STEP 4: Checks for Understanding #blendedlearning #blendchat #edchat

When I ventured into my first classroom, I distinctly remember the look on my students’ faces after delivering a boisterous monologue on the themes present in Lois Lowry’s The Giver. Mouths agape. Hollow. Lost. It obviously wasn’t my best teaching moment. My first year was full of cringe worthy moments, but this one in particular left me wondering what happened? Where did I lose them? How do I ensure all students stay with us during the lesson?

According to Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey‘s book, Checking for Understanding: Formative Assessment Techniques for Your Classroom, 2nd Edition, “Checking for understanding is part of a formative assessment system in which teachers identify learning goals, provide students feedback, and then plan instruction based on students’ errors and misconceptions.”

In those early years, I would ask, “Does anyone have any questions?” “Does everyone understand?” I assumed the silence meant we were all on the same page.  I wasn’t providing an opportunity for every student to share their thoughts. I failed to see the importance of hearing everyone’s voice and offering a platform for their thinking to be visible to others. How do we know students have reached their goals? Do we provide opportunities for them to demonstrate their understanding during the lesson?

How to Check for Understanding:

1) Google Forms – create online quizzes or surveys. Post a link to the Google Form on your LMS platform (Schoology, Google Classroom, or your website).

2) Pear Deck – pairs with Google Slides to make your slide shows interactive. You embed multiple choice, true false, short answer questions within your slide show and students join the it by following a link on their device and adding a specific code. The student responses show up immediately.

3) Kahoot – create online quizzes in a “game show” platform. Once you create a quiz, post a link to Kahoot on your LMS platform. Once students land on Kahoot, they join the quiz through a code generated after the quiz is created.

1) Conferences – If you have the time, one on one conferences are one of the best ways to check for understanding. Not only does it provide valuable insight into the student’s thinking, but it’s also an opportunity to build a trusting relationship with a student.

2) Self-Assessment Cards -I found this strategy on the Upper Elementary Snapshots blog. Students hold a card to show they need help (orange card), to show they’re still working independently without the need for help as of now (purple card), or they’re understanding the lesson and nearing completion (green card).

3) Paper Exit Tickets – The classic paper method. Before I moved to a Learning Management System, I had students write down the goal at the beginning of the class, copy a question from the board toward the end of class, complete the question and hand it to me as they walked out the door.

4) White Boards – If you have a tiny white board for each student (maybe a sheet of paper if you don’t), students answer a short question by writing the answer on the white board. You can pull the ones who are not understanding the lesson into a small group for a reteaching.

Why Check for Understanding:

1) Goal checking – Students need to know what they’re doing, how they’re going to do it, and why they’re doing it. One reason for doing any of the aforementioned online/face-to-face strategies is to ensure every student understands the purpose of the lesson.

2) Student Feedback – Instead of gazing across a sea of lost students, let’s get them involved in the learning process and provide opportunities for them to share their ideas and thoughts. It’s not just about assessing how they perform on the end-of-unit test but rather how their understanding the concepts along the way so we can plan our lessons accordingly.

3) Instructional Impact – We need to use the feedback we receive from students to change our instruction. Once we know what students are or are not understanding, we can begin to differentiate our instruction to meet their needs.

**One of the best options for learning about Checks for Understanding and the resource from where I learned the most:

Why Check for Understanding? . (2019). Retrieved 2 April 2019, from

STEP 3 – Instruction through Screencasts – #blendedlearning #blendchat #edchat

Early in the process of creating a blended learning environment, I felt anchored to my board to reteach specific skills repeatedly. Students would miss a small step, forget exactly where to click, or just simply not hear some of the steps of the process. Minutes were wasted reteaching students how to log into Google, how to find the Google Classroom, how to save pictures to their computer, etc. Some students were growing frustrated by having to wait while I spent my time helping others catch up to the rest of the class. I tried “chunking,” or teaching in front of the class for smaller amounts of time, to alleviate the stress students were feeling about how much they needed to remember from my direct instruction. I had students write the steps in their folders. Nothing was working. Everyone was frustrated.

