Giving Students a Little Taste of a Book A creative way to give students a choice in what they read and differentiate instruction to help them grow as readers.

Students read in a school library.

I learned about the book tasting—an opportunity for students to try out a variety of books—from an instructional coach at my school, who modeled it for the teachers, enabling us to learn firsthand what this activity can do.

To start, I gather titles in a variety of genres from the school library, classroom library, and literacy library—it’s best to have a few copies of each book. I set up my tasting by putting my students in seven groups of four, with four titles in a different genre for each group. One group is generally realistic fiction, one literary nonfiction, one fantasy, and so forth. With groups of four, students get to experience different viewpoints without being overwhelmed—every student gets a chance to contribute when they discuss their books.

Continue reading “Giving Students a Little Taste of a Book A creative way to give students a choice in what they read and differentiate instruction to help them grow as readers.”


Making Failure Harder Work Than Passing A rigorous intervention pushes students who might be satisfied with a D to aim higher.

A teacher in a science classroom talks as a student raises their hand.

Chemistry seems to inspire a D mentality: A significant number of students just want to pass the class to meet their graduation requirement, and do it with as little effort as possible.

Take Evelyn, for example. A junior in my chemistry class in the spring of 2015, Evelyn was bright, but she didn’t see chemistry as relevant to her present or future, so she kept her head low, didn’t engage with the material, missed about 20 percent of the class, and seemed to target a grade of 60 percent. That was at the beginning of the year.

Continue reading “Making Failure Harder Work Than Passing A rigorous intervention pushes students who might be satisfied with a D to aim higher.”

Don’t Quit: 5 Strategies for Recovering After Your Worst Day Teaching Use these ideas to recover your sense of self and your joy in teaching.

By Johanna Rauhala

Older boy with grey sweatshirt hood on sitting in a field of daisies

Ice crystallized on the windshield and then a tire burst on the way to school, making you late. By the time you arrived, the computer (with the video clip and presentation cued up) froze. Minutes later, Jason pulled the fire alarm while you tried to catch up on parent emails. During lunch duty, a student was punched in the nose. Your nose is stuffy while you explain to the principal right before an IEP meeting why your plans haven’t been submitted yet. The day trudges along… At last the final bell rings, and in your first quiet moment of the day, thoughts of leaving the teaching profession suddenly seem, well, right.

Continue reading “Don’t Quit: 5 Strategies for Recovering After Your Worst Day Teaching Use these ideas to recover your sense of self and your joy in teaching.”

Improving Your Parent-Outreach Strategy

Use these communication tools to keep parents in the loop, reduce your workload, and boost student engagement.
By Jeff Knutson
Illustration of many adult hands, each using a different mobile device.

Effective communication between educators and parents is an important—if not crucial—aspect of helping students learn. But as any teacher will tell you, it can be one of the most challenging parts of the job. Of course, every classroom is unique, and we all face different challenges: Some teachers suffer from in-box fatigue trying to keep up with a constant barrage of parent emails, while others struggle to get parents involved at all. But effective communication remains the goal in every case.

  • Parents wonder less about what’s going on at school. When everyone’s in the loop, at-home conversations about schoolwork are more productive. Parents are empowered to work with teachers as allies to help their kids succeed.
  • Teachers have more time and energy to focus on in-class learning. Believe it or not, the more you reach out to parents (and students) proactively as a group, the less time you’ll spend reacting to questions and concerns over email or by phone. When questions do arise, they’ll likely be more informed and constructive.
  • Students take more accountability for their own learning. With clear expectations and a supportive team of in-the-know parents and teachers, kids are more likely to perform and do their best work.

The most important thing is simply to keep everyone on the same page—parents, students, and teachers. It’s probably never been simpler, thanks to a bevy of great edtech options available today. Consider how you might utilize one or a number of new tools in combination with the parent-outreach strategies you’re already using.

