September 25

Meet Newsela!

The following is a blog post written by our Tech Integration Specialist, Emily Nestor! Great post! Check out the Newsela Hyperdoc!

One of my favorite purchases that we have made this year is Newsela Pro! Although several teachers have been utilizing the free version since it first launched in 2013, the additional features in the Pro version make the upgrade well worth it! 

For those who are unfamiliar with Newsela, the website takes high interest, nonfiction stories (articles, biographies, famous speeches) published by respected news organizations, and rewrites them at five different reading levels. These stories can be accessed by students online. While reading, students are able to utilize a built-in annotation tool, which is very beneficial since Close Reading is a foundational reading skill when it comes to “digging deeper” with the text. Newsela also creates quizzes and writing prompts based on the 8 CCRS Reading Anchor Standards that align with the reading. These quizzes and writings provide teachers with a real-time look into what their students are understanding and what they are not (which is HUGE for differentiating instruction). 

Last week in Teacher Academy, I took my History, Science, and ELA teachers on a “Tech Walk” through Newsela Pro! We looked at the features that were available and the data that would be provided to us as we utilize this awesome resource within our classrooms! I also provided them with a Newsela 101 Hyperdoc that I created as a resource for any questions and troubleshooting that they might encounter. To say they left Teacher Academy excited was an understatement! 


I am looking forward to visiting classrooms this week and seeing Newsela in action! 

September 11

Teching Up Formative and Summative Assessment

This blog is written by Emily Nestor (@emlouau). She is the Title 1 Resource/Technology Integration Specialist at Winterboro High School. #Exceptional Blog post Mrs. Nestor!

Assessment is an important component of teaching and learning. The data gathered from both formative and summative assessments help educators to make both long term and short term instructional decisions that will have an impact on student learning. For most, when the word assessment is mentioned a picture of a student taking a long, formal test comes to mind.  And although some assessments do look like this, this doesn’t have to be norm for classroom assessments. By adding a little tech to it, educators can apply the same ideology behind an assessment, but  make it more appealing and engaging to students! Some of these tech tools, such as Triventy, Quizziz, and Quizalize turn assessments into digital games where students are racing against each other to be the first to answer correctly! Other tech tools like ProProgs Quiz Maker and Google Forms with Flubaroo allow students to take a “traditional” assessments digitally and eliminate the hassle of a having to grade each assessment.

Check our these tech tools a little more in depth below!

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September 5

What’s a PLD?

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 2.10.22 PMWelcome back! We took a hiatus on the Teacher Academy blog over the summer! We wanted to start Teacher Academy off with a bang this year, modeling teaching strategies through small group instruction. Over the course of the next week or so, we will be highlighting the theme of each group. The first theme was the Performance Level Descriptors or PLD for short. These are rubrics published recently by the ACT Aspire.




AAEAAQAAAAAAAAN7AAAAJGU4YTVkZjM2LWQ4OTUtNDFiOC1iNmI2LWY1MTNmNWUzYWMzMASummative Assessments should not be a secret. The data from Summative Assessments, when coupled with appropriate Formative Assessments, should not be a mystery or a surprise. More times than many, when students take the ACT Aspire, the data can be a surprise. This causes much frustration for teachers under this new assessment model. Each year, the ACT Aspire gives morsels of information to aid teachers and students. Some of the information given is to focus on concepts rather than procedures by using the Webb’s Depth of Knowledge Wheel (in particular Levels 2 and 3) and that writing is valued, particularly in constructed responses. Recently the ACT Aspire released the Performance Level Descriptors. You can find them here for each grade tested on the ACT Aspire.


Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 2.00.42 PMWhat are the Performance Level Descriptors? This comes straight from the ACT Aspire: Performance Level Descriptors outline the knowledge, skills, and practices that students performing at any given level achieve in each content area at each grade level. They indicate if the students are academically prepared to engage successfully in further studies in each content area, the next grade’s material and, eventually at the high school level to verify that they are college and career ready.

How does the ACT Aspire suggest to use them? This comes straight from the ACT Aspire: “PLDs are essential in setting standards. Standard setting panelists use PLDs to determine the threshold expectations for students to demonstrate the knowledge and skills necessary to attain performance levels of “In Need of Support”, “Close”, “Ready”, and “Exceeding ”. PLDs are also used to inform item development, as each test needs questions that distinguish performance all along the continuum.

We encourage the use of the PLDs for a variety of purposes, such as:

  • Differentiating instruction to maximize individual student outcomes
  • Completing assessments to help identify target performance levels for individuals or groups of students
  • Tracking student growth along the proficiency continuum as described by the PLDs.”


If you haven’t checked out the PLD’s, do! I think it is a powerful plan for students and teachers to follow. Students can view the rubrics as a way to hold themselves accountable. Teachers can use the rubrics to develop stronger formative assessments in order to match the summative assessment that students will see at the end of the year.

November 15

Why, Why, Why: Metacognition Protocol

images-2Why?  Three simple letters packed with an educational punch.  When students can tell us why they think something, or why they believe something, teachers feel as though we have reached the educational summit!  Whether right or wrong, we can diagnose misconceptions or build upon current thinking.  For today’s Teacher Academy, we had 3 Learning Targets:



  • Identify the right drivers and the wrong drivers in our classrooms.
  • Identify the importance of soliciting sophisticated responses.
  • Create a short action plan to address student deficiencies.


The 5 Why Protocol was recently used at the Key Leaders Network through the Alabama Best Practices Center. This protocol basically takes you through a series of Why’s….5 of them to be exact. You first have to identify your “right drivers” and then the “wrong drivers.”  We used 3 aspects of our school culture as a review for this protocol:  Classroom Managers, Formative Assessment, and Learning Target.  The last “Why” question that is asked, is packed with core foundations of belief.  Here are our examples:


1.  Why are classroom managers the right drivers over classroom observations?

-If the pressure in on the students, they will have higher success rates in life.

-To have students more invested, means that they have more ownership, pride, and are more engaged in class.

-There is a direct correlation between engagement and student achievement…simple!

-It is important to integrate so we can better prepare them for their future job!



2.  Why are formative assessment strategies the right drivers over accountability?

-Tailoring Formative Assessment tailors our instruction.

-Without a foundation, you can’t build more knowledge and you do not want

misconceptions to build.  You cannot build a house without a foundation.

-Formative Assessment shows student achievement, then in turn data and scores increase.  Formative Assessment shows the teacher where to go next with that child.

-Formative assessment gives them ownership, accountability, engagement in the lesson, etc.


3.  Why are learning targets the right drivers over fragmented strategies?

-It is important to connect to real world objectives for clarity and guidance.

-Students have to buy in with the lesson in order to be invested.

-We increase the rigor in our classroom lessons and this increases lesson stamina.

-It is important for everyone to go down the same path (Lifelong learning – not the exact path…we differentiate)


We also discussed the importance of using a protocol or having a system in place for student questioning and the answers we accept as teachers.  We must solicit educational responses that are of grade level quality, and beyond, not answers that are quick or sloppy.  Many questions on our summative Assessments, the ACT Aspire, require that students answer questions using grade level sophistication!  Thank you Anna Jones for your inspiration and aha moment on this issue!


We had a great day of learning and Action Plan development! You can find more about the 5 Why Protocol on the National School Reform Website: