) created with the students to identify those assessment anchors and standards that are of concern to the student. If a student’s skills in one area are considered proficient, and in another area are considered basic or below-basic, then the student and teacher can identify the student’s focus from the data, not anecdotal evidence. From there, resources and instruction can be provided that student based on those needs and that data.

Another way is to refer to the data in aggregate for the class. Identify the areas of concern for the class and proceed from there to share resources and instruction with the students. (I don’t like to say “deliver content.” It makes me feel like I’m opening a kid’s head and pouring stuff in and I’m not a fan of “banking education,” the term coined by Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I am a constructivist and believe that all students construct, de-construct, and re-construct their knowledge base and world view on a regular basis as they take in new information and reconcile it with the old.) Together, as a class, we learn through the selection of excellent texts, presented using multiple modalities, that are accessible to the students either immediately or with differentiation.

It could work.

What’s the Point?

In my next blog post, I’m going to talk about a paradigm for designing instruction that combines UbD (Understanding by Design) and Hyperdocs. The acronym (because we all need a new one) is POINT, which stands for:

  • Purpose/Goal
  • Objectives/Standards/Essential Questions
  • Indicators of Learning (Diagnostic, Formative, Summative, Authentic)
  • Negotiable Instructional Techniques (Differentiators)
  • Tasks/Steps

Thank you for reading!

Practical Considerations, Part II: Scheduling for the 2020-2021 School Year

The Traditional 7, 8, or 9-Period Schedule Might Not Work This Year

I’m still curious as to how many people like the bike monologues and would like me to keep them going. It’s actually helped me to make my thoughts more precise and, frankly, less angry. This has been a trying time for us all.

Eliminate Some Transitions with a Different Schedule

In this article by Melissa Kelly, we learn that the 4×4 schedule typically splits up the school year into contained semesters of 4 classes, with those classes that are typically a semester long only lasting one marking period. Therefore, most electives would only last one marking period. However, each period would be twice as long as it normal is (90 minutes instead of 45, for example). There are pros and cons with this schedule as there are with any schedule. For one thing, everyone has more time to focus on fewer subjects, but there are fewer days to work on the content of a particular course, which means that the typical yearlong course needs to be revised for the compressed timeframe.

The focus of this post: With this schedule, there would be fewer transitions. If we are doing in-person learning, having fewer transitions could help make things feel less chaotic for teachers, staff, and students. The extra time in class would help us to get settled safely while also affording us meaningful and productive time to learn together.

In my bike monologue, I mentioned one issue: Standardized testing typically takes place in the spring. In my locale, our high school exams include Algebra I (9th grade), Biology (10th grade), and English Literature (10th grade). So, my recommendation is have students preparing for those exams to take the relevant course in the fall and then take an enrichment course in the spring, which would be worth whatever a typical elective is worth. A schedule might look like this.

1English 10English 10English EnrichmentComputer Science I
2BiologyBiologyScience EnrichmentCreative Writing I
3GeometryGeometryU.S. History IU.S. History I
4HealthHealthSpanish 2Spanish 2
It’s just an idea…

There could be a zero-hour class as well, for students who are in technical courses, band, or other tracks. No, I’m not saying that is when they would take those courses. Perhaps a teacher or two would volunteer to have a zero-hour class to accommodate those students and teach one of the core courses at that time. It worked well in some high schools in my area.

Facilitate Social Distancing with This Schedule

We might be able to facilitate social distancing a bit more if we have one cohort attending a class one semester and the other joining the second. If the students are going to test in the spring (sigh), then an enrichment course could start in MP 2. The schedule might look like this.

1Computer Science IEnglish EnrichmentEnglish 10English 10
2Creative Writing IScience EnrichmentBiologyBiology
3GeometryGeometryU.S. History IU.S. History I
4HealthHealthSpanish 2Spanish 2
It’s just an idea…

What Would an Enrichment Course Look Like? That’s a Question I Will Tackle Tomorrow.

Thank you for reading!

Practical Considerations for Returning to In-Person Learning

Has Anyone Thought about the “Bio Break”?

There isn’t going to be a bike monologue to go with this post. Since I’m curious, I am asking readers: Do you actually like the bike monologues or should I skip them?

In today’s post, I pose a practical question that has been on my mind ever since we as a nation started talking about returning to in-person learning. Has anyone considered that human beings need to use the bathroom? Not just to wash our hands, but to attend to biological needs? As a teacher in her late 40s, I can tell you this is a serious concern! (I don’t mean to be crude or too personal.) This question leads me to other questions. Bear with me.

