Thank You for Asking

Something nice has been happening that I reflected upon this week. Students online have been asking for permission to use the bathroom or to do something that might take them from their desk for a minute. This, combined with students increasingly asking me how my evening or weekend was before I inquire about theirs, warms my heart. I am grateful. It reinforces my notion that these students are aware of their roles in learning and that they are genuinely respectful and polite people.

I’ve been sure to say, “Thank you for asking,” each time students make these requests. I like to think of each class as a team, and such requests support that idea. Each student is a necessary member of our team, and through teamwork, we can help each other learn and master key skills and concepts they need now and for the rest of their lives. Their attendance is critical to their learning as individuals, too. If we don’t work as a team, we risk leaving a student – or students – behind. This year, it seems so much easier for students to be left behind.

Better Than Breadcrumbs: Collaboration

All our coursework is on our LMS and it is easy enough to follow the breadcrumbs and calendar to understand where we have been if one needs to catch up. We also spent two weeks working on tech skills – including how to use the LMS – while also doing coursework. Rather than having some students following those breadcrumbs, however, I believe in purposeful, thoughtful, and challenging collaborative activities that help all students to keep up with everyone on the team. We work better when we work together; all learning is social (eh, Vygotsky?).

This strategy supports students at home and in the physical classroom simultaneously. All coursework is online, which means that all my students have the same access to the material and instruction. The instructional bridge from the classroom to each online student’s home is the collaborative activity delivered synchronously or asynchronously. Each student has a role and can be held accountable. That’s not meant to be punitive; actually, people tend to want to feel purposeful when they are working. Accountability assigns a certain importance to a task, which suggests the performer of the task has a valuable purpose.

Collaborative activities also help mitigate feelings of social isolation that online students experience. As an online learner myself in the early 2000s, I can tell you that the loneliness can be unbearable. Even with the family around, interacting with classmates and the teacher was impossible, which is why I felt so lonely. I do not think I will ever forget that feeling. It still affects me today, on Fridays, when I am the only person in around in my hallway. All the teachers are home, as are the students.

To help my students (and, I admit, me) nowadays, I use polls, group annotation programs, breakout rooms, group slide decks, digital whiteboards, online discussions, quiz sites that allow for teams to compete, the microphone, and the webcam to demonstrate just how much I care about our little community, our little team. Yes, there are times when it must be quiet and students must work independently, but I try to bookend those tasks with community-building and team-building experiences.

Team-Building Tools We Use


Our conferencing system has a polling feature that is so easy to use. We have been fortunate enough to have an Internet connection in our class that hasn’t been too flaky lately. I ask the rest of the team in the physical classroom to join the web conference for two reasons: 1) it’s easier to help the students feel part of a team if they have an easy way to communicate and 2) I get to launch polls and get full participation.

Polls help conjure the feeling of a team, but they are also a good tool to check on student engagement. If students don’t respond to a poll, then I know something has happened. I still don’t know what happened, but I can tell the student isn’t participating and follow-up later. Most of the time, I can get the students back by announcing that I am waiting on [number] of students to respond. Sometimes, though, I have to send a message to the student to find out if all is well.

AP® Lit: Group Annotation

In AP® Lit, students learn how to annotate everything. I think students would annotate grocery lists if given the chance. Annotation is taught in the previous grades as well, but in this class, students learn how to do it as quickly as possible so that they can write complete essays in less than 40 minutes. It’s ridiculous, but it is what it is.

It is my opinion that students can learn how to annotate faster if they learn the skills together, studying and marking up the same document simultaneously. Each person will notice something the others won’t. They can debate the annotation’s veracity and usefulness to build their analytical muscles while also enjoying time together. This isn’t a time to compete, but to cooperate.

Breakout Rooms

I am not a breakout-room master by any stretch, so if you have suggestions for these monsters, please leave me a comment. I’ve used them, though, to facilitate discussions when there are multiple subtopics we are working on, like character and plot archetypes. Students report feeling different – positively or negatively – once they are in the room. Perhaps we need more practice. I know I do!

Online Discussions

Our LMS also has a sound online discussion feature. The students are learning and polishing their writing skills while also learning how to give collaborative, encouraging, and constructive feedback to their peers. These discussion assignments have helped our teams develop, and those who are reluctant to unmute themselves to talk in a conference demonstrate their understanding by writing paragraph after paragraph of their responses and replies to peers. I am truly impressed.

Group Slide Decks

Teachers benefit from using group slide decks, especially in Google Slides. With “grid view,” the teacher can watch the slides being edited in real time, so we can address misconceptions or encourage students to do more almost immediately. The kids are having fun, working together, and forming friendships. Additionally, they are really honing their skills with an important piece of software. What more could you ask for?

