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When Should Presenters Stop the Slides?

When Should Presenters Stop the Slides?

A few weeks ago at the Edscape Conference I co-facilitated a one-hour session titled, Non-Negotiables of Professional Development. 

The Problem 

My partner, Erin Murphy (@MurphysMusings5), and I only made it through 6 of our 23 planned slides. All it took were the first few slides and a thinking routine to generate an intense, on-topic discussion that lasted the entire hour and could have easily gone on for much longer.

My decision to stop the slides took place with about 15 minutes remaining in the session. I determined that it would have been nonsensical for me to abruptly halt an engaging conversation because I found the need to carry out what had been planned (even if the content took several hours to put together). So, I stepped away from the computer, pulled up a chair, and fully committed myself to the dialogue.

The Solution

As the session concluded and participants started to file out, Gerald Aungst (@geraldaungst) asked if I was upset that our presentation did not follow its intended path.

My initial thoughts…

At a conference, prioritizing your slides over a stimulating conversation is equivalent to telling students that it is time to move on because there is a lot to cover.

In other words, harness the teachable moments and emphasize depth over breadth. Be grateful if your conference presentation is “hijacked” by those in attendance because they have taken a genuine interest in your topic. After all, the more common problem is attendees being indifferent, nonparticipants, who succumb to being talked at while turning their attention to what’s next on their program.

Another Point of View

Interestingly enough, yesterday I was having lunch with Dr. Tony Sinanis (@TonySinanis) at Roberta’s, Brooklyn. He was in the room during the presentation, and here is his take on the situation:

“Honestly, I left wanting to hear more of what you had to say. When I go to a session because of who’s presenting, I want to hear what that person has to offer…But, in that situation [Edscape], you did the right thing.”

In the End

Right now, I feel the “answer” varies based on the context of the presentation.

For example, if I am working for a school district (such as my own), and my job is to deliver a certain message and for participants to leave with specified takeaways, my plan should be my top priority. On the other hand, if I am at a local conference and everyone starts to jump in because of their strong, on-topic opinions, I should allow for them to do so (especially if many of the attendees are colleagues/friends, as was the case at Edscape).

In short, my takeaways:

  1. Be flexible. Sometimes it is necessary to shift from presenting content/ideas to facilitating discussion, much like a teacher in the classroom when engaging students in inquiry-based learning.
  2. At the same time, others might want to experience what you have to offer. So, don’t be afraid to own it and do your thing. In the words of Joe DiMaggio, “There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time, I owe him my best.”

Has anything similar ever happened to you, either as a presenter or as an attendee? What are your overall thoughts on stopping the slides?

Connect with Ross on Twitter. 

Overcoming the SQUIRREL: Why PD Sessions Should Use Digital Tools Sparingly

Guest post written by Jaime LaForgia, Director of Professional Development for Discovery Education

Overcoming the SQUIRRELWhy We Love Digital Tools

For many, the term “in-service” or “professional development” conjures images of tirelessly boring days of sitting and getting information while some expert drones on and on about the latest and greatest in education.  But 21st century professional learning is different.  Think about your last experience. I’d bet within the last year, you’ve been in a session during which the presenter used cool digital tools like Kahoot! or Poll Everywhere, which most likely made your time together more fun and engaging.

But what was the purpose?  Using digital tools in professional development solely to create a “fun” and “interactive” environment completely circumvents the intended learning outcomes. I’ve learned this the hard way.

Why We Hate Digital Tools

Last fall, I planned a six-hour PD session with a group of teachers who were just learning about the new standards and the pedagogical shifts demanded of them. My learning targets for the day focused on understanding the need for evidence-based thinking, academic discourse about texts, and the meaningful instruction of academic vocabulary. I needed a quick and efficient way to get them into the standards in order to understand the vertical alignment and the importance of employing the instructional shifts into their current practice.   

Enter QR codes.

What better way to help them extricate the most important aspects of a rather boring document than through a QR code scavenger hunt through the standards?  

So off they went–phones in one hand, standards in the other.  I facilitated their learning as they scanned, searched, read, scanned, searched, read.  And this just got our day started!  There was so much more we accomplished.  We debriefed, experienced a model lesson, introduced the idea of close reading, and even had some co-planning time so their learning would transfer immediately to practice.