Since it does not appear that this concern has been considered, I’m wondering how many other holes there are in the process. Project managers who review the the plans are probably wincing right now as they think about how human resources are being stretched, or over-allocated, as I believe it is called in Microsoft Project. In that software, you perform resource leveling and often find that your resources are overbooked – whether those resources are human or physical. We teachers are in desperate need to have someone perform resource leveling in the in-person scenario.

Consider This Scenario: The Transition

This is based on the scenario I know best, which is at the high-school level. It might not be similar to those that others are facing.

Transition (or travel) time between classes is typically five minutes. Some students are lucky enough to have classes in rooms close to each other, and those students arrive within a minute or so after the bell. Others have to walk across the school, so they might even be a minute or two late. While the students are traveling, teachers are supposed to accomplish the following things.

  • Clean all the desks used by the last group. If we are using the social distancing measures I think we will be using, that will be about 15 desks. What cleaning looks like is unknown to me at this time. Is it just wiping them down? Is it wiping with a disinfecting wipe, allowing it to dry, then wiping with water and drying that off? That is the proper way, from what I have been taught. Who knows?
  • Transition from one lesson plan to another. Bring up whatever bell ringers are planned for the day. I currently have five preps, so I have multiple bell ringers to plan for, although I think that I’m just going to use the same one for each group at this point. I do not plan to use handouts at all, so this would be an electronic thing. Perhaps I just have a PowerPoint (shudder) that covers all the classes and forward the last slide to the next to show the bell-ringer?
  • Archive the recording from the previous class, because we are going to have online students as well as in-person students during the same period. There is a benefit to this, too, in that students will not need to come to me if they are absent and ask what they missed. They can watch the recording.

Has anyone considered that students often walk into class, drop their books, and ask to use the bathroom within 30 seconds of arrival? With social distancing measures in place, will this be allowed now? Are we going to be able to track these students? Do we teachers have to do the tracking?

Has anyone considered that students often need to talk to their teacher upon arrival? How are we supposed to build rapport with our students this way?

Has anyone considered that there WILL be people in the building who consider this a joke? If my eyes are focused on cleaning properly, uploading video, transitioning to the next lesson, etc., and someone starts clowning around – am I responsible? How is that fair? How are we expecting kids to not be…well…kids?

Can all this be done in five minutes? My question to administration is: Well, have you tried? Have you done a role play? I am thinking all this cannot be done during a normal transition. If we make transition longer, though, how do we manage students in the hallway?

Some parents would be willing to have their child care for their own desk. Most would not. Personally, I think it fair to ask the child who used the desk to clean it, and that it is also fair to allow the next child to clean the desk again before sitting down, if requested. We will be out of disinfecting wipes before week three is over, however. How do we sort those students willing to clean and those who are not? Where do those unwilling to clean go while they wait for their desk to be ready for them? How do we maintain distancing this way?

I can see the parents’ point of view, also. Why should the child be responsible for sanitizing or cleaning? What if they don’t do it properly and someone gets sick? Will the students be trained to clean properly? Will the teachers? These are actual questions that I hope administrators are considering.

As a teacher, I’m terrified that I won’t clean things properly in my rush to clean everything before the next group comes in. I’m terrified someone will get sick on my watch.

Once everyone is settled, how much time will actually be left to teach and learn? Oh, don’t forget attendance! Don’t forget to start the next broadcast! We can’t keep the online observers waiting. Don’t forget to get attendance for those on the broadcast too!

Other Considerations

We need to prep students for their statewide exams, too, while we are trying to get used to this. How are we going to be successful? When do we really start our courses of study? If we return to school later than usual, how much time have we lost with our students?

Oh, and we should not give too much homework, either, even if we do not have enough time during class. That’s another situation that is left for another time, perhaps because it makes me angry. I had three hours of homework a night, because I was slower than the average bear, especially in math, and I was more interested in literature and history than the average bear. My friends had at least a couple of hours of homework a night. We turned out all right.

Finally, what do we do with the terror we feel? I’m not kidding when I say I’m scared. Other teachers aren’t kidding, either. I am afraid for my students and my family. How do we compartmentalize those feelings? We aren’t robots.

