January 23, 2016

Classroom Book Clubs: Literature Circles Made Easy

Learn about Classroom Book Clubs, an easy and effective method of implementing Literature Circles!
Have you thought about trying Literature Circles but didn't know how to get started? Or maybe you implemented Literature Circles but gave up in frustration after becoming overwhelmed with the whole thing. If you can relate, stick with me to learn about a method that's easy for you, fun for your students, and very effective.

If you're not familiar with Literature Circles, the basic concept is that groups of students read the same book and meet regularly to discuss their thoughts and feelings about it. Kids love being able to choose books that interest them and having time to talk about the books with their peers, but some literature circles methods are overly complicated and end up burdening students with piles of written assignments. This is especially true of the models in which students assume roles like Discussion Director, Story Mapper, or Summarizer.

January 3, 2016

The True Cost of Free Teaching Resources

If you love free teaching resources, read this post to find out some facts that might surprise you!
Every so often someone posts a comment like this on my Teaching Resources Facebook page:

"I miss the days when teachers shared their resources for free in the spirit of collaboration. Now it seems like bloggers are just trying to make a buck off their fellow teachers. If they truly cared about helping other teachers and students, they would offer everything for free."

If you agree, I understand why you might feel that way. Really, I do. I used to feel that way, too, before I discovered the true cost of providing free resources.

Lately I've been seeing more comments like this than usual, probably because I’ve been enthusiastically promoting Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. I’m not sure why anyone would feel that a life-changing course with tools to help you shave hours off your workweek would be free, but apparently some do.

Yes, I could ignore those comments, but for every teacher who is bold enough to post something like that on my page, there are probably a hundred others who are thinking the same thing. It hurts to know that teachers feel this way, even though I recognize that they don't understand what goes on behind the scenes. I guess that’s why I’ve finally decided to open up about the costs associated with creating and sharing teacher resources.

January 1, 2016

Plickers 101 - Easy Digital Exit Tickets and More!

Do you use Plickers? It's an amazing (and free) online assessment tool, but up until now, you've had to type in the questions and answers manually. Read the tips in this post and download a free step-by-step tutorial that explains how to make Plickers easy by using task cards for assessment questions. Your kids will LOVE Plickers!
What do you get when you cross response clickers with QR codes?

Wait for it…. Plickers! 

Plickers is a free, totally innovative, web-based tool that combines the best of response clickers and QR codes. The program makes it easy for a teacher to get student feedback almost instantly, and the only technology needed is a single classroom computer and a single mobile device. Kids love it, too!

How Plickers Works
Plickers works somewhat like traditional handheld clicker systems. Students respond to multiple choice questions by clicking the letter of the correct answer, and the resulting data is immediately displayed for the teacher. But here's where Plickers is different. Plickers eliminates the need for expensive clickers by using paper clickers, or “Plickers,” that work like QR codes. Each student is assigned a Plickers card with a unique pattern, and he or she uses the same personal response card all year to answer questions posed by the teacher. After a question is presented, the students respond by holding up their cards, and the teacher scans the cards with a mobile device. The results appear instantly for the teacher to view.

To understand how it works, take a look at the sample Plickers card below. Think of the unique square pattern as a sort of “fingerprint” the Plickers software uses to identify each student when the cards are scanned. The number on each side is the number assigned to the student in the system. As you can see, each side displays a different letter of the alphabet (A-D), and these letters represent the multiple choice answers. Students respond to Plickers questions by holding up their cards and rotating them so that the correct answer is at the top. The teacher scans the cards all at once by pointing the camera on a mobile device towards the class and sweeping it around the room. As the system recognizes each card, the results are displayed instantly on the teacher's mobile device.


You can download a set of these cards for free from the Plickers website, but be forewarned that they take a lot of ink to print. Fortunately, you only need to print them once a year if you print them on cardstock and store them properly. Laminating them does help protect them, but you should laminate one and test it out in your classroom before you laminate all the cards. Sometimes the glare from the plastic can cause problems with scanning, especially in certain lighting conditions. One solution is to purchase a set of Plickers cards from Amazon.com which are printed on sturdy paper and are laminated with a non-glare film.

Plickers K-5 Facebook Group
I’m still new to Plickers, and I love exploring its features and uses! To get started, I set up an account at Plickers.com and watched the tutorial videos. The basics were fairly easy to master, but what I really wanted to know was how others were using it in their classrooms. I decided to create a Plickers Facebook group for elementary teachers who wanted to share strategies for using it, and the group has grown to over 400 members in just a few months! If you want to join, you can sign up here. (It’s free!) My group is for K-5 teachers, but Chris Kesler of Kesler Science moderates one for middle and secondary teachers (all subjects). You can find his group here.