And transfer it did.  Later that week, I entered the school to do some classroom visits bubbling with excitement.  I couldn’t wait to see the teachers’ learning in action.  When I walked down the hall, however, I noticed several QR codes hanging in the hallways and on lockers.  I stood back and watched as students engaged in their content by scanning codes and writing their responses on a, for lack of a better term, worksheet.  When I got a closer look, I realized that much of what was being asked on their QR code was basic recall and recitation type of thinking.  Where was the evidence-based thinking?  The text-based discussions?  The rigor?  It seemed the only learning that transferred was that QR codes were really cool and engaging.

As the content creator of the professional learning, I knew I was using QR codes at the very lowest level of SAMR. But I wanted an easy tool that would enable us to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time.  I was going for efficiency, not redefinition.  I knew this, but the teachers, through no fault of their own, did not. The QR codes were the shiny object that hijacked my learning goals.

Untangling the Quandary

So how do we overcome this pesky squirrel?

  • Use digital tools sparingly. It’s much more effective to use one tool in a robust and meaningful way than to expose your audience to three or four tools they can’t use well.
  • Let the pedagogy lead the tool.  Start with your learning outcomes, and plan with that end in mind.  If there’s a digital tool that, if leveraged, will enhance the learning you want to happen, go for it.  If not, skip it.
  • Connect the tool to the outcomes.  Digital transformation happens when teachers see how the technology can enhance their instruction.  If you’re learning about differentiated instruction, showcase a tool that will actually help teachers differentiate.
  • Focus on the learning opportunities, not the tool itself.  While we want our audience to know where to find the tool and how it functions, it’s way more important for us to spend time talking about how the tool can be used to impact student learning.  Learning about flexible grouping?  Show teachers how you can actually use the real-time data provided by a fun tool like Plickers to create groups.

One of cornerstones of effective professional development is modeling the best practices we’re learning about.  Because technology integration is so pervasive, effective modeling of digital tool use is more important than ever.  So next time you want to infuse a digital tool into your session, ask yourself, Is this how I would want to see it used in the classroom?  Then, make your decision.

Connect with Jaime on Twitter

Rigor vs. Relevance…Who Wins?

Rigor vs. Relevance...Who Wins?Daggett’s Presentation

A week ago I had the privilege of attending a full-day presentation by Bill Daggett. If you ever have the opportunity to work with him, do it! Highly recommended! Prior to the presentation I had heard so much about his ability to engage an audience. So, I was as interested in watching a world-class presenter do his thing as I was in the content that he would bring to the table. In both regards, he did not disappoint.

The Turnkey

A few days after Daggett’s presentation, I had about 20 minutes during a district leadership meeting to turnkey some of what I had learned to other administrators. The Rigor Relevance Framework served as the focal point for this time. However, rather than simply showing and explaining, I took an approach that resembled how I instructed when I was a fourth grade teacher.

I simply displayed a version of the framework (pictured) for all to see, and had participants pair up to answer and discuss the following questions:

  1. What is rigor?
  2. What is relevance?
  3. What’s more important?

When we came back together as a group to share out, the dialogue that ensued amongst administrators was impressive. After a few minutes I was able to sit back, keep quiet, and watch almost everyone willingly engage in a debate that pitted the importance of rigor against the importance of relevance.

Think for a second how the chosen “instructional approach” can familiarize adults (and students) with this content (or comparable content) through collaboration, debate, and inquiry. Meanwhile, the other extreme, as previously mentioned, would be to show, explain, and then probably just jump to the next topic without any meaningful dialogue or assessment of understanding.

My Thoughts

Like any good teacher, eventually I tried to move on without offering up my own opinion, even after I was prompted to do so by our High School Assistant Principal. However, after being provoked a second time by our Coordinator of Technology, I announced something to the following effect:

As a classroom teacher the rigor drove the relevance. I knew that if my students were consistently exposed to activities that were challenging and unique, they would be engaged and therefore the content would be relevant to them. In general, I led with inquiry and tried to let the rest take care of itself.

I should also mention that I followed up with the disclaimer that this approach is what I thought worked for my students and me, and that mileage may vary based on different contexts.

In the End

Regarding this post, what is worth noting is not so much the Rigor Relevance Framework (although, definitely look into it) but rather the idea that every instance of educator professional development is another opportunity to model best practice. Even a short, 20-minute turnkey during a district leadership meeting is not the exception. Never hesitate to blur the lines between the way you facilitate educator learning and how you believe learning should be promoted in the classroom.

What unique approaches have you taken when planning/facilitating professional development? Also, what experience do you have with the Rigor Relevance Framework?

Connect with Ross on Twitter.

