The Pro-D Flip

The Pro-D Flip

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"The Pro-D Flip by David Truss"

Since writing my 3 Keys to a Flipped Classroom blog post, I have been reading many great contributions to the discussion around flipping classrooms. Last week I was commenting on Lisa Nielsen’s thoughtful post Five Reasons I’m Not Flipping Over The Flipped Classroom and something occurred to me…

I have flipped my Professional Development!

I’ve done this with my blog and with Twitter.

Professional Development for me used to be about going to sessions on specific days and then trying to ‘bring back’ what I’ve learned and incorporate it into my daily practice. Sometimes this was very challenging, I would get inundated with new information and find it very hard to apply what I learned into what I did on a day-to-day basis. Often my notes would be filed away, not to be seen again.

The Old Way

Sign up -> Go to session -> Take (paper) notes -> File notes away (with intentions to go back to them) -> Repeat.

Now Pro-D seems to be different for me. The key thing is that I don’t ever wait for Professional Development Days or conferences to initiate learning opportunities. In fact, my Pro-D choices stem from what I’m already learning about on Twitter, and sharing in other learning spaces like my blog, Diigo, and

The New Way

Follow links on Twitter -> Dig deeper then blog my ideas -> Seek related Pro-D opportunities -> Connect to other participants -> Share as I learn -> Consolidate ideas and blog again -> Follow links on Twitter…


Now, Professional Development needs to change to accommodate a new kind of learning journey that participants are on:

1. Share resources, and make connecting easy, ahead of time.

2. Make sessions about action not information.

3. Use the skills of the participants (have them not just participate, but also lead).



1. Share resources/connecting ahead of time

2. Action, not information
  • Learning in Louisiana – I joined a team from November Learning to present to groups of teachers on the topics of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasting, PLN’s and other Web2.0 tools. Most of the event was hands-on with teachers having a lot of time to try the tools out.
  • Flat Classroom Conference – Beijing 2011 – We broke into teams and developed our own flat projects. I haven’t followed up with our ‘Reportizens‘ project yet, but I do think this is something I would like to pursue!
3. Use participants skills
  • EduBloggerCon events which include a ‘Smackdown‘ where participants share tools they like in rapid succession.
  • Edcamp – “…an unconference devoted to K-12 Education issues and ideas. A new kind of professional development dedicated to giving educators a voice.”
Putting these three pieces together isn’t easy. If you pre-load too much before hand, not everyone will come prepared. If you are all about action and not information, then why do people need to come to your sessions? If you empower participants to lead, some will thrive on it, while others will wonder why they paid if they had to help run a session.
You can please some people some times, but you can’t please all the people all the time! 🙂
It is hard for a one-hour session or even a conference to meet the needs of every participant. That said, I do think there has been a shift in expectations as more educators have become connected learners. For me and for many others, the Pro-D session of old can no longer meet our learning needs. We have flipped our professional development and now we want, we expect, to be active participants in our learning before, during, and after a professional development session.

[Cross-posted on the David Truss :: Pair-a-Dimes for Your Thoughts blog]

So Much to Write…

So Much to Write…

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And so little time.

How often we run into this time crunch in the world of writing and the teaching of writing. We don’t have the students write because there’s not enough time to get the laptops out, or there is too much required work to get done. And how often we don’t post a comment, or, gulp, a blog post, because, well, we’re too busy. But I say just do it. Make time for writing. Get kids writing often. And get them in digital spaces so they can read and comment on each other’s work. Regularly. Engagement, improvement in writing and community building will result.

Tonight we had the final meeting of the North Section of YWP’s master class in digital writing. Teachers shared their most successful experiences of the year and the discussion quickly gravitated to a fundamental observation: Peer commenting on their YWP digital classrooms had an enormous impact on the students — and the teachers.

