Take a Ride on the Roller Coaster of Innovation

Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting at the LLI Mississippi conference at Madison-Ridgeland Academy. The tagline for the conference was “Innovation in Action.” One of the presentations I delivered was titled, “Take a Ride on the Roller Coaster of Innovation,” and I intentionally included the idea of a roller coaster in my title because I would argue that adding innovation into your mindset or teaching involves high highs and low lows at times. Highs happen when we see the innovation spark engagement and empowerment in our students. Lows take place when the project doesn’t turn out the way we had expected or our students aren’t as engaged in the idea as we had hoped which causes it to flop.

Innovation, to put it simply, is hard. It is much easier to pass out a worksheet. The worksheet is pre-made and even comes with the answer key!!! I mean come on! That deserved three exclamation points, right? But, one thing the attendees and I discussed during the presentation, was the fact that this may be true – worksheets are much easier. But, do they provide opportunities for our students to feel empowered, take risks, collaborate, create, think critically, and communicate effectively with their peers? Maybe on some level, yes. But not to the extent that our students deserve. Collaboration has to be taught. Risk-taking has to be taught. Thinking critically has to be taught. If we do not provide opportunities in our classrooms for our students to learn how to develop these skills, aren’t we doing them a disservice?

So where does one start when it comes to innovation? Start small. Do one small thing to add in student engagement that will lead to empowerment. For example, if you traditionally start a lesson with whole group and then lead into your worksheet(s), how might you open the lesson differently to provide all students with a voice? Could you consider using a polling website such as Mentimeter, Nearpod or Socrative in which you could pose the question and have all students answer? Then from there, the next time consider changing up the worksheet. What is the learning objective within that worksheet and how might you provide a more intentional and exciting activity for the students to engage in? If the learning objective starts with, “Students will be able to create…” why not have them actually use that verb of “create” and create something to represent the learning?

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Up Your Review Game – Formative Assessment Strategies

“Any questions? No? {insert cricket noise here} Okay let’s move on.” Anyone else guilty of this question and response? I would assume that if you were to ask most teachers if they formatively assess their students on a constant basis, their response would be such like, “Yes, I assess constantly throughout each class period,” but I would challenge them with, “How? What does your assessment look like? How do you adjust the trajectory of your class based off of the data collected from the formative assessment?” Because far too often our “formative assessment” is us asking our students holistically, “Does anyone have a question?” and when no one responds, we move on. The problem with this approach is that because the students don’t respond, we make the assumption that they understand the information at hand, but we gathered zero data to confirm or deny that assumption.

Why does formative assessment matter?

  • check for understanding
  • use during instruction time to adjust our teaching to meet learners where they are
  • instruction may slow down when we formatively assess because we discover (based on the data) that students need to be re-taught certain information
  • if we continue to merely focus on the summative assessment piece (essay, test, project, etc.) then we may lose the students along the way
  • failing to check for understanding that involves data collection, causes us to not be in touch with our students and their abilities

When should we be assessing?

  • before a unit
  • during a unit
  • after a unit

What are some high tech as well as low tech ways in which we can formatively assess our students in ways that truly collects data in hopes to better our lessons?

High Tech, Low Tech, and High/Low Tech Ideas

Ideas that involve high or some tech:

  • Charades Kids App (You can create your own deck with your particular vocab. words)
    • Click here for example of how a teacher uses it with her students
    • Click here for example of how Marissa Tate uses with her Chemistry students
  • Plickers
  • Kahoot
  • Quizlet Live!
  • Quizizz
  • Wheel of Fortune (Ask Charlotte how she uses this with her students)
  • Socrative
  • Nearpod
  • Flipgrid
  • Mentimeter
  • Go Formative

Ideas that involve low tech:

  • Exit ticket
    • Ask a question, students respond on piece of paper (or Padlet)
    • Thumb through at desk
    • Make three piles; get it, kind of gets it, doesn’t get it – these piles will tell you where to go next
  • Hot Seat!
    • Teacher randomly places questions taped under student seats. Throughout class randomly yell out, “Hot Seat!” Student answers question associated with the question that was taped under their seat. They earn a participation point/candy if answered correctly.
  • Easter Egg Hunt (Ask Amy about this idea she read about)
    • Hide questions in easter eggs around campus; assign kids to groups and assign groups of kids an Easter egg color; groups travel around campus and find their group color; open eggs, write down question and answer; turn in answers at end of class
      • Consider putting QR codes inside of eggs and students can scan to read question or view your recording
  • Four Corners
    • Put a list of multiple choice questions together, each having 4 answers
    • Gather students in middle of room, read each question and answers
    • Students move to corner that represents what they believe is the correct answer
  • Hand It In, Pass It Out
    • Start by posing a question with an objective answer that’s explainable in a few sentences
    • Without writing their names on the paper, have them answer the question on piece of paper
    • As they hand in the paper, quickly distribute them back to students at random
    • Explain what correct answer is, so they can grade paper they received
    • In doing so, they will improve their understanding of the topic
    • Take poll to see how many papers were right
  • Pass the Chicken – You will need to purchase a rubber chicken for this fun review game. To begin, have students sit in a circle. Randomly ask one student a review question while the rubber chicken gets passed around the circle. If the rubber chicken arrives back at the student before he/she answers they must go to the middle (the pot) of the circle. The chicken is then passed to the next person, and so on. If the next student does not get the answer correct, then ask the students in the “pot” if they know the answer. If they do, then they may get out of the pot and go back to the circle. Be sure to enlist a few safety rules, the students can tend to get rough with the rubber chicken.

