Connecting with Students via Flipgrid

The new school year just started this week, and like all teachers, the task of learning about my students and connecting with them needed a touch of tech creativity.

Aside from the innate attractiveness of using the 1:1 technology available to my students, I was also tasking myself with a new way of getting to know my students without all the “about me” paperwork since our copy numbers were reduced this year.

At first, I considered the typical verbal icebreakers, but often students don’t want to stand up or speak out of the first day or two. Solution: Flipgrid

Flipgrid is an interactive discussion board. Teachers can post a topic and invite students to record a video response. Other students with the link or code to the grid may post their replies and respond to classmate video responses.  It’s a great way to get students talking, and it also opens doors for collaborative discussions with other classrooms across the hallway or across the world. It can also be easily integrated into your favorite educational platforms.

Flipgrid One is the free trial for educators, allowing for one grid and topic. A classroom subscription is $65/year, a value for the quality interaction and engagement amongst students. However, you can try the full classroom version for FREE until September 30, 2017 by using the code JORNEAERWIN. She’s a local instructional partner turned Flipgrid advocate. I had used Flipgrid during a PD session, so I figured I would try it in my own classroom.

This year I began a new learning journey with my freshmen. I posted a personal introduction topic using the 3-2-1 strategy. Aside from their names and blocks(periods), I wanted them to share three things about themselves, 2 things they were excited about this year (Did I mention I have freshmen?), and 1 way I would be sure to remember them. Of course, I began with a video about myself, and I share the link via our course LMS.

Not only has this been a wonderful tool for me to put faces with names, but it has also allowed my students across blocks to interact with each other.  I not only can name my “kids,” but I can also say I know a little more about them within these three shorts days at school. So far, I would say this has been a great success in making the technology work in the classroom, and I look forward to more online grid discussions.

Audio Poe at its Best

Like so many other English Language Arts teachers, I am always on the hunt for  audio options for books, poems,  and short stories, BUT not just any audio will do. I, as well as many students, like to listen to a well-read narrator with inflection and/or voices. It’s highly entertaining, and it offers up a wonderful model of reading fluency.

We’ve all heard boring monotone audio tracks, but I thought I would share a personal favorite of mine: Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” read by Mr. Matthew Gray Gubler. Some of you may be more familiar with his character on the television show Criminal Minds (Dr. Spencer Reid).

Do yourself a favor, and listen to this suspenseful tale as Gubler incorporates all of the thrill and paranoia of the narrator through his tone. You might even consider having students discuss what makes it a good read in terms of voice, pacing, and background sounds. Take a listen, and let me know what you think.


Mind the Gap?

Generational traits is a topic of interest given the new technological advancements over the past two decades. Generation X, Milennials, and now, even, Xennials are compared in the ways each learns, but IS there a difference REALLY?

From this week’s readings in 537, it’s clear that Prensky (2001) truly believes in a major “discontinuity” in learners, so much so that brain structures are changing. The processes through which information has been gained has altered the ways in which we learn, so how are educators to reach students of varying groups simultaneously? (insert eye roll) Now, I don’t know about you, but I seriously doubt ANY mode of instructional delivery can restructure the way my brain works. As an “Xennial” myself, I have been taught both in traditional ways as well as in a “21st-century” manner. Sure, I have a preferred delivery method, but this is not a preference I can expect all instructors to accommodate. In the end, I learned both ways. Sure the delivery was different, BUT the content was continuous, which ultimately would result in the dreaded NSD(No Significant Difference) if I were to comparatively study them. Like Clark (1994), I feel that “student achievement [isn’t influenced via technology] any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition” (p. 22).  It’s all about the pedagogy behind the content. Why is a particular method or tool more effective than another? Or is it? Truly the difference lies within the teacher’s choices AND with the students’ response to instruction.

While McKenzie’s blog piece seemingly confronted Prensky’s work, I found that it just seemed to relabel learners as “immigrants” and “natives” of digital tools.  Much like other situations in life requiring abilities and knowledge, working/learning with technology is an acquired skill. Even Jem and Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird confront this similar tremendous “discontinuity” in thinking over racism, and Scout makes the profound comment that “Everybody’s gotta learn, nobody’s born knowing” (p. 304). Immigrant or “native,” we all start somewhere. Prior to technology, some students in classes were better at math than others or reading, etc. Does this mean they were math, reading or anything otherwise “natives”? I think not, and yet I think there is something to the speed at which we can obtain knowledge via technology.