One way to figure out if these ideas are going to work is to actually walk through the process with intention. Find the holes and plug them. For example, districts might find that they have to hire more people to help: paraprofessionals, hallway monitors, and custodians, for example. For teachers to have just one paraprofessional to help would make a huge difference. For the school to have hallway monitors to keep us all safe would make a huge difference, too.

The role play is often revealing. It’s like putting code into a sandbox for stress testing. The bugs that fall out can be addressed, processes changed for better flow, etc. It’s possible that the fear of finding out this is not going to work might be too strong. That could lead to disaster.

Thank you for reading.

Social and Emotional Learning: A Critical Need in the 2020-2021 School Year

Today’s bike monologue video is my second attempt to create the video today. The first time around, I went down a rabbit hole about not intending to assault feminism and defend the literary canon of dead white males. Feel free to contact me if you would like to hear more about that.

Our nation’s body politic has endured a lot of damage recently. It lays upon the ground, bloody and bruised, gasping for air while the angry and disenchanted lean in on it. Bystanders stand by with their smartphones with 512 GB of storage, video recording the scene as they scream at those perpetrating assault upon an innocent. As the videos are posted to Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and YouTube, people express their rage at the perpetrators and everything they represent.

Meanwhile, the body politic is dying.

We Need the Madness to Stop

This is not going to stop right away. What is this? I can only sum it up as a lack of empathy, an inability to communicate effectively, a lack of confidence that translates to lashing out, and selfishness overcoming any sense of our interdependence. This aggregate attitude toward everything and everyone has to go disappear, dissipate like a chemical fog that has been hovering within our line of vision for way too long.

Just like the Portland Dads brought their leaf blowers to the protest to protect the Moms who risked themselves to protect the protesters in that city, teachers can provide students the “leaf blowers” that dissipate that chemical fog in our brains that clouds our ability to see what is happening around us clearly. Social and emotional learning strategies and curricula can help.

Students need support from teachers, parents, and the community to approach our nation’s issues more productively. Teachers cannot make much progress with students who go home to parents and community members who dismiss what they are learning. We cannot work on restorative practices, for example, only to have that student try something they’ve learned while they are home and face opposition instead of cooperation. If we are going to implement social and emotional learning, it needs to have the full support of everyone concerned or it might not work.

Some concepts that SEL supports include:

  • Empathy
  • Empowerment
  • Self-Awareness, Self-Confidence, Self-Discipline, Self-Control, Self-Defense, Self-Respect (Thank you, Hoover Karate Academy, for teaching me these; I will not forget them, nor you.)
  • Respect
  • Relationship Building
  • Decision Making
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Respectful Dialogue
  • Restorative Practices
  • Social Justice
  • Civil Rights
  • Citizenship
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Anti-Racism
  • Anti-Bullying

That is not an all-inclusive list. What we focus on depends on what our students need. This article is a good primer.

We May Need to Sacrifice Content to Support Our Students’ SEL Needs

Teachers don’t want to hear that they need to put aside their beloved content. We English teachers have to do this all the time, so we are used to it. Instead of teaching a novella, teach the college essay. Instead of working with students on a literature research paper, teach them how to write about their chosen career. Instead of fostering a love of poetry, proctor their senior projects. Here comes one more thing, but this time it’s critically important.

Just like COVID-19 is a life-or-death situation, so it is that the lack of social and emotional skills among many in this population is creating life-or-death situations on an almost daily basis. Which is more important? Every teacher knows the answer to that question.

Please Watch My Monologue

I don’t normally ask this, but today I am going to. I would love it if you would watch the monologue I created today. It’s not perfect; I will get better. But today my passion comes through. I got a little emotional, and it is hard to convey that passion through text.

Thank you for reading.

The Featured Image of this post is an example of the great work of Gabriella Clare Marino, who posted this photo on

Keep Students Working in the Virtual Classroom

Since it is raining, there will be no bike monologue today. Instead, I offer you this typical post.

One complaint about school last quarter was that the asynchronous method of teaching and learning did not work well. There were several reasons for this.

  • Students were not accustomed to the way content was delivered, and they were not able to get assistance from their teacher in real time so they could ask clarifying questions.
  • Students did not find delivery methods to be consistent among teachers. While this is certainly true in normal times, as we all have different teaching styles, combine that with the first point and it caused confusion.
  • Students and parents were confused as to how the learning management system (LMS) worked.
  • Students may have been confused as to expectations, including deadlines, depending on how the content and expectations were presented.

Why did many of us resort to asynchronous methods? The answer is simple and complex at the same time.