When we formatively assess, it is imperative to stop, look at the data that was collected, and re-assess our plan for the rest of that class period or the next day. If the data proves that the students have mastered the information, it’s time to up your game and provide a larger challenge. If your data proves that some of the students are still confused, you may need to consider how you can work with those students in a small group to re-teach information. If the vast majority of the students have proven that they do not understand the information at hand, it is time to stop and re-teach. It’s okay to go backwards – your end assessment or goal will thank you as their products will be much more representative of their abilities.



20 Formative Assessment Examples to Try [+ Downloadable List]

What Happens When You Give a Chemistry Teacher a Cookie?

We know what happens “if you give a mouse a cookie,” but what happens “if you give a French/chemistry teacher a cookie?” She turns into a creative monster!

A few months ago, one of our Upper School chemistry teachers (who also happens to teach French) met with me in hopes to amp up a project that her chemistry students partake in annually. Traditionally, she would provide students with the same set of directions that would result in all of the students completing the same project. Her ultimate objective was to allow for more student agency within this project and provide students with alternative assessment choices. After discussing her learning objectives, we decided that creating a “Tic-Tac-Toe Choice Board” would provide students with room to be creative, demonstrate their learning, and even move outside of some of their comfort zones. We met for about 30 minutes, I planted a few seeds and ideas, and she created an amazing adventure for her students.

My favorite part of our quick meeting, was what truly came of it. Not only did she create this wonderful “pick your own adventure” project for her students, she saw creativity emerge from her students and quite possibly my favorite part – we were able to deepen our teacher/instructional coach relationship. I giggled when I received an email from her containing details of her project that was signed, “the monster you created.” I love when a 30 minute meeting results in creating creative monsters. She has seen so much success with this project that the idea of student agency has spilled over into other projects as well as her French class. My goal is always to plant one small seed at a time, one meeting at a time, step back , and watch that seed flourish into a beautiful flower. With a little watering and support along the way, that flower eventually becomes a beautiful garden filled with student choice, student voice, creativity and risk-taking. Go my little monster, go!

Chemistry Project Tic-Tac-Toe Board:

When assigning the project she explained to her students that she “firmly believes that everything you learn in chemistry builds upon previous concepts” and to “think of these projects as a review for the semester exam.” Students were asked to complete each project individually, but they were encouraged to collaborate with classmates should they want to discuss important topics, ideas or gain feedback on their project.

Directions provided to students for Tic-Tac-Toe Choice Board


High school students don’t read email, right? (BTW: Neither do teachers, but that’s a different story.) Why don’t they? Because that’s not their medium. Our students operate via text messages, Snapchat, and Vine, not email or even Facebook. If we’re going to communicate with students effectively, then we need to find a system that works for all of us.

Moreover, students don’t do websites. Personally, I’m a big fan of Canvas and Google Classroom, but LMS’s, in general, feel like static, old-school wikis that work well for people of a certain generation, but not so much for this generation.

I’ve heard a number of students complain about LMS’s, saying that they can’t believe they actually have to open a web page and click around. After using Google Classroom for nearly three quarters of the year, I still had students who were struggling to find the information that they needed.

Communication is a two-way street. Transmission of information is not communication. My beautifully organized Google Classroom pages and my articulate emails do not constitute communication unless someone out there receives it and understands it.

I’ve also tried Twitter as a communication tool, but it’s not feature rich. GroupMe and other apps and services have similar shortcomings.

In my quest to get information in the hands of students, I have to continue to try new tools, so this quarter I’m piloting Slack. (NOTE: Slack’s user agreement requires users to be at least 16 years old, so this may not work if you teach younger students.)

Slack is a cross-platform communication tool that at first, quite frankly, looks like a confusing morass of chat rooms and text messages. In effect, it’s a chat and direct message system that also has the ability to integrate with important applications (e.g., Google Drive) to give you a robust, yet simple communication environment centered on short messages distributed in a timely fashion.

