Posted in English escapades, professional development, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: Long Way Down

So. In February, I walked in to a training on literature circles (5 min late) and the group was just finishing a read-aloud from this book. I didn’t actually hear any of the book; I just saw their faces. I knew then that I had to read the book. What followed was a discussion on the value of engaging options for students to read, student choice.
I’m also part of an ELAR teacher group on Facebook and this title regularly comes up!


I finished the book; then I offered it to my exchange daughter from Spain.  Before I started it that morning, I flipped to a random page with her, and we admired the fact that the book is written in verse. Then, I turned it into a read aloud, and ten pages later, I realized she was hooked. So, I closed the book. I read it, and that evening at dinner I offered it to her.

Sitting there, she started to read. And flip page after page after page. #win
See, she was my kid for the year, but her mission here was education. I’m a language person, so I’ve been paying close attention. One thing her mom mentioned to me in the beginning was wanting her to read while she is here. Being a language learner and a teenager, I picked a couple of less complex but super engaging texts. She started both and set them aside. The picture below is from the book #180days, and the middle box could have been a direct quote from our girl: this bright, bilingual future lawyer hasn’t read a book cover-to-cover not assigned by a teacher in… a very long time, in either language.

We talked about it this evening before she stole away with my book. She said that when she was little, she remembers going to a place to “rent” (borrow?) books and videos. The place still exists but nobody goes there.

Not every kid in the room is a non-reader because they lack skills. Sometimes it’s something else all together. It is more than the “readicide” referred to in the book 180 Days. It is a cultural shift away from following through.

Here’s what I mean. The micro-texts we spend hours a day consuming (memes, texts, comment sections, headlines), they don’t tell a full story. They aren’t developed. And in fact, the only reason we can enjoy those texts is because our brains can fill in the rest of the allusions and implied texts. But what about the people after us who have never followed a story’s pattern to its end? The micro-texts lose meaning.
I commented on this to my kiddo, and she said, “yeah. I’m reading all the time, but I’m not learning anything.” From the mouths of babes…



Posted in professional development, Spanish relapses, teaching

Home, in more ways than one

I’m back from Nicaragua, and I promised to write about my trip, so here it goes. On Thursday when I got home, I posted this:

Goodness, this word has so many different meanings. I’m at home now. I’m with my family. But, I wasn’t not home before. In some ways the trip to Nicaragua was like returning home to where I really belong. Home isn’t always a space we occupy or the people we occupy it with. Sometimes it is what you do or the language you speak.
Tonight, I’m home. I’m back from a long trip away from where I desperately wanted to be, in profoundly more ways than one.

Of course, I’m home now. Being away from my boys for 8 days was difficult, especially with a busy schedule and limited access to internet. I missed them so much. I missed how my sons crawl into bed with us every night. I missed how my husband and I banter and discuss the details of our day. I missed how my pups only listen to me and no one else.

But, being away also brought me home in ways I can’t ignore. This last year has taken me on a long journey away from things that are essential to who I am. I never imagined an entire year where Spanish was not a part of my daily life. I never imagined feeling like an island. I never imagined I’d long so much for professional relationships and space to collaborate. I never imagined that after a year away from home, I’d get to go back by going away.

I went on this trip with amazing professional educators and Pulsera Project staff members who were dedicated to their values and ethics. An idea that came up over and over was the idea of “doing it right”. I felt like a starving bear at a buffet. I loved that my ideas were challenged and changed and valued. I loved learning and growing. I loved the validation that comes from dialogue. I loved being home for a little while.


Here’s us at our best. Photo Credit: Chris Howell

I can’t wait to continue sharing more about this trip in the coming days! Stay tuned.

Posted in professional development, teaching


I don’t think I ever understood the term “righteous anger” until I became a teacher. I didn’t understand how anger could be good, or productive, until I sat in my classroom and got angry.

I wasn’t angry at my kids. I’ve learned to stop blaming them. They are KIDS. I got angry at systems. Systems that failed them. Systems that didn’t work. Broken systems.

What I’ve come to realize is that many schools/ communities/ organizations/ lawmakers/ etc. do not understand the gravity of education. We (I use “we” here because I catch myself forgetting, often) cannot comprehend the weight of what we do.

