Category Archives: Classroom Management

Out on a Limb: Holding Ourselves Accountable

I had a conversation with a colleague on one of the last days of school that has stuck with me ever since. We were discussing classroom management (I had just posted my “Distracted by Tech” article). My colleague said, “I get so tired of listening to complaints from some of our staff. All I hear is what the students haven’t done or won’t do and what they (the teacher) isn’t going to do. I’d love to hear how teachers hold themselves accountable for student success.”

I write often about strategies for holding students accountable when using technology but rarely have I thought about my own accountability when teaching.

This post isn’t really about tech integration and may offend some people. It’s not my intent. My intention is to spur thinking for those who are stuck and frustrated and perhaps are thinking laptops and phones are the cause of the learning blockage.

Teacher accountability isn’t easy. It’s not about how detailed my lesson plans are or how clear my directions for projects are. It’s not about how much kids like me. It’s about how effective I am in my teaching practices. In a nutshell, teacher accountability means that I take a regular look at my teaching practices, my classroom management, and my personal pedagogy and see how well it is meshing with student achievement.

For me this falls into four segments:


As a human teacher there are students I click with and students I don’t. Some can be downright nasty to be around when they are wearing their armor. I find that sometimes I don’t WANT to get to know these students- but if I am holding myself accountable, I have to find ways to develop some sort of relationship with all my students. We don’t have to be BFFs but I do need to give them the same amount of time and attention that I give the “easy” students. Sometimes I will keep track of who I have worked with during class- then make a concerted effort to connect with those that are off my radar during the next class. It may take all year but I can usually make headway with even the most hardened soul.


I teach digital citizenry and it’s abstract. There are lots of “if…then” situations and quite frankly it’s a topic that often seems remote to students because these situations won’t ever happen to them- until they do. I don’t have too much trouble showing them in class why it’s important that they learn about it. What is difficult is figuring out how to help them change their actions. I’ve had success having students show mastery in the classroom and thought I was teaching well until I saw these same students in real life trouble for doing the exact opposite of what they learned. I don’t hold myself accountable for their decisions, but I do hold myself accountable for the fact that I didn’t teach the information in a way that made it leave the classroom walls.

Relevancy makes learning move WITH the student. My challenge is to find ways to make what they learn pop up as a behavior choice when they are faced with decisions.


Having a classroom workflow can make life so much easier. Many classrooms have this already- it is a physical workflow chart designed and agreed upon by students that indicates what to do when a student begins a project, is finished with a project, or is stuck. A large majority of behavioral issues and/or work stoppages result from students not knowing how to start their work or getting confused during an assignment. When all students are on the same page in the workflow, students can help each other move ahead.

(Spoiler alert. Some might be insulted here.)

Teachers need a workflow too, and part of our workflow has to be to move away from our desk. Relying on students to come to us when they need help isn’t effective or efficient. It gives us no way to start conversations, recognize good progress, or give the feedback that keeps students moving. Being on our feet and moving around the room keeps kids more accountable and helps us have a better idea of how they are doing.

Having a plan of how you will target those that are falling behind (and moving ahead!) helps with efficiency. Knowing where my students are in their learning helps me group them so they I can better give targeted instruction. I have often done daily seating charts so I can put students together based on their progress, saving me from answering the same questions at different times all over the room. Planning MY workflow helps the overall progress of the class.

Ongoing assessment

The days of the end of unit test as the only assessment are gone- thank goodness! We now rely on a number of kinds of assessments that allow students to show what they know. What we aren’t so good at (still) is the really informal formative assessment. Throw out the idea of the quiz- we don’t have to work that hard. Formative assessments that are quick and simple can give us a really good handle on how our students are grasping the material. Rather than expound upon the ways we can do this, take a look at Edutopia’s “Dipsticks: Efficient Ways to Check for Understanding.” You should find something here that will work for you and your students.




Changing Classroom Culture with Chat

Setting the tone for a digital classroom culture can be difficult. Students have one set of behaviors that they use at home (or on their personal devices) and one that they use, hopefully, on their school devices. For some students the boundaries are one and the same- they use technology appropriately no matter where they go. Others straddle the line…or don’t see it at all. With a conscious effort we can help them change the culture.

A great place to start is by using Todaysmeet in class. This backchannel tool is easy to set up, easy for students to access, and provides a good way for students to practice social networking in a “teachable” venue.

Here’s how I used it:

I went to a sixth grade classroom to help with logins for their LMS. Rather than go from desk to desk asking kids who needed help, I had them go to the TodaysMeet room. They were instructed to put their name in the nickname box and the message “I need help” in the message box.