One teacher polled the students about what they liked about the site, about writing in a digital space where they got regular comments from their classmates. “The thing that meant most to them,” the teacher said, “was getting peer comments. They really didn’t want my comments — they get those all the time. They wanted their classmates’ point of view on what they were doing.”

Another teacher talked about how she got the students to rate each other’s work on individual projects. She was stunned not only by how accurate the responses were but also how direct — they were not afraid to, politely, tell each other what they thought the other had done well and what they thought had not been done well. As the teacher was telling about this experience, another teacher said she now regularly has her students rate each other’s work — privately to her — and she then gives each student her grade and the average grade the classmates gave each student. Often, she said, the students were stunned by the grade given them by their mates. This was not possible, she added, when the students were merely writing for an audience of one and the rest of the class didn’t see each other’s work.

A sixth grade teacher had his class set up their rubrics for commenting. They jumped at the opportunity, led the discussion and established the guidelines for the commenting and even created samples for the rubric. The teacher said he had seen results: “I’m amazed at the incredible growth” of the commenting. He offered several examples, including this one:

  • Good job on the work; it was amazing. I never thought that you could go to so many places in just in one trip.  I have on question for you: How many days/weeks  was the trip? Also why didn’t you bring me anything? Just kidding. But how come going to the animal shelter was your favorite part of the trip and also going to your uncle’s was you favorite part of the trip? I am just confused.   I loved it when you said “Your heart was beating loud and how maybe everyone could hear it.” That was my favorite part.  I think your writing was great, but there were a few parts that were iffy. I hope you find this comment helpful.

What I find interesting about the teacher’s example is the tone: The care, the civility and the specific observations.

A high school teacher said that the digital spaces — and peer commenting — had allowed her to “set aside my red pen” and encourage development of ideas. She also worked with the students in her AP class to establish that “each comment had to be unique to that piece. The comment could not apply to any other piece of writing.” Gone, then, were phrases like “this is a great piece of writing,” or “nice job.” The comments had to provide specific observation. The teacher modeled the commenting but then backed off as the class took over.

One downside: One teacher said that early on it was sometimes “devastating” to a student if he or she didn’t get a comment from a peer. All had developed ways to encourage, require, cajole, trick the kids into making sure everyone received comments and that students did not comment on only friends’ work. Among them: A shared responsibility — if anyone didn’t get a comment on an assignment, everyone’s grade would be reduced. Another told the students that she would not grade any of the work if he saw a piece did not have a comment. And still another teacher got the class to buy into full commenting coverage as a shared responsibility.

In last night’s session there was a consensus among the 15 teachers in class: Their students’ writing had improved as a direct result of regular peer feedback something only possible in a digital space.

Geoffrey Gevalt is founder of Young Writers Project, a small nonprofit in Vermont that works with hundreds of teachers and thousands of students in an effort to improve students’ writing skills and digital literacy. To see the project’s work, visit or He can be reached at ggevalt (at) or 802-324-9537


Simple Tools for the Digital Classroom

Simple Tools for the Digital Classroom

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The hardest thing for teachers to do is make the transition from paper and pencils to online media: Not enough computers, not enough knowledge, not enough time and a whole new way of doing things. We work with hundreds of teachers in the same situation and we offer this advice:

  • Take small steps.
  • Find a couple of tech-savvy kids in each of your classes to help.
  • Explore the digital world on your own.
  • Seek out people in the school or in professional development spheres to mentor you.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail.
  • Don’t be afraid if you don’t have all the answers – your kids will help.

Teacher Knowledge — Exploring, a few links

As a side note, there are ways you can speed up your learning with an hour a day, or, even, a few hours a week by subscribing to digital educator’s blogs (use Google Reader — click here for 5-minute video)or by, gulp, breaking into I use twitter to link folks to cool posts by students at our site,, but I also use twitter to follow folks who know a lot about digital education. As a start, you can follow me ,, but not to see my posts, but to start following some of the folks I’m following – many are leading experts. Their links and posts will help you explore what’s out there. (For a really basic video on what is, go here.