I’ve just returned from a couple days at the TCEA Conference/ Convention in Austin, TX, and I left with a feeling that reminded me of how I felt during graduate school.

I was simultaneously elated at my new learning and furious with the injustices my new learning exposed.

The weight I feel is so intense. The only word left to describe it is: Gravity.


Image By WikiDiego91 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Posted in professional development, teaching, Tech-ventures, Uncategorized

Real Talk: PD

My favorite quote from my readings this week:

Fullan and Stiegelbaurer (1991) summarized this by saying, “Nothing has promised so much and has been so frustratingly wasteful as the thousands of workshops and conferences that led to no significant change in practice when the teachers returned to their classrooms” (p. 316).

-Web 2.0 New Tools, New Schools by Gwen Solomon & Lynne Schrum, page 101

There are a few things that both blow my mind and frustrate me:

  1. I am reading a book written almost 10 years ago that STILL hits the nail on the head.
  2. I am reading a book written almost 10 years ago, that quotes something written 25 years ago that STILL hits the nail on the head.
  3. Education hasn’t changed at all. 

That’s right. For all the hype and the memes on social media informing us of the changes in the role of the educator, the change of the student and the family profiles, and the changes in educational theory… We still have nearly identical problems set in new contexts.

The problem is simple: we have new information, we have new resources, we have new systems, and we have an ineffective delivery method.

Actually, I’ll correct that: We have effective delivery methods, that many districts refuse to implement. Or, they try, but they aren’t really trying–because they are not on board with the philosophies themselves. Instead we spend millions of dollars (maybe billions?) doing things described as:

  • “one-day program” (p.101)
  • “pray and spray” (p. 101)
  • “4 hours right after school” (p. 101)
  • “entire staff is required to attend” (p. 101)
G9 Professional Development and Awards - US Army - 092111
Used with Permission under Creative Commons 2.0 License by U.S. Army 

So, what are some of these more effective delivery methods?

It is pretty simple really: teachers need support. Actually, something I’ve been saying for a while now is that teachers are students. In fact, let’s take a detour to think about how we teach and reach students, and what we expect of them.

  • Do we instruct them one time, never revisit it, and the hold them accountable for learning? No. (and if we do, please fire this person, ‘mkay?)
  • Do we casually mention information here and there, tell them “no pressure to know this now”, then test them on it and blame them when they don’t know? See answer above. 
  • Do we give the information, provide them no support, no authentic practice, overwhelm them with 4-8 hours of single subject information with no breaks, no collaboration, and no clear expectations? See answer above. 

The answer is: I certainly hope not! 

In order to truly “develop” teachers, we need to focus on really teaching the new ideas, the new tools, the new resources, in the ways that we know stick in the brain.

We need learning communities. (Web 2.0 Tools, page 103). Actually, what we need is TIME to actually engage in these communities. I am (personally) sick of seeing schools add classes to the schedule to accommodate Athletics programs (YES! I said it!), rather than giving teachers a “learning” period to really engage in professional practice.

Someone will argue that 2 “off” (hahahahahaha) periods a day costs schools money, because they have to hire more teachers. However, better test scores, higher graduation rates, and actual utilization of the devices and software schools pay so much subscription money for doesn’t “waste” money. It saves money, or at the very least, prevents the waste of money.

We need peer coaching and mentor programs. (McREL Technology Initiative, Pitler, H., 2005) I was astounded to find (read sarcasm here) that when teachers are supported with coaching and mentorship, they use technology resources at higher rates and have more success in their classrooms doing so.

The best teachers are constantly giving their students time to learn, time to apply their learning, time to compare learning, time to reflect on learning, time to collaboration on new learning and support to re-learn old concepts that need to be retaught. But, for some reason, the classroom teacher is not afforded those same opportunities herself, and yet, is still equally (if not more) accountable for the learning.

That is my two cents. (Mic drop.)


P.S. I will end with this thought: many schools will say they provide all of this, but they do it outside of the work day. You know, when teachers are responsible for grading, planning and creating all of the content for their classes. It is ENTIRELY unreasonable to assume that time provided primarily “outside of the school day” is effective. While a few online PLCs can find an effective niche there, that won’t be what turns a school around.

