Sunday, September 17, 2017

Closed Questioning

Excellence in Education: Close-Ended Questioning
Somewhere along my educational and teaching journey, I remember being told, “We [teachers] should only ask questions that we don’t know the answers to.” Research supports this but only partially as studies by Blosser (1973) and McNeill & Pimentel (2009) suggest that close-ended questions inhibit student learning and focus too much on lower-level thinking skills.

I understand the premise, but closed questions--those with an finite number of possible answers--have a very important place in classrooms. Closed questions should be used to confirm and check student understanding.

But here’s where we can make a little change.

We should be using closed questions in a variety of formats as part of our formative assessment-feedback loop. Closed questions are only effective when they are part of a specific instructional sequence to ensure student mastery.

Robert Marzano outlines a four-phase questioning sequence outlining the importance of a coherent plan of action designed to build on prior knowledge and to prompt and deepen learning.

  1. Detail questions to activate and build students’ background knowledge
    • Questions may include information about people, events, projects, products
  2. Categorization questions to help students identify common characteristics
    • Questions may ask students to identify examples or make generalizations
  3. Elaboration questions to prompt students to make claims
    • Ask Why and What if…
  4. Evidence questions to require students to defend their claims
    • Ask for support, provide restrictions and encourage students to find errors

Walsh and Sattes (Quality Questioning: Research-Based Practices to Engage Every Learner, 2005) encourage questioning that
  1. Directly relates to learner targets and challenges students to think and provide relevancy to them
  2. Elicits knowledge related to the concepts being studied and builds on prior knowledge
  3. Engages thinking at the cognitive level according to student readiness while encouraging students to see patterns and relationships
  4. Is clearly communicated to students using precise language that is understood, unambiguous and simple.

Close-ended questions can help students put complex thoughts into words and can be a starting point for a more complex question. They can be an effective scaffolding technique. Working with students, especially those who are quiet or struggling, used closed questions to encourage students to clarify, elaborate and justify their responses.

As you teach this week, perhaps you can reflect on your practices by asking, How can you use closed questions to scaffold instruction for quieter students and students who may lack readiness?

Additionally, you could have a student tally how many questions you ask during a class period. Research shows that we tend to ask three times the number of questions that we think we do.

I’d love to hear about your experiences and reflections.

Need To Knows
Spirit Week:
Monday: Pajama Day
Tuesday: Tropical Day (Gotta’ feeling Dean Eliason’s got this one covered)
Wednesday: Generations (We gotta figure out what generation we should dress as)
Thursday: Neon/Tie-dye Day

Student Emails: When emailing students, you should not be using their personal emails. Please use their school-issued emails.

Friday long lunch: Please note that there’s a transition period between 1st and 2nd lunches. For those eating second lunch, please do not dismiss your students before 11:34.

Our leadership class is in need of chaperones for our Homecoming Dance on September 23. If you’re interested, please let Ms. Meade or Ms. Lawrence know.

We will be hosting a faculty tailgate on Friday before the football game. Please feel free to bring your family. RSVP by sending an email to Heather Charles.  

Our Kickball team lost our first game of the year. The MVP of the game was Lauren Thomas who stood tall at the plate while an opposing player charged towards her. Lauren took star pitcher Pryor’s throw and applied the tag!

We have a series of Professional Development activities planned for Friday. We will begin at 9:00am. More information will be forthcoming. Please let Mr. Vrhovac know if you’ll be absent. We’ll also be taking our staff pictures, so please wear your 2017-8 staff shirts! Camera » drawings » SketchPort

We have a faculty/staff account with Remind. If you’d like to receive important blast texts, sign up by texting to 81010 with the message @mohsstaff.

Useful Links
Technology / Website Permission Request Form Please use this form to request use of a website or any resource that requires student log-in if the site is not already on the approved list. DART approved list

Calendar and Memo Items
Sept 21: Senior Picture Day, Pep Rally

Pep Rally Schedule
1st Period
Mustang Morning
2nd Period
  1st lunch: 10:56-11:26
  2nd lunch: 11:36-12:05
  3rd lunch: 12:15-12:43
3rd Period
4th Period
Leave classroom when dismissed
Pep Rally
CATEC schedule
AM CATEC Students: Leave CATEC at 11:55am to return for 3rd lunch

PM CATEC Students: Normal bus departure will return for Pep Rally

Sept 22: Professional Development Day
   Homecoming Football Game
   Faculty Tailgate

Sept 23: Homecoming Dance

September 20: Deleanna Eddy, Madeline Michel
September 24: Janet Whitmore

Tech Tools: Two Classroom Noise Monitoring Systems
Bouncy Balls This one’s simple to use. Simply go to and allow the site to use your microphone. While the site is projected on your overhead, the balls bounce higher as the volume increases, providing a visual cue for students to speak more quietly.