Four “Look Fors” in an Education Conference

Four %22Look Fors%22 in an Education ConferenceWithin the past month or so I have attended three local conferences: NJPAECET2, Edcamp Long Island, and Edscape. As I reflect upon these experiences (and the other events of which I have been a part), I find a handful of common denominators in regards to what I personally look for in a conference. With these ideas in mind…

Here are my four “looks fors” in an education conference:

  1. Balance of “old” and “new” friends/colleagues: There is something comfortable about showing up at a conference, knowing that your “local PLN” is going to be there. At the same time, I am always looking to expand upon my friendships/PLN by establishing new face-to-face connections with those (1) I have previously only interacted with via social media, or (2) I have not interacted with altogether. It is funny to think that when I first started going to conferences a handful of years ago, the only people I knew were those who came along with me for the ride.
  2. Powerful keynote: I am always in awe of anyone who can stand up in front of a large crowd for a lengthy period of time and deliver a powerful story, straight from the heart. (It is easy to forget that speaking is an entirely different art than writing, blogging, or presenting. And, just because you can do one does not necessarily mean you can do another.) I was particularly blown away by the closing keynote of Gemar Mills (@PrincipalMills) at NJPAECET2 and the opening keynote of Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp) at Edscape. In the words of Jerry Garcia, “Inspiration, move me brightly…”
  3. Pedagogy first, technology second: I love technology, I really do; but, I love pedagogy more. After all, “Pedagogy is the driver, technology is the accelerator.” While I see the value in conferences/sessions that focus mostly on “cool tools,” I prefer to learn about “best practice” when interacting face to face with other educators. (For the most part, I can learn about all of the apps and Web 2.0 I need via social media or Google.) That being said, I think there is a fundamental problem when the biggest “pedagogy” conferences (such as ASCD) are run entirely separate from the biggest educational technology conferences (such as ISTE). Think about that for a second.
  4. Food: If you are going to serve bagels for breakfast, make sure they are fresh and local, not from a chain. When serving lunch, please let everyone know ASAP how many lines there are. (“Oh, there’s a shorter line on the other side?”) Coffee throughout the day is a non-negotiable. Finally, and most importantly…if a friend is driving in from out of town, and that town is located near a famous pizza place, pizza delivery is a must. At Edscape 2014, my friend Sharon Plante (@iplante) and I started this tradition when she was kind enough to bring Pepe’s Pizza all the way from Connecticut to New Jersey!

If you had to add a fifth “look for” to the list, what would it be? What do you look for in a conference? What are some of the best conferences you have attended?

Connect with Ross on Twitter.

Writing Pathways Professional Development

Writing Pathways Professional DevelopmentThis past Monday I facilitated an introduction to Writing Pathways professional development with two of my district’s Reading Specialists.

According to the official website:

Lucy Calkins’ groundbreaking performance assessments offer instructional tools to support continuous assessment, timely feedback, and clear goals tied to learning progressions that have been aligned with world-class standards…These assessment tools make progress in writing as transparent, concrete, and obtainable as possible and put ownership for this progress into the hands of learners, allowing students and teachers to work toward a very clear image of what good writing entails.

The six main components of Writing Pathways include: learning progressions, on-demand writing prompts, student checklists, rubrics, student writing samples, and annotated exemplar pieces of writing. (You can read more about these resources on the official website.)

The session lasted three hours and it involved the classroom teachers from all two elementary schools in my district.

Here is a brief outline of what took place. (Although this outline applies to a session on Writing Pathways, you will find several non-negotiables of professional development that can be applied to the learning of any topic. You can also read more about the non-negotiables here.):