  1. When we flipped the switch, there was a lot of chaos. Many of us did not know it was going to happen until the end of our last day. We were told to go home for spring break and prepare for virtual learning. We were also facing the real possibility that the school year had ended on that very day.
  2. Some districts tried to use web conferencing services that were hacked by disgusting individuals who posted pornography and racist comments, which forced many off those platforms and into another mode of teaching altogether.
  3. Some students at the secondary level were called into work as they were considered “essential workers.” For example, those who worked after school at grocery stores were needed. Schools decided to accommodate these workers by offering more flexible options. Those students often found their parents out of work, too, so they had to contribute to the household since they still had a job.
  4. Some older students had to care for younger siblings because their parents had to work. This situation also called for flexibility. While the older students helped the younger ones, they were not able to attend to their own schoolwork until later in the day.
  5. Teachers with school-age children needed to teach those children. It was part of the vicious cycle of this crisis: those who taught their children didn’t have as much flexibility because they had to teach their children because those who taught their children… and so forth.
  6. Families were not faring well in some cases. Parents were unemployed. Food insecurity was common. Children were at home all day going out of their minds. There were so many unknowns. The Internet was intermittent or non-existent. There wasn’t enough technology to go around. Sitting in front of a computer all day was exhausting and frustrating. Family members argued with each other to vent their frustration.

There are more reasons, I am sure. Teachers and administrators worried constantly about the well-being of the children and checked in on students via telephone or email. Districts provided free meals to families. Counselors became involved in domestic situations. Many of us were so involved in the mental health aspects of this crisis that learning took a back seat. To be flexible, attendance during class conferences was optional, but also triggered phone calls and emails home to make sure that the child was all right.

In other words, for many of us the normal way of doing things simply could not work.

Fast Forward to the Upcoming School Year

Many of the same problems remain for a number of students, but there have been developments that could help them. Districts received funds from the CARES act to acquire technology for the students, for example, which could result in everyone receiving a device and an Internet hotspot if needed. Students may now know their way around the LMS. Teachers have new ideas on delivery of instruction. Districts are trying to figure out how to deliver synchronous instruction in a way that makes those who choose to stay home feel more a part of the class in real time. The number of free webinars available to teachers to learn how virtual teaching and learning works grows exponentially (it’s actually overwhelming). Teachers are wracking their brains to figure out how to retool their curriculum for this new reality.

Few of us think that anything will ever go back to the way it was. We hope it will, but I think we know that for the near future our routines have changed drastically.

We can make this situation better by ensuring that virtual classroom time is active time. We need to keep the students working while they are with us. We can take the flipped classroom pedagogy and employ it in our classroom in a number of ways.

  1. Preparation for class can include watching a short lecture, reading the material to be discussed, or watching a recording of a process and trying a few practice questions before class. There are other preparation activities as well; these are just a few.
  2. Students come to class. They listen to a very short introduction of the activity, then watch the teacher model the activity for them, and then go to work. The teacher can field questions or put students into breakout rooms to discuss the activity, generate questions, or help each other.
  3. Work is “collected.” For example, students can take a photo of their work on paper and upload it to the LMS. I have recommended in previous posts that students work on paper as much as possible because of the eye strain that results from staring at a computer screen. While the teacher randomly scans the submissions, students are engaged in a self-evaluation.
  4. The end of class is a debrief session during which the teacher addresses the remaining misconceptions, reiterates that no question is a bad question, and tells them what they need to do for the next class to prepare.

It might look like this in my ELA class.

Homework: Read and annotate the poem “Introduction to Poetry” by Billy Collins. Review the definitions of metaphor, free verse, stanza, and tone.


  1. Introduction to the day’s activity: Structure and Tone in Poetry. Introduce the essential knowledge components of the activity and the essential questions. (< 5 minutes)
  2. We all listen to Collins read the poem. Discuss how listening to the poem has possibly altered our interpretation. For example, do we find it funnier now or sadder? How does our experience with poetry affect how we react to the poem? (Personally, I think the poem is hilarious and sad at the same time, but I am a teacher who loves poetry and a student who is terrified of it.) Also discuss how the structure belies or supports the speaker’s wish to have students take risks with poetry, to appreciate poetry for more than what it says and rather what it means. (5 — 10 minutes)
  3. Writing component: Students write a thought piece about the poem’s structure and tone. How does the free verse structure affect the poem’s meaning? How is the tone (the speaker’s attitude toward the subject of the poem) conveyed? What words or patterns lead you to your conclusion? How has your attitude toward poetry changed as a result of reading the speaker’s lamentation? Has the speaker created a different mood? (10 minutes)
  4. Upload thought pieces. (2 minutes)
  5. Breakout rooms to talk about thought pieces. Meanwhile, I scan the results of a handful of students. (5 minutes)
  6. Debrief, Exit Slip, and Homework.

