October 23

Transforming My Classroom, One Bite at a Time

The following is a reflection from Ceci Johnson! Great reflection Ms. Johnson!

As a first year teacher, I felt like I was drowning, occasionally able to tread water just long enough to catch my breath again. But I survived and came back roaring and ready for round two. Mid-way through the first nine weeks, I was able to spend a day visiting classrooms of my coworkers to observe and reflect on my own teaching strategies. As a lifetime learner, I greatly appreciated this opportunity to reflect and redirect.


One of my strengths as a teacher is questioning. It is very rare that you will actually observe me answering a question directly, most times, I answer a question with a question. I do not want to give the students the information they seek, rather allow the students to discover the information. I lead them in their discovery by asking the probing questions necessary. Many of my students do not like this, it frustrates them when I do not provide a direct answer. But through the struggle, frustration, and challenge, the real learning occurs. A peer I observed has the same thought process on questioning, however she is much more consistent with the not-answering part. Occasionally I find myself giving in too soon, instead of allowing the appropriate think-time for the students to think through their struggle. This is one aspect of my teaching I know I can grow in, allowing adequate think-time.


Many classrooms had a word-wall posted. Each was unique to the style and personality of the teacher in the room. This is most definitely a HUGE growing area for me. I started a word-wall last year, however I only added about six words to this wall, which is not near enough. Time became my mortal enemy when it came to my word-wall. I know, I know, that every teacher is juggling a huge plate, I am not trying to use lack of time as my excuse. But at the end of the day, if it came down to preparing materials for tomorrow’s class or adding to the word-wall, preparing materials came first. In my mind, word-walls were(are) a piece of art, beautifully written and decorated. Much to my surprise, they can actually be basic, just words on a wall. One teacher had the words grouped by category, for example, “Transformations” would have the terms “dilation, translation, reflection, rotation” under it. Students need to be exposed to new vocabulary over thirty times in order for them to feel comfortable using the words in everyday life. In my mind, some of the math words require a picture to go along with it for clarification, for instance acute versus obtuse, a pictorial representation would help greatly for a student learning to differentiate the two. My goal is to find a word-wall method that works for me, efficient yet effective.


My absolute favorite part of a class I visited was the “Dead Word-Wall”. I love this idea because it encourages students to replace their basic vocabulary with new, grade-level appropriate vocabulary. This is something I will definitely implement in my room, everytime I hear the word “times” or “minus” instead of multiply or subtract, I cringe. The “Dead Word-Wall” will reduce the use of this vocabulary and eventually eliminate the problem altogether. My plan, is that when a student uses one of the dead words, I will point to that spot on the wall and ask them to find a better word choice.

A focus that I have continued in my class from last year is writing in mathematics. It is important for students to be able to defend their mathematical reasoning. However, as with many things, time has been my enemy with implementing this to fidelity. During my observations I had an ‘ah-ha’ moment that showed me a time-friendly method which will once again facilitate writing in my mathematics classes, an exit – slip requiring writing. This is something I can quickly look over, highlight terminology that needs replacing, errors in math, etc. Then the students will revamp their explanation the next day and the day after until perfection is achieved. This will allow students to once again acclimate themselves to writing in math while allowing them to experience success with writing, which is vital for students tackling the daunting task of writing in mathematics. Once all students have mastered this, I will implement a small weekly assignment, requiring students to defend his/her reasoning which can be completed during their individual work time as I am pulling small groups.

After much reflection, I have decided my focus for this nine weeks will be developing a time-efficient method to creating an effective word-wall. This is something I will have to get in the habit of doing, take fifteen minutes each day and dedicate that to hanging words on the walls for my students, possibly utilize my TA’s to help me be successful with this. I greatly enjoyed and learned a lot during my observation rotations. Now it is my turn, to take what I have learned and transform my classroom, one bite at a time.  

October 22

Small Group Instruction in the Secondary Classroom

Small group on the secondary level is unheard of! Today we discussed the “glue” we use to make learning stick in small group! In an effort incorporate what my teachers needed and to differentiate PD, I surveyed the teachers on what they wanted. Three themes emerged from teacher voice and input: Time Management Strategies, Strategies on how to manage the class that are not in small group, and strategies in general to use in small group.


Polling twitter and other peers, we were able to come up with a HUGE list of various strategies that are “go-to” strategies! One of my favorites, are “All Sorts of Sorts”. The mere act of sorting various words and phrases helps to get the metacognitive juices flowing in our students. Talking about why an item was sorted, multiple encounters with new vocabulary words or content vocabulary words, asking questions, and modeling think alouds are all part intertwined in “All Sorts of Sorts”. In today’s teacher academy, we had differentiated instruction at it’s finest through this activity. Each session was completely different and highlighted the needs/wants of the teachers present at that time. We had rigorous conversations on various topics. Teachers shared stories, learned some new strategies, and hopefully left with a clearer picture. 


Small group is all about ensuring what students know and how to either fill in the gap or accel them forward! Stay tuned in a for a strategies list of topics covered!

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.

February 7

The Power of Time, Pace, and Scaffolding

CalcN0rUkAAVHwaThis week in Teacher Academy, we had a guest teacher, Nancy Clarke, from the Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI).  Thank you so much Mrs. Clarke for coming to observe classrooms, plan PD, and highlight some best practices for us to implement and try! The framework of our discussion revolved around the power of time management, pacing students throughout a lesson, and scaffolding students. 

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The following highlights are a series of questions/statements to remember while planning future lessons:

  • We as teachers should plan with Blooms but assess with DOK (Depth of Knowledge)
  • With our DOK assessments, what type of thinking is required?
  • Tasks in the classroom should be at the DOK 3 Level because DOK 3 level incorporates DOK Levels 1 and 2.
  • As teachers, we focus on a lot of things and we try to do everything fast. The tasks we plan should have meaning and rigor.
  • Planning is extremely important. Planning should encompass areas where we anticipate we would have to scaffold.
  • We must plan where learning could possibly have a breakdown.
  • The power of time is invaluable.
  • The  use of a timer keeps us on track but also the students on track during scaffolding.  It is much easier to Close Read for 6 minutes then it is for 30 minutes.
  • If your students are having a difficult time turning in assignments, use a timer to help pace their work.  Time management for students is a necessary skill to be College and Career Ready.
  • For more information on Webb’s DOK, click here!


Just a few Teacher Takeaways

  1. Coach Strickland and Mrs. Brown said that their takeaway was starting out her small group lessons with DOK 3 questions then scaffold student learning from that point.
  2. Mr. Studdard and Mr. Gable both stated that their takeaway was the use of a timer.  This would allow them to maintain pressure throughout the lesson and help pace students toward completion of desired tasks.


Sentence Starters were also part of discussion amongst teachers.  Using sentence starters in the classroom allows students to have appropriate content dialog in the classroom. Sentences starters look different in each classroom.  There are millions of different sentence starters to use to frame productive classroom discussions. Share with everyone when you find some that best suits your classroom! Here are a few examples we can use in our classrooms:

Math:  Check Out Page 7

ELA:  Check out Page 3


Social Studies: Check Out Page 10

Career Technical Education