Three Ways to Use Evernote in Action Research

We are very familiar with Evernote in our school. Our staff collects, organizes and shares out student work in the form of digital portfolios with this application via iPads. Parents can see their son’s or daughter’s progress as it is happening. Our portfolio night in April has now become a Showcase Night. Evernote’s ability to easily capture images, audio, and text makes it a necessary tool for ongoing assessment, student reflection, and responsive instruction.

But what about our own learning as professionals? Can the data and artifacts we collect help us become even more reflective about our practice? These are some of the questions we are trying to answer, in lieu of Wisconsin’s new Educator Effectiveness Plan. While teachers’ Student Learning Objectives will be measured by local and state quantitative assessments, the Professional Practice Goal is based more on qualitative data.

I was introduced to the book The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Classroom Research: Learning to Teach and Teaching to Learn Through Practitioner Inquiry, 2nd Edition (Corwin, 2009) by Nancy Fitchman Dana and Diane Yendol-Hoppey from the Connected Coaching course I took last summer with Lani Ritter Hall. The authors provide a clear template of how teachers can become students of their own practice. They include several reasons for action research, such as being a powerful tool for professional development and expanding the knowledge of teaching in important ways.

In addition, Dana and Yendol-Hoppey see action research as an important vehicle for raising teachers’ voices in education reform. “While both the process-product and qualitative research paradigms have generated valuable insights into the teaching and learning process, they have not included the voices of the people closest to the children – classroom teachers” (3).

To measure one’s own practice and make improvements, several pieces of artifacts are needed to reflect on the day-to-day instruction. The authors offer several strategies for capturing our own instruction and student learning. The first strategy, Field Notes, involves scripting dialogue and conversations, recording questions the students and/or teacher asks, or noting what students are doing at particular time intervals.

Where Evernote Comes In

For scripting dialogue and conversations, I would use a Moleskine Evernote notebook. The advantage is, once you have scripted what you hear, you can scan in your notes into a specific Evernote notebook. Your handwriting is then readable if searching for specific terms. These notebooks can be assigned to a student, or to a subquestion from a teacher’s main wondering in their action research.

Evernote Snapshot 20140528 075017

The second idea from the authors when taking field notes is to have some sticky notes on your lanyard with a pen. If you want to capture student learning while teaching and don’t have a notebook around, write down what happened on the note. Evernote and Post-It have teamed up to create scannable stickies. When using an iPad or iPhone, there is an option to take a picture of a Post-It Note within Evernote. Just like the Moleskine notebooks, what you write becomes readable and searchable.

A final strategy for field notes is recording audio of students having a conversation and/or of yourself teaching.

Evernote Snapshot 20140528 075025

The authors recommend that whoever is being recorded is comfortable with the process. When this was written, iPads were not in the picture. That is why this tool, along with Evernote, can be so powerful. Students are very comfortable with these devices. Plus, the microphones are hidden.

For a more comprehensive field note, a peer observer could record audio of student conversations, while he/she also scripted specific parts of the dialogue, such as coding the level of questions asked by each learner.

How do you see technology such as Evernote augmenting action research in the classroom? Please share in the comments.

Note: All notes derive from the aforementioned resource and were written in a Moleskine Evernote notebook. All doodles are from yours truly.

Guided Reading within the Daily 5 Framework

I was filling in for a 3rd grade teacher, who needed to attend an assessment meeting on behalf of one of her students. When I walked in, she had me start the third of four rotations. She uses the Daily 5 framework in her classroom, so students not meeting with me were engaged in tasks such as reading to self or working on writing.

Our goals for guided reading: Expression; fluency; decoding; self-correcting. A tall order!

The group coming to me was reading a Time Warp Trio title. The students seemed motivated to dig back into this authentic text.

Not having taught guided reading in some time (I have been a principal for seven years now), I relied on what I know now – the Ongoing Cycle of Responsive Teaching:

OLM Cycle

I started the group by modeling what strong expression and accurate reading looks and sounds like. After I read a page aloud, I asked the students to tell me what I did well.

Student A: “Your voice went up and down.”

Me: “What do you mean?

Student B: “When there was a question mark at the end of a sentence, your voice went up at the end.”

I could have very well told the students that this is what readers do, to change the pitch of their voice based on the type of sentence. But I decided to let them arrive at this conclusion. In this manner, they own the learning and have a better chance to apply it to their own reading.

Instead of having the students each read aloud a page from our common text, I asked the group to read the next two pages silently and identify a part where expression was needed to best understand what the author was trying to convey. They read without a peep for the next couple of minutes.

When we were ready to share, I didn’t have them simply point to the line that evoked strong expression. Each student was encouraged to read aloud the text that demanded a specific tone and pitch. If we felt that the student read the part with accurate expression, we gave him or her a thumbs up. If there were corrections to be made, I briefly pointed out how they could improve, but only after I noticed what they did well.

All of this occurred while the other students were working independently. We got through two groups in my brief time there. While I asked one group to read the rest of the chapter independently, I met with another group that still needed some scaffolding. While the scaffolded group was working independently, I snuck a few minutes back to meet with the first group and check their understanding of the remainder of their reading.

Teaching is a very complex task. I have no doubt that it is one of the toughest and most rewarding jobs out there. Yet I feel that we can sometimes make our positions more difficult than necessary. By setting up a structured system, such as the Daily 5, during our literacy instruction, we give ourselves the opportunities for specific and tailored teaching for those students that need our support the most.

Turn Your Keynote into a Screencast on your MacBook Air

Save your money on screencasting apps by using Keynote on your MacBook Air.


photo credit: John Pastor via Flickr cc

1. Prepare your slides in Keynote.

2. Under “Play”, select “Record Slideshow”.

3. As you speak, use the arrows on the keyboard (instead of the TouchPad) to reduce noise.

4. Once done, under “File” select “Export to”, and then “Quick Time”.

5. Upload the video into YouTube.

Yes, it is that easy. Here is what I produced last night, on how to create digital student portfolios:

Is Common Core Developmentally Appropriate?

The following is a comment I left on Diane Ravitch’s blog post, titled “Why The Common Core State Standards for Grades K-3 Are Wrong“.

Thank you for breaking this down. The argument presented seems to be more concerned about the assessments that will be used to determine student achievement, and not necessarily the standards themselves. I believe there are two issues here, and they each need a more thorough analysis so these conversations do not devolve into punditry.

There will always be standards. Look at Indiana. They are going to replace the Common Core with standards that are…very similar to the Common Core (Source: What a colossal waste of energy, time and public dollars.

What the CCSS got right was laying out what can be expected of learners at each grade level. We tested this out in our school by focusing on informational writing this year in all content areas. Each grade level built rubrics around that standard, and then provided lots of modeling, scaffolding, and practice for students to attain proficiency.

What were the results? You be the judge: We had each grade level submit two or three pieces of exemplary work (anonymous), along with the students’ reflections. As students now walk the hallway, they can see what is expected of each learner K-5.

Of course, not every student made the mark at mid-year. We get that and continue to help each learner meet their potential. So why not strive for excellence? When I hear “not developmentally appropriate”, I cringe, because I believe it is a slippery slope toward low expectations schoolwide.

If the argument made here were more about the high stakes tests and how they are inappropriately aligned, administered, and misused, then I would agree 100%. But to lump the CCSS with high stakes tests, or with one person’s decision to cancel a kindergarten play, does few in education any favors.

Teachers as Learners

I have seen this posted more than once:

My job is to teach. Your job is to learn.

I understand the main message. Students need to buckle down and get to work. This allows teachers the time and space to guide their students toward becoming independent learners.