Zero Noise Classroom is a Chrome App that can be downloaded here. It’s a little more robust and includes a noise level display and a stopwatch. After setting the timer, the app monitors classroom noise. When time is up, it displays the amount of time that the noise level exceeded the optimal level, which you set.

Worth Your Time
5 Ways Teachers Can Challenge Inequality in the Classroom This is a British article, but it’s a must read!

County School Board Formulates Strategic Plan Stay in the loop; High School 2022 will be part of our faculty meeting on Friday

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Active Learning Through Writing

Excellence in Education: Active Learning Through Writing
Students need opportunities to talk, listen, write, think and reflect in order to truly learn. Active learning shifts the focus from teacher-led instruction to student-oriented learning, resulting in greater student accountability and improve learning. One of the best ways to actively engage students in learning and making is through writing.

Like all maker activities, writing is a process that requires students to see what they understand and where they fall short. It requires students to organize information in a logical manner, examining relationships, similarities and differences. Like a maker activity, students should be encouraged to write for a specific audience, a specific situation and a specific purpose while constantly reflecting on the process.

Some individual activities that engage students in writing:
  • Introduction: To start class, provide students with an open-ended question or a scenario and ask them to write their answer. The more novel, the better. This is a great way to prime the brain for learning.
  • Quick writes: These can be quick summaries or better yet, have students write and submit questions at the end of a lesson. The summaries or questions can be used to gauge student understanding and can be used as a leaping point for the next lesson. Quick writes are also a great way to break-up direct instruction. Halfway through a lecture or after a key concept, have students create a quick-write.
  • Summarization: Have students write a one or two paragraph summary following a lesson or assignment. Then ask students to exchange summaries with a partner and discuss them. Then have students re-write their individual summaries. These can be presented to the class.

What are some ways that your students actively write in your class?

Tech Tip: Quizlet Adds Interactive Diagrams
Many of you already use and love Quizlet for flashcards and more. Recently, they announced that they are adding the ability to use interactive diagrams or annotated images!

They’re super easy to create and use and can even include audio. There’s probably not a class that can’t make use of these. Obvious uses include all sciences, maps, PE classes (playing fields), geometry, and the arts. But it’s also a great way to help ELLs visualize and learn vocabulary.

For more info, check out this Quizlet tutorial.

Useful Links:
Technology / Website Permission Request Form Please use this form to request use of a website that requires student log-in if the site is not already on the approved list. DART approved list

Calendar and Memo Items
September 7: Yearbook Pictures

Coming Soon!!

Worth Your Time

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Preparing Students for College

Excellence in Education: Preparing Students for College
Does K-12 teaching and learning prepare students for college?

Should it?

I’m sure the answers to both questions fall somewhere in between the extremes. Of course, there are countless variables that also contribute to my confusion.

I remember talking to my stepson a couple of years ago and he shared that a couple of his professors at JMU didn’t allow computers or cellphones in their classes. Some of his teachers made use of their clicker-assessment system, while just jumped right into their lectures and didn’t stop until class was over. Some required collaborative projects, while others assigned several papers and others only used tests and exams for assessing his learning.

Over the years, I’ve talked to hundreds of recent high school graduates who went on to colleges and my stepson’s experiences clearly aren’t unique. So again, I return to my opening questions, Does K-12 teaching and learning prepare students for college? Should it?

I’ve written about this in the past How Can We Better Prepare Our Students For College and Do Colleges Know What’s Best, yet I still struggle to answer the questions.

So as we prepare to bid the Class of 2017 goodbye, I did my best to not only answer the questions but to reflect on all that you’ve done to ensure they are prepared for colleges and careers.

  1. We need closer connections between high school-college-student careers. This is perhaps the most important thing we can do and it pertains to all students not just our college-bound. Several weeks ago, I attended the HMSA Open House for rising freshman. The presentations, where seniors shared information about their internships, were phenomenal by the way. One soon-to-graduate student shared with me that she worked in a dentist’s office, which she thought was a potential career for her. But, after the experience, she realized dentistry wasn’t for her. What a valuable experience for her to have! Think of how many college students go through 4--or more--years of college, enter the workforce in their chosen field, and then realize that it’s not their passion. This student had that epiphany in high school!
We’re on the verge of High School 2022, which I firmly believe, will offer our students a wider variety of courses and experiences to prepare them for an individualized career path.

  1. We embrace technology and personalized learning tools. While we, and colleges, still have a long way to go, Blackboard, Google Classroom, and edtech tools can create positive learning experiences for students and bridge the gap and prepare students for colleges where learning management systems like BlackBoard are prevalent. We also provide students with numerous opportunities to take online classes through independent study or virtually.  