Slack is used by a slew of corporations that you’ve heard of and a quick Google search or a look at their website will show you just how common it is in different companies. Since it’s something that students might encounter in higher ed, internships, or their future workplaces, I thought it would be a good idea not only to use it in class, but also to teach students how to use it.

Why teach them how to use it?

Well, this is one area where we often drop the ball. We believe that our so-called “digital natives” know how to do everything on a computer, but most high school students lack computer skills. Word processing immediately comes to mind. The idea, for example, of setting tabs to create a hanging indent for an MLA Works Cited page is absolutely obtuse to them. (I spend a great deal of time showing them how to drag the little triangle on the ruler to different positions.) I don’t believe we can, nor should we, give students a tool and then not show them how to use it.

Implementing Slack

In order to get students into Slack, I asked them all to login using their school email addresses and their real names. Then I turned them loose with an introductory assignment where they had to figure out a host of things to do. (NOTE: I stole this idea from Elizabeth Becker. I took her “Getting to Know Slack” assignment and modified it for my purposes.)

Within twenty minutes, most students had completed the checklist and managed to post a selfie of themselves giving a thumb’s up to indicate that they had completed the checklists. Students worked together to figure things out and all managed to complete the list.

What I’m looking forward to…

Quicker Messaging and One-Spot for ALL Student Communication.

Slack gives me the opportunity to fire back SMS-style messages to students in rapid fashion. I don’t need to worry about the formalities of email or logging into a website like Canvas. Student asks a question, I respond to it. Moreover, all of my electronic communication with students will happen in one app. No need to worry about whether they got my email or saw my comments on Google Classroom. It’s all in Slack and it’s all searchable.

Staying on Top of Student Work.

As students work at different paces through my Scarlet Letter unit, I hope to stay on top of giving them feedback by using Slack as a “real-time” feedback loop. I’ve chunked out much of the work of the unit into small assignments that students can complete and submit at their own pace and complete in a variety of ways. They will post their work to a certain channel in Slack. My plan is to take moments throughout the day to keep up with that.

In-Class Polls and Voting.

Slack allows me to create polls, have students vote on options, and +1 each other’s work. For example, in preparation for a class discussion, I can have students post potential discussion questions. They can then respond to those questions with emojis. The question with the most +1’s is the question that will start our discussion!

Emoji Grading.

In order to create a quick visual reference for everyone involved, I intend to respond to student work in Slack with emojis. Sounds crazy, right? Not really. As a fan of single-panel rubrics, I believe that students either meet the bar or they don’t. If a student submits something that meets the bar, then they get a thumb’s up. If it doesn’t meet the bar, then they get a question mark emoji with some more written or verbal feedback as to how they can improve. If they do an exceptional job, I give them a thumb’s up and a plus sign. My hope is that students will be able to look for their Slack messages and quickly see what work met expectations and what work didn’t.

Student Collaboration.

By instituting Slack, I am telling students that they are encouraged to collaborate on everything. I teach five different sections and I’m hoping that students will work together and use Slack to accomplish this. For example, one of my dreams is to hear about a student in an AP section pairing up with a student in a non-AP section to complete some assignment. I hope that Slack will open up a natural avenue for communication across all of my classes.

Quick Exit Tickets.

As I mentioned above, students are working through this unit at their own pace. Consequently, students spend a lot of class time doing different things. Some are working on one of the assignments while others are taking class time to read the book and still others are having conversations in the corner about what a particular passage meant. (I know. Sounds like a good dream, right?) In any case, as an exit ticket, I intend to ask students to leave me a couple of sentences in Slack telling me what they accomplished that day.

Automated Messages.

Slack apps allow you to create bots that will automatically post messages. One of the apps that I’ve integrated with Slack is Google Calendar. For each class day, I post the agenda in Google Calendar. The Google Calendar app on Slack will post the agenda for the day in advance so that students get a reminder of what to expect.

What I’m worried about…

Let’s face it: any time we try something new in our classrooms, we are destined to encounter some problems. I’m absolutely sure that something is going to happen which I haven’t foreseen, but here are a couple that I am concerned about.

New System That LOOKS Tougher Than It Is.

When you first open Slack, it definitely looks intimidating, especially for those of us that are tad bit techno-phobic. I am worried that some students will immediately be turned off by this fancy chat room.

Keeping It Organized.

Slack relies on search, plain and simple, rather than organization. I am worried that things will feel very disorganized. I tend to create classroom spaces in LMS’s that are hyper-organized. This will definitely take me out of my comfort zone.

Ideas and Feedback?

In a few weeks time, after braving my new systems, I hope to have some feedback from students that helps me to either ditch all of this or work to make it even better.

Do you have any ideas, questions, or feedback that you’d like to share? Feel free to respond in these comments or hit me up on twitter (@sbhebert).

Happy Teaching!