But at second glance, what is also being implied? That a teacher is not a learner, nor a student a teacher?


photo credit: Ian Boyd via photopin cc

I am currently rereading Improving Schools From Within by Roland Barth (Jossey-Bass, 1990). This is the resource that got me interested in the principalship. One part I read this morning is still rattling around in my head:

Implicit in many of the lists of school reforms is a vision of school as a place where students learn and adults teach, where the role of educators is to serve, not be served. Because schools and those who work in them are accountable for pupils’ achievement and because no amount of pupil achievement is sufficient to place every student in the top half of the class, pupil learning usually preempts adult learning. Yet only a school that is hospitable to adult learning can be a good place for students to learn (46).

As I read, I am continually amazed at how prescient this book is, considering it was written a quarter century ago. I agree with Barth that the best educators are learners: Learners of best practice, learners of child development, learners of their own students, learners of their colleagues’ strengths. The best educators also guide students to be teachers and resources for one another.

When schools are able to bridge these collective attitudes into one coherent set of beliefs, that is when true improvement can take place. This is not reform, where something needs to be fixed. Rather, it is a transformation into something better than it once was.

Adult learning is not only a means toward the end of student learning, but also an important objective in its own right (47).

Five (More) Cool Things You Can Do on Your MacBook Air

Someone recently asked me on Twitter, “Is the MacBook Air the laptop of choice?” I admitted that I was bit biased, being a devout Apple user. Even so, I couldn’t be happier with my selection.

Here is a follow up to a previous post, where I offer five more cool things you can do with your MacBook Air.


photo credit: alex: via photopin cc

1. Switch Screens with a Swipe

Like most of what I share, I discovered this trick by accident. Using the TouchPad, you can use two fingers to swipe either left or right. An arrow on the side you swiped to will pop up.You are then taken to a previous screen you left or want to come back to. It is a very quick way to navigate the web. Just be careful if you are filling out an online form.

2. Take a Screenshot

If you remember any tip from this post, it should be this one. Press “Shift” + “Command” + “4”. This action will replace your navigation arrow with crosshairs. Outline the part of the screen you want to capture, and your MacBook Air will take a picture of the content. The result is a fairly high quality image, saved on your desktop.

3. Put a Name with a Face in iPhoto

This is a similar process to tagging photos within Facebook. Select “Faces” within the iPhoto app, and it will bring up all images that display people. iPhoto will zoom in on each image to show just the person’s face. A suggestion for a future update: Once you put a name to the face, assign that label to all images containing that same person using face recognition technology.

4. Delete Emails When Notified

When new emails roll in through the Mail app, notifications show up on the upper right hand corner of the screen. You have the option of deleting the message before it goes into your inbox, or replying back right away.

5. Delete Applications in Finder

On the far left of the dock, you have a dual smiley face. This is the icon for Finder. Click on it, and all files and applications on your MacBook Air will show up. Sometimes we download files that a) we didn’t mean to, or b) no longer want. Click on “Applications”, select an unwanted icon/software, and drag it to the Trash.


How Can Principals Support Effective Literacy Instruction?

When walking through our school’s classrooms, I often see students independently engaged in reading and writing. Yet I am still surprised when a teacher says, “Gosh, sorry you came at this time. We were just doing some independent work. Maybe come back later when I am teaching?” In my first year as a principal, I would politely oblige and go to another classroom. Now, I smile and say, “Of course you are! What else would you be doing?”

independent reader

When we give students time to practice the skills we have explicitly taught them, it is only then that we allow them to become readers and writers. Teachers need to stop apologizing for taking a step back and allowing our kids to walk on their own path toward proficiency. Guiding students to become independent, lifelong learners should be the ultimate goal in any classroom. The Daily 5 framework (Boushey and Moser, 2014) gives structure and purpose when striving for this laudable goal.

Highlighting Dr. Richard Allington’s 2002 article “The Six Ts of Effective Elementary Literacy Instruction”, here are three practices that can move kids forward: Time to read, lots of texts that are readable and interesting, and a teacher who knows his or her students and understands literacy. Principals are essential in supporting these practices in school.