Simple Ways to Start Using Plickers Now
I was impressed by the many ways teachers are using Plickers, but I decided not to share them all in this post. It's a bit much to take in when you're just getting started! For now, I'll stick to the three assessment strategies below, and I'll share additional strategies in a future post.
  • Assessing Prior Knowledge – Use Plickers to find out what your students know about a topic or their proficiency with a particular skill before you introduce that lesson or unit. You can save a lot of instructional time by determining the appropriate level of instruction in advance.
  • Ongoing Formative Assessment – Take time to assess student understanding at least three or four times during a lesson. If your students are not grasping the concepts, it’s far easier to backtrack and reteach those concepts on the spot than to attempt to correct misunderstandings the next day. 
  • Easy Digital Exit Tickets – After completing a lesson, assess with a series of Plickers questions instead of paper exit tickets. You won't have to print new exit tickets each day, and you can choose the questions at the end of the lesson to be sure they fit the content and skills you covered. Furthermore, you won't have to take those exit tickets home to grade! You can view the results later as you plan the next day's lesson to make sure the level of instruction is appropriate. You'll also know who's going to need extra help. If you want to review the data before the students leave, you can base your homework assignments on the results. Allow students who get 100% of the answers correct to skip the homework for that night. 
Plickers Made Easy with Task Cards
Have I convinced you to try Plickers? It’s an amazing tool, but there is one BIG problem. As of right now, you have to manually enter all test questions and answers which can be time-consuming. Fortunately, the Plickers team recently added a feature that allows the user to upload an image into the area where you type each question. 

I love figuring out time-saving strategies for teachers, so when I discovered that feature, I immediately wondered if it was possible to upload images of task cards instead of having to enter written questions manually. Within a few minutes I was excited to find out that it works! Images of task cards can be used for questions, and if the cards have multiple choice answers, it only takes a few minutes to upload an entire set of images. In addition to saving you time, this feature is awesome because you can create assessments for topics like telling time with an analog clock or analyzing graphs that require an image. The example below shows one of my Time in Word Form Task Cards as it would appear in "Live View" for your students. As you can see, I didn't have to enter a written question nor any answer choices. I just uploaded the image and told the system which answer was correct. There's really no way I could have entered that assessment item without using an image.  

Did you know that task card images can be uploaded and used as Plickers questions. Download a free tutorial to learn how!

If this all sounds confusing, don’t worry. I created a step-by-step tutorial to explain exactly what to do. You can download it for free from my TpT store.  
Did you know that task card images can be uploaded and used as Plickers questions. Download a free tutorial to learn how!

Ready-to-Use Task Card Images
After I discovered how to use task card images with Plickers, I realized that it would be nice if teachers could purchase ready-to-use images of task cards to save the time. I’ve been testing this idea, and my two newest sets of task cards include Plickers-ready images in a bonus folder inside the product zip file. My Time in Work Form Task Cards are shown on the left, and Parts of the Water Cycle Task Cards are displayed on the right. If you would like me to create more task card sets with Plickers-ready images, comment on this post with your suggestions.


Using Task Cards for Whole Group Formative Assessment
Task cards are normally used in centers or in games like Scoot. But being able to use them with Plickers got me thinking about other ways to use task cards, like for whole group formative assessment. So I’m experimenting with adding task card and images to other products that didn’t previously include task cards, such as Sentence Go Round. If you’ve already purchased this product, you can click on the image below, log in to TpT, and download the new file which includes 10 task cards and images. You can use these task cards for assessing prior knowledge, for ongoing formative assessment, or at the end of the activity as a digital exit ticket.


Plickers 101 Wrap Up
As I create new products that include Plickers-ready images, I'll add them to my TpT store. Just click on the Plickers Resources custom category in the sidebar of my store to find them in one place.

My next article in this series will include additional creative ways to use Plickers in the classroom. If you want to be notified when that post is live, sign up for my mailing list.

If you haven't already been using Plickers, I'm sure you're eager to get started! But I'll bet you still have a lot of questions about what you can and can't do with Plickers. Some of those questions are answered on the Plickers site and in online tutorials, but many you'll have to discover through trial and error. Another great place to get answers questions is my Plickers K-5 Facebook group. Newbies are always welcome!




Disclosure Statement: I’m not affiliated with Plickers, and I wasn’t paid to write this post. I’m sharing about Plickers because I’m a strong believer in using formative assessment to drive instruction, and I enjoy figuring out ways to make interactive teaching methods easier to implement. I'm creating a series of products that include Plickers-ready images, and I hope you'll consider purchasing those that meet your needs. Your purchases make it possible for me to continue creating free resources like the Plickers Made Easy with Task Cards Tutorial. I've included an affiliate link to the Plickers cards on Amazon.com which means I earn a small percent of the sales of that product, too. Trust me when I say that I would never link to something that I didn't believe was a great product! Thanks for your support!