Student Blogging – Taking a small step

Lucy Gray has a great post here on November Learning which offers some simple guideposts, apps and links. I encourage you to read it. Rather than duplicate it here, I’ll just say what our experience has been and remember our first focus is writing and our second focus is digital civility and literacy:

  • Commenting has been key to the success and the YWP Schools Project digital classrooms. As I discuss in an earlier blog, getting kids to claim ownership of this digital space will yield great results and the secret to that is to get them commenting on each other’s work and sharing work outside of school.
  • Some software makes it difficult to easily comment on each other’s work or to see other’s comments or it puts the kids’ work out in the blogosphere where it is unlikely to get any feedback at all. Develop strategies to combat that.
  • Here are some links about commenting.
  • A how-to guide on commenting.

A forgotten aspect of getting kids to blog, is ensuring they have:

  • keyboarding skills; a site that recommends good tutorial software for keyboarding.
  • Adequate computers and/or Internet connection at home; many students do not, and offering these kids opportunity to access school equipment is a viable solution. (One teacher up here is actually organizing a project to refurbish corporate computer discards and give them to kids.)

So with commenting as a key aspect of blogging, here are a few recommendations:

  •  This is not shameless promotion; we are a small nonprofit and we do not yet have the capability of setting up classrooms outside of VT and NH, but will be doing a few national pilots in the coming school year. These sites are best thought of as “containers” that allow teachers to assign, critique and track all student work – even that done on outside Web apps; and allow students to respond to assignments, give and receive feedback and incorporate any multimedia they want. (For the techies among you, we use Drupal.) FYI, one 7th grade class using our sites this year has 48 students and, in 3 months has produce 669 posts and 1,449 comments to each other!
  • This software is relatively easy to use and set up. It’s free. But it does take some time and effort to do right; can a school tech person help? ALSO, there is wordpress-multi-user that may be an option for your school; it is also free.
  • Also a free service for student blogs; good functionality in being able to encourage commenting and see what others are doing.
  • While you can’t beat the price and it’s a great way to get started, it is hard to administer and track student work; it is also hard for students to build community or offer a flurry of feedback.
  • This seems more oriented to classroom management, but it’s free and people are using it for class blogging.

Modest cost alternatives

  • This has a limited free offering — storage is low and some advertising. But worth looking at. This service was great and free, but they changed the financing model.
  • This was also headed in a very nice direction — intuitive, free — but recently started charging. Check it out though; has many fine features.
  • The free version really is not that useful — little storage, to name one drawback — but paid is relatively inexpensive and offers some good features.

In upcoming posts, I’ll offer you thoughts on podcasting, using images, video commenting, slideshows and other experiences from our digital classroom experiences.

Geoffrey Gevalt is founder of Young Writers Project, a small nonprofit in Vermont that works with hundreds of teachers and thousands of students in an effort to improve students’ writing skills and digital literacy. To see the project’s work, or He can be reached at ggevalt (at) or 802-324-9537

Simple Communication Tools for Schools

Simple Communication Tools for Schools

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This is a follow up to my blog post at the end of November urging educators to improve communication with their students and their families. I contend that publishing basic class information gives parents a window into your classroom and helps students get digitally organized. It’s now easier than ever as a plethora of tools exist to help people publish without a lot of technical steps. Creating and maintaining a class web site also does not have to be a time consuming chore.

Now that holidays are over and schools are back in session, perhaps now is a good time to explore a few recommendations of simple communication tools for schools.  The following are a few that are popular with educators; start playing with one tool that appeals to you and see where it leads!