Posted in Google, professional development, teaching, Tech-ventures

Always more to learn…

I wrote in a previous post that I’d retire when I had nothing more to learn. I guess it is a good thing, then, that I learned some new things today!


We had a consultant visit our school district today to get us started with Google Apps for Education (GAFE). Although I am already familiar with GAFE, Google is always updating, adding to, and improving their products–which means I’ll always have more to learn! Here are the top 3 tidbits I picked up on today:

  1. Google Doodles! I already knew that Google Doodles were themed, and that some of them lead to neat little tricks or games, but I did NOT know that you can click on any special google doodle and explore the history or cool facts behind it. Check it out for yourself!  This would make a great bellwork topic, a rainy day assignment, or the opening to a fun research project!
  2. Google Slides Q & A. If you don’t know what a backchannel is… it is the digital, behind-the-scenes conversation that goes on behind a presentation. More info, here. Google has now incorporated a backchannel in Presenter View on Slides. Instead of using Twitter, Today’s Meet, or Google Docs for a backchannel, it is now incorporated in the same tool! Here is a little write-up about it!
  3. Google Forms Quizzes! Many educators have been using various add-ons for this now for years… but Google finally just added the option right into Forms for us. In your settings, choose the quiz option. Check out a quick tutorial here.

I hope your first days back at school are full of awesome new things you can take back to your kiddos as well!



Posted in Google, professional development

#AllTheGoogles Part 5: Google Forms

form pic

Google forms are a quick and easy way to gather information. They can be used to collect data in a number of different ways:

  • multiple choice
  • check boxes (select multiple)
  • short answer
  • short field (for a name, or similar info) and more!

In teaching, these forms can be created, and the link can be sent to students via Google Classroom, remind, email, edmodo or simple posted in the classroom for students to access. Once they do, the data can be used for many purposes and save the teacher time. Some examples:

  1. Instead of the beginning of the year “questionnaire”, create a google form to collect this information. For me, the paper forms just sit in my filing cabinet and never get sorted through. This way, you can access the results in a Google Sheet (more on this in a bit…) and manipulate or view the date there.
  2. Give a quick poll or check for understanding as bell work or as the ticket out the door. The data will be quickly collected and provide you a snapshot of what students think or know about a topic.
  3. Give a survey to project department data. As a Spanish teacher and department chair, our department is constantly trying to find ways to encourage participation beyond the second year of Spanish. We used Google docs to create a survey of Spanish 1 and 2 students from every section to find out their plans and interests related to continuing in the program. We are using that data to plan for next year!
  4. Quizzes/ Tests. There is a grand debate on whether Google Forms can be used for graded work. I’m not sure where I fall on the spectrum, but know that the option is there. There are many sources online with step-by-step details for creating quizzes that can be graded by you or even be self-graded if you wish.

Now, why is Google forms so awesome??!?!? Well! The results from Forms automatically populate in a Google sheet. They are organized by the person responding and the question they respond to. You will have a quick view of: who participated, when, which questions they answered and what their answers were. You can then use this to create a quick chart, organize the responses or use them for grades. 

Are you planning to explore forms? Try this practice form… now! 

And view the automatically created Google Sheet with results!

What do you think? Please leave a comment below! 


Posted in professional development, Uncategorized

Something New

(This is just a Google Series intermission! Have no fear!)

In groups, I see kids gravitate towards what they know. They choose the task they are most suited to do. They regurgitate the knowledge they already firmly held. 

That isn’t learning. And, while they may be very good at it… it isn’t helping them get the most out of the experience.

This is the concept behind Cooperative Learning. In Group Work, students choose a task and complete it with the group. In Cooperative Learning… Students are assigned roles that contribute to the learning of the whole. Cooperative Learning works best when it is used often. Sometimes students will choose the role they know they are good at… other times, they teacher will assign the a role which will force them to grow. 

This has been my thought process as I debate my choices for my masters degree. I have narrowed it down to two choices (well, two for this masters, anyway). The programs I am choosing between are either: something that I know well, that will get me where I want to go (aka, the less challenging route) vs. something I don’t know as well, that will also get me where I want to go. (aka, the scarier, more challenging route.)

I’m excited to say, that as a (more) mature learner, I understand that I’ll grow more in the program full of new topics for me to study. It will be a different road, a more challenging one, but it will be worth it.

