Monthly Archives: May 2018

Choosing Little Changes

You’ve seen the blog posts. You’ve read the Tweets. Heck, you may have even read the research. Well, what are you doing about it?

Choice in the classroom matters.

Are you finding ways to give your students choice?

Many of us work in traditional school settings, often large school districts that spend millions of dollars on adopted boxed curriculum. We are expected to use it. Often we feel there is no room to veer from the prescriptive path. “I’m no maverick,” you think. “I’m not like Mrs. Solo down the hall that doesn’t follow the rules. I want the best for my students, but I also respect my administration and want to be a team player.”

Remember, you can do both. It only takes tweaking. Little changes.

I am an English teacher. I teach other things, too, but I think like an English teacher. I can’t help it. When my district decided to adopt material to use at every grade level, I was optimistic. The curriculum was theme based and had tons of embedded writing. Always a plus for this bibliophile. The second unit was a study of dystopian literature. The curriculum offered two choices for whole class novel study: Fahrenheit 451 and The Giver. Now, I’m not sure if you’ve been paying attention to young adult fiction lately or even the many books that have been made into movies, but dystopian literature is one of the most popular genres out there. Kids (and adults) are devouring books like The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, Ready Player One. These stories are also making movie studios millions of dollars at the box office. To say dystopian literature is ubiquitous, might be an understatement. So, why would we limit our classroom readers to one forced book study? Why not give students a broader choice. A real choice.

That’s exactly what my colleague and I did. We divided our classrooms into smaller book clubs, let students explore different titles, then let each book club choose a novel. Since we didn’t have copies for all students, we asked that they find the books at libraries, or simply ask their parents to shell out the $4-$8 for the book. (That’s really just two Starbucks drinks, after all). For the few who still couldn’t get a book, I ended up purchasing. It was worth it to me.

The choice wasn’t even just about the book. Students also got to choose their book clubs. Being in a reading group with their friends made a huge impact on motivation to read. In my own (very unscientific) survey, 54% of my students responded that they enjoyed reading the same book as their group. Many claimed that’s what kept them on track. The peer connection kept them reading.

Daniel Pink writes that intrinsic motivation comes from three elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy is a sense that we are in control of our own destiny. Students need to feel they have some say, some choice in the decisions that affect their lives. Are we honoring that element?

As my favorite musician, Frank Turner sings, “The big things stay the same until we make little changes.” Start with something small. Let your students choose their seat. Let them choose their own research topic. Let them choose music for writing time. Make that little change of choice. No need to be a total maverick, just yet. We can work on that later.

Check your Backyard

This post was originally published at

This week, CUE posted the call for presenters. Presenters. You know those confident educators that are the experts in their field. The ones that are willing to draft a beautiful slide presentation, share resources, anecdotes and examples of how you can improve your understanding of the seamless integration of technology at your site or district. You know. Those people.

Well, why aren’t you applying? Not quite ready?

That was me, not too long ago. I remember my first CUE event: CUE Rockstar, Lake Tahoe. The first time I saw Joe Wood teach a session on Google Maps. He was so confident. He barely spoke, really. Just guided us through the tool. Let us click. Let us explore. Let us play. It was invigorating. Joe created a safe space for me to learn: a safe space to collaborate with the other educators in the room.

I was hooked. Hooked on learning. Hooked on connecting. After that, I knew I needed to step beyond the Twittersphere and actually do some IRL connecting. But how?

My journey began at CapCUE, the local CUE affiliate in the Sacramento area. I answered theircall for presenters. Each Fall, CapCUE hosts their own collaborative learning opportunity: Techfest. I threw my hat in the ring and decided to share a plethora of tools for speaking and listening.  About five people showed up to my session, but we had the best conversations!