Quiz Sites

All I need to say about sites like Quizlet, Kahoot!, and Quizizz is this: Kids love them. If you want student engagement, launch a quiz for teams using this site. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

The Microphone and the Webcam

I saved these for last because they are so important. When I was a lonely, socially isolated online student, it was mostly because there were no synchronous activities. I read the material, completed discussion posts, wrote papers, and read feedback from the professor. Or, I worked with software to help you learn math, statistics, and project management. In other words, I was nothing more than a name to everyone else.

Then, one of my professors called me. His name is John Garot. He called because I emailed him to let him know I was struggling with a text, and he wanted to encourage me to continue reading it. There was a voice to go with the name on the LMS.

In another class, a professor could not take his own isolation, so he decided to hold “live lectures.” The school allowed him to do that, and I think you could hear the collective sigh of relief the first time we all logged in and heard his voice. We, as a team of teacher and students, were grateful for each other.

How do I know the professor needed that interaction as much as we did? Because after the professor asked us how we were, and we responded with something like, “Good, and you?” he said, “Good. Thanks for asking.”

Thank you for reading. Be well. Be safe. Be good to you.

Teaching a Hybrid Class? Bell Ringers Might Save Your Sanity.

Last year, bell ringers featured prominently in my instruction for about a month. This year WILL be different. Right? 

What Are These Bell Ringers of Which You Speak?

Most teachers will already know the term, but the explanation below is for those who might know it by another name. Please comment below if you know it by another name. I would be willing to adopt a new term, as I am not a fan of this one. I am, however, a fan of the idea, so please read on.

A bell ringer is an opening activity that students complete without assistance while teachers are transitioning from class to class. Teachers need time to take attendance, for example, so they fill that time with something that will keep the students productively occupied. Each minute is precious in live instruction, and teachers try to fill each minute with something pertinent to the curriculum.

Bell ringers in ELA could include reviewing the previous day’s instruction, vocabulary activities, grammar exercises, or mini-lessons on topics like theme. Last year, I used sample questions from the Keystone exams as bell ringers, vocabulary learning, and grammar exercises. I will do that again this year and use the rest of the instructional time to address more particular student needs and the curriculum. Diagnostics and benchmarks will tell me what those needs are.

Plan Your Bell Ringers 

A Google Slides or PowerPoint presentation would be perfect for this. Create one slide for each bell ringer, share the slide within the conference, and use a projector. If all your students, no matter their location, join the conference, you do not need to project. (On a side note, teachers already in the classroom are finding that students cannot hear them over the HVAC blower and because of the mask they have to wear. They are asking all students to bring earbuds with them and join the conference, thereby eliminating this problem. It sounds odd, but I recommend you try it.)

Here is an example of a Google Slides bell ringer I used last year.

You could also use a service for vocabulary and grammar instruction There are numerous flashcard services available now. Students can work on vocabulary during the bell ringer using a link provided or by signing into your LMS (learning management system) classroom. Some services make grammar exercises fun. Well, as fun as grammar can be.

Another idea is to produce a video of yourself introducing the topic of today’s lesson. Students will get to see you without the mask. There is recording software available, free to teachers forever. Other software is low cost. Students would sign into the LMS, play the video using their earbuds, and then be ready to learn. At some point, I will edit this post to include an example of a video introduction.

Be Consistent

Considering the rollercoaster ride we are going to be on most of this year, I am imploring myself to be consistent. A former supervisor of mine gave me sage advice: Make sure that everything you plan to do is sustainable. Therefore, the question I put to myself is, “Is this plan sustainable?” Since I lasted a month last year, can I last longer this year?

Be Helpful

The next question I’m asking myself: “Is this going to be helpful?” Is the activity relevant, or just busywork? Reconsider assigning busy work at the beginning of class, as it might tire or bore the students. That does not bode well for the rest of the period.

Be Concise

When planning your bell ringer, be sure to plan something that is short, well-explained, and within the students’ ability to complete independently. 

What Do You Think?

Please comment on the post. Thank you for reading!

Embrace the Backchannel

Those in the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) movement in K-12 and Postsecondary education advocate for multiple means of communication among teachers and students that include using devices equipped with backchannel apps.  These applications, which allow for a digital conversation while a verbal conversation is happening, can allow those who are afraid to speak in class, or those who prefer not to speak in class, to contribute to the discussion through written responses.  Those who are shy and those who are introverted have an outlet that is suitable to their personalities, which helps them contribute to the conversation in productive ways.

