Posts Tagged ‘Professional Development’

Professional Learning by Blog

Monday, April 20th, 2015

AUTHOR: Janet Hester, Secondary ELAR Education Specialist


Click image to be taken to full infographic.

Click image to be taken to full infographic.


Since I started having kids, and again when I started my master’s program, my personal professional reading life has changed drastically. I no longer felt I had the time to keep abreast of all the latest professional publications in our ELAR world. If a particular book kept coming up in conversation or at workshops, I would definitely try to skim through some pages–but invariably, the book would be at best skimmed, maybe a particular chapter read with full attention.

I found I needed professional information that I could access while rocking my babies to sleep. I found I often only had time to read an article or a post—snatching 10 minutes here or 5 minutes there. I found my reading time became super precious, and I needed to be able to pick and choose reading more efficiently and with greater focus. I think we all go through these times in our lives. We still need to feed our brains, but periodically we just don’t have the time to devote to long-form reading.

During the last four years of my life, my professional reading needs have been met through education blogs.

Web 2.0 is all about everyday people’s active online participation and interaction. This web is more personal, more immediate, and somehow also more relatable, because all of us little people who haven’t quite yet reached rock star status can now have a say in our professional world. Bloggers might put themselves out there with trepidation—but they do it within their professional reality. Jessica Lifshitz (2015), a fifth grade literacy teacher, declares in her blog’s masthead: “As I begin a year of transformation, I am attempting to break down the four walls of my classroom to reach out to others and connect about the incredible world of education.”

Many of our teacher colleagues are writing about everything in education and posting to their blogs. According to, the leading free blog platform in the world, their users produce 59.1 million new posts each month. Couple that with 60.3 million new comments on those posts. Imagine all the career teachers, publishing while they wait for students to finish an essay after school, publishing while they scarf down their school cafeteria salad, publishing from their phones on the train in to work. So much content out there—composed for us. With some savvy, a teacher could quickly find blog posts that suggest a new mentor text or a new literature circle process, or that helps him navigate the state’s latest education bills discussed at the capitol.

How to get started? How not to drown in all the content?

I will use a term Donalyn Miller (2014) uses in her book Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits. Miller recommends widely reading young adult literature to be a mentor reader and resource for students, but she also acknowledges that no one teacher can read everything. And if we can’t read everything, she suggests that we find “epicenter readers” to help round out our knowledge. Epicenter readers “know a lot about books, and feel confident in selecting books to read.” (p.120) These epicenter readers could be your school librarian, your college best friend who just reads a ton of YA, and, of course, students in your classroom. We see here the type of tweet an epicenter reader might share that would benefit teachers looking for new books.

John Schumaker, whose tweet we see here, is a school library director at Brook Forest Elementary in Oak Brook, Illinois. He also happens to be a 2014 Newbery Committee member. His tweets, blog posts, Goodreads reviews, and Pinterest pins provide a plethora of timely, quality resources for educators. He is the consummate “epicenter reader.”




This very same concept applies to our online professional reading lives. Through our use of social media, we can easily find our epicenter readers, and rely on them to suggest must reads for us. In fact, Miller (2014) hypothesizes that:

If I had to start over rebuilding my Twitter friends’ list, Goodreads account, or blog feed, Teri and John [her epicenter readers] would lead me back to hundreds of reading colleagues in less than a month. Savvy about books and publishing trends and generous with their resources and time, they feed a vibrant reading community online and influence many children through their teachers, librarians, and parents. You don’t need a contact list full of names to find a reading community. All you need is one person who shares your love for books. (p.123)


Or blogs.


Thus, blog reading takes many forms. See the graphic below for just a few.




I just learned about Andrea Zellner, a voracious reader who has been functioning as one of my colleague’s, Laura Lee Stroud’s, epicenter readers. I am now following her and found this intriguing share. I’ve often used this six-word story in training,and it always grabs teachers. What new information could I add to this activity?




Epicenter readers do their thing on Facebook, too. Take the following share from my friend and colleague, Sharon Laidlaw-Almaguer. She is a full-release mentor to new teachers at Austin ISD. By posting the relevant and interesting articles she finds, I am learning by leaps and bounds. Together, and with other education and ELAR friends in our Facebook circle, we are building a professional learning community, nestled conveniently in our Facebook feed.




And what about your own blog writing? Have you thought of writing a blog to practice your craft? To identify with students as they process their writing? To sound off on your own particular niche, triumphs, and challenges? Your voice has a place out there! In one case study, researchers found that writing a blog gave one teacher a platform to “tell stories of herself and her classroom, reflect on her practice, work through dilemmas, solicit feedback, and display competence” (Luehmann, 2008). No better time to start than now.





Lifshitz, J. (2015, March 1). Crawling Out of the Classroom. Retrieved March 31, 2015, from

Luehmann, A. (2008). Using Blogging in Support of Teacher Professional Identity Development: A Case Study. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 17(3), 287-337. Retrieved March 31, 2015, from

Miller, D., & Kelley, S. (2014). Wild Readers Share Books and Reading with Other Readers. In Reading in the wild: The book whisperer’s keys to cultivating lifelong reading habits. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.