Since that tiny session, I have only grown as an educator through the connections I have made getting involved in my local affiliate. I eventually joined the board as a director. Better yet, I have made some incredible friendships with like-minded and crazy fun people. CapCUE has become an important part of who I am. The members support me in my professional and personal life. CapCUE has become my extended family. Soon these educators pushed me to present at FallCUE, then Spring. My journey started a few miles from my house.

So, if you’re thinking about sharing all the great ideas you have, all the ways you make a difference in students’ and teachers’ lives, but you’re not quite ready for a large event, don’t forget this advice: some of the best connections you can make are right in your backyard. Seek out your local affiliate. Apply to present at their events. You might even consider joining other affiliate events and reaching out beyond your backyard. Check the CUE blog page for opportunities to connect near you.

Get involved. It might just change your life. It changed mine.

“My first time presenting was at the CapCUE TechFest at Natomas Charter School.  It was after lunch and only three people showed up. I had so much fun working with CapCUE and the connections I made led me to present at more and more conferences.” —Corey Coble CapCUE Board Member

“After being excited and going to CUE and wanting to get involved, I reached out to my local affiliate. It offered me a chance to be a part of something larger and get connected to a community. It allowed me to grow as a professional and share that learning with others.”Tom Covington  SGVCUE Board Member

The SVCUE affiliate Board of Directors is comprised of educators who seek quality, fresh, collaborative, and vibrant members who have identified strengths to embody and execute the team’s mission. We work collectively, with students at the heart of what we do. Beyond that, I stay with this affiliate because I remember my roots. I remember where I started. I remember where I was given a chance, and even a second chance. No matter where you go professionally, remember who helped you along the way. That’s SVCUE! —Kristina Mattis SVCUE Board President

“Looking back, it wasn’t unusual at the time to find myself helping my colleagues develop their tech skills, but I will never forget that first time I stepped out and presented for total strangers at my first CapCUE Techfest. The experience opened my eyes to possibilities and network connections I never knew existed. Since that first presentation, I have traveled the country dropping nuggets of knowledge that I have learned along the way, I have learned to blog, to podcast and to curate the most amazing support network imaginable within my #CapCuePLN.”John Eick CapCUE Board President

A Letter from a Teacher

(This post was originally shared on


I get it. I really do. But…

As I sit in my classroom, watching my students struggle to concentrate, scrolling through page after page of reading, responding to multiple choice questions, highlighting parts of the text, (zoning out) and typing, typing, typing, my heart just aches. I see the turmoil in their faces. The exhaustion. They HATE this. HATE. And so do I.

But I get why we do it.

As an educational system, we must see how our students are mastering the skills they will need. Data needs to be gathered. Strengths and weaknesses of our pedagogy have to be measured. I get it. One of my students even convinced me of it in her recent essay. She wrote, “For me personally, I had scored not so high on a certain part of my CAASPP test in my 6th grade year. The next year I focused on that certain area of my test. When my results came back it gave me a great deal of happiness to see that my hard work had paid back.”

Yeah. I get it.


Glancing around the room, I see

  • the child with furrowed brow
  • the child staring back at me
  • the child staring at the clock
  • the child picking at his fingernails
  • the child who is grasping his forehead
  • the child with his head down on the desk
  • the child who is thinking faster than she can type
  • the child who keeps getting up to
    • blow her nose
    • get a drink of water

They all look so tired. So deflated.

I know. It’s valuable information.

Just maybe, though, there can be a better way. Just maybe these children will want to come to school everyday. To learn. To create. Just maybe there is a way to measure progress without torture.

Just maybe.

Sincerely emotionally exhausted,

Mrs. Allison

P.S. Don’t worry, CAASPP police. I didn’t draft this on my unauthorized electronic device while I spent hours observing student testing. I wrote it in my composition book with a number two pencil, OG style.

P.P.S. During testing, a student fell asleep in my colleague’s classroom: “Yo. Ms. V. I just fell asleep and had a dream I farted. Did I really fart?” Yeah, we work with children. Even testing is an adventure.