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August 20, 2017

I was listening to a podcast, EdTech Take Out, and at the end of the show, each of the two podcasters mentioned favorite new tech products.  One of the podcasters mentioned  I decided to check it out because the review indicated that it might help my reading students.

I did check it out.  It looks promising enough that I will share it with my students this semester. takes a text and rewords the difficult words into either simpler words or explanatory phrases.  Here is an example from the Custom House chapter of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

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Each of the highlighted words or phrases replace more difficult vocabulary items.  The difficulty calculations are based on the Corpus of Contemporary American English word frequency calculations.  When the highlighted area is clicked on, the original word or phrase will appear.

rewordify definition

We can also get information about the text this is entered including reading ease and vocabulary density.  We can find this out by looking at the top of the page which immediately provides information about how many difficult words are in the reading. If we choose Stats,Screen Shot 2017-08-20 at 8.27.50 AM

we can find out more information about lexical density and readability.

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Looking at the stats reinforces the initial impression that this would be a very difficult text for English language learners.  Print and Learning Activities give us a menu of different resources to use including vocabulary lists and quizzes.

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I haven’t tried these out yet, but I did do the vocabulary list with definitions for the first reading my class will do.

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The site provides educator assistance if you choose Educator Central at the top of the menu items.  Educator Central looks like this.

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As I have said, I haven’t used this site, but it looks very supportive for the users both teachers and students.  I haven’t decided how to use this site for my class but plan to use it.  If you use it, please let me know what your experiences are.



July 27, 2017

Flipped learning requires constant formative assessment. Many of these assessments occur in class with the teacher looking on. Other assessments involve checking work with the class, getting feedback through exit tickets and asking for it. But sometimes, I like to switch things up a little with a game-like activity. I use [Kahoot] ( a game-like assessment activity.

kahoot page
Kahoot is a free online application that can be used to create quizzes, surveys, or open ended questions. I have created 25 Kahoots for my reading and for my writing classes. I generally make multiple choice quizzes. In making the quizzes, the creator can add images and even video (though I haven’t done that yet) to the quiz. The process is pretty straightforward.reading and for my writing classes. I generally make multiple choice quizzes. In making the quizzes, the creator can add images and even video (though I haven’t done that yet) to the quiz. The process is pretty straightforward.
Students can access Kahoot on their cell phones, tablets, or laptops. They sign in and give themselves names. I don’t require a transparent name (I don’t always know who is who during the game). The questions with the choices appear on screen with the choices in different geometrical shapes and colors. Students select the shape of the correct answer. What makes it challenging and exciting for the students is each question is timed. The scores are recorded with the top scores reported. This continues until the quiz is finished.themselves a name. I don’t require a transparent name (I don’t always know who is who during the game). The questions with the choices appear on screen with the choices in geometrical shapes of different colors. Students select the shape of the correct answer. What makes it challenging and exciting for the students is each question is timed. The scores are recorded with the top scores reported. This continues until the quiz is finished.
For the teacher, the results can be exported to a Google Drive Sheet (an Excel like application), so teachers can examine the results. This helps because, in class, it sometimes looks like a student is doing really well only to find out later the student struggled after the first question or two. This information can be used to shape reviews.
I have found Kahoot a useful formative assessment tool as well as a good change of pace during a long semester. Students usually have access as long as wifi is working in the a useful formative assessment tool as well as a good change of pace during a long semester. Students usually have access as long as wifi is working in the classroom.
I haven’t assigned Kahoot outside of class, but that seems to me to be a good option to explore. Here is a video introducing Kahoot.

An app I use for ebooks

July 26, 2017

I have been writing or compiling e-books for a few years now. This has made it possible for me to supply free resource books for some of my classes.
The first one I did was compiling many worksheets for our advanced reading class. Most of the materials came from the files and were put together in order for students to be able to practice outside of class. Since I have rarely taught the class and the teachers tell me the book is meeting their needs, I have not updated it.
The second one I wrote. I wrote it for the advanced communication class I teach. In this one, I tried to make it a resource book that would guide the students through the different assignments. I describe assignments, steps for successful completion, available resources for practicing listening, making presentations, making videos, and completing some of the other activities for the class. This summer I completed the 6th revision of it.
I have also written parts of and compiled resource books for our intermediate reading and intermediate writing classes.
To put together these e-books, I have been using an application called Jutoh. Jutoh is not a free application, but I had problems with free applications when I was starting out resulting in the loss of hours of work. As a result, I decided to pay and searched for what was a reasonable option.
Jutoh proved to be it. Jutoh has served me well. It takes a little getting used to but is a powerful and flexible e-book tool. It has done most of what I want (it probably does more, but I haven’t figured out how to do it) and continues to improve. I now write and compile to an ebook, save it as a pdf, and also upload it to the web with the HTML save capacity.
At first, I thought students should access the book only as an e-book, but when I found out how to make it available in other formats, I did so.
The person behind Jutoh is Julian Smart. He constantly upgrades it and responds personally when users experience difficulties with the application. If you wish to try out writing or compiling an ebook and find Google Docs or word processed e-books don’t fit your needs, try Jutoh out.
If you really get into it, you may find yourself editing books for Amazon or for other writers.

Test retakes

February 3, 2017

A year and a half ago after reading a couple of blogs about testing and retakes, I thought I would try it.  My reasoning was that this might encourage students to study the material better for the second attempt.  With many of the tests, but not all, I provide the students with feedback on the skills tested and how they did on each skill.  I have constructed spreadsheets to help me generate this data.  From this effort, I have arrived at a few impressions.

First, the students’ enthusiasm for retakes does not match the number of students who show up.  When I announce the opportunity for a retake in class, the enthusiasm suggests at least two-thirds of the students will take the test, but the total who take the retake usually come closer to one-third on the first retake.  As the semester progresses, the number who avail themselves of this opportunity decreases.

