Posted in Angela Watson, Anne Podolsky, blog, classroom management, conference, connection, Educational Research, Hannah Putman, Inveterate Teaching, Learning Policy Institute, motivation, National Council on Teacher Quality, Nick Ledyard, PD, Peer-Reviewed Journals, professional development, resources, Student Achievement, Switching Grade Levels, Tara Kini, Teacher Efficacy, Teacher Happiness, teaching

It’s Easy… Just Like Changing Lanes, Right???

Teachers are expected to shift grade levels flawlessly, right, especially inveterate ones. 

Many teachers spend most or all of their careers focused on one grade or area of teaching. As this post and linked research will illustrate, they have a professional advantage in terms of effectiveness, happiness, etc.

As for me, I have been in the realm of teaching for 18 years now. I can honestly say that there is not one grade level that I have not worked with on some level, from preschool to grade 12 in the past 18 years. And truthfully, every grade level has been a pleasure – with its own advantages, disadvantages, and learning experiences.

However, that doesn’t necessarily prepare me for the specific life circumstances of my students, group dynamics, prior learning experiences/environments, ingrained behavior patterns, etc.

As for me, I have now been teaching exclusively in traditional schools for 10 years. Prior to that, I taught dance and yoga in public and private schools, camps, community centers, and independent studios. I was a“guest artist” in performing arts programs in New York City Public Schools, and a choreographer for public middle schools in Westchester County. I led children’s and adult classes in New York City at Broadway Dance Center.

So, pedagogy has been in my repertoire forever, it seems.

Continuously Shifting Gears

But in my current district, I have had three different placements in three years: reading teacher, 3rd gradeENL classroom teacher, and now 1st grade general education classroom teacher. And yes, I feel like my head is spinning with the constant change. I feel as though I’ve handled it as gracefully as I can, but I have definitely had the sense that I am constantly fighting to stay ahead and feel prepared.

Also, the constant shifting of placements and grade levels means constant shifting not just with curricula, but classroom management, positive reinforcements, timing of transitions and attention spans, etc. I’m not going to lie – my second year teaching third grade was exponentially easier than my first. Just when I thought I was going to sail into my third year of 3rd grade feeling less anxious about keeping all the plates spinning in the air, I again got shifted involuntarily. And so now that I’m shifted into primary, there have been some bumps and tweaks in how to approach all aspects of my work.

Current Research

In February 2018, the National Council on Teacher Quality published Hannah Putman, Nick Ledyard’s: Can Moving Teachers Between Grade Levels Actually Hurt Student Learning? And to get straight to their answer: unequivocally yes.

A Meta-Analysis on this Topic

In 2016, Tara Kini and Anne Podolsky of the Learning Policy Institute published a paper on the correlation between teaching experience and teacher effectiveness. The paper, a meta-analysis of 30 peer-reviewed studies in the last 15 years, positively related experience to effectiveness. Teachers tend to gain the most significant increase ineffectiveness in the first period of their careers, but the increase in students’ potential for achievement continues into the second and third decades of a teachers’ careers. (Kini and Podolsky, 2016)

Kini and Podolsky’s meta-analysis confirmed a lot of my feelings this year. Here are their findings:

  1. Teaching experience is positively associated with student achievement gains throughout a teacher’s career.
  2. As teachers gain experience, their students are more likely to do better on other measures of success beyond test scores, such as school attendance.
  3. Teachers make greater gains in their effectiveness when they teach in a supportive and collegial working environment, or accumulate experience in the same grade level, subject, or district.
  4. More experienced teachers confer benefits to their colleagues, their students, and to the school as a whole.  (Kini and Podolsky, 2016)

At the risk of being too frank, here are some thoughts, especially in regards to #3:

  • I feel like I hold myself to a high standard, and am a perfectionist. So my burnout from constant change is increasing, becauseI have such a strong desire to be incredibly good at whatever I do. No one can be “perfect” off the bat at anything. I crave time, support, professional development, camaraderie, and a less-anxious teaching environment.
  • My entire teaching career, I have felt so happy and excited to get up and get to work every day…until recently. I fear my devotion to this profession is going to dwindle quickly if I do not find stability. I am yearning for a consistent placement and hoping that the data continue to support the claims above, so I can use empirical evidence to fight for myself professionally.
  • Primarily because of substitute teacher shortages (is this going on in your district too?), I have been told “NO” to going to conferences and professional development (PD) outside the district. On several occasions. I have been discouraged from going to things, even in the summertime. I’ve been encouraged to rely on the PD that my district offers. You may know that I regularly present at conferences, so this is difficult for me. Especially since conferences are where I can “recharge my teacher batteries.”It is something I need to reinvigorate my ever-shifting practices. (I liken it to taking supplements to enhance performance, or a self-care regimen for invigorated teaching!)