  1. Culturally, we’ve created a culture of support for our students. Our counseling department does a superb job, for example, of engaging and assisting students in understanding the college application process and helping families understand the process as well. As we become more familiar with Naviance, which also provides us with the ability to track our college-bound students after high school, will strengthen our abilities to meet the needs of our students.

  1. We have an abundance of programs from AVID to Dual Enrollment and Advanced Placement classes that prepare students for college-level work. Working together through PLCs and soliciting opinions and advice from recent graduates and college professors, we can better understand what constitutes a college-ready curriculum for our students. It’s vital that we then use this to develop lessons, assignments and assessments that not only prepare students for college but also assist them in overcoming deficiencies.

  1. We should be proud of all that we do to meet the needs of our students. Last year we proudly and rightfully boasted that our 4-year AVID students all went to college and 100% of our students passed their English Reading/Writing SOLs, but I’m also reminded of a conversation that I had with a teacher over the summer who said that we can’t treat graduation as the end goal for our student; it must be the starting point for future success, whatever path the student chooses.

Of course, I’m also curious, What would you add to the list? How would you answer the questions.

Useful Links:
Portfolio Assistance If you have a student who needs assistance setting up his/her portfolio, click here

Technology / Website Permission Request Form Please use this form to request use of a website that requires student log-in if the site is not already on the approved list. DART approved list

Calendar and Memo Items

Year-end calendar is here. Friday is an A-Day.

June 1: Senior Awards Night

CATEC is open for business:” their words, not mine. With our testing schedule, we’ve put students in a tough place, but please encourage our CATEC students to attend CATEC.

Final Exam schedule is here

Underclass Failures and Level Changes Due June 1:  Please use this form for any 9th-11th grader who may fail your class or you are recommending a level change for 2017-2018. If you’re unsure, please include the student on the form. As part of the checkout process on June 9, you will have the opportunity to remove any students from the failure list. This serves two primary purposes: 1) it gives you less to do on the last week of school; 2) counselors will have the opportunity to make necessary changes for the upcoming school year.

Exams and Alternative Culminating Assignments
Obviously, there’s been some confusion regarding the exemption policy. There have been several emails including one dated on May 10 explaining the exemption policy. This was also the policy last year for the spring term (after much confusion at mid-year). It has also been included in several mustang memos, the student handbook and the teacher handbook. The verbiage in the Program of Studies is also confusing. In the interest of consistency and fairness, it’s important that we’re consistent across the board to ensure all students have the same experiences and expectations. We are asking all teachers to follow the exam exemption policy outlined in our student and teacher handbooks.

We have consulted with Central Office staff and will be working with you to develop a fair, consistent exam exemption policy for next year.

Exemption from Final Exams
For classes offering final exams, a student is exempt from the exam if he/she meets the following criteria:
  • A 90% or higher in the class for the FINAL grade
  • No in-school or out-of-school suspensions

Midterm and Final Exams/Alternative Assessments account for 20% of student’s first semester grade (Marking Period=40%, Marking Period=40%, Exam=20%). All students are expected to be present during their midterm exam period and their final exam period unless they are exempt.  
Absences from Exams
The expectation is that all students will be in attendance for all exams (unless they are exempt, or unless their teacher has taken advantage of an Alternative Assessment - see below). Under no circumstances will teachers change or cancel exam times. Not including exempt students, all absences from exams require administrative approval. Upon receiving administrative approval, the student and teacher should make the appropriate arrangements.
During exams, students are not permitted in the hallways or cafeteria. Under no circumstances,  should students be sent to other locations, including the library, during exams.  
Copies of taken student exams will be turned in at the end of the year. For uncompleted exams due to student absences, a copy of the exam should be provided to the appropriate administrator and arrangements should be made to grade these exams.
Alternative Assessment
If a teacher elects to use an Alternative Assessment, all students in the class are expected to complete it. All students are expected to attend class until the final class day of school.  They do not need to attend the final exam period for that course because students completing an Alternative Assessment will not have a final exam. The Alternative Assessment will be 20% of the student’s semester grade.

Entering Exams and Year-End Projects in PowerTeacher
  1. use the date 6/8/2017 for your final exam assignment. This date will place the assignment in the E4 category.
  2. Select E4, and check to make sure that is the only assignment in that category
  3. For exempt students:
    1. leave the score field blank for the student, or
    2. exempt the student from the assignment.
All other assignments need to have a date prior to 6/8/2017, which will put them in the Q4 category.

May 27: Derek Frazier, William Trent
May 28: John Konoza, Lisa Haney
May 31: Tracy Seale

Worth Your Time
What to Do on Lame Duck School Days (Some great ideas for upcoming days)