One method of publishing is through bloggling. Blogs are made up of a series of linear posts.  The following blogging tools share many of the same features which include posting by visiting their website, through mobile devices or by emailing posts. They have design templates which are generally customizable and support the embedding of media such as links, photos, and videos. A few to try are:

Many teachers prefer wikis which are easily editable web pages. Wikis tend to provide more flexibility than blogs in terms of design. Most wiki providers give you a choice of templates and allow for the embedding of widgets which provide additional functionality. For instance, if you are a Google Docs user, you can embed documents in a Wikispaces wiki or you could use Google’s own wiki tool, Google Sites, to do the same thing. While you can usually assign multiple authors to a blog to create individual posts, wikis are better suited for collaborative purposes as you can invite others to edit your entire wiki. A few wiki services to try are:

To see how other teachers are using blogs and wikis, browse through the nominations and winners of the 2010 Edublog Awards and through CASTLE’s list of blogs by discipline and wikis.

Keep in mind that Blogger and Google Sites can be used by themselves or within Google Apps Education Edition if your school has adopted this platform. Wikispaces and PBWorks also offer no cost ad-free wikis to educators and Glogster also has a version for educators. Edublogs is also geared towards school audiences. Education versions of Web 2.0 tools usually give you more security options so that students can use them as well.

Edmodo is another tool worth a look and it defies categorization as a blog or wiki. Designed specifically for schools, Edmodo promotes the concept of micro-blogging and teachers can post easily to their Edmodo space on the web or using a mobile device. Calendars, assignments, links, files, and polls can be shared with students. Groups can be created, and educators can also connect to colleagues.

The selected resources mentioned in this blog post were picked for purely their ease of use and my intention was not to create an overwhelming list that might be interpreted as intimidating. However,  if you are interested in trying additional tools, read on.

Via Twitter, I asked other educators for suggestions of simple to use publishing tools and VoiceThread, Animoto, Wallwisher, and Audioboo were mentioned. Also, Larry Ferlazzo recommends various tools within his great list of his blog posts geared toward tech novices.

If you have any additional tools or strategies that you recommend, share them in the comments of this blog!

One Simple Thing

One Simple Thing

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One thing teachers can do immediately to benefit students is to communicate electronically with students and their families. There are many options for doing so, and depending on how much autonomy you have within your school, you might want to explore a variety of tools to find the best fit for you and your classroom.

As a former teacher and current learning consultant and parent of two school-aged children, my experiences tell me that clear and regular communication with families is really important. This may seem like a no-brainer, but in this day and age, it’s even more essential. Busy families rely on technology, particularly cell phones, for communication, and papers tend to get lost in the household shuffle.

At my house, we appreciate frequent electronic communication because my sixth grader has a mild executive functioning learning disability, meaning that she has difficulty with organization. As Julia begins junior high, I need quick access to her assignments and grades to make sure everything is running smoothly for her. While I hope I am not “a helicopter parent”, I do know that I have to be in tune with her school life. As a typical pre-adolescent, she’s not always forthcoming about such details!

Given that she’s my kid, it’s not particularly surprising that Julia thrives in a digital environment, too. I decided a few weeks ago that I would help Julia get organized electronically as she received an iPhone as a birthday gift. Experimenting with a web-based tool called LiveBinders, I wanted to organize her teachers’ web sites in one place so that she could quickly access course material on her new device. Much to my surprise, only a couple of her teachers had currently updated web sites. One was published, but contained the original Latin placeholder text that comes standard with Apple’s iWeb software. The teacher had yet to fill in sections of her web site with her own content, and Julia thought her teacher’s web site was in Spanish when she saw this!

I’m uncomfortable publicly criticizing schools where my children attend, and I have to say that in all other ways, we are really happy and impressed with Julia’s school. Her teachers are energetic, love teaching, and care about our daughter. I do wonder why more of her teachers aren’t utilizing the web more efficiently to help kids and their families, though. At her previous school, Julia regularly accessed the web site of her world language teacher who posted assignments, handouts, and audio files to support student learning and it made a huge difference in helping Julia learn to help herself.

It’s always been a struggle to get teachers to see the value in communicating with students and families via the web. People don’t have time, don’t see the point, and don’t readily see the benefits for publishing a web page. Some teachers I’ve known believe that posting assignments enables students to not accurately keep their traditional assignment notebooks.

When this issue came up with my daughter’s school, I felt that it was not my place to dictate what teachers should do, and thought perhaps I was missing something about this debate. Thus, I posted the following question to my Facebook page, and trusted friends and acquaintances from all walks of my life responded:

Do you think teachers should keep an updated web page to communicate with parents? Is it really that difficult to post a minimum of information to keep parents (and kids) updated?

The responses varied, but all agreed some sort of communication was essential. One teacher noted that she had less parent phone calls and email because everything was clearly posted on her class website. Another said she kept a blog, and the parents loved it, while a third indicated, “My parents, over the years, have come to depend on updated information available 24/7 as well as a way to connect with other parents.” And another teacher friend wrote, “When my son was in middle school, the teachers posted all the homework assignments to their district web pages each day. It made a HUGE difference to us! My son has ADD and having that information available 24/7 helped keep him on track. Now that he is in HS, there is nothing like that available and I really miss that.” Even a university professor shared how she’s utilizing the web in her courses, “I regularly use email, wikispaces, university course management software, and so on in my classes. I even use blogs to ‘channel’ student questions and discussion. I’m not the world’s most creative person, but even I can take advantage of these tools to make my teaching better.”

On the negative side, another friend who’s involved in the PTA at her daughter’s school wrote, “I can’t even get my 3rd grader’s teacher to answer an e-mail….The teachers in our district were all given websites a few years ago, and were expected to use them. I have yet to see one who does it…..I do the website and e-mail for our PTA, and have been able to track how well we are actually staying in touch. Very few parents check our website; site visits are virtually nonexistent between e-mail messages. In other words, they only go if I remind them, AND usually only for something they really want or need to know. In middle school, parents are expected to get online daily to check on their children. However, there seems to be no expectation that the teachers will update in a timely and accurate way–I am very disappointed in the fact that we’ve invested so much in technology, and this is the best we can do.” This opens up another can of worms in terms of expected norms and accountability in the use of technology in schools.

Finally, another educator added to our Facebook thread with a creative spin around the student role in communication, “What I do instead is frequently write lengthy newsletters and updates; I’m a familiar name in the parents’ email inboxes. I try to give the overall perspective on what’s going on, but not details about assignment due dates, etc. (unless it’s a really big assignment and parental involvement would be helpful). Every other week or so, I assign my students the task of taking their parents on tours of our class online network. There the parents will see descriptive student essays (blogs) on recent activities, photos, reviews of books, and the like. They’ll be able to look at recent conversations the kids and I have been having.” How about this approach for promoting student autonomy!

At any rate, to answer my original question, there really is no right or wrong way to communicate with parents, just as long as teachers do it on a regular and consistent basis. Giving parents a window into the life of your clasroom is beneficial for so many reasons and it doesn’t have to be difficult.

In a follow up post sometime in the next few weeks, I’ll suggest some ways for getting started if you want to go the electronic route. In the meantime, I hope that teachers who are already leveraging blogs, wikis, and other kinds of web spaces will share their sites in the comments in order to inspire others.

Student Ownership in Digital Classrooms

Student Ownership in Digital Classrooms

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Young Writers Project teaches a Master’s Practicum in Digital Learning. It’s yearlong, and we supply teachers with a customized digital classroom site, built in Drupal, that we refer to as a “creative management system.” The Master’s class focuses on having the teachers learn by doing; we help them fold the site into their curriculum as they go, and they reflect on what happens and what they learn on a private space on another of our sites,, that mirrors their school digital classroom. Teachers can see and feel what it’s like to be a digital classroom student.