The result was a list of kids that needed help with their logins. These are sixth graders and they are used to towing the line, so we had no inappropriate responses. The task for the tool was specific and the students could clearly see the purpose.

That said, in time it could be a great way to begin the conversation about how you present yourself online.

Today's meet How? From a gradual release of responsibility. My next step from here would be to use this as a way for students to reflect on their learning. A teacher could set up a room that was called “I wonder” and provide a place for students to provide questions about their learning.

It could also be used as a way to provide an exit ticket for students.

At some point someone will go off-course with their response. This is not a discipline issue! It’s a the perfect opportunity to address appropriate online behavior – and a way to begin the creation of an SOP for online discussions. Once this behavior has been agreed upon and practiced, the sky is the limit. Your class will be ready for tweeting, blogging, google+ communities, participating in global projects and all other manner of social media interaction with the intent to improve learning.


Distracted by Tech? Address the Problem, Not the Symptom

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked me to block a site. Truthfully, I’d charge people that want me to block all games from the internet a little more.  It would  fund my retirement nicely. It’s a problem that occurs everywhere- the complaint that games and social media distract students and make it difficult if not impossible for them to do the learning they need to do.

Lately the complaints have ramped up from teachers frustrated by students who are running out of time to complete work before the end of the year. They ask me to look through the students’ laptops and find out what they are doing instead of work. It’s tedious but it is part of my job so I do it.

Students have never been at a loss for ways to avoid work. This year I am seeing some old tools like Stealthy paired with newer ones like PanicButton. These are extensions from the Chrome Webstore that allow students to get around our filters (Stealthy) and hide webpages that they don’t want you to see (PanicButton).


The extensions will show up (unless they are hidden) to the right of the address bar in Chrome as shown in the photo above. I suggest you start looking for them.

ImageThe Stealthy button is a red square with an arrow in it. When it’s red, it’s off and the school’s filter is in place. When it’s green, it’s on and the student is using a proxy server to get around the filter. This will allow them to go anywhere they want. There’s no free lunch here- there are risks. You can read about them here.

ImageThe Panic Button is a red circle with either a target in it or an exclamation point. Both do the same thing- they hide the pages the student doesn’t want you to see, and replaces them with a more school appropriate page. Students can set the page they want you to see.

We CANNOT control the use of these tools. We can’t block them. We can make the students remove them. They are easily re-added as soon as we turn our backs. It’s less of a discipline issue than it is a sign that the student has become disconnected from the learning.

I’ll challenge you to think of these tools not as the problem itself but as a symptom of a bigger issue. Not completing work is not a new problem. It is not caused by laptops, phones, or iPads. Technology has certainly made procrastination easier but it didn’t invent it. All these tools are a big fat arrow pointing at the real problem- the student is stuck.

So why did I bother to point these things out? Because they are a visual that leads you to conversations with your students. When you see that students have installed these kinds of tools it’s kind of like noticing they have a rash. It certainly provides an opening to begin a discussion. I had the opportunity to chat with two young men this week about their use of both of these tools. I asked what educational purpose they served, and as you could expect they had a hard time coming up with one.

Both students are athletes. I asked them if they would ever consider working hard in practice when the coach was watching, and slacking off and doing something else when the coach had their back turned. They thought this was ridiculous! Why would they do that? How would they ever get better? Neither wanted to sit the bench, and they acknowledged that that kind of behavior would be counterproductive.

This made things too easy. I asked how they thought using the PanicButton was going to help them if it only made them look like they were learning. Neither could come up with an answer.

Here’s where the door opens for you as a teacher. Distraction, procrastination, defiance- they are all symptoms of the same problem. Disengagement. It might be disengagement from a particular assignment or it might be disengagement from school as a whole.  It’s our job as teachers to figure out WHY. It’s not about “who’s fault” it is. It’s about finding solutions. Forward motion is the goal.

I’m not a social worker so I can’t fix the big problems- but here are some suggestions you might try for the smaller ones. Keep in mind that this does not have to be done for an entire class- apply these as you identify students who could use them.

Reading issues:

  • Print articles students need to read. When reading gets tough and Facebook is on another tab, the temptation is to turn to the easier task.
  • Use summarizing tools like Skimzee, SummarizeThis and TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read). Some work better than others but most work better than not reading at all.
  • Remove ads from pages by using Clearly in Chrome or Reader in Safari.