A concern with giving the retake is that the test will be fresh enough in the students’ minds that they will be able to remember the test and do better based on memory.  While I can’t explore their brains or memories, the results indicate that this concern is unfounded.  While some continue to make the same mistakes, others make new mistakes.

I would think that the weaker students would find this a welcome opportunity to try to improve their grades.  They get a chance to pass the test after they failed it the first time.  However, many of the students who take the retake are trying to raise Bs to As or Cs to Bs.  The ones most in need of the additional push are less enthusiastic about taking the retake.

Finally, the results so far show mixed improvements.  A little over half of the students improve from one test to another, a few do the same or nearly the same, and a small number do worse.  Few students do well enough to increase their scores to move up a grade level such as from a C to a B.

Still, I plan to continue with the retakes to give the students interested in the opportunity a chance.  It seems to help many of the students who do it while at least getting most to review the materials, that is, except for the few who appear to think that maybe their luck will change with the retake.


Looking at retirement and it’s staring back at me

January 31, 2017

I retire in about 10 months.  I have mixed feelings about that.  I look forward to having some time for myself to fiddle around not doing very much.

But I look at much that I would like to accomplish for my program.  I could probably accomplish more of it now, but thoughts of retirement have an innervating effect on my moving forward energetically on projects or venturing into new areas.

Still, I feel like I have become a better teacher over the last few years.  I flipped some of my classes about 5 years ago and keep doing so sometimes in a sort of slapdash way, or so it seems to me.  My teaching seems to have improved.  I feel more connection to my students and see them succeeding although sometimes only on the second attempt at the class.   Sometimes, I feel I am at the top of my game.  The reality though is that my hearing loss continues little by little, and I miss more each year or make students feel bad when I make them repeat more than once.

The grading and grind of preparing will not be missed and the trepidation about whether I am prepared enough or have the right formula for this class will be gladly put away. I think so anyway.  However, the creating of a new lesson, creating a new project will be sorely missed.  Even staring at my retirement, I spent tonight preparing a new type of vocabulary practice that I want to use tomorrow.  Last week, I created an email writing assignment for my students that went pretty well.

And though I am the titular head of my program, I wonder will anyone use any of these activities I worked on so enthusiastically?

Some Formulas for Test Results Spreadsheet

May 22, 2016

In setting up the test results spreadsheet, there are some formulas that are needed to help report and analyze the results.  I am not a spreadsheet maven, so most of my formulas lack sophistication and do not use such powerful one as VLookUp which I often see referenced on YouTube or in some posts about setting up reports.

Number of Students

After entering the data for all of the students, I want to know how many students took the test.  This is important for some later calculations.  Now I could just count them, but I like to use one of two formulas either =COUNTA(beginning cell, ending cell) as in =COUNTA(A3:A28).  I can also use the formula =COUNTIF(A3:A28,“*”).  I prefer the first formula.  Now, I have the number of students who have taken the test.

Students with Correct Answers

Next, I want to know how many students made the correct choice for each item.  My test was a 15 item test.  However, I only need to write the formula one time.  I use the COUNTIF formula for this.    First, I choose the column of the item from the first to the last response, then after a comma, I enter or choose the correct answer from the key.

The formula used in this spreadsheet looks like this =COUNTIF(B3:B28,B2).  I then grab the box in the lower right-hand corner of the cell


and drag it over the other columns to quickly calculate the number of correct answers for the other items on the test.

To calculate the percent correct, we can divide the number correct by the number of students who took the test.  We can do this by manually entering the number of students who took the test or by entering the cell number of formula for the number of students and using $ to make it an absolute.  Our formula would look something like this =B30/$A$35.

Analyzing the Responses

To further analyze the responses, we can see a breakdown of choices by using the COUNTIF formula some more.  The format changes somewhat.  First, I go down the first column and enter a, b, c, and d for the possible choices.  Then in the column under the first item, I enter =COUNTIF(B3:B28,“a”).  We cannot simply grab the corner and pull down without going back and correcting the cell numbers because they change with the pull-down.  We also cannot use the absolutes ($) because we want to pull sideways to copy the formula with the adjustments made by the spreadsheet.  So, the next one down looks like =countif(B3:B28,“b”), =countif(B3:B28,“c”).  Note that it doesn’t matter if the formula is in upper case or lower case.  Once we have all the items for one column, we can copy sideways.  


Getting the students’ scores

The next formula we need will give us the correct numbers for the choices the students made.  In other words, we can find out how many correct answers each student has.  The formula is =SUMPRODUCT(($B$2:$P$2=B3:P3)). The formula allows the comparison of the students choices in the row B3:P3 with the key row, $B$2:$P$2 using the absolute $ in front of the cell numbers.  The results from this formula will provide the number of correct choices.  The formula can be copied down by grabbing the square and pulling it down.  The key will not change, but the row for each student will change to match the student.


These formulas provide the basis for helping report and analyze student results and the test items.  In a subsequent post, I will show how to use these formulas to develop individualized reports for students and how to analyze student results and test items.

Reorganizing and Learning

May 22, 2016

I have been thinking about the process of learning as I am participating in a professional development course at my college. We are aiming to come up with an action research project. At present, I am considering a project on adding gamification elements into my reading and my writing classes. In considering this, I have been reflecting on learning.

Teaching involves getting students to reorganize their knowledge in some ways. The process involves making students uncomfortable with what they know; i.e., I don’t know enough to do this, or what I know doesn’t match with my textbook/teacher’s lecture/video information. The teacher helps the students deal with the failures that go along with the learning while also enabling the student to go through the successful reorganization.