  • I have teachers around me I know I can reach out to, if need be. My neighboring teachers in my hallway are incredible women who repeatedly offer mentorship, exchanging of ideas and resources, etc. I am incredibly grateful for them!
  • I have made a direct, clear communication with my superintendent about wanting to be a great reflection on her district when I am asked to speak at conferences. I feel as though I can reach out to her directly, and that she understands my desire to be a part of the educational community at-large.
  • My current principal (new to our building this year) is open to hearing my thoughts and is receptive to any concerns I voice.He is always willing to find solutions within his capabilities.
  • I have taken it upon myself to create positivity and community in my building, by facilitating a “Morning Mindfulness” before school every Wednesday morning. It is a brief, 10-minute practice to focus on our breath, become present, and approach the day with hope and openness.

Cutting the Slack

On my way to a conference just this past week, I stumbled on a podcast that is becoming a “game-changer” for me. It is the Vibrant, Happy Women Podcast by Dr. Jen Riday. I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately, but this one speaks to me in a way none of the others I’ve found do. There are different women who are guests on the program, and several talk about the importance of acknowledging that things are not easy, and giving yourself a break.

Now that’s a novel idea! 

So, I know that I must mindfully acknowledge that I am doing the absolute best with the knowledge, training, and resources I have at this moment. And that is enough. At least for now. I cannot keep beating myself down for the ideal in my head I’m not spring-boarding into with each new placement. I also have to give myself credit for being the only adult in the room, when many other teachers have aide support or special education/ENL teachers that push-in during instruction. I’ve been able to evaluate 18 students’ complete literacy profiles (reading level, writing development, spelling inventories, and sight word knowledge) twice so far this year, whilst managing a whole classroom alone, with only partial help on sight word assessments. (Thank you Mrs. Finney! You are a godsend!)

So maybe….just maybe…I’m not doing as badly as I am making it out to be? Regardless, the proof will be in the pudding. I await gains in student achievement, and only then will I know if my instruction has been effective.

Here’s what I’d love to know from you:

  • How do you manage shifts in teaching placements?
  • Disparate ideologies in your professional environment?
  • Feeling like you don’t have a professionally supportive work situation?

I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time… go forth and love what you do despite any obstacles!

Peace and understanding,



PS: You might also want to check out Angela Watson’s website for more on this topic! 

Kini, Tara, and Anne Podolsky . “Does Teaching Experience Increase Teacher Effectiveness? A Review of the Research.”, Learning Policy Institute, June 2016,

National Council on Teacher Quality, ed. “Can Moving Teachers Between
Grade Levels Actually Hurt Student Learning?” February 1, 2018. “Can

Posted in blog, conference, edtech, engagement, literacy, motivation, Nell K Duke, NFRC, NYSRA, PBL, presentation, professional development, reading, resources, teaching, Uncategorized

Brushes with Greatness…

Wow, it has been far too long since I have added to this educators’ blog. Now I know what my New Year’s Resolution will be!
Let’s catch up, shall we?!
I’ve recently presented with the New York State Reading Association (NYSRA), Niagara Frontier Reading Council, and Diocese of Buffalo. I’ve met so many impassioned educators around me, and made some wonderful professional connections. I was also fortunate to have my administrators attend the 2016 NYSRA conference, where I presented to a standing-room only crowd! I had conference attendees listening from the hallway! It was an incredible honor, and so affirming to the work I do in sharing my love for pedagogy, educational technology, and intrinsic motivation as an educator.

One of the highlights of my fall was meeting THE Nell Duke. She was a keynote speaker during the closing luncheon of NYSRA. Luckily, I had a spot up front and was able to hear her approach to usage of text in project-based learning, as it fits across curricula, and supports literacy skills.
After her keynote, she was gracious enough to let me have a moment with her. Here I was, rubbing elbows with a figurehead in education/literacy research… someone I quoted/referenced in many of my graduate school papers! We even managed a selfie and she asked me to tag her so she could retweet it! (And she did!)
Dr. Nell Duke is definitely someone I look up to as a source of knowledge and inspiration. There are two of her articles that particularly speak to me. One is regarding all the USELESS literacy instruction practices we should abandon. The other is in regards to vetting websites as viable informational text resources.
As a literacy specialist, the former particularly resonates with me. Having students look up words in a dictionary and write them out is a skill they should have, but only if the vocabulary is in their zone of proximal development. I use Words their Way (WtW) to fulfill the phonics/word study component of my Readers Workshop, and differentiate word lists and tasks based upon individual students’ needs.

(And I’d like to shout-out my son’s first grade teacher for giving me a treasure trove of WtW resources beyond the commercial materials!)

