Observed in the Wild: Creative, Critical Thinking & Formative Assessment

I’m in San Antonio this week for the Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE) national conference. As part of my time here, I had a chance to visit CAST Tech a public charter STEM-focused school in the city. While the facility was remarkable in it’s design (it had removable walls and windows—like legos, y’all!), what really struck me were two classrooms I walked into. The first room was set up as a science lab, but algebra was the subject being taught. What struck me was on the wall beside the exit of the classroom.

Simple yet wonderful way to formatively assess students’ daily learning all why promoting metacognition!

The concept is so simple, but I know I have certainly never thought of doing it before. As you can see above, the teacher had posted four folders, color coded, and with clear visual and textual explanations of how a student may feel about the work they did that day. As an exit ticket, students could drop the days algebra practice into the folder based on how they felt they performed or understood the concept. 

I was struck immediately by how useful having papers already sorted can be for framing feedback for a student. If a student felt they did not know what was going on, but the work clearly showed they had at least a partial grasp on the concept, then the feedback can help redirect the student’s thinking of his or her own work. The same can be said for the other levels. The folders are also a simple but beautiful way to to promote metacognition among students. Having student self-evaluate daily is powerful. While I have no idea exactly how the teacher uses the folders, I can easily see how with some purposeful conversation, these folders become a powerful reflection and assessment tool for teacher and student alike!

The second classroom touted the presence of both a teacher and local business partners who were helping students learn and use UX (User Experience) methodology—an industry recognized approach to digital design, coding, and psychology. The moment was so exciting to me and my team, we are already brainstorming how we might promote this cross-curricularly and partner with businesses who use UX and have UX departments. At CAST Tech they are integrating the courses of digital design and AP psychology with freshmen.

To give you a taste of what caught our eye, take a look at the instructions from the video board in the classroom below:


Practical and engaging way to promote creativity and critical thinking in almost any classroom.

This protocol, strategy, instructional method—whatever you prefer to call it—was being used while freshmen brainstormed the creation of an app. If you look at the protocol’s instructions, you can easily see the how innovation, creativity, and critical thinking come into play immediately. Really, Crazy 8s could be used in almost any classroom where their is a problem to solve, a concept to be learned/understood, or an idea to generate (sometimes all three of those). What made this stand out even more were the business partners who were in the room with the students. While a teacher was there facilitating, so were at least three local UX experienced employees, asking questions and engaging with the students. 

As a lifetime English teacher, I would absolutely use some of this methodology  during a project-based learning experience or even to have students analyze the conflict and possible outfcomes of a narrative or play. The point here, really, is that we do a better service to our students when we recognize there is a need and space for industry practices in our classrooms. I left inspired to promote to core teachers to get out of their silos and cross-pollinate with other subject areas and businesses.

I suspect you will read more about UX from me in the future. In the meantime, I hope both the wall folder idea and the Crazy 8s protocol might be of use to you in your classroom immediately. Cheers!

Reflection on NCTE 2018

Attending this year’s National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) national conference was special for many reasons. For one, I missed last year’s conference, giving up my spot for another English teacher to attend from my school at the time. But certainly for another, reconnecting with scholars across the field, old friends, and, sure, that award did not hurt either. For this year’s reflection, I will share a few of the conference’s highlights for me. Continue reading

New Publication–Literacy Engagement through Peritextual Analysis–Out Now!


Thanks to my former professor, Dr. Jennifer Dail, and one of the book’s editors, Dr. Shelbie Witte, I had the opportunity to contribute a chapter in the recently published Literacy Engagement through Peritextual Analysis (2018, ALA and NCTE). In the fall of 2017, I worked alongside Glenn Rhoades to bring visual literacy and peritextual analysis to his classroom. Peritext constitutes what makes up the components outside of the text proper (i.e. preface, afterwards, index, glossary, dust jackets, etc.). We spent nearly a month helping students learn about visual literacy and peritext as it might relate to pictures and film. In the case of our chapter, Inviting Students to Exit through the Gift Shop: Reading Banksy’s Public Art through Documentary Film and Director’s Cuts, we specifically had student create their own mini-documentaries featuring their own digital, Banksy-inspired pieces.

From the ALA website: “Paying attention to subtext is a crucial component of literacy. However, the concept of peritextual analysis takes such examination much further, teaching readers how to evaluate information and sources using elements that precede or follow the body of the text. A work’s Preface, Afterword, index, dust jacket, promotional blurbs, and bibliography are only some of the elements that can be used to help readers connect with and understand the main text. Speaking directly to librarians and educators working with K-16 students, this important book outlines the Peritextual Literacy Framework and explains its unique utility as a teaching and thinking tool…”

The book and the chapter I co-authored is available now through American Library Association (ALA) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and will be featured in the NCTE conference bookstore this week in Houston, TX. See the linked title of the book above to navigate to the ALA store.

See You @ NCAC, NCTE,and ACTE!


I’ll start by apologizing for yet another long hiatus on the blog. Work in my office has been busy, but engaging and continually interesting. I intend to post on my new adventures as an instructional coach in the world of Career and Technical Education (CTE) soon, including describing some of literacy efforts and how my office reviews instruction and experiences in our college and career readiness academy schools.

In the meantime, November will be a busy, busy month where I will find myself in Texas three times for three different conferences!

ncaclogo2018First up is the National Career Academies Coalition (NCAC) in Houston. I’ve attended before and look forward to attending this year, especially as my focus on academy schools has broadened in my new role.

cropped-NCTE_FaviconNext is the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) in Houston as well. I will receive my Teacher of Excellence Award in person. Still feeling very honored to be awarded and recognized!

VISION-2018_1170x300Finally, I’ll be at the Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE) in San Antonio. This will be my first time attending, but we have a few of my district’s teachers presenting, so I look forward to supporting them and seeing CTE on an even larger, national scale!

Hope to see a few of you at one of these as well. Remember to follow me on Twitter @theprofjones

Building an Ethic of Caring in the Classroom: Winners and Losers

My Post (3)

See parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Philosophically, I do not care for grades, grading, or the culture both perpetuate. I live in a world where grades exist and grading must be done, so as my own philosophy of teaching has tilted closer and closer to the belief that grades and grading should be eliminated, I have learned to think about how to exist the system and meet the needs of students. Some scholars would be disappointed to see me write this as a researcher (Anderson, 2018), but more on this later.

Why this disdain for grades? The short answer is I don’t want to continue to support a system that inherently means some kids win and some kids lose. The catalyst for my philosophy is rooted in my doctoral studies. As I read more, discussed more, and explored my own beliefs about education, I concluded a few years ago that I no longer believe there is a real purpose for grades, and I personally believe they harm learning.

Today’s post does not really call for eliminating grading, but rather more importantly, I will advise on some practical ways to approach a classroom where grades must exist, but they do not have to define the learning. Continue reading