backpacker on mountain peak looking at view

Blog Break!

I have a few large projects due this summer, so I will be taking a “Blog Break” through the end of June, 2022. I will still be sending out the weekly newsletter, which will include news and other items of note. If you haven’t signed up for it, yet, you can fill out your info below. In the meantime, here are the most visited posts on the site during the last week (week of June 13th) in case you are wondering:

Don’t forget you can also search on the sidebar, look at my monthly archives, and visit my Wakelet collections for more resources.

I hope that those of you who are getting time off during the next few weeks get to thoroughly enjoy them, and those of you who are continuing to work can find enough strength and inspiration to keep you energized.

person lying on black and red hammock beside mountain under white cloudy sky during daytime
Photo by Leonie Fahjen on
love art dirty texture

7 Ways to Request Feedback from Students about Your Class

I bookmarked an interesting Twitter thread the other day:

When I returned to my bookmark yesterday, I was thrilled by the variety of the responses in the thread. There were many replies, and only one or two that I saw where the teacher reported negative experiences with doing this. I would guess that those outliers might need to fine-tune their methods, as I can honestly say that I’ve made it a practice to get feedback from parents and students for many years through various means and it has nearly always been extremely informative. Even when I asked for feedback from some of my more “challenging” high school classes, I received good information.

Before I share some of the creative student feedback methods you can use, I think it’s important to note how you can set the scene so the feedback is meaningful.

  1. Don’t just ask for feedback at the end of the school year. At least three times a year is good. (I did it every grading period.) Feedback will help you “tweak” and make changes that will benefit the students, and that is most effective if you are doing it during your course and at the end to help you plan for the next year.
  2. Be clear with your students that you are asking for this so you can keep what’s working and make improvements on what isn’t working. This has nothing to do with their grades
  3. Act on the feedback throughout the year, and be explicit about what you are changing and that it’s because of meaningful feedback you received.
  4. In most cases, make it a choice for students to be anonymous or include their names. I say “in most cases” because some of the examples I give below don’t technically allow for that. Some students are afraid of retaliation if they give negative feedback, so the more comfortable you can make them, the more honest they will be.
  5. Be prepared for negative feedback, and that some of it will not be constructive. Analyze it, but don’t take it to heart. Remember that some students will be lashing out for reasons that may have nothing to do with you.
  6. READ the feedback. Refer to the feedback. Bring it up many times in a positive way. Otherwise, students think it was just busywork, and that not only impacts the next time you ask for feedback, but the next time any teacher asks for it.
  7. Do some sort of short review of what’s happened so far in class before you ask for feedback. Lots of things are going on in their lives, and even the most wonderful experiences may have slipped their minds.

Some of the above advice may seem obvious, but I included it because it wasn’t obvious to me at first. The first few times I asked for student feedback did not give me helpful results. Don’t give up if you experience the same. It is very likely that you need to make some adjustments to your process, and extremely worth it when you get it right.

I asked some of the people in Jason’s original thread for permission to share their advice and/or images. Here are some of the suggestions from the thread as well as some others I’ve gathered:

1. Choose words to describe your year.

Gina Ruffcorn takes the words her students submit and makes them into a word cloud to represent the year.

2. Analyze classroom policies.

3. Use Exit Talks.

4. Use Google Forms. Once the results are in (if it’s not your last day), make screenshots of some results or quotes (without student names ) to project to the class and discuss. This blog post gives sample forms you can download. I used Google Forms as well. During the school year, I would sprinkle in some “fun” questions, like, “What is a song you love to listen to right now?” I would play the songs (if appropriate) sometimes during class.

5. Play “Whatzit Tic-Tac-Toe.” I describe it in this post. Since students work in groups, one advantage is that you can hear their discussions, but they also get filtered down to the most important answers. Here are the questions we used: list 3 important features of this class, list 3 not-so-important features of this class, list 2 very different kinds of features our our class, identify a hidden feature of our class, what’s 1 feature without which our class would be very different, what feature of our class is the hardest to understand (and why), which of our class features are the most interesting to you and why, think of something very different from our class and tell us two ways it’s different and one way it’s similar, and think of something very similar to our class and list two ways it’s similar and one way it’s different.

6. Use Post-Its to brainstorm activities done in class, and then place them on a matrix as in this blog post.

7. Or, after brainstorming what has been done in class, or what could be done, sort them into Start, Stop, Continue columns as you can see here.

I’ll be adding this post to my End of Year Wakelet, though as I mentioned earlier, it’s good to get feedback from your students throughout the year. Also, don’t forget to ask parents for feedback. This can be extremely beneficial as well. Once you receive your feedback, you can use the Taxonomy of Reflection to decide on what changes you would like to make.

Anti-Racism, history, K-12, Social Studies

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month 2022

Among the many observances during the month of May, it is also Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the United States. To learn more about the history of this commemoration, you can read this article from NPR. It describes the evolution from a week of observance to a month, and why it falls in May each year.

