Blended Learning in Action is Available Now!

My newest book Blended Learning in Action: A Practical Guide Towards Sustainable Change is available on Amazon!


If you want to check out the book and its content, we’ve created a website you can visit to learn more! Feel free to join an ongoing conversation about blended learning using the Twitter hashtag #BLinAction.

Congratulations to Louise Celebi who won a free signed copy!

Posted in Learning | Leave a comment

Ditching Traditional Grades & My Online Grade Book

Last year, I began experimenting with standards-based grading and wrote a blog titled “Grading for Mastery and Redesigning My Gradebook.” My goal was to shift the conversation away from the accumulation of points and, instead, focus on the development of skills. Although I appreciated the immediate change that took place when I began grading based on my students’ ability to master specific skills, I knew I wanted to go even further this year as I began N.E.W. School.

This summer I read Starr Stackstein’s book Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School. In her book, Stackstein chronicles her journey ditching grades in a traditional school setting and offers some excellent strategies a teacher can use to go gradeless.


I found the sections titled “Track Progress Transparently,” “Teach Students to Self-Grade,” and “Cloud-based Archives” particularly helpful in planning for this year. In an effort to do all three of these things–create transparency, teach self-assessment, and archive work online–AND keep parents in the loop, my teaching partner and I developed a Google Document for the first unit of the year with 10 focus standards for each class–English, science, and technology.

We shared this “Ongoing Assessment” document with each student via Google Classroom. Their first task was to read through and rewrite the standards in a way that made sense to them. Then each student shared their ongoing assessment document with his/her parents as a “Comment only” document, so parents could follow their child’s progress and post questions.

The “Ongoing Assessment” document was designed to encourage students to take ownership of both their work and the evaluation of that work. They are given time each week to assess their progress in relation to specific skills and reflect on their learning. It’s their job to assess their skills on a scale of 0-4 and provide evidence from their body of work to support their self-assessment.


Another column is dedicated to teacher feedback. We post our assessments of specific pieces of work and include multimedia documentation of what we are seeing in class. Students are able to post comments and questions in response to our feedback and this often leads to a conversation about how to improve.


This strategy also provides parents with a window into the classroom and the work their child is doing, which alleviates some of the anxiety of not having an online gradebook.

At the end of the first 6 weeks of school, I’m required by my school to submit a letter grade for each student. To prepare for grade reporting, my teaching partner and I met individually with each student to agree on an appropriate grade. We used the Station Rotation Model to move students through a series of student-driven activities and assignments while we met with each student. In her book, Sackstein addresses the questions and concerns many teachers have about dedicating this much class time to conversations with students about their progress. She makes the excellent point that “how we spend our time in class is indicative of what we prioritize in education.” She also presents a range of strategies teachers can use to create this time and space both in class and virtually, if need be.

We asked students to prepare for these conversations by preparing a formal argument. They had to begin by stating a clear claim about the grade they deserved for each class. Then they had to support their claim with 3 pieces of evidence from their body of work. Their evidence needed to be specific pieces of work they believe showed their level of mastery in relation to specific skills. If we did not feel the grade they proposed was appropriate, we would present a counterclaim and students had an opportunity to present a rebuttal. The conversations that ensued were fantastic! I’d argue these types of conversations are also crucial to success beyond high school.

Although the conversations required substantial time, it was worth it. My students had a real voice in their assessments. Grades weren’t a surprise. Instead, assessment became a conversation. Students left our meeting with a clear sense of where to spend their time and energy to improve in relation to specific skills.

For those teachers looking for a different way to approach assessment, I’d highly recommend reading Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School!

Posted in Grades | Tagged , | 17 Comments

What Does Learning Really Look Like?

I’ve faced myriad challenges in the last 8 months getting a new program at my school off of the ground. I’ve stood in front of a school board that accused me of designing a program aimed at skimming the best and brightest students off of the top, despite the diversity of the students enrolled. I’ve heard the rumblings and rumors by those on my campus who are not thrilled by my desire to try something new. But the biggest challenge is trying to get my students to rethink what it means to be a learner and rethink what learning looks like.

For most of their education, my students have spent their days in classrooms where the teacher was the primary source of information. They’ve been conditioned to sit in assigned seats, take notes, and listen quietly. It was naïve of me to think I could change their perception of learning over night.

In N.E.W. School, we do not have a seating chart. My teaching partner, Marika Neto, and I want our students to create their own learning environment each day to support and enhance the work they are doing in that moment.

We believe the first step in creating is creating your learning environment.Click To Tweet However, that level of autonomy and flexibility is new and unfamiliar to students who have been given few opportunities to make decisions about how and where they learn.

Marika and I rarely stand at the front of the room and talk. If we need to transfer information, like science notes, vocabulary, and writing tutorials, we use the flipped classroom model so students can control the time, place, and pace of their own learning.

We intentionally don’t use our valuable time together in class to lecture. Instead, we use that time to get students exploring, researching, collaborating, and, ultimately, leading the learning.

The best gift I can give my students is to teach them how to learn.Click To Tweet I want them to leave my classroom confident in their ability to continue learning long after we’ve said “adieu.”

We also strive to make learning experiential in N.E.W. School. We want students to get their hands on learning. Too often students are relegated to passive learners. We want them to be active participates in the learning that happens in N.E.W. School.

In the last two weeks, students have been learning about the digestive system to complement their reading of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and our research into diet, food production, and health. Instead of projecting a power point and walking students through the process of digestion, Marika designed a “how to make poop” lab. Sounds gross, right? Talk about a great way to hook students. Just tell them they will be making poop!

Students broke into teams and each team simulated a part of the digestive system. The students mashed up food to simulate teeth and chewing, the mashed food passed through a paper towel tube (aka. esophagus) and into a big plastic bag, the stomach, where it was mixed and mashed some more. Then students squeezed the food through a nylon stocking to represent the small intestine, and so on through the digestive system. They followed the path food takes through our bodies in a hands-on lab that I am sure few students will forget.


Even though student engagement during this lab was extremely high and their resulting multimedia blogs reflected a deep understanding of the digestive system, some students still feel like they are missing some key component of learning because it doesn’t look like the work they are doing in other classes.

The truth is that experiential learning requires students engage with information and with each other. This requires more energy, effort, and focus than sitting in a seat listening to someone else talk. It requires that they take a central role in their learning.

My hope is that learning and being excited about the work they are doing in N.E.W. School will become its own reward, and over time they’ll begin to appreciate that learning takes many forms. It should be fun, engaging, and student-centered.

Posted in Learning | 3 Comments