Distraction Issues:

  • Not all work is best done on the laptop. Decide if closing the lid will be beneficial for students.
  • Sometimes GoogleDocs provides too many notifications about new email, chat requests, etc. Have students write in Pages. Pages files can be uploaded for storage, or they can paste their work into a GoogleDoc when they are done. They can also use WriteSpace, a tool that provides a black screen with a cursor for distraction free writing.
  • Have students turn their airports off if they don’t need the internet.
  • Seating. If you know a child has a hard time focusing, do not let them sit in the hallway or with their back against the wall. Give them a seat where their screen is visible and keep an eye on what they are doing.
  • Ask students to use tools like IAMSTUDYING or Website Blocker. These allow the students to customize a filter that will block the sites they need to stay off of as well as the times they’d like them blocked. Helping students learn to self monitor can be crucial.


  • Exit tickets are a great way to hold students accountable for what they have done in class. Some teachers start with a daily goal and ask students to evaluate how they have done. They don’t leave class without handing in the ticket.
  • Ask them to email a copy of their daily work to you. It will only take a minute for you to evaluate what they have done and know how well they are using their time. This is especially effective when you are doing a whole class video. gives you an easy way to do this.

If you’ve been in the classroom any time at all, you already have a hefty toolbox of strategies to help students. When you look at the behavior with technology as a symptom it makes it easier to put together a set of strategies to get your students moving ahead.



Using Video for Critical Thinking

Today a colleague asked me to resend a link for a site that offers free documentaries. He was talking about DocumentaryTube, a well organized site offering free documentaries on demand. He might also have meant YouTube’s Documentary section, with a mixture of free and low priced videos available. I’ll also toss Snagfilms in there, and of course I’ll send him to my go-to guy Richard Byrne and his FreeTech4Teachers entry on the Best Free Documentary Websites.

I won’t stop there, however, because it’s important to reinforce the importance of guiding students when using video. Just turning it on and tuning out as you grade papers is a poor strategy- because it is exactly what students will want to do (ok, without the papers, but you get the idea). Using video in the classroom is a GREAT way to help students practice their critical thinking skills, but only if you give them a framework within which to work.

How many times have you chosen a video for class and thought “This will be a great piece to use as the center of discussions about a,b, and c?” You show the video and ask what the students thought about a,b, and c…and nada. Not a peep, except maybe from your top student.  It’s not that the video wasn’t relevant or your students slept through it- perhaps is just is too long from critical thought to discussion.

You can improve this by using some simple tools. All involve giving students prompts to think about or find examples of in the video. Then-

  • Create a twitter hashtag for students to use to respond to the prompts while the video is on. This allows students to quickly post ideas while they are thinking of them. Of course, all students would have to have a twitter account. You can create a classroom account for students to use if you wish- this comes with a caveat to also talk about acceptable digital behavior.
  • Use a backchannel chat tool like TodaysMeet to let students make points or ask questions as they watch.
  • If the idea of a chat makes you nervous, use a shared bulletin board like Padlet
  • Create a viewing guide to be printed or shared on GoogleDocs to help students formalize their thoughts or take notes

When students have their thoughts in print it makes it easier to go back and have the conversations you originally planned. The Twitter, backchannel chat and bulletin board tools have the added advantage of giving you the ability to monitor questions as the video goes along. You can stop the video and let discussions come up as they bubble into existence and thoughts about the topic are fresh.

Improve Student Workflow with Home Screen Shortcuts

Workflow has been the buzzword of the month. My task list today included adding a customized Symbaloo webmix to all of the classroom laptops. The goal is to help our elementary students get where they need to go easily without worrying about their sometimes weak typing skills. We also have iPads in the classrooms and as I was plugging away I was thinking about how to get Symbaloo on the iPads too.

Then I realized it-  I don’t really need Symbaloo for the iPads. Many of the most used sites have apps that are already on the iPads. The one stickler was the link to the library card catalog. The librarian wants to be able to use Opals on the iPads but the website is long and difficult for students to type accurately. The bookmarking system on the iPads is not  convenient for students with fine motor issues.  We needed a better solution.


Turns out it is SO EASY to put a shortcut to a website on an iPad home screen. Safari does almost all the work for you- and all you have to do is organize the resulting app-like tile onto your screen so it makes sense. I found a YouTube video that shows how to do it in 45 seconds.

This is what our library login site looks like. I wanted an icon to it that students could easily access on the iPad.




ImageA few clicks of the mouse and voila! It looks like another app (ok, it’s on my phone but it works the same on your iPad). It’s now moveable to wherever I think it works best in the lineup.

How can this work for you?

1. Many teachers have sites they use for practice that contain games or challenges for students to use. Create a folder and fill it with these “apps.” Or create folders by content area and organize your links that way.

2. Is your iPad too old to manage the newest OS updates? Often times new apps won’t run on an old OS. IXL is one such app. If there is a website available, and often times there is, you can still provide easy access to the tool.