Did you know that being shy is not the same thing as being introverted?  It’s true.  A shy person has fears about interacting with others, but doesn’t necessarily want to be alone.  An introvert, on the other hand, gathers energy in solitude and expends a lot of energy when in a group; to recharge, the introvert must retreat and take some time alone to regroup.  This article explains the difference very well.  I used to think I was an introvert.  Here’s a story about how I found out I was wrong.

Marriage and Family Class, Holy Family University, 1992

The class had just received the results of the Myers-Briggs personality test we took the last class.  We reviewed the results in silence, reading the descriptions of each code and correlating them to our results.

After a few minutes, the teacher asked, “Did anyone find their results surprising?”  I raised my hand.

“What did you find surprising, Heather?” he asked.

“That the test says I’m an extravert,” I responded.

[aesop_image imgwidth=”300px” img=”” credit=”Created by Heather Edick using” align=”center” lightbox=”on” caption=”Reactions to what I said about my test results.” captionposition=”left”]

Those were some of the reactions to what I said.  I was shocked.  I’d spent most of my life thinking I was introverted.  Turns out, I wasn’t.  Sure, perhaps at one point I had been shy, but by the time I was a Junior in college, those days were long gone.  Some classmates wondered aloud how I could consider myself introverted when I was always contributing in class, for example.  It was hard to explain to them that I considered myself a loner; being an only child had conditioned me to being quite comfortable by myself for long periods of time.  I am not one to have a great number of friends, either, having espoused the philosophy that if you can count your true friends on one hand, you’re a lucky person.  “Better to cultivate true friendships than try to befriend every person you meet” was my motto.

It turns out that the classification hinges on your preferred sources of energy.  Today, I understand that I am energized when I am speaking with a group, teaching or training, and being social.  I used to be terrified of public speaking, for instance, but now I come away from the experience with something akin to a runner’s high.  The more the audience interacts with me, the better.   Just like a runner, however, it’s easy for me to “hit a wall” and “crash.”  As anyone should, I must be careful and moderate my actions and interactions with other people.

That brings me to the point of this post.  You probably thought I wasn’t going to get there, didn’t you?  That’s all right, because I wasn’t sure I was going to get there either.

Backchannel applications can help introverts and shy students alike.  Introverted students can reserve their energy; shy students can contribute without being terrified.  Teachers do not have to broadcast identities when using these applications, as most of them allow anonymous posting and showing responses in the aggregate.  Those who are introverted can “spend” their energy wisely.  Students who are shy might enjoy seeing results that align with their expectations; in other words, they would feel included within a group instead of feeling like an outsider.

They can help teachers, too.  How often do we teachers make our way through a lesson wondering if everyone understands the purpose and content of it?  I’m sure that the answer varies by teacher.  Even if we ask for confirmation from our students, those who are reluctant to speak in a group setting will often indicate they understand.  A backchannel app helps the teacher gather accurate information about the class.  It is a powerful tool for formative assessment.

To conclude this post, I leave you with a list of my favorite backchannel apps.  I won’t review them here, as many others have done that already, but if you would like more information about any of them, feel free to email me at, or leave a comment in the comment box below.  Thank you!




Poll Everywhere


Collaborize Classroom

In another post, I will offer more reasons to embrace the backchannel, such as helping students that work at a different pace than the rest of the class.

This post originally appeared on






The Moon Is Down, Day Three



As students enter the classroom on Day Three, they would find a discussion prompt on the whiteboard:


What were you thinking yesterday while we read?  Be honest and share it with your neighbor.



After five minutes, I would open the floor so students could share their discussion.  In my classroom, I would like to encourage students to be honest and forthright about their thoughts and develop metacognitive strategies that, in the end, will tell them much about their learning styles, interests, and thought processes.  Therefore, I think this discussion question would be a good one.  I would allow for about 10 minutes of group talk.


I suspect we would hear answers such as:


  • I was bored and thinking about the party this weekend.
  • I was thinking that these characters are flat (or stupid, in for a lot of trouble soon, sad, etc.)
  • I was wondering what was going to happen next and feeling bad for the characters.
  • I could not follow what was happening and ended up zoning out.
  • I thought Steinbeck did a good job integrating character description with the story.
  • I could see certain characters, but not others.


After the discussion, in which we could offer one another advice or try to address any challenges, we would again read for about fifteen minutes and try to come up with questions.  I’ll live blog my questions after I finish reading like I did last time.

Finally, they would have homework, which would include reading to a certain page in the book on their own and generating two questions to discuss the next day.




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