Saturday, September 24, 2016

A schoolwide focus on literacy

At Hoover High School, we are in our third year of having a school-wide focus on literacy. As I've reflected on the past two years, I realized that I wrote a blog post about our first year of implementation, but I did not write about our second year. So let me recap to give you some history of where we've been and where we are now.

During the first year, we introduced six literacy strategies to the faculty, and each PLC chose one strategy each semester on which they would learn about and implement in their classrooms. Last year (the second year), we narrowed our focus to four strategies from the book, The Core Six Essential Strategies for Achieveing Excellence with the Common Core

The four strategies we chose were Vocabulary's CODE, Write to Learn, Reading for Meaning, and Compare & Contrast. Each PLC chose a different strategy each nine weeks to incorporate in their classrooms. In their PLC meetings, teachers discussed ideas and ways to make the strategies come alive in their classrooms.

This year, every teacher in the building will focus on the same strategy each nine weeks. At the beginning of each nine weeks, two teachers present ideas on how to best implement each strategy during a "collaboration hour." I had faculty members to review the strategies and discuss and determine the order in which our staff would focus on them, and the first strategy of this school year is Vocabulary's CODE. 

In the book, CODE is an acronym for Connect, Organize, Deep-Process, and Exercise. It is a framework for a four-phase learning sequence for understanding vocabulary words. 

It has been very exciting to listen to teachers discuss effective vocabulary instruction in their PLC meetings or see them using strategies in their classrooms to move beyond the "list of vocabulary words to know for the test."

I've also had a lot of teachers email me to share their ideas, ask questions, or share activities. Just yesterday one of our teachers shared some activities she has been using that were inspired by Mr. Roughton. One of my favorites is the "Three's a Crowd" vocabulary activity she created. She said that she used it in the first unit she taught but not in the second unit. This week, she had a student who shared her disappointment that it wasn't part of the second unit because she felt like she really learned from that activity. It's very affirming when students ask for activities that will help them learn!

A math teacher shared a resource he discovered called Recap. Recap is from the makers of Swivl, and it is a free student video response and reflection app.

Click the picture below to see samples of the students' videos:

Click HERE if you can't see the picture above

How many math teachers do you know that are doing vocab activities??

A Spanish teacher emailed me and stated,  "Hands down the most fun activity ever for practicing vocabulary:word sneak (See video)."

She included a link to Shake Up Learning's website where ideas are shared on how to teach like The Tonight Show. 

Click the picture or click HERE for instructions

If you are implementing a school-wide literacy program or if you have ideas for vocabulary instruction, I would love to hear from you. You can find me on twitter or Voxer (@Jennifer_Hogan).

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Why data is not a villain


I had the ideas for this blog post rattling in my head for a while. I have many ideas about using data, and I hope I make sense in weaving them together in this blog post. 

Is the data a villain or is it necessary?

In working with our school's staff on learning more about our state report card and making sense of the new ACT Aspire data, we've been having conversations about school-wide data, what it means for us as a group, what it measures, etc. 

Several teachers have "villainized" the data and/or the test, which leads me to ask, "Is the data a villain or is it necessary?"

In trying to wrap my brain around the myriad of thoughts, I reached out to my good friend and college basketball coach, Bob Starkey

I tend to lean on my coaching and athletic background as I navigate my personal and professional world, and as a former coach, I had questions and analogies about using data to evaluate current success and predict future success.

I knew that coaches can tend to over-estimate what athletes can do by over-shadowing the athletes' performance results with practice behaviors. What do I mean by that? Athletes who show up to practice early, nod in agreement, pay attention, hustle on and off the court/field, and give consistent effort tend to "rate higher" in a coach's mind about how the athlete is actually performing. 

Sometimes when/if coaches look at a data breakdown, there are surprises in whether or not an athlete is actually accomplishing goals and making an impact towards reaching a goal.

What does this look like in the classroom? Sometimes we confuse "doing school" with learning. Students who arrive on time, sit quietly in their desks, say "yes ma'am" and "no, sir," write neatly, participate in class discussions, etc. are often the students that we think of as those who are doing the learning. Sometimes we are surprised when these students don't do well on assessments and we want to blame the tests. Or we simply can't make a connection of why they did poorly. Sometimes we really don't know where are kids are academically.