These are the moments I look for in my students. I alternate between them choosing roles and me assigning them… at some point, some of them decide to jump in and try something new, all on their own. When I recognize this, my heart smiles.

Today my heart is smiling at the re-realized remembrance that teachers are learners too. 

What do you still want to learn? Please share it with me! 


Posted in Google, professional development, teaching

Google Series Part 4: Google Drive

What is Google Drive?

Google Drive is essentially a cloud service by Google. Using Drive means that your files are accessible to you from any device that has internet connection. 

Why is Drive better than other cloud services, or better than my flash drive… or better than my hard drive?

Haha, I’m glad you asked! I have iCloud on my iPhone… but it only comes with 5GB of storage–which seems like a lot… until they ask you to pay for more. If a person has a gmail… they get 30gb free! If you have an educational Google account (as I do, since my district has “Gone Google”) then you have UNLIMITED drive storage. 

I signed up for Google Drive over the summer, in one of the very first google trainings that our new district Director of Digital Learning was hosting. Since then, I have been trying to convince the world of its awesomeness. Finally, the Digital Learning Committee (which I chair) recommended to the campus that on our next staff development day, all teachers be required to attend a training and sign up.

…Shortly after that, I ran into one of my fellow Spanish teachers, sitting at her desk. She was looking at her Drive in awe. She shared with me the many ways Drive was going to make her life easier. Here is a picture of her Desktop and her Desktop (ha, see what I did there?)photo 2

photo 1




Drive has been my Go-to and saving grace this year. I am a frazzled lady, and I often start working on a task at home and get to school, only to realize the file I need is on my home computer. Drive has changed my productivity, for the better. A teacher’s productivity is directly related to student outcomes. In a teacher’s world, every second counts. If I can save some time, that is time I can be interacting with kids, providing feedback and growing relationships. 

Tips, Tricks and Ideas for Google Drive: 

  • Google Drive works best when you check the box that allows any file to be converted into a Google file. This means that if you upload a “Word” document… you’ll be able to open it, even on a computer that doesn’t have Word. Most of your formatting will be the same. Every now and then, something changes… but you can always convert the file back!
  • Google Drive has a Google search bar… this is amazing! You can search for the title of the file or any word that might be in the file. This is much easier than the process to do the same thing on a normal computer… and even better, you can do this from ANY computer with internet access (or device!)
  • Google Drive allows you to seamlessly share files with contacts. We’ll get into this more in the next post but: you can share items with links through email, invite others to edit your files, push files to the web as individual webpages with links and more!
  • Drive has an intuitive “incoming” folder that keeps a list of any files shared with you, almost like an “inbox”.
  • As mentioned in my previous post about Google Classroom, Classroom actually creates and manages assignment folders and files in your Drive. When a student “submits” the assignment, it magically appears in your folder!
  • Any file can be added to drive. I have uploaded tons of videos and sound files that I use for listening assignments in my Spanish classes, and Google opens them with the web-based Google Play. This is amazing, since teachers often have to fight with quicktime and windows based systems that may not agree in file type.

The best part about this tool, for me, is that it’s free. Most of the things I can think of that would save me some time or chaos… cost too much money. Everyone knows teachers only spend money on Bills, Students, Their kids or their “other kids”… rarely on something that is just for the purposes of making their lives better.

Are you using Drive? How has it changed your world? Leave a comment 🙂


Missed part of this series? Get caught up!

Part 1: Google Voice
Part 2: Google Voice (cont.)
Part 3: Google Classroom
Posted in Google, professional development, teaching

Google Voice Part 2: In Any classroom

Google Voice: In Any Classroom


Ah, the dreaded exit ticket. 

Really, it sounds like such a great idea at first. Hold the kids accountable. Use those last few minutes of class productively. Get a quick snapshot of student understanding. Have something quick to grade for a daily grade. Have kids actually apply the standard you just covered.

Win-win, right???

Ha. Wrong.  You see, first you have to cut out all those exit tickets. Pass them out. They have to do them. <–All of that is the easy part. People suggest these exit tickets as a regular part of the routine. Several times a week or even every day. The only problem is: there are some things that paper clips can’t fix. i.e.: my desk. See sample below.