  1. The teachers grouped by grade level to discuss and answer the following six questions on a Google Doc (Storytown is our current Language Arts series.):
    • Typically, what does your writing instruction look like?
    • How does writing fit within your Storytown rotation? (scheduling, how often, etc.)
    • What materials (e.g. Storytown, books, websites, etc.) are you using to support your writing instruction? What are the main components of Storytown on which you rely for instruction?
    • Overall, when it comes to writing instruction, what do you feel is working/not working for your students?
    • How could your writing instruction be better supported? (resources, guidance, professional development, etc.)
  2. A short discussion about the session’s essential question, “Why Writing Pathways?”
  3. A short discussion about the session’s four enduring understandings (more or less, the day’s takeaways):
    • “Where are we” with writing instruction?
    • Where do we “want to go” with writing instruction?
    • I am somewhat familiar with the six different components of Writing Pathways.
    • I have a general idea of what the Writing Workshop structure entails.
  4. Testimonials by teachers who already have experience with Writing Pathways
  5. A brief, direct instruction overview of the six components
  6. The teachers explored the six components on their own by (1) browsing through the actual resources, while (2) referring to a handful of slides that contain key facts about each resource. As the teachers worked, they were encouraged to collaborate/discuss with their teammates.
  7. Break
  8. The teachers individually completed the QTT graphic organizer by synthesizing (1) what they knew about the six components, with (2) key quotes about each resource that were pulled straight from the book. As the teachers worked, they were encouraged to collaborate/discuss with their teammates.
  9. Video: A Day in the Life of Writing Workshop. (While Writing Workshop was not the main focus of the day, the integration of Writing Pathways with Writing Workshop is our eventual goal. So, we thought that the video would help to provide some context and preview where we are headed.)
  10. A review of the enduring understandings (see Step 3)
  11. A review of the essential question (see Step 2)
  12. A brief talk about what’s next: the distribution of a follow-up survey to gauge teachers’ reactions to the learning, and using subsequent sessions to dive deeper into the six components.
  13. Thank you!

Just like any other professional development session that I have facilitated/co-facilitated, some parts “clicked,” while others I would modify if it had to be done again. Either way, I do feel that the teachers appreciated the “less is more” approach to the day, and it was exciting to see that some of them are already asking for resources to assist in facilitating the Writing Workshop model that integrates with Writing Pathways.

What does your school or district “do” for writing instruction? What are your experiences with Writing Pathways and/or Writing Workshop? What kind of writing instruction have you seen “work” for students?

Connect with Ross on Twitter.

Yes! Flip Your Classroom!

Yes! Flip Your Classroom!Dissonance.

According to, dissonance can be defined as “lack of agreement or consistency.”

From my research, it is one of the hallmarks of any successful organization.

In Good to Great Jim Collins declares:

Indeed, one of the crucial elements in taking a company from good to great is somewhat paradoxical. You need executives, on the one hand, who argue and debate – sometimes violently – in pursuit of the best answers, yet, on the other hand, who unify fully behind a decision, regardless of parochial interests.

As Ed Catmull states in Creativity Inc.:

It isn’t enough merely to be open to ideas from others. Engaging the collective brainpower of the people you work with is an active, ongoing process. As a manager, you must coax ideas out of your staff and constantly push them to contribute.

We most provoke, actively try to understand all contributions, and ultimately do what is best for “business.”

My Last Post

In my last post we took a look at the reasons why I refused to flip my fourth grade classroom. However, rather than speaking in blanket statements (which is something I have been warned not to do), I encouraged dissonance and contributions from others by asking readers to respond with opposing points of view. I then promised to include these ideas in a follow-up post.

After all…Blogging isn’t always about declaring yourself the expert, but rather leveraging your platform to provoke thinking and promote collaboration.

Here are the dissenting/somewhat dissenting responses, verbatim: (I should also mention that there were several blog comments and tweets that agreed with what I had to say…but that is not the point for this particular post.)

5 Responses

I am in my 3rd year of flipped learning and the thing I like best about it is having more meaningful relationships. When I lectured I talked to maybe 4-5 students per class, you know, the same ones that would always answer or ask questions while the others sat there passively. Now I am happy to say I have the opportunity to connect with all 24 students each and every day. The video is just the beginning, it is what goes on in class that is most important and flipped learning has given me that opportunity. – weltyteaching


4 years ago when I was under a strict pacing calendar, I found flipping to be my best bet. I was expected to cover a topic a day and assess on Fridays. I did not have time for exploration etc. Flipping afforded me the time in class to have conversations and target areas of need by placing students in ability groups to make good use of instructional time.

After two years of Common Core, my flipping looked very different and aligns nicely with Kyle’s thoughts. I would teach an exploration and make students struggle in class. Next I would send them home with a video that explains the algorithm and makes meaning of the math they struggled with in class. The next day, I would provide practice with the skills learned through the exploration and flipped video.