Zellner, A. (2015, March 31). Epicenter Readers [Telephone interview].

Tweeting to Grow: Enriching Our Personal Learning Network through Twitter

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Author: Laura Lee Stroud, Elementary English Language Arts Specialist

Tags: Educational Technology, Personal Learning Networks, Professional Development

“Teaching can be an isolating experience, but it does not have to be.” Kevin Hodgson

As educators, we must find avenues to nurture our professional lives despite the chaos prevalent surrounding education. The success of our students depends on it. Recently, teacher and author Kelly Gallagher affirmed for me the necessity of teachers’ sustained personal learning outside school walls. He shared, “If our professional life isn’t bigger than our teaching life, we will die on the vine.” Mr. Gallagher went on to add that growing a professional life provides the environments of support, collaboration, and empowerment teachers need to thrive.

Our access to technology provides valuable resources for teacher learners at the click of the mouse, even the swipe of a thumb. In fact, Mr. Gallagher attributes a recent spike in his professional learning to participation in the “Twitterverse” saying that Twitter has magnified his learning more than any other form of traditional professional development in recent memory. Yes, Twitter is more than a real time account of Justin Bieber’s bad hair day. In full disclosure, my Twitter account is over seven years old and my use is very basic. In preparation for writing this article, I sought to increase my understanding and find out how I can assist interested educators in doing the same.

I began by “tweeting” the question: “Need short testimonials on how twitter has enhanced educators’ professional learning” to the Twittersphere at large and to researchers and writers on English Language Arts education in particular. Within minutes responses filtered in via email, direct message and tweets. Every response I received echoed a connected impact on its users. Kevin Hodgson, 6th grade teacher, blogger, and Technology Co-Director at Western Massachusetts Writing Project, weighed in via direct message: “Twitter has connected me to not just people, but ideas, from the far corners of the world. Questions, answers and inquiry abound, and I have felt my thinking on teaching and learning being pushed again and again.” The speed and content of the responses to a simple query showcase the power of Twitter. As I googled “how educators use Twitter,” I was inspired by the results. Teachers have contributed quality how-to guides very helpful for both the novice and the evolving seeker. I have included below an annotated bibliography of the resources I found most insightful.

Twitter for Educators Beginner’s Guide ~ Educational Technology and Mobile Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2015, from

This website makes a clear case for why teachers and educators should use Twitter. Three reasons for using Twitter are highlighted: 1. Twitter is easy to learn and free with a user friendly interface. 2. Twitter is dense with innovative educators and a prime place to meet and collaborate within. 3. It is a vehicle to grow professionally through the sharing of experiences. Included on this page is the best, simple guide to understanding Twitter for educators I discovered through my research. (The guide is linked other places around the web.)

Twitter For Teachers. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2015, from

This guide begins by acknowledging common barriers to participation in Twitter for educators. In this near one-pager, you will gather information about the 5 W’s of Twitter’s specific use in education. Void of complete information and extra logistics available in other resources, this guide includes a downloadable pdf for printing should you need a hard copy.

Blumengarten, J. (n.d.). How To Take Part in or Moderate a Chat on Twitter. Retrieved January 10, 2015, from

Known as the Cybraryman and Twitterbrarian, Jerry Blumengarten offers this admonishment: “When introducing Twitter to non-believers say, “Do you know about “The Educational Support & Discussion Media System?” Following is one of the most comprehensive gathering of all things Twitter. The page is well organized with two columns but look to the right to find sites to help those new to Twitter.

If you are completely new to Twitter, a fast guide for beginning:

  1. Decide to have a professional account that is separate from your personal one. This helps organize and sort the information you will receive.
  2. Choose a twitter handle that is short and descriptive. Lots of educators choose to incorporate the name their students use so that they are easily recognizable to parents and students.
  3. Begin by following the organization and names that motivate and educate you. NCTE, Kelly Gallagher, Kylene Beers, Jeff Anderson, and others are all active Twitter users. By following a few people, you will read the people they tweet to and can selectively choose who to add to your followed list.
  4. Check in every couple of days to see what’s new. You will be surprised how these 140-character tweets will inform your teaching. Instant PD!
  5. Study others’ content and language. Set a goal for sending out your own original tweets.
  6. Begin to share your handle as you begin to compose your own tweets. Twitter is not just about receiving information, it’s about giving it. Share your knowledge with the world.
  7. Check out Twitter chats that align with your professional interest. The chat sessions are an easy way to connect through listening to others weigh in about specific areas in selected content areas or grade levels.

Personal learning networks are powerful because they are driven by you; the learner. Kerri Thompson @kerriattamate describes her interactions on Twitter as “brewing my own PD.” On Twitter customized learning is as simple as plugging into a chat that explores the nuances of providing feedback on student writing or using literacy stations in a secondary classroom. Twitter allows educators to connect. Penny Kittle @pennykittle explained how Twitter also connects and extends resources:  I read many articles and blogs I’d never find on my own because of teachers on Twitter. I connect across the globe with colleagues. With precious little time left in our days, technology is a precious vehicle for educators to grow our professional lives.

