School Week Round-Up: Week Nine

Week Nine! You know what that means, right? End of the first nine weeks, or — end of the first quarter! Report cards!

LessonsI think my feedback issue is improving. I used Alice Keeler’s Epic Rubric script to deliver our rubrics to all third graders’ email addresses so they could see for themselves how they did. The first two classes, I tried to have them leave comments on Google Classroom with new, focused goals. For reasons relating to time management and scaffolding, that wasn’t working; so I made a Google Forms exit slip  for the last three classes that worked a little better for me.

I also had my first “substitute” of the year. It was actually only for one whole class, plus two half classes, so that I could attend meetings. And, my class was covered by a colleague, so not a true sub experience. (I have missed half a day so far this school year for a dentist appointment, but it managed to get done during my lunch and prep period so I didn’t actually miss any classes.) Anyway, I am sometimes a little skittish about subs; I have had a gamut of experience with them. But I told my colleague, “They all know how to get to Google Classroom, and if they don’t know, they all have directions by their seat. The directions for their activity is on Google Classroom. They should get their on their own, they should read and follow directions on their own, basically you’re just there to facilitate.” It went really well for second grade! It was a slightly bumpier experience for third grade, because there were more steps and expectations (that’s actually why I changed the lesson mid-week). But things got done, so I call it a success!

Support: My spreadsheet went over really well with my colleagues. So that was a plus. But, I felt like this week, I used up all my brain cells and energy during the first few days. By the time Friday arrived, I was running on empty. And that stunk, because that was the half-day set aside for us to work on report cards. There were some elements that weren’t showing up as they should have, and I couldn’t wrap my tired mind around troubleshooting. At least once, it was a simple drop-down box messing with me that I just wasn’t seeing.

Things I Did Well: I’m going with the spreadsheet on this one.

Things I Will Do Better: Self-care. Part of the reason I burned out midweek is that I over-scheduled myself outside of school hours. I need to be protective of my “me” time, sometimes. I am the kind of person who needs seven or eight hours of decent sleep a night and good food in my belly, and the way I stretched myself this past week, I didn’t always get everything I needed to keep my energy up.

Cold Prickly: 

We have gnats.

I think due to unseasonably warm weather. I guess our custodians were hunting for food being left in places it shouldn’t be, but I was noticing gnats everywhere. In fact, my mom recommended this gnat trap when I went to her house and realized she was struggling with gnats too. It’s apple cider vinegar with a dash of dish soap, and you create a paper funnel from the mouth of the jar or cup down to the liquid. Tempted by the apple smell, gnats venture down. But, wet, they can’t fly back up. They can’t crawl back up either because the dish soap on them makes them slippery. Not all gnats were trapped this way; others were flying around the top of the jar but their escape route was still blocked by paper. The above photos were “before” and “after” just one eight hour period. After a couple of days I had dozens and dozens of dead gnats in my jar. And now, luckily, the weather has taken a turn, so hopefully the gnats will go away for a while.

Warm Fuzzy: We had our Spirit Week this week, where we dressed up according to different themes each day, culminating in some high school athletes visiting us Friday morning for a pep rally. Though I loved Superhero Day (because, really, any excuse to wear my Captain America outfit), I think my favorite was actually Sports Day. If you know how non-athletic I am, you would be shocked, but my sister Rose — err, I mean Youngstown Tune-Up — started playing for Burning River Roller Derby this past summer, and I became a super-fan. I figured most folks would be representing football, baseball, soccer… so I decided to represent roller derby! I didn’t wear skates (that seemed distracting and dangerous) but I did borrow padding from my sister’s teammate Sophonda Drama. (I also borrowed a rainbow tutu my sister wore for a pride parade, because really, who can resist a rainbow tutu?). Kids asked about my sport all day, and I got to teach them about jammers and blockers and pivots. At one point a student asked me, “What’s roller derby?” just as our custodian Mr. Barber walked by. “IT’S AWESOME!” he cheered without breaking his stride. He misses the banked track, though.

So my thanks to Youngstown Tune-Up and Sophonda Drama for helping me become my roller derby alter-ego, Drisco Inferno. (A joke that most kids don’t get, but they still think it sounds cool.)

I’m Spreadsheeting My Heart Out, Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about using a spreadsheet to help me track student progress and identify reasonable goals over the course of monthly cycles. Today I’m going to write about how I am delivering feedback to third grade students.

First, I used Alice Keeler’s Epic Rubric. I tested it out a few times with my own email address instead of using student addresses. I’m glad I did; my first few tries would send the wrong rubric to a student. Chris would be opening his email and clicking on Trisha’s rubric. I couldn’t let that happen! It turns out, the spreadsheet could not handle as many students as I was entering. When I chunked them into smaller groups, it worked way better.