Kicking Off a Positive Dialogue

1. Reach out with a messenger app like Remind: If you aren’t already using it, consider one of Remind’s biggest benefits: the ability to send immediate, up-to-date information to anyone (that is, anyone with a text-message-capable mobile phone). Teachers can send messages and updates to an entire class (or a group of classes), and the app offers more opportunities for students, parents, and teachers to interact, whether in groups or privately.

Looking for a different way to connect? Check out ClassDojo Messenger, Bloomz, or ParentSquare.

2. Start a dialogue around students’ work with a portfolio tool like Seesaw: Go beyond simple messaging and consider how you might start conversations with individual parents about their kids’ classwork. Like a social feed of students’ work, Seesaw offers a more personalized—and often more meaningful—way for teachers and parents to connect. What’s more, parents can engage directly with all the great things their kids are doing in school.

For a different portfolio option, try Bulb. Want a built-in gradebook? Check out FreshGrade.

3. Keep parents updated with an online gradebook like ThinkWave: Face it—a lot of parent-teacher conversations tend to be about grades. Fortunately, an online gradebook can keep parents up to speed on their kids’ progress in class. If your school doesn’t already use a learning management system with built-in grade reporting, consider a free gradebook option like ThinkWave. To kick off a constructive dialogue, consider how you’ll contextualize students’ progress in related messages to parents.

Looking for another free option? Try LearnBoost. Need a standards-based grading solution? Check out JumpRope.

4. Start a classroom blog for parents with Edublogs: Are you looking to the web to get your students and their parents engaged? You can post at a pace—weekly, daily, or even more often—that’s right for both you and your parent audience. As a part of WordPress, Edublogs has plenty of options, offering you the versatility you’ll need. Your posts are bound to engage parents (and students!) in ongoing conversations about learning.

Need a more full-featured blogging option? Check out WordPress.

5. Create a class website using Weebly: Sure, messaging apps and mobile-friendly platforms are faster ways to reach most parents. But don’t forget how useful a class webpage can be as a catchall for general class information. For years, Weebly has provided solid, free website options for teachers. It’s never a bad idea to offer students and parents a one-stop shop for your class with links and other information that can be valuable year-round.

6. Feeling social? Try Twitter: If “brevity is the soul of wit” (thanks, Shakespeare), it’s also part of the zeitgeist of our time, for better and for worse. On its own, Twitter isn’t the best online tool for two-way parent-teacher communication, but it can still serve as a fast, simple tool for daily class updates. If you go this route, it’s probably best to keep things simple with quick, one-way classwork, homework, and announcement posts.

However, the goal in using any social network for parent communication should be to boost involvement and engage parents and students on the platforms they already use. In recent years, some teachers have turned to using a closed Facebook group for their class. Parents and students can join, and everyone’s posts to the group page show up only in the closed group, not in personal Facebook feeds.

As long as you’re considering a social media option, what about using Instagram or Snapchat to connect? It may seem far-fetched, but these platforms can offer powerful new ways to connect with and engage parents and students. More than a few teachers are already going this route and finding success.

No matter what kind of online parent-outreach strategy you use, it should go without saying, of course, to always keep your students’ (and their parents’) privacy and safety in mind. Never post anything to a public forum that contains anyone’s personally identifiable information, and be cognizant of what “private” really means on various social platforms. For more information, be sure to check out “Protecting Student Privacy on Social Media.” And no matter where you connect, remember to keep your posts brief, helpful, informative, and professional.


This article was written by Jeff Knutson from Common Sense Education in collaboration with Edutopia.

Students’ Best Tech Resource: The Teacher Three strategies to make sure your content—not your technology—is your students’ main focus.

A teacher assists groups of students working at computers.

Growth in learning does not typically occur through technology used in isolation. It’s when instructional strategies and human interaction are used simultaneously with digital tools that learning experiences are best seeded for growth.

Consider a student using drill and practice software to learn math skills. Students can easily be distracted from the learning process by the excitement of getting to the reward at the end. And if the student is quickly clicking through the problems to get to that reward, they may not gain much understanding of the intended mathematical goal.

Continue reading “Students’ Best Tech Resource: The Teacher Three strategies to make sure your content—not your technology—is your students’ main focus.”