What did Coach Starkey have to say? Quite a lot. 

So I'm just going to paste his comments below, and ask you how it relates to your school/classroom/district. 

This post may contain affiliate links. That means if you click and buy, I may make a commission at no cost to you. 


In coaching, statistics are important but there is a specific way to handle them in my opinion.  Most fans think of stats as a game event but we actually take detailed stats during individual workouts with our players in the off-season as well as during our practices.

Here are a couple of reasons:

"That which is measured improves. That which is measured and reported improves exponentially." - Karl Pearson

"When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates." - Thomas S. Monson

Having said that, there is certainly other things that are important that are intangible such as attitudes and leadership.  But even that can somewhat be measured.  Mike Neighbors, the women’s coach at the University of Washington utilizes video to chart the number of high fives his team exchanges on the court and on the bench.  

We actually have some stats we keep to measure “hustle” such as diving on the floor and taking charges which brings me to a major teaching concept that I learned years ago from Coach Don Meyer:

“It’s not what you teach, it’s what you emphasize.”

Another important teaching characteristic is that of possessing an imagination. We often talk about how important it is for a student but it’s just as essential for a teacher I believe.  Being able to look at what and how to measure a student’s growth can be important.

Keeping statistics in certain areas creates your program’s points of emphasis. For instance, while most fans know the media’s stats of points scored and rebounds and assists, we create stats for things that are important to the success of our team but not necessarily something the media/fans care about. One such stat that we’ve kept on some of my past teams was the number of screens set to get a teammate open.  While fans may not care about that, it is important to the success of our offense.  It also allows us to create some value to something for a player that might not score points but is still critical to our success.

The other thing about stats is that they are adjustable in terms of goals and growth.  We have a shooting drill called the Mikan Drill which take a minute to perform.  We never do the drill without counting her makes during that minute. For a new player we can a goal of 30.  Once that goal is achieved, we can move it up a few more...and a few more.

Of course, stats alone can’t take the place of teaching itself.  But when properly utilized, I think they can help the teacher better pinpoint areas in which the student needs help.  We chart turnovers and we are specific.  So after a practice or a game, if we see Jill has 5 turnovers and 4 of them were bad passes into the low post (which would be on that stat sheet), we can then show her some video of her performing that particular pass — both successful and unsuccessfully — while outline teaching points...the next day in practice, we can have some drills to specifically work on that skill.  If we didn’t chart that area, we may not realize that she needs help.

One of my former players, Temeka Johnson, started her own foundation that raises money for Smart Boards for classrooms in Louisiana.  I am on her Board of Directors and she took me to a school to witness, at least in part, some of the benefits.  One that impressed was that instead of a teacher asking a question and calling on one student to answer, all of the students answered with their remotes and the data was recorded.  Instead of a shy kid who may be struggling falling through the cracks until test time, the teacher had this information constantly at her hands.

Of course, stats alone aren’t the answer...relationships and communication are huge.  Still, being able to measure progress is so important – as well as how you present those results to your students.

It’s just not enough to say “good job” or “bad job” – they need to know why it was such.  An example in coaching would be that a player makes a bad pass.  It is not teaching to tell the player “Hey Lisa, that’s a bad pass.”  What’s more effective is to say “Hey Lisa, remember we want to bounce the ball to the outside know of the post player.”  I’ve let her know why it was bad pass.  Believe it or not, it’s just as important with positive results.  I can say “Hey Lisa, that’s a great pass.”   But she may not know why and therefore won’t repeat the action.  I need to say “Hey Lisa, great job of bouncing the pass to Jane’s outside knee.”

And I think the same is true with what we measure.  We actually give out players written exams.  They have a notebook and take notes when we gather – just like a class.  I don’t’ think it’s effective to say “Wendy, you did poorly on your test.” But it could help if you said “Wendy, we didn’t score well on the section on zone offense.  Come by the office tomorrow and let’s talk about it.”

So not only can data measure, but it can create more specific means of communication I believe.


Want to be inspired? Read more about Don Meyer's life. 
The picture below is linked to Amazon for your convenience.
Don Meyer
If the image is not visible on your device, click HERE

What kind of data should be collected?