I also adapted the rubric itself. I didn’t particularly need the percentages or to display weights. Plus, if I wanted to easily copy and paste details from my central spreadsheet into the rubrics, I needed them to be horizontal and not vertical. I also tweaked some other things.


I color-coded the pants off it. If spreadsheets wore pants.

So I color-coded the criteria into three groups; yellow is for organization criteria, blue is for using evidence from the passage, and pink is for conventions such as grammar and spelling. To show whether or not they had met a criteria, I did the same thing as I had on my central spreadsheet: if I entered any text at all, the cell turned green, and empty cells turned red. And I actually just copied and pasted the “invisible ones” into it. In fact, once I had worked out how I wanted the rubric to look, I just had to copy and paste from my central spreadsheet.

The “comments” section is even a conditionally formatted custom IF formula. If the student got a score of five or less, the comment that appears is “Your goal is to get two more points next time.” If they got between six and twelve, the comment that appears is “Your goal is to get one more point next time.” If they got a perfect score, then the comment that appears is, “Your goal is to keep up the good work!” Those comments are all actually written in there, it’s just the text turns black when the conditions of the IF formula are met. The text is orange otherwise, and therefore blends into the color of the cell.

Then I used the awesome function of Alice Keeler’s spreadsheet to email the rubric out to all my students. And since we use Gmail and Google Classroom on a regular basis, it’s a cinch to get kids to dig these up and take a peek.

I think this will help my big student-feedback challenge. I’m weirdly excited for the next time we do a prompt!

I’m Spreadsheeting My Heart Out, Part 1


Last school year, my principal explained to me that she wanted to do practice prompts in the computer lab to help students prepare for the AIR test. This school year is the first where students have to take the test on a computer. In previous years, this has always been an option, and we’ve always gone with pencil and paper. So now we have to make sure students can transfer their writing skills from paper and pencil to keyboard and screen.

On the AIR test, students will have to read a passage; read a question about the passage, and answer the question with a typed response.

Not gonna lie, I was super duper dreading it at first. It sounded like the opposite of fun. But when you don’t have a choice about what you have to do, you still have a choice of how to do it, so I went with cheerfully. And if I was going to do that, I was going to take ownership of this whole thing as well.

We collaborated with other teachers on a rubric to use, and settled on one with thirteen points, spread across different areas: Organization, Evidence & Elaboration, and Conventions. We looked at the calendar and selected multiple dates to cycle this activity; that way we can make sure students continue to improve, instead of treating it like a one-and-done. I figured out the resources that worked best to suit my needs, my students’ needs, and my admin’s need: a combination of Google Classroom and My principal picked some passages and I wrote questions for them. And then, over the course of a week, my students came in and took their “pretend” test. Despite knowing it was “pretend,” they took it quite seriously overall. We gave them a paper copy of the rubric, so they could do pre-writing on the blank side and use the rubric checklist on the other.

Then I assessed all their responses against the rubric.

Then I printed all their graded responses out, and stapled them to the rubric sheets they used during the activity. My principal wants to share these with homebase teachers during TBTs.

That was all I needed to do. But it wasn’t all I wanted to do.

I wanted to see where students succeeded and where they failed in the task so I could plan future instruction around it. And since I was keeping a spreadsheet of their scores anyway, I just took it a little further.


One thing you should know about me is that I love conditional formatting. (Also I hid or blacked out columns with identifying information before taking this screenshot.)

So I made a horizontal representation of all the rubric criteria. Then I set some conditional formatting into the field: pink for an empty cell, blue for a not-empty cell. The not-empty cells also turn any contents into the same shade of blue. I just thought that was easier to understand, visually. Anyway, if a student got that point on the rubric, I typed in a “1,” turning the cell all blue. If they didn’t, then I left it blank – pink. I went across the student’s whole row like that. Column T was a double-check, a sum formula adding up all those invisible number one’s. If the number was different than the number in coumn F (copied and pasted from Edcite reports) then I knew I needed to double check something.

Then I took it another step further. The remaining columns towards the right are goalposts for students to reach in the next prompt activities. For example, a student that got 5 points of 13 in the first prompt needs to get 7 points in the next one to stay on track to be considered proficient overall. (We’re aiming for 10/13 for everybody.) I didn’t just pick those numbers out, either. I used a formula that helps with reasonable growth expectations. That kid who got 5 points this time? It’s not reasonable to expect them to get 13 on the next try. But 7? That’s do-able. But if they remain at 5, or worse, dip down lower, then I know that kid might need further intervention to succeed. And I can start that intervention in November instead of February.

Kids who got 2 or fewer on the first task, though – they won’t reach 10/13 points by the end by my formula. They need intervention nowEdited to add: My principal points out that, even if they don’t reach the goal of 10/13, a student who goes from a 0 or 1 or 2 to a 7 an 8 or a 9 has still made incredible growth that merits celebration.