1. Time

Principals can create time for teachers through thoughtful scheduling. One of our priorities when creating the school schedule is blocking off at least 90 minutes for literacy, and two hours in the primary grades. Then we hold that time sacred. Announcements are kept to a minimum. We do our best to ensure that intervention support takes place beyond that block. Less effective practices, such as worksheets and test prep, should not have a place during this time.

photo 5

Reading and writing also shouldn’t occur exclusively during this time. For instance, principals can encourage and expect teachers to integrate reading and writing within the content areas. This year, grade level teams in our school projected out integrated units of study (Glover & Berry, 2012). Students, especially English Language Learners and those with learning disabilities, benefit from seeing science, social studies, and literacy connect with each other in meaningful ways. Content integration is also a big time saver.

2. Texts

photo 2Notice the use of the word “texts” and not “books”. Principals should consider comic books and graphic novels, eBooks, and magazines as worthy purchases. They can pique the interests of our most reluctant readers, especially boys. Rethinking what a text looks like can make all the difference for engaging students in reading. 

The best placement of texts is in a classroom library. In our school, we always try to devote a significant portion of our budget to this area. Teachers are given latitude in what titles to purchase for their classrooms. That’s important, because they know their readers’ photo 4interests and skills better than anyone. Through this  investment, we have observed a high percentage of texts students carry come from classroom libraries. If there is a lack of funds, we consider other options, such as the school’s PTO, community organizations, and central office.

3. Teach

Whenever we interview candidates for a teaching position, one question I always ask is, “What have you read lately?” If they struggle to come up with a title or two, it is fair to say they may not see reading as a lifelong endeavor. But to be an expert reading teacher, educators have to be more than just familiar with children’s literature. Quality instruction should include clear modeling, shared demonstration, guided instruction, and time to practice these skills independently (Routman, 2014).

photo 3

Showing teachers how to embed ongoing assessment throughout instruction can happen a couple of ways. For example, principals can bring in literacy experts to demonstrate these skills. If this is cost prohibitive, consider online professional development services, where teachers can view best practice in action. Also, time can be provided for teachers to collaborate about what works and share these findings. For instance, my second grade team held discussions about their understanding of the Daily 5 and the CAFE framework (Boushey & Moser, 2009). These visible conversations can elevate the professional discourse throughout the whole school. The subsequent impact on shared beliefs and student learning can be profound.

Within the Daily Five framework are mini-lessons. These brief teaching points are critical toward building independent readers and writers. Without this explicit instruction in between these times to practice, students lack the appropriate modeling, purpose and guidance for their work. Just like in sports, players need an effective coach so they can practice both what they know how to do and stretch themselves to attain new skills.

Is It That Simple?IMG_0372

Well, certainly not the complex practice of classroom instruction. But what we should provide during our instruction is pretty straightforward: time to practice, texts that are interesting and readable, and great teaching. 


Allington, R. L. (2002). “The Six Ts of Effective Elementary Literacy Instruction.” Retrieved from on April 20, 2014. 

Boushey, G. & J. Moser (2009). The CAFE Book: Engaging All Students in Daily Literacy Assessment and Instruction. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Boushey, G. & J. Moser (2014). The Daily Five, Second Edition: Fostering Literacy Independence in the Elementary Grades. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Glover, M. and M. A. Berry (2012). Projecting Possibilities for Writers: The How, What, and Why of Designing Units of Study, K-5. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Routman, R. (2014). Read, Write, Lead: Breakthrough Strategies for Schoolwide Literacy Success. Alexandria, VA: ASCD

imgresPost a comment and possibly win a copy of The Daily 5, Second Edition. Check out the rest of the posts in this week’s Stenhouse Daily 5 Blogstitute:

May 5: Ruminate and Invigorate by Laura Komos

May 6: Enjoy and Embrace Learning by Mandy Robek

May 8: Read, Write, and Reflect by Katherine Sokolowski