Stephen Hebert teaches American Literature and AP English Language & Composition at the Oakridge School in Arlington, Texas. Feel free to reach out to him via twitter: @sbhebert.

Providing Student Agency with Choice Boards in an Upper School Setting

As technology continues to evolve in the classroom, students are provided with more and more ways to represent their learning. Student agency, which “refers to learning through activities that are meaningful and relevant to learners, driven by their interests,” has become a must in our classrooms for the 21st learner. Providing students with voice and choice in how they learn has become imperative. As educators, we must continue to consider how we might allow students the opportunity to show their learning through writing, projects, videos, reflections and so on. There is no longer a “one size fits all” approach or interest level from our students. But how? How do we continue to meet our learners’ needs, follow our curriculum, and so much more, all while allowing for student agency?

Recently, I partnered with a French teacher who was looking to do just this. As part of her curriculum she has her students read “Little Prince” and in the past they have responded or reflected upon their reading through 6 various projects. For example, students would all respond to a prompt on Flipgrid. When we met, she said that her objectives were still the same (objectives first, technology second), but that she was ready to revamp the unit as a whole. She was ready to allow students to take the lead. As we dug deeper into her learning objectives, we wanted to keep student agency at the front of the process. In order to do that, we chose to create a choice board in which students would pick 4 of the 8 options throughout the unit to show their learning. One of my favorite options is the “Partner with a MS student” option. Students in her Upper School French class would partner with a student who is in French in Middle School, read an excerpt of the French novel, and reflect upon the excerpt with that student. What a great way to provide cross-divisional connections as well.   Screen Shot 2019-03-25 at 9.16.56 AM

Within our classrooms there are artists, writers, graphic designers, bloggers, athletes, performers, to name a few. Why not leverage those talents and interests in all of our classrooms as opposed to mandating the same project and outcome each time? By creating a choice board, she is allowing students to be in the driver seat of showing their learning in creative ways that interest them. We also chose to create an “other” category. Why limit them?  There may be a student who has a creative way to represent learning and growth and by providing an “other” category, we are not limiting their creativity or communication.

Throughout the unit, students are to look for two overarching themes in addition to specific themes for the set of chapters. When students choose a way to represent their learning from the choice board, they must also discuss themes, main ideas, symbols, lessons and so on. The French teacher is having her French students include English learning objectives in her projects!!! (Yes, that deserved three exclamation points.) She discussed the importance of wanting her students to recognize the fact that themes, symbols, and lessons exist in all books that we read – not just in an English class. Talk about cross-curricular!

As students work through the 6 units while reading the novel, they will work in pairs to discuss the units. However, each choice board above is completed on an individual basis. For the 2 units that the students are not choosing an option from the choice board, students will be choosing a more traditional assessment – reflection paragraph, quiz, oral presentation, etc. Upon completing the novel, students will write 2 in class essays as well as participate in class discussions.

Project Requirements/ Explanations:

all work will be done EN FRANÇAIS


  • use Canva
  • Who is your audience? How would you give them the important facts about this unit?
  • What visual representations would help support your unit discussion?

Literary Comparisons

  • Find 3 works of art (movie, tv show, song, books, etc.) that you can compare to a character, event, lesson, etc
  • Think about the themes of le découvert or la quête
  • You will write 2 reflections and give 1 oral presentation


  • Using information from the unit, create a scrapbook page that would allow your audience to reminisce upon the importance of the chapters in this unit.
  • Include quotes (and your explanation of their relevance), the lessons taught (with examples), key events, etc.
  • Your page must be aesthetically pleasing.

Travel Brochure

  • Create an additional destination for LPP as he travels – be creative in what format you use!
  • Where would he go? What would the planet look like? Who would he meet?
  • What new message would he learn OR how would a lesson from the unit be recreated while staying true to the themes from the unit?

Partner with a MS Frenchie

  • Choose a brief excerpt from the unit.
  • Create a reading discussion guide for the events, key ideas, etc.
  • Meet with and read the excerpt
  • Discuss (perhaps in a formal interview, open ended questions, or some other idea)
  • Reflect on what you observed, what the MS student expressed, what you learned from the experience
  • Hand in your written reflection on the process

Cultural Connection

  • There are so many different ways to read LPP, research the author, the historical context of the novel, a philosophical reading of the text, etc.
  • Reflect on your findings and the connection(s) to the characters, themes, ideas from the unit
  • Present your reflection ORALLY to Mme Tate


  • Choose a way to represent your learning that is not listed on the choice board.
  • Share idea with me for approval.
  • Let the creativity flow!

Board Game

  • You may work in groups (no more than 3 students) or alone
  • Create a “board game” to review the characters, events, symbols, lessons, etc.
  • You may choose this for any unit, however can only be done upon completion of the ENTIRE book

Works Cited: