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A few months ago, I wrote about a couple of presentations I gave at MATSOL, an amazing spring conference.

And one of those presentations was about SeeSaw. It’s a tool to create an electronic portfolio of student work. And it has an amazing feature that lets you create a class blog where you can post the best of your students’ work. A little recognition every once in a while never hurt.

This year, SeeSaw is offering a chance for you to try out the awesomeness of SeeSaw and get a look at its extras. I get a month too, if you follow the link below. Here is their boilerplate letter:

Hi – I’ve been using Seesaw – an awesome, free digital portfolio and parent communication tool.

Sign up today using my link and we’ll both get an extra month of their premium features for free!


Let me know if you need help getting going – I think you’ll love it.

I do absolutely love this tool and plan to make it a part of my entire year. Can you imagine being a brand new student and having to introduce yourself, and then having to look at it a few months later, when you have more language under your belt?

Or, if you’re a kindergarten teacher, imagine being able to document student growth in writing or reading. There are so many cool ways to see growth over time.

What a way to build a growth mindset! I’m so excited!

So what are you waiting for? Give us both a month of SeeSaw Plus!

Anticipating getting stuck

51fnKYJ7AjL._SX374_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis summer, I feel like I’m doing a WHOLE LOT of professional learning. And a good part of that has been through book clubs and the like…

One of the books I read through the Jossey-Bass Teacher Ambassador Program (they give me free books if I review them) was called Turnaround Tools for the Teenage Brain by Eric Jensen and Carole Snider.

I was excited about reading this book because I teach at-risk teens. We are grappling with the issue of English Learners deciding that high school in the United States just isn’t for them.

And all of the mindset stuff that the district focuses on, all the proficiency-based learning lessons they want us to teach… none of that will do anything toward keeping these students at school.

Most of my students are former refugees. And they need immediate relevancy. The problem is that our entire school system is based on future payoffs. Pair that with the fact that all teens tend to need immediate gratification and you have a recipe for disaster. They need money, so they leave school to work. They don’t see any future but getting married and having children, and so they see no need to climb through the algebra/chemistry/health hoop if all they are going to do is something they can do right now by eloping.

So I need all the tools I can get to turnaround these teenage brains.

What I love love love about this book is that it is like having coffee with a trusted colleague who is giving great advice. They know their stuff. And I think their message has merit. Every chapter gives advice on what turns teachers can take to make specific headway motivating students to be the best they can be.

And it really comes down to us, and to knowing students and teaching them the way they need to be taught.

“If you don’t know where students are today, you’re teaching in the dark. When you’re in the dark, your students lose interest and effort drops.” (p. 78)

I am becoming much more aware of how much time I waste in class. I never have enough time. And maybe that’s on me.

I am a true believer that students can’t learn unless you know them and they know that you care. This is really the first book I have read that pulls that thread through the entire book. We are social creatures. And teenagers need the love. All of it.

Though I felt sometimes like the book was preaching to the choir, the authors did surprise me sometimes with something I hadn’t considered before or hadn’t thought about deeply. Reflection on my own practice is something I don’t do enough. And this book helped me motivate myself to move on that path.

Exactly what I needed just a couple weeks before I’ll be meeting my students at the door…



One of these babies was mine when she was in elementary school. We read together. She was full of fire and attitude. But so sweet.

And now she’s making a name for herself.

I got to see them last month at the Parent University graduation. And they were beyond awesome.

If you ever get the chance, see these girls. It’s well worth it.

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My project at DonorsChoose.org!

I LOVELOVELOVE DonorsChoose. It provides an opportunity for teachers to try to bring projects to their classrooms that otherwise would never happen.

I have written such a grant, one that otherwise likely wouldn’t happen. It’s really big, but I really so much think my students deserve this opportunity.

I want to have artists in my classroom next year. Every week.

And an anonymous donor has matched my grant by half… but only if I can find another $2,419 by August 22.

Now, why is this important?

Most of my students are former refugees. All of my students are high poverty. All of my students have low proficiency in English. And … they need a little time to laugh and learn.

Bringing art and drama into a classroom helps with that. This is learning like they’ve never learned before.

But I also want my classroom to be a lab to help local artists learn how to teach students with low proficiency in English. I want this to be a mutually beneficial program… I will work with artists to help them bridge language gaps, and they will help me bring an exciting program to my students.

My partner teacher Suzy and I did it two years ago, with the generous support of an anonymous donor at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. It was amazing. We built community across cultures. We invited tons of people into our room to talk about how life in high school is just so very different than the “normal” path for these students. And we laughed.

It was amazing.

So here is how you can help.

Got $5 you would like to throw at my class? Go to the link above and pledge!

Or, if you don’t feel like parting with your Lincolns, share my project widely. You never know. Maybe your neighbor, or your friend, or your boss or someone who is only marginally connected with you, might see this project and decide THEY want to give.

Heck, my section leader from my college marching band at the University of Kansas just threw some money my way! Thanks, Doug!

Anyway, I’d appreciate your help!


Loving my Mistakes

mortar-board-32277_640Today is graduation at my high school.

I get to see students who I have known for the past four years finally get that degree. And the ones I will yell loudest for are the ones who had the hardest slog.

I became a teacher in the United States in 2000. And I had some awfully hard students. I lamented then entering the classroom with so little knowledge. But my AP, an amazing woman who pushed us to try to raise the bar even when it felt like this was so much the wrong thing to do, said that I was better than the alternative.

These teaching positions in the Bronx, at the 8th worst high school in New York City, were not filled for long. Teachers who came quickly moved into positions that were in a less sketchy part of the city, where the students weren’t so difficult. What she was telling me was right. I was better than a long-term sub, who really wasn’t there for the long term.

But as I look back today, I kind of wish I could do it all again.

I didn’t really know these students. Nor did I know how to.

profiles_SalaamAlaikum_4250_935931_mediaI can’t believe my naivete, or my arrogance. To imagine that I was trusting a book with a pronunciation guide on how to pronounce “As-SalaamAlaikum,” rather than trusting the Muslim student sitting right in front of me makes me ill today. I still think about it. Even though it was more than a decade ago. Heck, I didn’t even know he was Muslim.

But today, I know. It’s a lovely greeting that carries with it such strength, and, for me, lessons of humility.

And I’ll be thinking of my Muslim students as they cross the stage during this first week of Ramadan (I know what that is now, too!). I’ll be reminiscing about the young man I was blown away by when I was working in an elementary school. He still credits me today as the one teacher who taught him to read.

And that is something to smile about.

I’ll be thinking about the Nepali girls (and boys) who stressed out so much about what to wear UNDER the graduation gowns.

I’ll be thinking about the Karen student who came to me for help on topics that were so culturally foreign to him that he did not know where to start.

I’ll be thinking about my students. About how much I’ll miss seeing them. No matter how hard they were.

And I will wish them well.

And I’ll pack along plenty of tissues.


I have been thinking recently about how I will meet the needs of ELLs who also happen to be introverts. We don’t think about those kiddos much. And we should.

Lee Ung: EDTECH Learning Log

I got asked a great question about how Project Based Learning (PBL) can fit introverted learners. This is a commonly overlooked learner population since most teachers are extroverts. In response to that inquiry I wrote out a series of suggestions that I believe can help adapt PBL to introverts (and ELL or ESL students).

Introverts make up a good proportion of my class, and, together, we have developed strategies to allow them recharging time and give them opportunities to participate. I permit students to turn in summative assessments as individual projects, but the formative assessments I give are usually heavier on collaborative work. The activities in my classroom are constantly up for negotiation, and my students feel comfortable giving feedback about specific lessons and larger units.

Ultimately I believe in Universal Design, meaning that a well-designed and appropriately implemented strategy will benefit all learners. Finding those activities that serve…

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My daughter really wants me to participate in a research project at UVM. I agreed to do my part. For the first task, I had to do an online survey that asked me my perceptions on how I treat people.

I always worry that I gave the wrong answer. Even though it’s asking for my feelings about what I do right now. I should know, right?

But here’s the catch. It had to do with whether I thought I was racist or not. It also asked questions about honesty. So have I ever let someone take the fall for me? Yes. Would I refuse now to have someone be blamed for something I did? I want to say yes. But under the right conditions, would I really refuse? So by contemplating these questions, I gave researchers insight into how parent of family No. whatever says he/she answers questions untruthfully, and then goes on to perception.

And then they asked me to do the matching game where good is on one side and bad is on the other, and you are supposed to click the right button as fast as you can. Then it’s matched up with race. Then they switch the race and the qualifier. And you can’t help but mess up.

Have no clue what I’m talking about? Here’s a blog that explains it better than I can. And here’s a Washington Post article that links you to the same kind of test.

Bowling AloneThe ultimate survey has to do with how my child interacts with others different from herself.

It hurts to think this way.

What did I teach my child? What kind of example am I setting? Was Avenue Q more than just a little right?

My husband got a book a couple of years ago (that he confesses he still hasn’t read) called Bowling Alone, about how we are as a society becoming more disconnected with our community. You can read an excerpt at that link.

But this cultural collapse does not reflect the life of most of my students. They are way heavily involved in their own communities and families.

And yet I spend a lot of time worrying about them because they are not becoming involved in the school community.

Research shows that kids who are involved in school socially tend to have reasons to stay. Those who are not don’t have so many reasons. Check out this survey. How many of these reasons can be traced back to not being involved socially.

And yet on this stupid survey that I just took, I was asked to come up with a list of 10 of my closest friends.

That’s the thing.

Very few people count in that “closest friends” ring. So I was supposed to list initials of 10. If I couldn’t think of any more, I was supposed to put XX. And then in the next part, the survey asked me to look at the initials and mark whether any of my friends I listed was black, bi-racial, obese or disabled. But because I had only listed 3… Best I could do is bi-racial.

I know more than 10 people I would call friends.

But not “closest friends.”

Am I being too discrete on my definitions?

And then I look at myself and what I hope for my students and I see that my social involvement does not reflect what I’m trying to magically make happen for recent immigrants who don’t speak English.

But the whole system is set up for those native English speakers. And if you don’t fit in that group, you miss out on a lot.

Dances. Plays. Sports. Clubs. Prom. Yearbook. School newspaper. And even advisories and our Year End Studies program that we started to mix up the population so we could bring more school spirit and community back into school.

But the thing is that just because you bring all those little horses to water, it doesn’t mean they will drink. We can plan whatever grand schemes we want to to mix up our populations, but it doesn’t mean they can cross those great social divides.

School has traditionally been the place where American students live and learn. Not just learn.

But school belongs at school. And home belongs at home. Teachers don’t regularly come to your house and check on you.

But that’s not the way it was for most of my students in refugee camps.

This system is weird. And daily I feel we are trying to put square pegs in round holes.

Film English

by Kieran Donaghy

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