Then, when I changed the view a few times, I realized that many kids were missing the same criteria. Not all, but many. So I wondered, which criteria are the most commonly missed?


I scrolled to the bottom of the data and, under each of the columns, I input a sum formula that added up all the invisible one’s in each column. So I was really glad I used 1’s instead of x’s in that moment! Once added, I looked at which criteria had the lowest numbers. So that highlighted 13 down there? That means only 13 out of over 100 third graders wrote a closing sentence in their response. (The pointer was in a different cell when I took the screenshot. 72 students used evidence from the passage and/or other sources.) So, closing sentences are a weakness for most of our grade, but using evidence from the passage is a strength. I can use this information to help plan my instruction, and I can share it out with other teachers so they can plan their own instruction and provide guidance and support.

So that’s the teacher side of my current spreadsheet mania. Tune in tomorrow to find out how I’m delivering feedback to students!

“What Should You Be Working On?” Spreadsheet (3rd Grade)

So I was trying to think of how to explain Alice Keeler’s Participate In a Twitter Chat template to a colleague planning to moderate a district Twitter chat next week. I used the template to participate in a #gafe4littles chat last week and I thought it might make good training wheels for coworkers just getting started with Twitter chats.

And it occurred to me. Why am I not using this for my kids?

I have been struggling with delivering feedback effectively to third graders in particular, given that I only see them once a week in the computer lab. It stinks that some kids fall behind in some activities (due to absences and other things), while others are ready and rarin’ to go for more. It’s not fair to hold either in holding patterns while I struggle to meet all their needs.

So today I made a “What Should You Be Working On?” Spreadsheet and posted it into their Google Classroom.

The spreadsheet was easy to put together once I figured out which kid fell behind in which activity. I copied and pasted my list of students from Google Classroom into the leftmost column. Then, in Column B, I put their “first priority” activity – which was both a title, and a link to where I had posted it before in Google Classroom. In Column C, I put their “second priority” activity, and I even had a Column D “third priority” list, though it didn’t go that far across for most students. The doc linked to in “Choice of Sponge Activities” is a simple list of educational fun or game sites I know the kids enjoy (that is also contained in the “About” section of Google Classroom). For the first time in five years, I was able to tell students they had “choice time” without several of them asking which activities were “allowed.” The doc itself also contained names and links, and no child who used it needed it explained to them after they had used the spreadsheet.

What was amazing to me was how little I had to explain. I feel like I showed it in detail to just a couple of kids, and they helped transfer knowledge to each other. They are already accustomed to navigating tabs, clicking links, and using their Google accounts to log into other sites. It was really convenient, because this class had a new student in it, and I needed to take some time to set up his accounts and guide him. I think the kids really liked it too, because it simplified for them what exactly they should be working on! They could tie loose ends on one thing, and they knew what they needed to or could do next without checking in with me first. It was very freeing for them, too! I am so excited to try this with the other third grade classes this week.

In terms of delivering feedback, I am betting I can adapt a spreadsheet even further to indicate to a student how successful they were at a task, or provide a link to feedback they can follow. I am not all the way there yet with that challenge, but I feel like I’m getting closer.

I feel I am definitely getting better at seeing something that works for someone else, and adapting it to work for me, my students, and my environment.

Birthday Calendar for Over 300 Students

I’m in the middle of a project right now. I’m creating a birthday calendar in my classroom… that includes every student in my school. There are over three hundred students in my school, so this is a bit, uh, time-consuming.

I decided I wanted to do this on the first day of school. Not before the first day of school, which would have been convenient. I would have been able to spend hours on it before kids ever showed up. But I didn’t have the idea until I actually saw bodies in the seats.

So that’s one thing.

Another thing is that time always seems to be at a premium. We only have so much time in school to accomplish so much. Only nine months to meet all the standards. Only nine weeks in a quarter. Only five days in a week. Only seven and a half hours each day. Only fifty or ninety minutes for this lesson. And only fifty or so minutes to plan and prepare and grade and record and meet with your team in each day.

To summarize:



There’s a certain pressure to work quickly, get things done. Often, the tasks a teacher does are time-sensitive. Grades aren’t meaningful feedback unless they make it back to the student quickly. We need to meet to plan our lessons for the whole week. I need these copies for next period. I know this pressure isn’t exclusive to the teaching profession, either. There are many industries where working quickly is the norm. There are industries where working as fast as possible is the basis for that industry.

But me? Given a choice, I like to do things slowly.

can do things quickly. I just don’t like to. I get up early so I can wake up by lingering over a cup of coffee. When I don’t have other plans, I stay late and work at school, because then I don’t have to worry about when the next bell rings. I’ve taken to walking to school instead of driving as often as possible, because even though it takes five times longer, there’s something I just like about moving slow.

I would not do well in a rat race.