I love this class. The teachers come from schools that are 220 miles apart. We have teachers from grades 3 through 12; some are brand new some have been teaching for 20+ years. We have two librarians, two science teachers and an art teacher. Apart from their different styles, experience, knowledge of technology and personalities, they have enormous differences between their schools — in terms of leadership, policies AND students. For instance, recently we spent quite a bit of time in one group talking about the startling difference between three teachers’ requirements for assessing student work. One teacher has to post data responses on rubrics for each kid once a week;  another has to devote 8 classes during the year for on-demand portfolio writing that is sent out for external assessment; and a third said, “I’d die if I had to do that; I grade them. And I write up my observations about their progress at the end of the year.” And knowing the latter teacher, I bet those are  detailed, useful, observant assessments. But more on that at another time.

What is great is to see the very different approaches the teachers are taking in their digital classrooms.

Two teachers in the class are a team — she language arts, he science. I’ve known these guys for nearly 7 years and this story should tell you what kind of teachers they are: Three years ago YWP held a kid-organized writing workshop on a day that had the most miserable weather of the year. And for those of you who’ve never been to Vermont, well, it ain’t no Arizona. Thirty-two kids came to the session (we had no power for the first hour) and the language arts teacher drove almost two hours to bring two of her students. (Her science partner was flattened with illness so couldn’t make it.) Oh, I forgot to mention, it was a Saturday. Why did she make the trip? “Because I knew how much this meant to the kids.”

So flash forward. The two teachers love the digital classroom. They’ve never used one before, but they are finding all sorts of uses for it as they go.  And their involving the kids in how it gets used. The other day, on a whim, the language arts teacher decided to create a tag on the site called “extra.” Then she told the  7th and 8th graders that they were free to use the “extra” tag anytime they wanted to post something they’d done on their own or anything they wanted to share; but she also said there’d be no additional credit, no assessment and she and her partner probably wouldn’t have time to read them all. That was 10 days ago.

So here’s what the 46 seventh graders have done: They’ve posted 52 “extras.”  Just for the heck of it.  (Some important context: This school has only one computer lab that’s in constant use and you have to sign up a week in advance. So these guys haven’t had that many class visits to the site. Additional detail: Last Sunday at 7:30 a.m. eight kids were logged onto the site.)  In 6 weeks, with only a few visits to the site in class, the 7th graders have posted 245 pieces of writing and 810 comments to each other. Er, make that 811, a kid just posted something.

Here’s an excerpt of what one of the teachers posted on her own blog in the Master’s class space:

Every so often, we have them work on a piece that is graded. Because we talk about the requirements for the graded pieces, and because we give feedback for pieces to be submitted to be published with Young Writers Project, students are beginning to understand the value of good comments.

So what does all this tell me? That these 7th graders are beginning to own this space; never mind that it’s part of school; never mind that it’s a place where they also do homework. And it tells me that this pair of teachers is allowing these kids to set their own course, take control of what’s going on and engage. On their own.

So this is further evidence that when you use digital classrooms, and I’m not talking about individual student blogs that are oprhaned somewhere by their lonesome out there in the ethernet, but when you have your students post on digital spaces where they can easily see each other’s work and freely comment, help the students feel like it’s their space. Here’s how:

  • Let the students post freely with no moderation.
  • Don’t give them the power to delete; they’ll figure out that in a nano second and will know that if they post something inappropriate everyone will see.
  • Lead them in an exercise where they set the rules for commenting.
  • Gently nudge them about the quality of their commenting (and model with your own commenting) until they begin to realize its true value.
  • From time to time, show them some of the comments and ask them whether they’re following their own rules.
  • Let go a bit; give them control on what’s going on and be comfortable with the fact you are NOT going to be able to read everything.
  • Create an “extra” tag.

So I appreciate these teachers and what they are doing. Their names, by the way, are Cindy Faughnan and Rick Schluntz and they teach at Hartford Memorial Middle School in White River Junction, VT.

Geoffrey Gevalt is founder of Young Writers Project, a small nonprofit in Vermont dedicated to helping students become better writers. To see the project’s work, visit, or He can be reached at ggevalt (at)


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