I began to think of ways to support students in the same way that Khan Academy has video lessons or how you can learn to fix a leaky faucet by watching a YouTube video. I started by creating the screencast (run through it a few times before filming), uploading it to YouTube, and posting the link to my WordPress page. Students need training to access the video and watch it repeatedly if needed. Also, I use my Google Form exit tickets as a way for the students to inform me on what they’re confused about or what they need. I’ll use this feedback to create new screencasts for the next class period. Essentially, the students are driving the instruction on a daily basis. I’m able to differentiate my instruction to their individual needs. It’s been one of the more powerful tools I use in my classroom.

My YouTube Channel with my screencasts:

Free Screencasting programs:

1) Screencast-o-matic – screen recorder and video editor

2) Screencastify – screen recorder specifically for the Chrome web browser

3) CamStudio – for Windows machines

4) Show Me –  for iPads

5) Lensoo Create – for Android devices

According to Jacqui Murray of, here are some tips to make screencasting easier:

  • Keep screencasts short—a couple of minutes.
  • Prepare with notes, storyboards, or a mock-up.
  • Speak conversationally but avoid slang, umms, and giggles.
  • Don’t worry about mistakes — you can re-record.
  • Don’t be afraid to pause the video during recording to organize your materials or collect your thoughts, then start again.
  • Keep on topic; don’t get distracted.
  • Use a simple background that doesn’t distract.
  • If your screencasting tool allows editing, review your video and edit as needed.
  • If possible, add titles, subtitles, and even links to the video to clarify necessary parts.
  • Share the screencast where students will find it — YouTube, class blog, class website, or another location.

Moving to Mastery:

After students watch my screencasts, they often wonder how they could create their own. Their curiosity led me to use screencasting as way to for the students to demonstrate mastery. They can be the teachers. Whether it’s narrating a Google Slide about Ecosystems, showing how to solve a certain word problem, or providing feedback on a well written paragraph, students can teach others using a screencasting program like the ones listed above.

Ideas for using screencasts in other content areas:

-Step by step solving of math problems.

-Students can record their presentations while narrating.

-Students can respond to a question with evidence from websites.

-Students can provide peer-to-peer feedback on a written essay.

-Students can create a “how-to” report.

-Students can create a story, read it aloud, while recording it.

STEP 2: Online/In-person Collaboration #blendedlearning #blendchat #edchat

As I mentioned in my previous posts, my goal for the next several months consists of creating a step-by-step instructional eBook describing my journey to creating a blended learning environment. In my last post, I discussed the numerous ways to develop an online classroom, or Learning Management System, for students using Schoology, Google Classroom, or a website builder like WordPress. It’s important to use these platforms to have students share their collaborative process with one another.

Why collaborate?

In my mind, collaborating within a peer group is the catalyst for deep, critical thinking and problem solving. It’s a skill students will use throughout their life. According to Sarah D. Sparks in her article in Education week, “The ability to collaborate with others has become one of the most sought-after skills in both education and the workplace.” It’s important for students to learn how to effectively collaborate face-to-face, but an online platform provides an opportunity to make their learning visible. Each student has the opportunity to respond and have their voice shared. They can document their discussions online to reference on a later date to write an essay, create a presentation, study for an exam, or just to further their exploration on a topic.

How should students collaborate?

1) Schoology/Google Classroom —  discussion forums

-Schoology has a discussion platform which allows teachers to post a question while students post responses. I typically give students a chance to discuss together (see 10 minute feedback system) and than give a written response to the question online. The students can access this online discussion at any time, which is where the real power lies.

-Google Classroom has an “Ask a Question” feature to incorporate online discussions. Again, I use this primarily as a way for students to make their thinking visible to others and provide a way to document their thinking/brainstorming for later use.

2) 10 minute peer-peer feedback conversations

I’ve used the following system to help students give one another feedback on projects, ideas, or assignments and also to teach students how to effectively communicate and collaborate (we often assume students know how to collaborate).  We use this system, designed by AJ Juliani & John Spencer, to give students an opportunity for face-to-face interactions.