So I’m working on this birthday calendar. I wanted to display it for several reasons:

  • Once it was up, I could mostly leave it up, updating bits every so often. But not changing it entirely through seasons. This is valuable to me because I am not into seasonal decorations. Also, putting up decorations on walls in my lab is tricky business that usually involves being on top of the same tables as the computers. I usually wait until after school to do this because I don’t want kids to see me do something that they would get into so much trouble for doing themselves.
  • It would make it pretty easy for students and teachers to double-check birthdays pretty quickly, which is important in the lab because student birthdays are part of their usernames. (It’s a little shocking how many of our students don’t know their birthdays.)
  • It would make it pretty easy for students who help do morning announcements to check for birthdays, even if I’m not there.

I had started a version the first week of school. This is the version I originally had up:

This was the “good enough… for now” version. I wanted to get something up but I knew my idea was not perfect. But, knowing the way my creativity works, my idea would not be perfect unless I tried a version out first. I rarely have a great idea that works perfectly off the bat. I try something, I reflect on it, and I revise it. I frequently need to test drive an idea to see what works and what doesn’t. This is not something I like about the “fast as possible” pace I sometimes fall into. When you’re trying to work as fast as possible all the time, reflection gets skipped and revision suffers for it.


My original birthday calendar had all 12 months, birthdays represented vertically underneath. I didn’t want to do calendar-style posters because I did not want to buy 12 posters, nor did I want to make them. I instead hand-wrote student names (first name and last initial), birthdays, and homeroom teachers on little index card-sized slips I had printed out, then cut.

You’ll notice that there’s not a lot of uniformity in how I arranged them. That was admittedly a rush job. I put the birthdays in chronological order, with the ones early in the month at the top and the ones late in the month at the bottom. I intentionally left spaces and gaps based on days skipped. I also wanted there to be room to add more students in when kids inevitably transfer in during the school year. (Similarly, I wanted them to be easy to remove, if students moved away. We have a fair bit of this in our district.)

But the arrangement wasn’t very informative, graphically, though I did try to arrange them with some sort of… artiness. So quickly after that version went up, I decided to start working on a new version. First, I created a birthday spreadsheet. This was actually pretty easy, since I already had access to student usernames… and since birthdays are part of student usernames, I also had access to student birthdays. And a spreadsheet is something I could work on in short bursts over several days without losing momentum.

Working on a tedious, repetitive spreadsheet is a little like taking a shower. It’s a monotonous task during which your conscious brain can coast on autopilot, freeing your unconscious mind up for some creative flashes. While working on that spreadsheet, my brain stormed, trying to decide the best way to display birthday information in a way that was meaningful to students.

For some reason the phrase “frequency table” popped into my head. I didn’t quite remember what that was, so I looked it up. It was not a good fit for my graph. But it did lead me to dot plots, which then led me to line plots. A line plot! This is something I know comes up in our math curriculum!

So I decided to make a sort of line plot for each month. It wouldn’t be exactly like a classic line plot should look, but it would convey the information in a way that was easily understood. I went to Teachers Pay Teachers and found some label templates I didn’t hate. (Perhaps I hate decorative talent because I do not possess any decorative talent. The green-eyed monster mocks the meat it feeds on.)

I printed, I laminated, and I used the paper cutter. I used only one prep period to do this, but only because I stayed several hours late last Thursday and Friday working on this as well. Even then, I actually only have finished up through June. I intend to get July through December up this week, hopefully Monday and Tuesday.

But I’m pretty proud of what I’ve done so far.

I printed out color-coded month name labels. I printed out black and white numbers for dates (there were many more of those, I didn’t think they needed to be in color). I used a yardstick to help me measure and align these directly onto the wall. The yardstick was light enough that I even stuck it to the wall as I worked. Once I got all the dates in the month up, I filled in all the birthdays.



So check out January. There are several dates in January with no birthdays at all. But some dates, such as the 28th, have multiple birthdays. You can’t quite see it in this photo, but the slips all give the same information my handwritten versions did: stu20160909_180815dents’ first names and last initials, birthdays, and homeroom teachers. The only thing I would change about them at this point is, I would have made the font bold so it was easier to read from further away.

The template I used was one with ten labels per page, so the birthday slips were about one inch tall. So I left about five inches of space between rows of dates. This is because, when I consulted my spreadsheet, the date with the most birthdays (out of all 366 possible days) had five student birthdays on it. So congratulations to you, April 22nd! Visualizing data is fun.

So, I think this is much more interesting, and useful. It doesn’t look like a line plot, but students could use this calendar to create their own line plots. This, in addition to being able to quickly find their own birthday (for their username) or current birthdays (for morning announcements). It leaves room for adding new students (as long as they weren’t born on April 22nd!). I can also pretty easily remove students who leave without needing to shift other days on the calendar.