There is so much high-quality, research-based, accessible and useful information in Duke’s work. I savor it as much as I can! As a person, I found her so authentic, sincere, and dedicated to making sure the time we are spending with our students is being used as efficiently as possible. I know I have been inspired to use as much of my time in the classroom for instruction, discovery, and growth!
Happy Holidays to all of you. Thank you for continuing to read my blog, and I wish all of you a happy, healthy, productive 2017!
– Kirsten

Posted in blog, Explain Everything, flipped lessons, iMovie, iPads, lesson plans, resources, teaching

#flippedfail = opportunity!

Fail. Maybe not an “epic fail,” but still a fail.

F – First

A – Attempt

I – In

L – Learning

You’ve probably heard this acronym before, but it particularly came to mind when I had some tech issues this week, and needed to find an alternative way to create two flipped lessons without my usual means. (I.E.: I have created many flipped lessons before, but my usual pathway was blocked.)downloadExplain Everything for iPhone
For the first flipped lesson, I installed the “Explain Everything” app on my phone. I imported slides from my iPhone email, then imported them into the app. I was able to voice record just perfectly, feeling like my phone had magically become a microphone to complete my projects.
With naivety, I gleefully rendered the video. I uploaded the project as an “unlisted education” video to my YouTube channel. I then provided the link to my students, to enjoy the dulcet toned of my voice… until I checked the finished product.
The video was clearly made on a phone. It was a landscape-shaped image of my slides, smushed into a portrait orientation.  I could hear the wind coming out of my sails.
For now, the video is usable. But I will need to make some major adjustments if I am going to use Explain Everything on my phone to create another flipped lesson.
iMovie for iPadimovie__2013_
For the second video, I switched things up. I used the iMovie app on my iPad. It took some more trial-and-error, but I can see myself using iMovie more in future projects.
The one thing to remember if using iMovie to convert your presentations into a flipped lesson is to consider how long each slide plays and whether animating each picture or slide will interfere with the information on your slides. In other words, not having images “slide” while you talk should be a strong consideration.
There are many features I’m discovering the more I use this app, and I’m excited to become well-versed at all its capabilities.
Mistakes are Opportunities
One of my undergraduate dance professors would regularly remind us to “always look at mistakes as opportunities for growth.” I have always kept this in my mind as imperfections and surprises come my way in life.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to find new and wonderful ways to make my instruction strong and engaging for my students!

Posted in 1:1 devices, blog, BYOD, clicker system, Common Core, conference, edtech, engagement, formative assessment, inspiration, iPads, motivation, Notability, PBL, PD, presentation, professional development, reading, resources, Schoology, teaching

Musings on the First Year in a 1:1 iPad Classroom

Over two years ago, the faculty at my school were all given iPads. We had several professional development sessions to help integrate technology into our repertoire. But that was only the “amuse-bouche.” For educational technology enthusiasts such as myself, I was anxious to see how a 1:1 program would push my instruction.
I also knew there would be a learning curve. Looking back on the first year, I put together my thoughts on what worked and what didn’t. So here are my thoughts on last year – my first full year with 1:1 iPads.
I teach ninth graders. They often have one foot in middle school, and one foot in high school. The students they are in September are vastly different than the students they are by the following June. Some of them are extremely tech savvy, and blow me away with their ability to administrate their high school courses electronically. Others strugedutech-green1gle with the distraction the iPads present.
Although distractions are inevitable, the past year taught me how to manage and minimize them.The following are my reflections on the learning curve for the past school year:
Musings on My First Year in a 1:1 iPad Classroom

  1. “The Honeymoon Phase”
  2. Engagement vs. Distraction
  3. Learning Styles
  4. The Case about Handwriting
  5. Classroom Management
  6. Fostering Engagement through Rigor + Metacognition
  7. Assessment
  8. Selecting Programs and Applications

#1 – “The Honeymoon Phase”
If you decide to embrace educational technology, which I certainly did, there is definitely a “Honeymoon Phase.” You feel like you have been given tools to connect/engage your students to the content like never before. Then, you spend a year in the classroom with an iPad in everyone’s hands.
If you are an educator that cares about constantly improving your instructional practices, the learning curve that ensues over the course of a year with 1:1 devices is tremendous. You quickly learn that iPads are not a panacea for the disengaged. There are so many other considerations a teacher must employ once each student gets a device into their hands.

Probably one of the biggest take-aways:

Even though we are teaching students who are “digital natives,”
this does not mean they know how to use technology in an academic/scholarly way.

#2 – Engagement vs. Distraction
When technology is engaging, it is powerful! Students can be engrossed in a task, and one idea can lead to another. The world is at the students’ fingertips, if they are aware of it. It is important for teachers to frame expectations. Teachers in a 1:1 environment are not only teaching content, but showing students how to own their learning.
While technology is a limitless tool when used correctly, it is easy to use it incorrectly. Anyone can be distracted by habits of checking social media, emails, or simply doodling. Using tech devices in the classroom can be equally distracting.