The Region 13 Literacy Team is on Twitter. Follow me, Laura Lee, at @LL_Smiles and Janet Hester at @R13JanetH.


Blumengarten, J. (n.d.). How To Take Part in or Moderate a Chat on Twitter. Retrieved January 10, 2015, from

Hodgson, K. (n.d.). Inviting Your Input and Comments. Retrieved February 6, 2015, from

January Blog Challenge #7. (2015, January 7). Retrieved January 12, 2015, from

Twitter for Educators Beginner’s Guide ~ Educational Technology and Mobile Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2015, from

Twitter For Teachers. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2015, from

Using Edmodo to Facilitate Book Study: What I Learned

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

Author: Rachel Hernandez-Eckert

In the September 2013 In-Sight newsletter, I wrote about the beginnings of a group book study that our grant cohort is engaging in. We are studying “Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer?”: Teaching Historical Thinking in Grades 7-12.  Because the group consists of 26 educators from 18 different school districts, we had to wrestle with the issue of facilitating a book study without meeting face-to-face.  My colleagues and I decided that the best platform to do this through is Edmodo. (Edmodo is an online platform created to connect teachers and students in a “free and safe way.”)  Since I had never used Edmodo before, I had to take the time to play in the platform and discover the capabilities that it had.  We discovered that we could establish a group and post notes, quizzes and polls, create small groups within the larger group, and establish folders and documents in a library that we could then link to a post.  We could also hyperlink webpages and embed videos in a variety of ways for our group members to view.  For the book study aspect, we established a reading schedule and every Friday we post questions that require participant response.  The Edmodo group served two different purposes; first, we use it as our main avenue of communication and to share documents pertinent to our cohort of educators.  The result was the decline of mass e-mail communiqués.  Second, we were able to create small groups for our participants to engage in online discussion about the text they were reading.  The result was that we could actually see our participants in “process mode” as they read, learned and reflected together.



My recommendation for anyone trying to replicate this is to discover and practice with the platform features before you formally establish a group.  You may consider inviting a few colleagues to serve as your beta test group and make comparisons about what you see as the owner of the group and what they see as a participant.  I felt pretty proficient in the platform to launch the group, but I found subtle features that could only be learned once the group was established.  If you are considering using Edmodo to facilitate a book study as we did, you must establish a learning plan and consider posting weekly questions to bring your participants back to the platform for discussion.  The best part about this method of delivery was that I still felt connected with the grant cohort and we have been able to engage in learning collectively, even though we did not meet again until the following month.

Understanding the Geometry STAAR EOC

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author: Emily Gray, Secondary Math Specialist

As we enter our second year of STAAR EOC exams, many of our mathematics students and teachers will be faced with the challenge of an End-of-Course exam in Geometry.  While the Algebra exams are relatively easy to understand (nearly all of the Algebra I TEKS have been tested before, and none of the Algebra II TEKS have ever been tested), the transition from the assessed Geometry TEKS on TAKS to the Geometry STAAR EOC is not so easy to understand.  Let’s look at a few facts to help illustrate this transition.

FACT: The Exit Level TAKS test has some Geometry questions on it.  The graphic below illustrates the percent of questions on the Exit Level TAKS that come from Grade 8, Algebra I, and Geometry TEKS.

The intention of the Exit Level TAKS test was to be a comprehensive exam over a broad range of topics.  The STAAR EOC exams, on the other hand, are designed to target the material from only one year of content in much greater depth.

FACT: The Exit Level TAKS test did not cover all of the Geometry TEKS. 

As you can see above, the Exit Level TAKS tested 51% of the Student Expectations (SEs) outlined in the Geometry TEKS, while on the STAAR EOC for Geometry 97% of the SEs will be eligible for testing.

FACT: On Exit Level TAKS, all SEs were created equal.  This usually translated to every SE eligible for testing being tested once, or occasionally twice.  This is not the case on any of the STAAR exams.  For STAAR, standards are designated as Readiness or Supporting.  For Geometry, 12 standards are deemed Readiness standards and will comprise 60-65% of the test (or 31-34 questions).  It seems likely then, that these standards will be assessed two, three, or even four times.  The remaining 24 Student Expectations eligible for testing will comprise 18-21 of the test questions.  Clearly, some of these standards will not be tested in a given year (although they may reappear the next year).

FACT: Knowing is half the battle!  You’ve taken the right first step by reading this article!  Want to know more?  Visit Region XIII’s STAAR Website ( or TEA’s STAAR Website ( to get even more information.  Want more that’s Geometry-specific?  Start by taking the FREE one-hour online course through Region XIII titled “Geometry STAAR EOC – I Can’t Believe They’re Testing the Whole Thing”.   To register for this course, go to , login or sign-up for an account, and search for Workshop # FA1224480.  Click “Register” at the bottom of the page to get started!