I gave a few resources for AAPI Month last year, but I want to add these specific lesson plans from NEA to the collection. You can also find some great links on the National Park Service website and a “Care Package” of poems, meditations, and films from the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Center here. The Smithsonian APA also has a page of resources for teachers here.

The theme for this year’s AAPI Heritage Month is, “Advancing Leaders Through Collaboration.” In these days where there seems to be so much dissension and polarization, I find this theme to be a hopeful one that is a reminder of the benefits of working together.

I’ll be adding this post to my Anti-Racism Wakelet, where you can find other articles I’ve collected for the purpose of educating ourselves and combatting hate.

black and white laptop

Odds and Ends for Wrapping up the School Year

The problem with an educational system that focuses on testing and performance is that the joy of learning takes a back seat. This is never more evident than in the time following the stressful testing season. School doesn’t end when testing does — but many students don’t see a purpose for being there any longer.

This is a challenge for teachers; in fact I recently saw a post on social media from a teacher begging for ideas for the last few weeks of school when students seem to have “checked out.”

I just beefed up my “End of Year” Collection with suggestions for keeping students engaged as the year winds down. I’ve had a lot of success with many of the activities in this Wakelet, especially the ones that give the students opportunities for self-expression. Hexagonal Reflections (also Reflecting with Hexagons), Designing Manifestos, and Whatzit Tic-Tac-Toe were all meaningful and fun. The Self-Designed Hashtag Awards (idea from @jtrayers) were also a big hit. These were all lessons I did with elementary students, but could certainly be adapted. One excellent idea I found for high school that was shared by Susan Barber (@SusanGbarber) on Twitter last year includes a Google Slide presentation she made for her students giving them choices that ranged from making blackout poetry with their college applications to book spine poetry reflecting their feelings about high school.

There will, of course, be days that you might want to show a video. I collected some of my favorite inspirational videos for this time of year here. And if you have the inclination to offer challenging puzzles or participate in some fun and games such as Goosechase Edu or Breakout Edu, I have links for those in the End of the Year Wakelet as well.

Some schools have just a few weeks left, while others will continue late into June. Some of you may be in countries that just began a new year a couple of months ago. Regardless of your situation, you may want to take a few minutes to look over this collection because many of these activities can work at other times of the year as well.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! The best way I can think of to celebrate you is to continue to share free resources and ideas that will hopefully ease some of the stress in your jobs.

map atlas south america
Games, K-12, Teaching Tools

Earth Day and Upcoming May Holidays

Earth Day is celebrated on April 22, and I’ve added some new resources to my Earth Day Wakelet collection, including a link to some Lumio templates you may want to try. (Read my post on Lumio from last week if you’d like to learn more about this free tool.)

In addition, I’ve tried to get a jump on May, which has a dizzying number of observances and celebrations, from Eid Al Fitr to U.S. Memorial Day. Here is that Wakelet, and please let me know if you have a resource that I should add. You’ll find some of favorite Mother’s Day lessons in there as well as Teacher Appreciation and Star Wars Day (May the 4th).

With testing season here, you may want some brain breaks, so I just want to remind you that I have a Fun Stuff collection, Brainteasers and Puzzles, and Wordle Variations (to which I just added my new favorite, Hurdle)

To see my entire set of Wakelet collections, which are listed in alphabetical order, you can visit this page, and follow me for updates.

person holding world globe facing mountain
Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on
Arab Boy and Girl
Anti-Racism, Geography, history, K-12, Language Arts, Social Studies

April is Arab American Heritage Month

I know that it can be overwhelming to see all of the “special months, days, and weeks” that get paraded on social media. And I also know that it is not the best reflection of our country that we feel that we must assign months in the calendar to remind people that our nation is comprised of many cultures and ethnicities. However, one bright spot that I do find in bringing attention to some of these is that more resources become readily available. So I do want to highlight some of the ones that I’ve found for Arab American Heritage month.

As a reminder, many Muslims are observing Ramadan this month. However, you may be surprised to learn that, according to this source, only about 24% of Arab Americans are Muslims, and the majority of them are Christians. This is one of the many misconceptions we often have regarding Arab Americans, and you can read more here.

The American Arab Institute is one place to start when looking for resources, as it has a picture of the letter President Biden has written to acknowledge the month and also highlights the contributions of some incredible Arab Americans. There is also an interactive map where you can learn more about the demographics and trends in your area.

The Arab America Foundation has a curriculum kit for educators that you can find here. They also offer an abundance of links on this page. If you would like to combine your study of Arabian history and culture with an appreciation for poetry (since April is also National Poetry Month), you may want to do a study of the some of the works of Khalil Gibran or Naomi Shihab Nye (a fellow San Antonio resident!). I particularly enjoy this poem on Teaching from Gibran that I just discovered while researching this post.

I will be adding this post to both my Anti-Racism Collection and my April Holidays one. If you can take a moment to learn one new wonderful fact about Arab Americans and share it with your students, we will be taking another small step toward eradicating racism in our country.