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!

Student Voices: A Senior’s Perspective on a Unfamiliar Text, Using the Reading Process Paper


In today’s post I bring you another student’s, Ali (name is changed to protect identity), reading process paper. What is unique about Ali’s paper is he is a senior at my school who has never done this sort of writing exercise. What I particularly enjoyed about reading Ali’s final draft was the honesty he appeared to put forth as he processed what he was reading and reflecting on the process over all. Ali would be considered ‘high-flyer,’ so I know it might be easy for teachers to dismiss this post as simply showing off a great student’s work. But I would argue, while Ali had the tools to do this work already, we should not discount the metacognitive work he was asked to do. This is the sort of mental work Ali has not had to do much. He’s good at school. Some information comes easily to him; he meets deadlines, and he is willing to study for subjects he finds troublesome. Still, the reflective process the reading process paper demands was foreign to Ali, which he comments on briefly in his composition. Before you proceed ahead, if you need a reminder of what the process paper is all about and my commentary on Sheridan Blau’s work, go here and here. Continue reading

Student Voices: Revisiting the Reading Process Paper and Student Reading Identity


Today’s post is long, but I would go so far as to say it is also very interesting. Aida (name changed to protect her identity) is a student who was in my 9th grade English class two years ago and is in my directed studies class this year as an 11th grader. In both contexts, I asked her and her peers to experience what Sheridan Blau calls the reading process paper. I have posted about Blau’s work and the reading process paper in years past here and here. The reading process paper is a metacognitive exercise and encourages students who take it up to venture into reading an unfamiliar poem or short story and develop an interpretation of what they’ve read over several readings over time and space. The added impact of the paper is embedded in the reflective aspects of the assignment where a student will tie their interpretations to their experiences as reader in the past, in the process of reading a cold text, and after the interpretive work is done. I won’t detail how I set up the assignment here, but I will gladly share for anyone who reaches out for it. Rather, inside today’s post you’ll see Aida’s 9th grade reading process paper and her 11th grade reading process paper. I’ll add some commentary along the way. I highly recommend taking the time to read both of her papers and witness Aida’s growth as a writer, but maybe more importantly as a metacognitive thinker and the ways she explicitly and implicitly identifies herself as a reader. Continue reading