Reeves’ work most noticeably aligns the digital nativism theory to learning styles, which has still yet to be supported by conclusive research. It all seems to boil down to preferences. Don’t we all have preferences in all areas of life? Sure. So why wouldn’t we also have them in education and learning delivery methods? Like I mentioned previously, I have learned in a variety of manner, but much of this learning depended on my engagement with the material. Engagement depends heavily on the users and not necessarily the product of delivery.

So, to any colleagues who feel the need to cater to digital nativism, I’d simply ask why? That’s the simplest question with which educators begin lesson plans (or at least they should). Technology for technology’s sake will do little to spark learning. In fact, I’d dare ask proponents of digital natives to consider what new fangled technology will counter the new forms they so devoutly believe in. Won’t there always be new generations and new technologies which have become everyday fixtures to said groups? Yes, emphatically yes, but teaching a diverse population of learners with “new” strategies, devices, applications, and tools is not a new struggle. Despite new technologies and generational change (native, immigrants, or otherwise), we still struggle with reaching ALL students. From my short 14 years in education, I feel that the same old concepts have just been “upcycled”. There’s no magic bullet; there’s just good teaching and receptive learners.


Clark, R. E. (1994). Media will never influence learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 21–29. doi:10.1007/BF02299088

Lee, Harper. ( 2006). To kill a mockingbird. New York :Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 304.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants – Part II: Do they really think differently? On the Horizon, 9(6).

McKenzie, J. (2007). Digital nativism: Digital delusions and digital deprivation. From Now On, 17(2).

Reeves, T.C. (2008, January 22-25). Do generational differences matter in instructional design? Online discussion presentation to Instructional Technology Forum.


It’s that time of year again: back to school season. It’s a time of mixed emotions. Parents are happy (and a little sad) for the kids to be back in the classroom. Teachers are sad to see summer go, but deep down, they’re ready to help your kiddos learn. But, before any of the learning begins, parents and students find themselves busy purchasing materials from THE SUPPLY LIST. You know, the list of all the required supplies needed for the respective grade of your student, the list that inspired Monica Brown to pen her blog post “Why I won’t buy one extra box of Kleenex for my kid’s school supplies; signed, a frustrated parent.”

Sure, the lists can seem long and sometimes overly specific, but trust that the items are there for a reason, even in the secondary grades.  While Brown addresses the list from a parental perspective (one I applaud), I’d like to clarify a few misconceptions about supplies in high school. (YES, students and classrooms still need supplies!)

No, high schools classrooms do not have a set supply list available, and while I admit that I can see how this might be frustrating, it’s due to the variability of a student’s schedule by grade and course selections. As a parent myself, I, too, want to buy supplies as cheaply as possible and preferably during the tax-free weekend, but without THE LIST, many parents find themselves at a loss and refuse to guess. Result: a classroom full of students with little to no supplies. Most teachers would agree that paper and writing utensils are must haves for the year, so start there.

Yes, high school courses often ask for more expensive items like graphing calculators, bigger binders, and sticky notes, but rest assured, these are tools of the respective trade, and often, the more expensive items will last the rest of high school. And, let’s be honest, those sticky notes make annotating texts helpful when you can’t write in the books.

No, class fees do not go to the respective teacher. Often, they pay for student access to the online materials, books, food/fabric (family and consumer science classes), etc. necessary for the class, which leaves basic supplies like paper, pencils, folders, copy paper to be procured by students at the behest of individual teachers.

Yes, most teachers do receive a small amount of classroom money, but it pales in comparison to the amount teachers spend on extra (much needed) supplies. Plus, this small classroom fund is typically not available until OCTOBER, well beyond the start of school. So, what is a teacher do? Well, simply put, we have to put it in the syllabus and hope and pray students come prepared.

Brown’s blog speaks volumes of the magic happening in classrooms thanks to THE LIST, and it even addresses community supplies such as tissues and cleaning implements. We still need these in high school, but all too often, when students are requested to bring these, they request extra credit points, as if these are items of requested luxury. Sure, we could send students to the bathroom for tissue, but that’s lost instructional time. See, we truly do care about delivering the best instruction we can, and we have to get by with a little help from a LIST. But, what about the classroom monies teachers receive each year you ask? Yeah, those, classroom supply money cannot be used to purchase items like band-aids, sanitizer, wipes, tissues, or anything else that might remotely clean, not even the whiteboard. Oh, and copies? Sure, teachers may have access to the machines, but often, teachers must supply their own copy paper, and yes, while we might have access to electronic copies, students may not always have Internet access. Besides, there’s just something about physically working with colored paper and pens and markers that sparks learning.

I’ve already completed my two daughters’ lists, and I’ve already bought new supplies for my classroom as well. Honestly, I’ve even bought supplies not on the list for the teachers my kids will have because elementary papers are always happier with stickers. As a parent AND secondary teacher,  I realize the cost of supplies adds up, but so does the cost of a daily frappuccino or fast food meal or even adding extra data or lines to your monthly mobile plan. All I ask is that before you question THE LIST (whether elementary or secondary), remind yourself that if it helps your child learn in a clean and comfortable environment, isn’t it worth the extra expense?

Sure, teachers are known for their willingness to go the extra mile to make sure students have what they need to learn, but let’s be honest, should they be responsible for ensuring THE LIST is fulfilled? Pay it forward, buy extra where you can,  and see unadulterated (and uninterrupted) learning happen.

“You have to read what over the summer?!”

Summer reading. Two of the dirtiest words I feel I could say to some students as an English teacher, or at least it feels that way sometimes.

As an ELA teacher, reading is a passion. I have always voraciously devoured  books as long as I can remember. But, sadly for many, this is not the case. Regardless, if it’s part of the course description you choose, then it is what it is. ELA teachers, myself included, take great care in selecting the summer reading options, yet there always seem to be objections to selected works of literature, works meticulously chosen to give our students an opportunity to safely explore complex thematic elements without having to experience them in real life.

Summer reading is required by a multitude of schools across the country, primarily for honors and college prep classes, so why is it still such a hot topic? Is it the content of the books? Is it the assignment paired with the selections? Do we really have such little faith in teachers’ abilities to plan curriculum and execute discussions thoughtfully? What are your thoughts and suggestions?

“Helpful Tools in Google Docs to Assess Writing”

Writing is a skill as necessary as walking, and it’s acquired in much the same way. We see others do it, we try to emulate the process, and we often only master it through constant practice.

Student composition skills emerge through routine writing practice followed up by constructive feedback from the instructor and/or peers. This is all fine and good, and it seems like common sense. However, one major impediment to this practice lies within the time required for reading and providing this feedback to the multitude of students within each class. Thanks to technological advancements in educational tools, ELA teachers can work smarter and not harder in this area.

With all of this in mind, here is a list of five technology tools in Google to expedite the assessment of writing.

  • Google Voice Typing – This dictation tool is available for use within the Google Docs toolbar makes offering thorough writing commentary a speedier process.

I have utilized this tool when grading written essays. I may open a Google Doc and voice my feedback through this tool. Afterwards, I can print this doc and attach to the student paper for more thorough instruction as to how the student performed and may revise without the impediments of limited time and space to do such

  • Kaizena – This Google Add-on allows for readers to convey feedback by highlighting pieces within a Google Doc and leave verbal and/or text comments as well as tagging specific writing, grammar, usage, and mechanics skills that may need attention. Each student’s work and feedback stay within a conversation, allowing progress to be tracked all throughout the term.

This tool was particularly effective with my upperclassmen, who seemed more receptive to conversing about their writing, but it also works well for those open to the writing process in all of the editing and revision glory.

  • WriQ – This Add-on allows teachers to open a piece of writing in Google Docs and quickly assess student writing. WriQ offers a suggested scored based upon metrics it analyzed such as word count, sentence count, and time spent writing.  WriQ checks  grammar, punctuation and spelling errors, which will be highlighted within the document for easy examination and color-coded by error. Next, users can assess the writing using a genre-specific rubric within the Add-on by clicking on the appropriate descriptor to suit the writing. After saving, users are given a summary of all feedback and an opportunity to type more feedback if necessary. After saving, this summary will be attached to the top of the document with all errors still highlighted for student viewing.

This tool is great for ELA and writing courses as it evaluates a variety of writing genres.

  • Orange Slice – This teacher-created Google Add-on allows users to create rubrics, score papers, and then return the marked rubric on the student paper with scores and rubric attributes highlighted. There is also a student version available for peer feedback.

Happy reading and assessing with these available Add-ons!

If you have tried these or have another favorite, feel free to share and comment below.

“Setting Up for the New School Year”

“These days, you’ve gotta milk a dollar out of every dime.”

– Gayle Forman, Where She Went

Though students will be heading back to school in a little over a month, teachers will head back sooner to prep and plan for an yet another awesome school year. This involves stocking classroom supplies, decorating said classroom, and designing lessons, all to engage our new legions of learners. More often than not, teachers will not receive classroom funds until later in the fall (if any), and it takes the mixture of teachers’ creativity, resourcefulness, and ingenuity to turn the new-school-year visions into reality.

Below you will find links to my favorite sites in locating variety of helpful resources for teacher supplies, resources, and tools to make the new academic year awesome despite a limited budget.

NAEIR –  This is the site for the National Association for the Exchange of Industrial Resources. The organization offers school teachers a FREE membership through its Teacher’s Program. Here you will find a variety of useful and inexpensive school supplies from donors such as 3M, Expo, Post-It, Crayola, Scotch, Sharpie, Avery, Papermate, Bic, and more. Essentially, corporations donate overstock to NAEIR, and NAEIR offers it to members for a nominal handling fee.

Personally, I have ordered repeatedly, and, honestly, it has truly become a supply life-saver. Most recently (last night), I splurged on some must-have goodies. A few examples of savings from my past orders include:

6 Post-It BIG pads for $12 ( HUGE savings)

15 Sharpie pens for $3.50

600 College Sports-Themed Index cards for $4.50

1 12×12 Command Dry-Erase wall Tile for $3

2 Expo Dry Erase sets (cleaner and markers) for $8.25

1 Student Expo Student Whiteboard set (2-sided board, 4 markers, and eraser) for $5

48 Post-it Designer notepads for $3

6 Post-It Weekly To-Do Calendars for $1

1200 Scotch Thermal Laminating Pouches $12

Note, the above prices are the handling fees. The products themselves are FREE. Still not sure? Check out the Teaching Supplies Next-to-Nothing Facebook Group to see pictures of fabulous teacher orders. Seeing is believing, my friends.  To join, be sure to register as soon as possible since membership takes a few days to process.

Participate LearningThe continuous learning section of Participate Learning’s site offers educators a place to find new teaching resources and tools (traditional and technology based), to curate them into easy-to-access collections, and to share them with other educators. Users may also use the Chats feature to track and participate in Twitter chats easily, whether live or reading transcripts of past chats. This is a MUST-SEE if you have ever wondered about Twitter chats for learning. Go ahead, search for something you will teach this year by subject, grade, standard, or tags.

Teachers Give Teachers –  This is the homebase for the HyperDoc Girls, who created the HyperDoc Handbook. This site allows teachers to share HyperDocs (interactive Google Docs for learning) on a variety of subject as well as free templates to create your very own for the new school year. Remember, a hyperdoc is more than just links within a document, it allows for student engagement and collaboration for learning.

As you prepare for the upcoming school year, feel free to share your finds (from these sites or your personal favorites) with me in the comments below.

Here’s to New Beginnings…


New beginnings incite mixed feelings for most of us. For some, they entail excitement, spontaneity, and adventure while, for some, anxiety, fear, and stress. In fact, many people detest writing since words do not magically flow onto the page; it is a process, but one well worth the endeavor. As an English Language Arts(ELA) teacher, I feel the pressure of all feelings above. Will these entries be of interest? Will I be under compositional scrutiny just because I teach ELA? Oh, the insecurities that threaten our best efforts! But, regardless of initial feelings, the basic truth is that beginnings bring us opportunity. What we make of said opportunity falls upon our own willingness to try something new, to take the risk, to grow.

This blog begins my venture into sharing my educational experiences (both EdTech and ELA) with a larger audience in hopes of helping others find new ways to learn. Often, I have been met with the questioning brow or skeptical look when technology and English class are combined in the same sentence, as if there is some invisible line drawn between print and digital English classrooms (or any classroom for that matter). Choose a side, they say with taciturn eyes; however, technology is not the opposition. It CAN be blended beautifully into the classroom to improve students’ reading, writing, and analysis skills. You can straddle this imaginary line and learn and grow right along with the students. Scary, I know, but well worth the endeavor.

We must model life-long learning if we expect students to value it as well. So, with all of this in mind, look forward to seeing posts on a wide range of ideas, tools, strategies, and the like as the emphasis is placed on learning with technology and reaching students. Though many examples will be within the realm of ELA, I look forward to reading comments on how you adapt them.