Q: What’s the solution?

A: Everything in moderation. Choose tech over other methods when it is the most appropriate solution, but do not make it the only solution.

#3 – Learning Styles
We have all heard of Howard Gardner’s “Intelligences.” As an educator, it is important to remember that devices may cater to some learners, but still do not offer something for every learning style. Opening our awareness to this will help us diversify tasks and how we use tech in our classrooms.
#4 – Handwriting
Evidence points to connection between handwriting and learning. Most annotation apps allow students to write with a stylus or their finger (E.g. Notability, Evernote).
At the end of the year, I had my students evaluate my course via a Google Form. I was surprised how many said they still preferred pen-and-paper for certain tasks. Looking back, there were activities that I could have offered more choice in how the students’ work could be executed/demonstrated.
Again, students who are supposed “digital natives” can also be resistant to educational technology. I suggest training them on the technology in your classroom first with everyone else.
Although most students liked storing all their notes and information for their classes in digital folders, a surprising number still prefer taking notes on hard copy.
Once students have tried various methods for note taking, annotating, reading text, research, etc., they should still be allowed choice in what works best for their learning style. If they can tell you how they learn best, why wouldn’t a teacher capitalize on that. Right?
#5 – Classroom Managementteach-rebrand-ipad
Classroom management with 1:1 devices is the key to successful implementation of a 1:1 program. This is still an area of great development, that is quickly trying to catch up to the technology itself. You may have noticed that it is a topic of great question and debate at many conferences and online professional chats.
This is one of my favorite articles about classroom management with 1:1 technology. Here’s the gist:

  1. Establish expectations with your students and be clear and follow through with them
  2. Let the kids play a bit with the technology to “get their giggles/wiggles out” so they won’t do it when they are supposed to be on task. It will eliminate temptation.
  3. Only use tech if the task is engaging and the pace can be solid. It is not meant to be “babysitting” or “entertaining” your students
  4. YOU are the best app on the kids’ iPads! Use the “the two eyes, two feet app” – keep  circulating around the room. Once they know you are stationary – they will know they are being babysat and will start to go off task.
  5. Technology is not an all-the-time tool, and meant to be put away too.

Another helpful hint, which I am actually including this in my course syllabus this year:
Make it a rule that student devices should be flat on their desk. When not in use, tablets should be closed, stored, or flipped over. If students are using laptops, have them put their computers to a 45 degree angle while you are talking, or while not in use.

#6 – Fostering Engagement through Rigor + Metacognition
“Edtech” is not innovation. In the same way, difficulty is not rigor. Metacognition is the other piece I have learned to add into each task, in order to increase engagement and rigor. (See my previous blog post for more on this.)
Taking a moment to show students how to think about the task, open their awareness, and create a mindful group of learners makes each lesson I teach more successful than it would have been without the metacognitive piece.
Discussion, and having students explain things back to me are intellectually stimulating. Pulling ideas out into the “big picture,” pushing into the micro level, applying it to their experiences in life to ignite relevance all have shown to help relate to what my students are learning.
Increase of rigor is not guaranteed by these approaches, but more possible.
Choices About Process Elicit a Better Product

  • Choice within the content material is also an accelerator of engagement, in my opinion.
  • Giving students options on how they present what they know has shown to foster engagement in my own classroom.
  • This gives a confidence boost to the students who like to “swim upstream” – and allows them to shine.
  • As confidence goes up, so does one’s commitment to learning, and rigor is the by-product.

#7 – Assessment
Because of a large number of students, and the ability to quickly shift from one app to another, I did not allow electronic summative assessments. Instead, unit tests were completed on paper.
On the other hand, I fully embraced formative assessment on the devices. I included online quizzes for each unit on Schoology (our school’s chosen LMS). My students really took advantage of these self-checks. They were ungraded, and allowed students to review material covered, and check for reading comprehension.
#8 – Selecting Programs and ApplicationsiStock_000017827226Small

  • Play with a number of different apps that do the same thing, so you can find what is best for you (Notability vs. Evernote)
  • Download free apps and play with them, or have students evaluate them!
  • Get on board with what other teachers are doing, and share best practices. When multiple teachers use the same platform/apps, students are better versed on the program and can use it much more comfortably.

To Sum it Up:

  • Invest in the time and energy to get “up and running” with the technology
  • Know that you will need to reserve some class time for unknown tech issues
  • Give students choices
  • Novelty and diversity in tasks are key
  • Never exclusively use one methodology monotonously
  • Set clear expectations about tasks, and circulate to see that students are on-task
  • Make sure students lay their device flat
  • YOU are the best app there is! ☺
  • Engage with colleagues about how they use tech in their classroom

As always, thanks for reading! Let me know what you think, and have a great school year! back-to-school-hero