During the 207/2018 school year Concept English is on the road visiting our local schools monthly.  But we have also spent this October traveling to our South Ohio and North Ohio schools which will be followed up with stops in St. Louis, Indiana, and Michigan over the next few weeks.

Our goal has always been to find ways to be able to observe and coach our teachers in a non-evaluative way that can build their best practice.  We know from research and experience that instructional development is the real key to enhancing rigor and achieving greater student mastery of the state standards.  A request we are getting often is what do we do for differentiation and how do we create more rigor (m4-slide_11_characteristics_of_a_rigorous_classroom) in our classroom and we discussed two things:  accountable steps within the lesson where students can demonstrate mastery as well as clarify what is expected by the end of the lesson which includes times alongside elements in the agenda.

It is an honor to share our experience and knowledge with teachers, but do not be mistaken, we learn a lot from you as well.  Here are a few things that you might find useful to incorporate into your classrooms.  So this year, we want to share with all of you.  Feel free to reach out to these teachers, or Andy Flaherty, for more information.

At Columbus High School, Mr. Jordan (jordan@horizoncolumbus.org) English III teacher, had students do a quick write during his lesson, to check for understanding as well as an excellent Exit Slip to measure student learning of the “theme” and extend/enrich student learning by connecting it to the Unit’s essential question. 

Ms. Blackstone (blackstone@horizoncolumbus.org), 6th grade teacher at Columbus Middle School did a wonderful lesson on point of view by helping students identify the pronouns that are associated with 3rd person point of view.  Her lesson was filled with modeling and application to small group work which are hallmarks of the I do, we do of the Gradual Release model of instruction. 

At Noble Columbus, Mr. Gegich (peter@noblecolumbus.org), had a great strategy for vocabulary.   

1) Students record the table of words.  
2) Afterwards, they record their knowledge of the word as follows
0-Don’t know any of it
1-Know it, or part of it, but don’t know the definition
2-Know part of the definition or the definition, but don’t how to use it
3-Know the entire word
3) The class provides the definition. This, like the numbers, gives you an idea of who knows the words.  Only modify the student definition if it misses some information or if they only focus on the prefix, suffix, or root.
4) Picture Sentence TPR.  On their own, students decide how they’re going to remember the word. They may create a picture, write a sentence, or use TPR as a physical motion. They associate the word with another form to keep it in memory.  
The forms from his class are attached below.  You might also think about adapting the sentence column to mean finding the word in the excerpts you are reading instead of writing their own sentences from scratch.


At Cleveland Middle School, Ms. Keller’s (keller@horizoncleveland.org) students were using Play-Doh to learn about the writing process. 

Step 1: Prewriting

Have students use a think-pair-share to talk about the idea they would like to follow when they mold with their clay. Let them draw a picture first if they choose. Ask them to consider the audience who will view their masterpiece when it is finished. They can brainstorm with classmates, look around the class for inspiration, and list their ideas together.

Step 2: Drafting

In the drafting stage, students take the ideas they discussed and mold a rough outline of what they would like to create. Tell them not to worry about their work being perfect, and that they do not have to include details such as eyes, noses, and ears. As they work, have them show their figure to others to get suggestions and feedback.

Step 3: Revising

During the revising stage students should work on making their creation better. They should think about what others said and imagine what their ball of clay can turn into. Students can envision it, and then make it come to life. They can add details, and rearrange clay by putting it in other places on the sculpture. When they are done they should share with their classmates again and get input.

Step 4: Proofreading

The next step is the proofreading stage in which students make their creation adhere to their vision. If students are making a creature, they should be sure the nose is where they want it to be, and the eyes have pupils. They can change parts of the sculpture that don’t look as clean and perfect as others. This is also the time for students to evaluate what they like and why they like it. Students can have someone check their work and ask for their opinion. They can suggest areas for improvement. People don’t improve if everyone agrees with them all the time. We all need opposition. It is very important to listen to what others have to say if you want to better yourself.

Step 5: Publishing

When they are finished, students can share their project with the class. Have students come up to the front of the class one by one and show off their work. Discuss what they like best about it, and have them share the constructive criticism that helped them perfect their creation.

As you go through the steps with them, and their hands are busy molding, write these steps on a big piece of paper in a T-chart formation comparing “molding clay” to “writing a story.” Write down the five steps they are following and ask them to think about what they would change when approaching the writing process instead of the molding process.  Have them write their very own class five steps to writing which correlate to the process they followed for designing their clay figures. Instead of drawing what their clay will look like, they can draw a scene showing where their story takes place.  As opposed to adding detail to their eyes, they can add adjectives to their writing. Just as they had to clarify unclear areas in their clay figure, they also have to clear up omissions in their writing. I hope your students enjoy this hands-on way to approach the writing process, and that the ideas will stay with them forever.

A number of teachers have asked for more materials on writing process and there have been a few PD sessions schedules as well.  Here are a few things we have been looking at lately.  You may also reach out to Andy Flaherty (aflaherty@conceptschools.org) who has many valuable resources from his own teaching.

First, here is a new strategy we are trying out from Ms. Cartwright, APA at our Cincinnati school, from the University of Kansas.  Color-coded paragraphs:

Colored Coded Paragraph and Sample


An online dictionary



An online thesaurus


Purdue University Writing Program

An extensive site with instructions on writing, style,citation, and plagiarism


University of Chicago Writing Program

A good site for teachers and students that providesguidelines and instruction on grammar and style.


Read Write Think

A great NCTE site for teachers and students with instructionalaides, graphic organizers, and writing tools.


Academy of American Poets

Provides both students and teachers with examples of greatpoetry by author, title, and subject, as well as lesson plans.


HSA Lorain  English I teacher, Ms. Alexander (alexander@hsalorain.org), had an outstanding lesson on reading the Science article “Called Out,” modeling how to identify scientific and figurative language, the core of the texts complexity.  One thing she did that would make all our lessons better was this slide the indicated exactly what students would be able to do by the end of the period.

Also, 8th grade teacher Ms. Cart (cart@hsalorain.org), at HSA Lorain, was doing stations and one of them involved a stop to do Black Out Poetry, something I also saw on a bulletin board in Ms. Bernard’s classroom at HSA McKinley Park.  Here were the steps Ms. Cart used at this station. 

  1. Read the whole page. Do not try to read it for comprehension of the story, but so you know what words are on the page. 
  2. Figure out what you want your poem to say. Even if the words aren’t there you may find a synonym that will work in its place.
  3. Box the words you want to keep.
  4. Blackout or color over any words you do not want to keep. 
  5. Put your name on the back.


Ms. Cart noted that she made sure to use higher leveled books (11.9 in AR) so the vocabulary would be more complex.

If anyone is interested in Google Classroom, please reach out to Mr. Pishnery (pishnery@hsalorain.org) who is using his knowledge – he calls himself a “tech nerd” – to engage students in his English classes.  If you are like me, talking through our technology fears enables us to try new things. 

Ms. Hughes (hughes@hsaswchicago.org) at HSA Southwest Chicago was doing a nice concept attainment lesson with her students.  While reading “The People Could Fly,” she had them practice summary writing using paintings and then having them become experts on a paragraph of text, writing a summary, and then adding it to the class story map.  Here is the class Power Point People Could Fly. Summarizing

Ms. Petrella (petrella@hsabelmont.org) at HSA Belmont was doing something that all us might find useful.  She has worked with her 6-8th grade department and they have incorporated Reading Blogs.  Their students use the blogs to discuss their independent reading with classmates, parents, and staff. Blog posts range from discussing favorite books and characters to themes and real-life conflicts. 




Blogging Steps and Details


Ms. Walton (walton@cmsaonline.net)at CMSA had two approaches that were new to me.  First, working with her College & Career Composition class she had them engaged using Journey Journals.  Second, was her approach to writing an argument essay.  She added her own sub-stage to the writing process called the “Diagnostic Draft ” which allowed her to focus her students in three areas.


A few things we saw in many places:

Binders – I saw at least ten teachers using binders and most of the students said it helped them be organized and ready to learn.

Reciprocal Teaching – This is my favorite strategy and as some of you know, there was a film made of my classes for the ASCD if you can get your hands on it.  I have no idea what happened to my copy.  I find the strategy is great for group work to help with comprehension and the beginning of more complex analysis.  And I saw a number of ways to trail the text for evidence to support opinions and arguments.

Visual Literacy – So many of you have been incorporating visual elements into your lessons with videos, smart board annotation, and modeling your own writing.  Keep it up please!

We have seen so many great teachers on the road.  Please follow our twitter feed so you can see photos of other teacher and maybe even yourself.