You see, for teachers like me, who are moms and wives and department chairs and, you know, 12 other responsibilities to mention, we don’t have time for that. I don’t need another tiny slip of paper (or stack of them) to try to remember not to lose.

How can Google Voice help?

With Google Voice, you get a phone number. Not only can students leave you a voice message (as mentioned in Part 1 of this series), but they can also text the phone number as well! The messages collect in your Google Voice account, and are also sent to your email account.

This is life changing. 

At the end of class, kids put their things away, and I ask them a short question. For me, usually, this is a short production task (in Spanish), perhaps, a question to answer or a topic to write about. Students text the phone number and the assignment comes to my email.

Why is this so awesome?

  • Sometimes kids need more time to finish than time allows. They can take the cell phone with them.
  • You can provide feedback! Text back!
    • Are you worried about the privacy implications of that? Well, worry a little less. Texting through Google Voice creates a paper trail. All messages to and from the account are saved. Its the ultimate teacher “CYA”.
  • Students without phones can still complete the assignment on a sticky note, or from the phone of a friend.
  • It eliminates (or nearly does) the tiny stacks of paper ravaging your desk.

Other ideas: I haven’t tried but really want to!

  • Give this phone number to parents instead of your regular cell phone number. Keep the conversation going via text.
  • Encourage kids to text questions about homework, projects and more.
  • Create lists in Google voice to text extra credit opportunities, links to important info and more.

Have any ideas yet??? Comment below! 


Posted in Google, homework, professional development

Google Voice: Part 1- In The Language Classroom

Google voice has rocked my world this year. I had previously wanted to see what I could use Google Voice for, but, like most teachers, I didn’t have time for another “tool” to add to my list and make my life harder. After attending the ACTFL Convention this year, however, my perspective changed.

I sat in on a session by one of the ACTFL teachers of the year, Carrie Toth, who runs as she talked about different way she has added authentic assessment to her classes. She shared that when students have projects that many classes traditionally “present” (aka: waste 3 days of class time presenting), she instead uses Google Voice. In a room so crowded with people that I was in a corner on the floor, here I sat, suddenly engaged beyond measure. This woman had the answers to all my problems.

Any student who has ever sat in my classroom knows 2 things (ok, hopefully more than 2 things…)

  1. Mrs. Wilson doesn’t waste time.
  2. Everything we do has a purpose.

I literally refuse to waste even a second. And, if a student asks me “why” I usually have a dissertation like response of my thought process behind the request.

Presentations had always been an irritation of mine. They worked so hard… shouldn’t they present it? To be honest… these presentations aren’t going to be that great. Who listens to them anyway??? The class can’t hold their attention span long enough to hear more than one. UGH now we are a week behind 😦 

Instead, Carrie explains, that she has students call and leave their presentations using Google Voice. Genius. Students are then able to:

  • Speak with a lower affective filter.
  • Practice several times before calling.
  • Call again to record a better version.
  • Not waste 3 class days listening to their Spanish 1 classmates repeat all 15 words they know (ahem, I mean…. um… sorry!)

I was anxious to try this, and I was amazed at the results. My students did fantastically. They even worked harder on their accents, because they felt that me having a voicemail was more “permanent”.

Tips and Ideas: 

  1. Carrie suggested using some of the time that would have been spent on presentations to do a “museum” style walkabout, encouraging students to interact in the TL instead (Interpersonal).
  2. Use Google Voice for AP level classes to record their cultural comparisons.
  3. Google Voice voicemails cut off at 3 minutes. When students don’t have much dead space… that is actually quite a lot of time! But, be careful about assigning something that can’t be recorded in the time limit. For example, during their celebrity family presentations, I graded their project as a written piece, but asked students only to share the 5 most interesting things via voicemail.
  4. You can set up Google Voice to ring to a phone… but since the main use for it is voicemail (for a teacher), I recommend setting it to “Do Not Disturb”, so that it will automatically record voicemails.
  5. In your voicemail message, remind students to leave their name…haha, seems obvious, but you are a teacher, so you understand.
  6. Space your assignments out, so that your voicemail box isn’t clogged with too many assignments at once. One week I gave an assignment to Spanish 1. Once those voicemails had been graded, I assigned a Voice assignment to Spanish 3. A few late Spanish 1 assignments got mixed in, and there was a delay in grading them.

Have any ideas yet?