What kind of classroom data can teachers collect that is similar to Coach Starkey's "practice" data? Here are some examples:
1. HW scores vs Test scores
2. Attentiveness
3. Preparedness
4. Student feedback on teaching (not enough examples, too fast, need more time to work with other students, etc.)
5. Student feedback on learning (ask students to rate how well they understand content) 
6. Attendance
7. Writing samples
8. Unit tests 
9. Formative assessments
10. WHAT ELSE???

Are we collecting data in the classroom that will predict outcomes? 
How are you using data at your school or in your classroom?

You can read more from Coach Starkey at his blog, HoopThoughts

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

We must tell our schools' stories

When I became a teacher, it was because I wanted to be a positive influence on students. As I moved into an administrator position, it was still with the same goal but bigger. I knew that I would not directly influence students like I had done as a classroom teacher and coach. I would indirectly make things great for kids by my work with teachers. The longer I have been an educator, the desire to create a positive impact for kids has continued to grow, which is why I love getting to inspire and influence educators across the country.

Today I had the opportunity to speak to the principals in the Mobile County Public School System. MCPSS is the largest school system in Alabama, and they have 88 schools! I shared with them the reasons why I believe it's incumbent upon educators to use social media to promote their schools and share the awesome things that are happening in their buildings and classrooms.

Click the picture above or HERE to watch the video clip

I shared the video clip above in my presentation because I love the story that Seth Godin shares about his son. How many times have we seen this happen...? The first time we do something, we're scared, nervous, hesitant, and maybe we don't want to do it. But after we've done it once, it becomes something that we no longer fear the same way or with the same magnitude.

Some of the principals I spoke with today were already sharing positive messages on social media about their schools. On the other hand, some were fearful. They were afraid to take the first step, and I hope that I was able to share the message that our desire to share our school's story must be greater than any fear of trying it. It's important that we step out of our comfort zone and remember what it's like to be a student.

An ounce of action can crush a ton of fear. - Tim Fargo

You can see my message here: 

If you're having trouble watching the video on your device, click HERE:

Monday, September 5, 2016

My #1 tip for sharing blog posts

If you've just started your blog or if you've been blogging for a while, the tip I'm going to share may not be something that you're aware of. It's a tip I share when I work with new bloggers, and since it's not an obvious tip, I wanted to share with you here on my blog. 

Sharing links to blogs

Notice the address bar above. The address is the link to my blog. It is not the link to a specific blog post; it simply links to the home page of my blog. Anyone who clicks this web address will come to my blog and the most recent blog post will be listed first on the home page. 

How does this impact those I share the link with?

Let's say I share the link on twitter today so that a certain person will see today's post. Let's also pretend that the person on twitter doesn't see the tweet until a few days from now. What happens if I post again between today and when my friend on twitter clicks the link? He or she will see the most recent post, not the one I thought I tweeted about. 

How to share a link to a specific post

Do you see the link in the address bar above? There is a forward slash ( / ) after The words that come after the forward slash are very similar to the blog title below the header on the blog. That's because the address is to the specific blog post. 

How does this impact those I share the link with?

Now, no matter when a person clicks the link, he/she will always go straight to this specific blog post. Why do you want to do this? If someone can't read a blog post when you send it (via any social media channel), they will be able to read this particular post when they get the opportunity. 

How do you get the "permalink" for your blog post (the permanent link that takes a person directly to a specific blog post)? Click on the title of the blog post. 

Links from mobile devices

Maybe you've seen blog posts on your laptop or PC that "look funny." Notice how blurry my header is in the picture above. 

Can you see the "?m=1" that follows the blog title? This means that it is the mobile version of the blog post (how it is seen on a cell phone.)

If you get a link to a blog in your email and the address looks like this, just go to the end of the address bar and back space until you delete "?m=1." Also, if you're tweeting a link from your cell phone, remember that the address will have "?m=1" at the end. If you delete the ending when or before you tweet, the blog post will show up correctly on a laptop or PC. 

**Blog posts that don't have the "?m=1" at the end will automatically convert on a person's cell phone. 

My #1 tip for sharing blog posts: 
Click the blog title to get the "permalink" to a specific blog post. 
Share away!