Graduating & Stepping Up to More

I have often believed that graduation was misnamed. I realize that graduation is the act of receiving a degree or diploma from school, and the chance to take stock of completion. However, to me, “graduation” marks what is to come. If I could rename the event, I’d call it “Stepping Up.”

At every grade level, and not just the transition grades, students leave us ready to step up and move on to their next journey. After nine months of giving it our all, they leave us taller, stronger, and more eager to lean into the next challenge. It’s their agency I see — their desire and courage to apply who they have become with us to a new environment. Graduation is not about what they endured, but who they are prepared to be. It’s their moment to step up to their new selves.

And what about their teachers?

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Wrapping Up the School Year: Ending the Year on a High Note

Editor’s Note: Read more end of year activities from Teaching Channel blogger Lily Jones.

As much as I love the summer, the end of the school year has always been tough for me. The classroom can become a family of sorts — complete with all the good times and challenging times that come with being a family. Although I always look forward to getting to know a new group of learners, it’s important to me to honor our classroom community and all the memories we’ve made at the end of the school year. Here are some of my favorite ideas:

1. Photo Slide Show:

Each year, I take lots of photographs of students. I make sure to keep my camera close during student work times, field trips, recess, performances, and report card conferences. Then, I compile the photos into a slide show with songs about endings (“Never Can Say Goodbye” by the Jackson Five was always in there). I typically showed the slide show during one of our final days of school and gave each student two to three pictures of themselves from the slide show. Students, no matter how old, love seeing themselves on the screen!

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Wrapping Up the School Year: 5 Reflective End-of-Year Activities

Editor’s Note: Read more end-of-year ideas from one of our favorite bloggers, Carrie Kamm.

The last days of the school year are ticking by. As more and more milestones get crossed off your list, you may be left wondering how to wrap up the school year. Last year I wrote about how teachers can reflect on their “shining moments” at the end of the school year. This year I’ve asked several teachers to share their favorite end-of-year activities in hopes that you’ll find one that feels just right to use in your classroom.

1. Advice for Future Students

Make a list of advice for future students by asking current students to reflect on the year and share tips for success. High school math teacher Lauren Collins says this activity usually yields a good mix of funny and serious advice, which she prints out and gives to the next year’s class on the first day of school.

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Video Playlist: Support Structures That Help Teachers R-O-A-R

When you think about empowered learners, what comes to mind? Lately, I imagine students belting out a Katy Perry lyric: “I am a champion, and you’re gonna hear me roar.” And yet, we know as teachers that picturing the outcome isn’t enough. We need structures to help our students succeed. This is complex work, but let me offer four components that I think are integral to building what I’ll call a “roar-enabling environment.”

Recognition: Teachers see their students as individuals and recognize their unique learning strengths and deficits. As students grow, their progress is acknowledged and celebrated.

Options: Teachers draw upon a wide range of instructional methods as they recognize their students’ varied learning needs. Students can take multiple paths to master skills and express their knowledge.

Access: Teachers present challenging content using methods that engage and make sense to students. All students benefit from a rigorous curriculum that asks them to stretch and do their best.

Resources: Teachers work with each other and with support staff to assess students’ needs and provide resources. When students have ample access to help, their confidence and achievement grow.

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Video Playlist: Active and Exploratory Instruction

I recently came across a fun infographic from We Are Teachers titled, A Teacher’s Guide to the Perfect Summer in 15 Simple Steps. Step #6 suggests that summer provides an opportunity for reflection — on what kind of teacher I am now, what kind of teacher I want to be, and how I get from where I am to where I want to be.

Watching classroom-based videos can help inspire such reflection. As you see other teachers and students in action, you gain insight into your own practice and cultivate a growth mindset. And specific strategies or practices from other classrooms can provide a path for such growth.

Below are 10 titles to add to your summer watchlist. All of the videos focus on active and exploratory instruction and spotlight what students do, under their teachers’ direction and facilitation. The featured strategies actively engage students in a range of hands-on activities, cooperative learning, and peer-teaching. These videos are from Success at the Core, an online toolkit designed to improve school leadership, classroom instruction, and student outcomes.


  • How does this video help me to better understand the teacher that I am now?
  • In what ways does this video inspire me to grow in my practice?
  • What practical strategies from this video can I incorporate into my own teaching?


The Big Brain: A Cooperative Learning ProtocolStudents in Barbara Cleveland’s class utilize a four-step protocol as they solve math problems in small groups. See how they discuss possible solutions, cite evidence, and review one another’s work, and notice the role that the teacher plays in this process.

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The Usual Suspect: Solving the #1 Problem in Argument Writing

I hope my previous blog convinced you that teaching argument writing should be your number one priority. Recently, I’ve talked to teachers whose students are practicing more argument writing. They are finding that many of their students are having success and can lay out a claim and provide evidence to support it, but teachers are still finding that the arguments are choppy and read like lists. What’s missing from their writing?

When we look at their writing together, it’s lacking the “usual suspect”: an effective warrant. In an argument, the warrant explains how the evidence supports the claim and often applies a commonly accepted rule or principle. Warrants are a challenge, even for college students.