10 minute feedback system

Time Description Partner A Partner B
0- 2 min Elevator Pitch Describe your idea, plan, or product Listen
2 – 4 min Clarifying Answer clarifying question Ask clarifying  questions
4 – 6 min Feedback Listen to the feedback without interrupting Provide specific  critical & affirmative feedback
6 – 8 min Paraphrase Paraphrase what  you heard Listen and clarify
8 – 10 min Next Steps Create next steps Help guide next steps

©️Empower, John Spencer & A.J. Juliani

3) Back Channels

Back channels provide students an opportunity to post questions during a presentation, video, or lecture. It works as an interactive “parking lot” for students’ ideas, thoughts, and questions without interrupting the presenter. Here are few I’ve used in the past:

-Back Channel Chat — a free chat room where anyone can join for free with a code.

Google Slides Q&A feature — while students are following your Google Slides presentation, they can ask questions or share ideas

Google Docs — I’ve used a blank Google Docs, shared with all my students, to ask questions or share ideas in the background

STEP 1: Learning Management Systems #blendedlearning #blendchat #edtech

Many posts, books, or articles about education tend to lean towards the big picture. They want to ask why and discuss large issues. I appreciate these resources as they provide me an opportunity to think about my practice and why my work affects students, but I’m often left asking myself how. How do I implement these large ideas? How do I find the time to create a plan to utilize these ideas? The aim for this particular series of articles is to help with the how. I’m striving to provide educators with a step-by-step implementation plan to create a student empowered, blended learning environment.

By blended learning environment, I’m referring to a classroom where the instruction happens face-to-face and online. The students can access the class materials from any computer with internet, turn in assignments, reference schedules, review discussions, and track their progress towards standards. The power with an online classroom environment lies in the students’ accessibility from anywhere, the teacher’s ability to personalize instruction for each student, provide feedback as students work through assignments online, and as a communication tool to the student’s parent(s)/guardian(s).

The first step in creating a blended learning environment is choosing a Learning Management System (LMS). An LMS is a web-based tool used to implement an online course. For K-12 educators, an LMS provides us the opportunity to have a blended learning environment where students can access the “classroom” from any computer with internet access. There are an overwhelming amount of choices available for educators. The point is to make sure it fits your needs. I want one that is easy to use (for me and my students), free, and allows easy communication to parents. Here are a few options I would recommend:

1) Schoology (free because my district pays for it)

PRO: Schoology allows for easy parent communication, gradebook, assignment feedback, Google App integration, discussions, and individual/group assignments.

CONS: Have to pay for the best features

     **I have collected a resources to help you get started with Schoology**

2) Google Classroom (all my students have Google Accounts)

PRO: Sends an automatic, weekly email to parent(s) with upcoming assignments, completed assignments (with scores), and missing assignments. Assignment feedback, individual/group assignments.

CON: Doesn’t have a gradebook

**I have collected a resources to help you get started with Classroom**

3) WordPress (or any other free website builder)

It’s really up to you which website builder you choose to use. Many of them have become easy enough to use without needing any coding experience. It’s a great place to start every class with objectives, links, assignments, but the students won’t have the ability to turn in assignments through the free site.

**I have collected a resources to help you get started with WordPress**

My blended learning environment

Original post:

Six years ago, I became the technology teacher and librarian for a ECE-5 elementary school. The move from middle school caught me by surprise. I wasn’t prepared for the needs of my younger students and teaching students the skills to access new technology became a daunting task. I failed often. It was frustrating to scramble around the room to view each student’s issues with their individual computers. Many days ended in exhaustion and defeat. I desperately needed a solution to teaching technology (or any content for that matter). Over the last six years, I developed ways to teach students of any age through the following steps of blended learning. I’ll devote my next several blog posts revealing all the listed steps below to teach effectively within a blended learning environment. Each post is meant to be a “how-to” guide through the blended learning process so one can become more comfortable with the process.
Steps to an EFFECTIVE blended learning environment:

1) Learning Management System

2) Online/In-person Collaboration

3) Direct Instruction w/ screencasts based on feedback cycles (matched with aggressive monitoring)

4) Online checks for understanding

5) Online feedback; face-to-face feedback cycles

6) Differentiation through online groups (via LMS), scaffolded tasks, student voice and choice

7) Inquiry based lessons