Tech Integrator Tip: How to Successfully Not Know It All

I have to admit that I have come a long way in my 14 years of teaching and guiding technology use. In my early days I struggled to know everything I needed to teach, and to make it rigorous and full of depth. Usually I just made it hard and confusing- for both me and my students.

Now that I’m “of a certain age” I have given myself permission to “Not Know It All” and be good at it. Yesterday was a good example of it (and one that worked out really well) so I thought I’d share a bit of what happened.

I am a tech integrator with a degree in horse training. I’m a good problem solver and pretty savvy- but there is a lot I don’t know. So, in the past, when the kids and parents asked if I could teach programming, I put them off without really telling them them that I could sooner teach them how to build a backhoe.

This year’s Hour of Code gave me a chance to provide a coding opportunity for the MS/HS community.  In a nutshell, the Hour of Code is a program running during Computer Science Education Week. It’s sponsored by They provide tutorials for different kinds of coding that are geared towards kids in a number of areas. The goal was to get 10 million kids worldwide to do one hour of coding during this week.

The directions from the site suggested choosing one of their tutorials, going through it so you’d be familiar with the process and could help the kids, and then presenting it to the kids at the Hour of Code event. I did the first part (and discovered 30 years too late how much I like programming…) but decided not to limit them to what MY experience was.

Instead, I showed an introductory video (I liked “What Most Schools Don’t Teach“) and then had the kids log in. From there, they moved to a table that had the sign for the tutorial they wanted to do. Topics were varied- learning Javascript, Designing a Game, Scratch, and Building an IOS App among them. With this model, kids could work through the tutorials with other kids who were working on the same thing. They instinctively asked each other for help- and sometimes, because we had both middle school and high school kids together, the high school experts left what they were doing to troubleshoot with their younger colleagues.

Had I been the one who had to “own” the information, very little learning would have occurred- for ANY of us. As it was, each kid worked at the pace that worked for them, getting just the help they needed when they needed it it. I wish I could share the way their faces lit up when they had their (many) AHA moments.

I’ll for sure put this model at the top of my toolbox.

Helping Students Stay Focused

Today I had a text from a student who (finally!) has recognized that her laptop is sometimes more of a distraction than a learning tool. In her senior year, she has  ground to make up and she wanted  help to stay connected with her work and disconnected from the things that pull her off track. She asked me if I could block a particular site that drags her off course.

I’ve played with the parental controls on the laptops and have found that when it comes to blocking websites, parental controls do more harm than good. For some reason, the parental controls DO block the websites we put in…and then they go a bit further and block ALL secure websites (those with https in the beginning of the address.) This makes it nearly impossible to use the internet- defeating the purpose of the controls in the first place.

And truthfully, it’s important for HER to regulate her internet use. I can clamp down the internet but it won’t keep her off her phone or her friend’s computer. She has to realize that the power to control herself lies ultimately within her- but it’s ok to add the needed supports.

And so rather than take her laptop and do unnecessary surgery, I pointed her towards the Chrome WebStore. A search of the webstore produced a number of apps and extensions that students can use to help keep themselves off of distracting sites. Here are a few that I like:

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 12.03.58 PMStrict Workflow– allows students to block sites for a particular time period, give themselves a break, then block them again. The default is 25 minutes of blocking with 5 minutes of break, but this can be customized as the student wishes. It can also be set so that it only allows certain sites for a time period – for example, a student could ONLY go on a limited list of sites during a 50 minute class period if it was on that setting.

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 12.05.15 PMStay Focused – similar to Strict Workflow, StayFocused allows students to create a list of blocked sites. It allows a lot of customization- for example, there is a nuclear option that allows them to block sites or allow only certain sites, set the time, and go- with no way to cancel it until the time runs out.

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 12.05.56 PMBlocksite- like the other two, Blocksite lets a student customize a list of sites that won’t be allowed. The student can set a time to begin blocksite and a time to end it. In addition, Blocksite gives the option of creating a list of words that can’t be searched.

All of these tools are free. They are installed and controlled by the student.
They can just as easily  be uninstalled by the student. They don’t give teachers any control whatsoever- which is a good thing. What these tools DO give teachers is the opportunity to take advantage of a teachable moment. Telling a student who is addicted to Facebook to “just stay off of it” isn’t going to work. Nor is trying to watch their every move.  There is scientific evidence from brain researchers that says there is a chemical change in the brain that makes us seek the attention we get from others in social media. It’s OK for kids to understand that sometimes they don’t have the willpower to stay focused on a difficult task. I’ve used these tools myself to save myself from getting sucked into Facebook rather than doing homework.

I’m sending a link to this post to all of the students in grades 6-12. When the time comes, remind them that they have the ability to self-monitor themselves.