Five Reasons Why Warrants are a Tough Case to Solve

1. Under an Assumed Name

Defining a warrant can be confusing because there are many terms for the concept of warrant. Some teachers refer to warrants as the “explanation” portion of a P.E.E. (Point Evidence Explanation) essay. For others, it is the “Mean” in a “Tell- Show-Mean” structure. In a DBQ Project essay, the warrant is, oddly enough, called the “Argument.” In our science PLC, it’s the “Reasoning.” Is there any wonder why students find this confusing? We need to help them see that all of these writing devices serve the same purpose, despite their different names.

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Paideia Seminars: How to Build Student Collaboration Skills

Due to the integrated nature of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), we have an opportunity to dive deeply into multiple literacy standards simultaneously. Gone are the days when reading, writing, speaking, and listening were skills taught in isolation. Few instructional strategies accomplish literacy integration as well as the Paideia Seminar. Paideia, from the Greek paidos, or nurturing of a child, is a framework that encourages the active learning of all students, regardless of variability. It’s something every teacher will want to explore.

What is a Paideia Seminar?

You’ve all probably experienced the Socratic Seminar in college, a formal class discussion that values the power of questioning in building shared knowledge. A Paideia Seminar is similar, but it takes the Socratic discussion to the next level, as it embodies important guidelines of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and aligns to the CCSS.

The National Paideia Center defines the Paideia Seminar as a collaborative, intellectual dialogue facilitated with open-ended questions about a text. If we break down that definition, you can see alignment to the UDL Guidelines and the CCSS. The connection between UDL and the CCSS is significant because UDL is explicitly mentioned in the CCSS (in the Application for Students with Disabilities section, as best practice).

UDL Guidelines

Click on the image to download this chart.

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Assessment Diaries: Feedback From Students

Assessment Diaries

Editor’s Note: Teaching Channel has partnered with Student Achievement Partners on a blog series about the new assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Learn more about this series.


How did students respond to the new assessments? What did they enjoy? Where did your students find success? What did they find challenging?

As we post our final blog in the Assessment Diaries series, we want to remind everyone why we created this series – to show how teachers value and use assessment as an integral tool in making their students successful.

A study by the Northwest Evaluation Association found that 68% of teachers think that assessments support students, but only 48% of teachers think that they also support teachers. This is, at least partially, reflective of how assessments have been designed and used in the past. But this series demonstrates how powerful formative assessments can be for teachers when they are consistent. The same study found that students overwhelmingly understand the value of quality assessments – 95% of students believe that tests are important in helping their teachers determine if they are making progress during the year.

As we look ahead to the promise of new assessments, ones that are aligned to what teachers are doing with their students every day in the classroom, we see an elimination of the dreaded test prep. The exciting lessons and instructional practices our bloggers have shared from their own classrooms will be the best preparation possible.

We chose to close the series focusing on students: what they need to be successful, and how they feel about the new assessments, whether they are consortia field tests or formative assessments aligned to the Common Core. Their reactions confirmed what we know: that new assessments are challenging, but daily practice pays off. Not practice filling in answer bubbles, but practice with the skills and concepts that will be critical to them in college and their careers.

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Video Playlist: Authentic Assessments

At this time of the year, there’s typically a lot of anxiety around summative assessments. What if my students haven’t learned what I assume they have? Before end-of-course or end-of-year assessments roll around, it’s a great time to check what students really do know. And, if necessary, made some instructional decisions based on that real data.

We’re excited to launch a series of videos that profile effective formative assessment practices. These videos, developed as part of an online professional development toolkit called Success at the Core, show students as active partners in the assessment process and teachers making real-time decisions based on assessment data.


  • How do I incorporate formative assessment practices into my daily instruction?
  • In what ways do I challenge students to demonstrate their understanding in real and meaningful ways?
  • How do I use what I learn about students’ progress as I plan my lessons?
  • What role do my students play in the assessment process?


Show Your Cards: Science teacher Steven English asks his students to utilize colored cards throughout this lesson to indicate their level of understanding. You’ll see and hear how he adjusts his instruction in real-time based on what the cards tell him.

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Video Playlist: Relevant and Real Content to Engage Students

The French origins of the word “Mayday” suggest an only coincidental connection between this call for help and the fifth month of the year. However, as any teacher knows, this is a time of year when distress calls are common. “Mayday – how do I keep my students productive and engaged in these waning days of the school year?”

For those of you in distress, help is on the way. This month, we are excited to launch a series of videos from Success at the Core, a professional development toolkit. This collection includes several videos specifically focused on engaging students through relevant and real content. These videos showcase instruction that connects content to students’ pre-existing knowledge, their lives, and the world around them. See students take ownership of their learning as they see its purpose, and apply it to new contexts. See teachers offering opportunities to apply content to real-world problems and guiding students to make interdisciplinary connections.


  • How do I ground the content I teach in real-life experiences?
  • What strategies do I use to help students assess what they know about the content of a new lesson?
  • In what ways do I design or adapt lessons to make them relevant to my students?


Supply and Demand Made Relevant: As seventh graders struggle to understand a supply and demand story problem, math teacher Mark Egger asks students to consider how the cost of items they purchase impacts their buying decisions. Notice how recognizing the relevance of the content helps students to build understanding.

Preparing Students to Read: Word and Inference Walls: Prior to assigning a new chapter of The Outsiders, teacher Cathy Farrell hooks her students by connecting vocabulary from the text to prior knowledge, and by asking students to infer what the chapter will be about, based on several clues. The vocabulary and inference work deliberately connects to cross-subject learning targets as well.

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