Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Human Compass and Level 2

We call my husband “The Human Compass”. Honestly, if we go to a place one time, he will know his way around there forever, even years later.  Even if he DOESN’T go to a place, he has a way of internalizing Google Maps in a way that makes it seem like he knows his way around --  even if he has never been there.

Needless to say, he drives everywhere.  (thanks, honey!)

Not that I’m bad at directions -- it’s just not my superpower. I’m just kind of average at directions. I can find my way to most places, sometimes with a wrong turn or two thrown in to get me there eventually. But you can’t just give me an address and assume I’ll get there on my own without a GPS app. And even then sometimes....

I could really use some support to get me from Point A to Point Z. Unfortunately, when my husband drives, I don’t pay as much attention to how we got there as I do when I drive. I tend to mess around with my phone, or talk to the kids, or play with the radio.

I feel like I could sometimes use some better instruction and practice on HOW to get where I’m going.  He can’t drive me everywhere. But I need to learn how to get there in a reasonable amount of time.  

Enter Marzano Scales.

Seriously. Don’t laugh.

I used to try to carry my students to their destinations, too. To level 3. I tried to talk and tell and summarize and carry them to the destination. If I gave them all the answers, they would have it down, right?

Turns out that if I gave them all the answers, they didn’t learn to get there on their own. They needed to experience how to get there on their own.

So, if you’re lost on Marzano Scales, here’s a review.

  • Level 4 is high-level thinking, even higher than the standard/benchmark.  In Social Studies, it’s usually the connection piece, often to real world or to another topic studied.
  • Level 3 is the benchmark. Period.
  • Level 2 is where we struggle.
  • Level 1 is partial understanding.

Now, let’s dig into Level 2 -- that’s the hardest part. Because that’s the “how do I get there” piece and many of us just don’t know how to get our kids from Point A to Point Z without US-the-teachers doing all the driving ourselves.

I used to get so mad at my students! I would test them at Level 3 and invariably, many, many kids would fall short. And I would yell (in the privacy of my home or empty classroom) -- “I taught it! Why didn’t they learn it???”

They didn’t learn it because I didn’t understand how to TEACH them to get there. I thought I could drive there and that they would just arrive. They needed to internalize the map. They needed to become a little of the Human Compass themselves.

Think of the Scales as steps.

It’s hard to jump from Level 1 to Level 3. Most kids need a step (or a few smaller steps) in between.

That’s what we call Level 2

And it was a mystery in my class.

How am I going to get my kids from Level 1 (WITH my teacher’s help, I can get some of this stuff) to Level 3 (I have mastered the whole actual benchmark)???

I used to “throw” assignments at my students --by topic -- and hope that one (or more?) landed in the general vicinity of where I wanted my kids

Instead, I’m learning to be more deliberate, more intentional, more ...targeted...

I’m learning to build better, more carefully-crafted, more precisely-measured steps.

If I start at the bottom (level one) and work upwards to the benchmark (level three), I want the first part of level two to be vocabulary.

But how do I move from level two to the language of the benchmark?

First, I break down my benchmark. If it asks my kids to compare and/or contrast, I need to a) make sure my kids understand/remember how to compare or contrast about ANYTHING and b) know about the two concepts being compared.  

Then, I need to make steps based on how to get my kids there.

By looking at my Webb’s Depth of Knowledge or my Bloom’s Taxonomy or my Costa’s Levels of Thinking (take your pick!), I can choose some verbs lower down on the hierarchy and work my students up from there.

For example: if your benchmark says “Analyze media and political communications (bias, symbolism, propaganda), you can start with vocabulary: media, communications, bias, symbolism, propaganda.

But then, you have to get them from vocabulary (which is define or identify) to analysis, the verb in the benchmark.

Maybe my steps include:
  • define media, communications, bias, symbolism, propaganda  -- THEN...
  • explain how and why bias, symbolism, propaganda are used in media.
  • analyze how bias, symbolism, propaganda are used in media and political communications (using both individual examples and big picture concepts)

If I am teaching “Compare the characteristics of the New England, Middle, and Southern colonies” my steps might look like this...

  • Define characteristic, region
  • Locate the New England, Middle, and Southern colonies
  • Explain the geography, government, and settlement of each region
  • THEN we can compare the characteristics of New England, Middle, and Southern colonies

Do you see how I got there? That step in between was a middle-level step to get you from defining vocabulary to analysis.

I have to get behind the wheel sometimes and do the driving myself. I can’t let the Human Compass take me everywhere. But I need a good map and some good, intentional, deliberate directions. I can’t get there with a general “It’s over there somewhere”.

Neither can our kids. They need a road map and really good directions. That’s step two.

How are you feeling about scales? Are you writing better maps and better sets of directions (i.e. Level 2s?) As always, email me and let me know!

And if you want help with scales in social studies, we have training coming up. Oct 8 for middle school and Oct 12 for high school. Email  your department head or our office for more info.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


The Wedding DJ

I used to be a Wedding DJ, as a part time job. I actually DJ-ed weddings for 7 years on Saturday nights. It was kind of a fun job -- everyone is happy and excited and trying to have a blast at weddings. It’s like being the wedding singer -- without the actual singing stuff. #dontgivemeamic

Other than introducing the wedding party and MC-ing the first dance and all that stuff, the hardest part was trying to figure out the musical tastes of the crowd -- which aren’t always the same as the taste of the bride and groom. It’s hard to read if one particular crowd is going to really get into Frank Sinatra or ”Don’t Stop Believin’” or “Baby Got Back” or “Uptown Funk” or something in between.

But on a dance floor, the crowd votes with their feet. And a full dance floor usually equals tips. If the crowd loves “Get Lucky”, you’ll know because they are on the dance floor, shaking it up and singing along. And if they hate it, well, you’ll know that too. The dance floor will be empty (except small children and/or the one drunk person) and people will suddenly come up to you with suggestions of better songs. #heydoyouhavethatonesong

Formative assessment is easy on a wedding dance floor. You know if they’re getting it or not -- either they’re dancing or they’re not.

It’s a whole lot tougher in a secondary social studies classroom.

Have you ever given a test and then gotten frustrated at the kids who didn’t get it? Especially when you think you taught the heck out of the topic?

Wouldn’t it be nice if you knew -- before the test -- if your kids had a clue or not? If they were getting it or not?

You can. It’s called formative assessment.

Formative assessment is tool to give students feedback (corrective or right-track) and to help the teacher guide his or her instruction.

There are a million ways to take formative assessment. Here are a handful of my favorites.

  1. Plickers -- Go to, sign up, download the app onto your device and print the plicker pages. Then, make multiple choice questions to check how your kids are getting it and adjust your instruction from there.
  2. List Three -- As an exit-ticket or a mid-period check-up, have kids jot down three misconceptions their peers might have -- and how to correct them.
  3. Check for Transfer -- Have students use a concept or vocabulary term in a different way to make sure they can transfer the idea. Have them explain “social structure” in terms of the school (principal, administration, teachers, students) or the role of the media in a different political or social issue.
  4. Call on Every Kid -- use or a another call-on system to make sure you hold every kid accountable for learning -- not just the motivated ones in the front row with their hands up.
  5. Today’s Meet/Padlet -- Have every kid leave a comment -- or comment on a thread -- on  or It’s like an active bulletin board where kids can talk about the lesson silently.
  6. Document the Turn and Talk -- Don’t judge(!), but it helps to take notes if kids are “getting it” or not, based on their turn-and-talk conversations.
  7. Gimme Five -- Have kids hold up five fingers it they really, really get it, four fingers if the mostly get it and so on until they get to one finger (no, not that finger) which means that they don't get it. This is good for quick checkpoints along the way.
    1. PS -- this is NOT equivalent  to your scale. Please don’t equate the two!
  8. Check Predictions -- have kids predict what they’re going to learn about (with a bellwork or an Anticipation Guide) and then at the end of class, see if they can make conclusions. Did they predict correctly? What did they get right or wrong?
  9. #Hashtag -- See if your students can summarize or connect what they learned by creating a hashtag (or two) about the lesson or activity. For the founding of the Maryland Colony, students might try #religiousfreedom or #catholicswelcome or even #lovethepope. I bet they’re a whole lot more creative than I am.  
  10. One Sentence Summary -- an “oldie” but a goodie. Have the kids summarize the reading, the political cartoon, the concept, the unit, -- whatever -- in one sentence. It’s good to be succinct. It’s better to use brevity to help us see whether our kids get it or not.

It’s easier to see where you “stand” when people are on their feet, like at a wedding. It’s harder to interpret your students. What’s your favorite form of Formative Assessment -- and will you try one of these new ones this week? Do you use formative assessment every day? Every period?

Don’t Stop Believin. Haaayyyy Macarena! #Iloveweddingmusic

As always, I love to hear about it! Email me at
#formative #ithinkigetthis #checkingthelearning #whatdoyouknow

Constitution Day!

Tomorrow is Constitution Day. For those of you who don’t teach Civics or Government -- tomorrow is especially for you.

Every day is Constitution Day in Civics and Government courses. But for the rest of us, sometimes, it’s a stretch.

I mean, 6th Grade is currently teaching Mesopotamia. 8th grade is currently teaching the Colonies. High School World History is on Islam. High School US History is currently working on Industrialization.

None of those are quite as easy to fit the Constitution Day lessons into as it is in Civics or Government courses.

But it’s still important in all those other courses. Especially in those other courses.

Use some time tomorrow to figure out a way “tuck” the Constitution into your lesson.
  • Teaching about Mesopotamia and the Characteristics of Civilization? Try to talk about Government back then and Government here and now -- which is the Constitution!
  • Teaching about the Colonies? Talk about the Mayflower Compact and colonial governments -- and then talk about how those are related to our modern Constitution.
  • Teaching about Islam? Take some time to look at the First Amendment and the issue of religion in our Constitution and what that looks like today.
  • Teaching about Industrialization? Talk about how immigration and citizenship are addressed in the Constitution and how that continues to be a current issue.

And in case you need some last-minute inspiration, here are a few links to Constitution Day resources to get you rocking.

How do YOU celebrate Constitution Day? As always, I love to hear! Email me at