The in-class practice would be determined by a formative assessment where I would first see what students understood from the exploration and formative assessment then put students in ability groups. The formative assessment helped me group students based on need and target instruction accordingly. I don’t think anybody truly flipped their entire instructional practice. Just like good teaching, we assess what needs to be taught and find the best means for delivering that learning experience. – Julie Garcia


I teach math also and found that I love having a flipped classroom. Each day I am afforded the opportunity to teach my students to struggle with a concept they vaguely know about. This dynamic allows the kids to develop so many skills, mostly the 4 C’s. I spend a lot less time lecturing and a lot more time exploring. Almost every day I get to talk about gathering evidence and where can we go to collect evidence to help us with this concept. After piquing their interest, they can go home and watch the video and instructional piece that may be useful to them for solving the concept. – Chad


I have used the flipped classroom model when teaching IGCSE physics. However, I would not recommend this model as a general rule. In my case, I only flip the classroom when I feel it makes sense: when there is something that is not conceptually hard but requires extended practice. For example, when theory is extremely simple but problem solving can get complex. On the other hand, I prefer a more hands-on, inquiry-based approach when tackling more abstract concepts, for example that of the electric field. Unfortunately IGCSE coordinated science leaves very little time to cover an awful amount of content, which does not let me spend time developing things the way I would like.

I also find that the way problems are chosen is extremely important. I try to introduce two or three key ideas in the videos (which I record myself), which then get developed and extended by problem solving. It makes no sense to ask the same question over and over again with different numbers: questions have to challenge the students’ understanding and make them think. For example, if I were talking about Newton’s first law, I would make students consider situations where intuition and physics seem to give different answers, such as the fact that when you’re riding a bike at a constant speed forces are balanced, despite your feeling that you are making an effort: you’re just using all this energy to cancel air resistance, not to “move” the bike.

I also use hinge questions both at the start and at the middle of a lesson, where students use colored cups to show their answers. This helps me clarify common misconceptions before they take root.

As a corollary to your post, I would say that the model itself is less important: what’s important is being thoughtful about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. This is not an all-or-nothing affair: you can flip some lessons and not some others or you can flip part of a lesson. You can also use flipping as a redundant source of information for students who missed class or who need to constantly review.

PS This is the first time I comment here, but I find your blog a constant source of enjoyment. – Eduard Arroyo 



I commented on the Steven W. Anderson’s post that you reference here, and I will try to “sell” the idea of flipped learning in a similarly here as I did there.

In the beginning of flipping, the general idea of making videos as homework is what started, and that still is where the majority of people start. However, the term “flipped learning” has morphed into more of a focus on pedagogy. After writing a 30 page literature review for my Master’s work on flipped learning, I would say a better definition of flipped learning would be, “A teacher’s effort to critically analyze the content in their classroom and how it is taught. The teacher then makes the BEST effort to push lower level Bloom’s outside the classroom for students to self-explore/digest, in order to make MORE room inside the classroom for the upper levels of Bloom’s.” The lower levels consumed outside the classroom do NOT have to be videos (readings, discussion forum set up on an LMS, etc.). Where teachers will “fail” with flipping is by pushing lower levels out in order to make more room in class for more lower levels (skill and drill). The example you reference where a math teacher makes videos and then does word problems in class is an example of this. Students never get beyond the applying level of Bloom’s. Students need to work through Bloom’s in order to learn, period. How they work through that, and how LONG they work at each level is up to the teacher.

One key fact that became apparent in my literature review is when teachers pushed out lower levels and worked in MORE upper level activities (that is, activities where students are analyzing, evaluating, creating) INSIDE class time, students perceived the class and content to be more valuable. As a result, attendance went up as well as classroom achievement and cognitive engagement.

I have created a website based on my research. It is designed for teachers to self-lead a change from traditional teaching to flipped learning. Maybe it will also help paint a better picture than what I am doing here ( I co-teach a course for grad credit based on these same principles.

I run into people who failed at flipping and then absolutely reject the notion. If a teacher says videos followed by skill and drill is bad pedagogy, then I wholeheartedly agree and stand with them. But teachers must be willing to change this misconception in order to see what research has proven HIGHLY beneficial of flipped learning.

Love reading the other comments posted. Hopefully we can come to a common definition that reflects the true effectiveness of flipped learning.

Let me know if any of my resources helped. I’m considering putting down the money for a domain if teachers find it helpful and useful. – Jarod Bormann 


In the End

The end game is not trying to prove what is right and what is wrong. The end game is what is best for students. In order for our objective to be reached, often times we must provoke each other’s thinking, be candid, and embrace dissonance.

In short, according to one of the pillars of Google culture, “Consensus requires dissension.”

What are your overall thoughts on the significance of dissonance at work? How do you generally react when others do not agree with you? How do you encourage dissonance from your colleagues? Your students?

Connect with Ross on Twitter.