This example is for a lesson at the beginning of the year. As the year progresses, part of the preparation would be to review the essential knowledge and essential questions, listen to the poem, and analyze it using a method such as TP-CASST (Title, Paraphrase, Connotation, Attitude/Tone, Shifts, Title). The class can take more time for discussion via chat or verbally or more time for a thought piece as a result.

The point is that students are working most of the time. It will make the virtual learning experience easier and even more enjoyable. Students will also be engaged in active learning. Teachers will also be able to address misconceptions much faster, before they have a chance to take root.

Thank you for reading!

Alternative Assignments and Assessments during the COVID-19 Crisis and Beyond…

Bike Monologue 2 – July 22, 2020

The first four miles of today’s bike ride was devoted to discussing alternative assignments and assessments; helping students learn how to question themselves, each other, and the world around them; and some flowery comments about how we can protect our nation’s precious First Amendment.

If you don’t want to watch the video, see the following paragraphs for the highlights.

We Need Alternative Assignments and Assessments Now and in the Future

I said before that if necessity is the mother of invention, then it is going to reinvent the nature of assignments and the notion of assessment during this crisis because we need, desperately, to redefine what good assignments are and what good assessment is. I mentioned in the video that cheating is already a big problem, but with virtual learning it can become more common (if that is possible). Therefore, we need to eliminate the opportunities to cheat as much as possible.

Yesterday’s post delineated the suggestions I am posing. They included portfolios, projects, essays, design-your-own products, research papers, seminar development, and quiz design. I discussed them briefly in today’s monologue, but veered off onto another topic: the importance of questions.

Help Students Learn How to Ask Good and Great Questions

Think back to high school. Did you learn more about how to find “the answers” or did you learn more about how to ask the right questions of the text in front of you? It was a mix for me, but I learned more about questioning from rigorous electives like “Contemporary World Conflicts,” in which we wrote our hands off every day, than I did in U.S. History II, in which we took Scantron test after Scantron test. In English class, we spent most of our time finding answers in the text or copying the answer down that our teacher gave us. Research papers afforded us the opportunity to expand our thinking, but they were assigned once a year. In the late ‘80s, education looked dramatically different from what it does now.

In the core courses, there were few discussions, no Socratic seminars, little differentiation, no personalized learning… You get the picture, I’m sure. Today, these teaching techniques are used regularly to help students deconstruct what they knew, integrate new knowledge, and build a new knowledge base. Constructivist principles are more prevalent today, for which I am thankful.

We need to spend more time helping students learn how to ask good questions, and the techniques mentioned above DO help. Yes, it takes longer to “grade” the work product that results, or the “grade” might be more subjective than the results of a multiple choice and short answer test, but that forces me to question what the purpose of education is. Is it data collection or student development? Data collection is important, but student development is more important.

Help Students Have Difficult, Yet Constructive, Conversations

When students are able to create good questions, they can engage in conversations with others that might become difficult but can remain constructive. We need to be able to do this today, in this polarized, politicized, environment, or we will continue to see videos of Karens who have lost their grip on reality. We will continue to see protests devolve into something decidedly NOT peaceful. We will see more Federal officers descend on cities to “maintain law and order.”

We will see this happen because people cannot control themselves.

They cannot control themselves because they do not have the confidence and the tools to support their position.

They cannot engage in nondestructive confrontations because they do not have the confidence and tools to be restorative.

When people have the tools: questioning expertise, restorative practices principles, deescalation techniques, and confidence girded by deep thought about their values, then we will no longer need “officials” to manage our behavior. We can manage it ourselves. We can protect our First Amendment rights.

Teachers can help students learn how to protect their First Amendment rights and the First Amendment itself. Teach them how to ask good questions and have constructive conversations. Teach them to check their impulses to lash out at those who disagree with them and instead engage in peaceful dialogue. Teachers can partner with other adults in this effort too: parents and other older family members, clergy, community leaders, and behavioral health professionals.

Necessity is the mother of invention. We NEED help.