Controversy Around Text Complexity Goes Mainstream

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Infographic from

I haven’t posted on EdGeeks for awhile, but felt a surge of excitement when I saw Andrew Sullivan’s post about text complexity on The Dish. Everyday I find myself faced with the controversial issues surrounding text complexity and the Common Core. To see my teacher-battle shared on Andrew Sullivan’s site made me so ecstatic that I had to write into him. Here’s what I wrote!

Avid fan here – and very happy to see you share about the controversial issues surrounding text complexity in classrooms today. I’m an instructional coach of grades 1-8 in NYC, and a former teacher. I love teaching more than anything. I try to stay as optimistic as I can these days, though the job has changed and often I feel beat down as many of us do. Today, reading this post – I felt a tinge of hope. We rarely hear about this issue surrounding text complexity in mainstream conversations. If the controversy around text complexity has reached The Dish, then maybe change is closer than we think.

The general public has little to no idea how misinterpretations around the CCSS’s use of Lexile levels are affecting young readers. When you read Appendix A of the ELA Core Standards in depth, you get a sense of how Lexile really is just one piece of the puzzle. Appendix A shares about how Lexile levels offer us a quantitative measure but cannot stand alone. The appendix states, “The tools for measuring text complexity are at once useful and imperfect. Each of the qualitative and quantitative tools described above has its limitations, and none is completely accurate.” Lexile’s website mentions that, “It is important to note that the Lexile measure of a book refers to its text difficulty only. A Lexile measure does not address the content or quality of the book.” The problem is that few of us actually read the appendix, and many of us don’t actually know what Lexiles are. This has led to the severely detrimental misinterpretation that Lexiles can be the sole measure of text complexity and appropriateness for our students.

Teachers out there…I leave you with the following food for thought: “Rigor is not an attribute of a text, but rather a characteristic of our behavior with that text. Put another way, rigor resides in the energy and attention given to the text, not in the text itself.” –Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst from Notice and Note

Parents and general public…I dare you to get involved.

Want to learn more?

Fifth Grade Is Too Late For Steinbeck? -The Dish

Federal Bureaucrats Declare ‘Hunger Games’ More Complex Than ‘The Grapes of Wrath’The Common Core’s absurd new reading guidelines – New Republic

Teachers Are Supposed to Assign Harder Books, but They Aren’t Doing It Yet – The Atlantic (This one is quite a frustrating read!)



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SXSWedu 2012 vs. SXSWedu 2013

I did a lot of listening and not as much writing this time around at SXSWedu. In revisiting my notes and thoughts, I realize the most valuable way to reflect is to compare to my notes from last years conference. As a firm believer in the growth model vs. the mastery model of assessment, I’ve decided to evaluate the growth of the conference in comparison to itself one year ago.

SXSWedu 2012

SXSWedu 2013

SessionsLast year, Tia Lendos’ session: Using Free Google Tools to Make Learning Magical used video-conferencing to let us hear opinions of teachers and students who are using Google tools for teaching and learning. I craved more sessions that took on a creative approach to teaching and learning, rather than a dry dissemination of information.Girls Rule, Boys DroolLast year I found myself seeking out the company of intelligent and engaging females in the field like Amy Lin of EdCanvas and Valerie Sakemura of NSVF. It is not often that females are the minority in education but as tech and finance have come to play a larger role, these conferences often feel male dominated. At the end of last year’s conference I found myself hoping for an increasing female presence in the industry and at the conference.



Perspectives that Matter

This was the peak of my frustration at SXSWedu 2012 (and at most conferences I attend.) The lack of teacher, student and parent perspectives boggles my mind. Last year every teacher I met was from Austin and they were few and far between. I am sick and tired of the excuse “teachers are in classes this week.” In other industries, people take time off to attend conferences and work events constantly and teachers should be allowed the same opportunities for professional development. Until we find ways to engage the people who matter, we are going to find it quite challenging to make real and impactful change.


Technology in Special Education

At last year’s conference, I attended one session on technology being used to support the needs of students with special needs. The session had compiled video footage of a few students using tools in the classroom but overall, did not divulge any of the intricacies of working with students of various abilities and using technology to support them along the way.

SessionsPerhaps it was the presence of the Maker Movement, but this year there were definitely some sessions that took the route of hands-on learning. Although I wasn’t there, other attendees were buzzing about Hack Class: Shape Your Ecology, Empower Learning, which chunked the learning into sections, keeping engagement at the core of the session.Girls Rule, Boys DroolNot only did I meet more females at this year’s conference, but this year’s conference even brought about the emergence of a group called “EdTech Women,” who had their inaugural meeting at the “Edtech Women Dine” event in Austin. There were awe-inspiring women paving the way at SXSWedu2013. Betsy Corcoran (EdSurge) led the Launch event with grace and humor, Eileen Murphy (ThinkCerca) was a finalist in the Launch event, Heather Gilchrist brought the teams from her new EdTech Accelerator Socratic Labs and Pamela Inbasekaran and Lawrie Peck of Relay Graduate School engaged us in conversations around teacher education.

Perspectives that Matter

I could feel very early seeds of change in this area but there is a lot of work to be done. Nikhil Goyal brought a student’s perspective to the table, though I would venture to say he’s not the typical student. One of the sessions by Lego Education featured a high school student from a local robotics team. Though we’re making these strides, I still crave a hearty teacher panel or a parent-led session. Hopefully next year!




Technology in Special Education

I was over the moon to see a session with Daniel Yoo of Goalbook, an app to support teachers through the IEP process. It was a solid session but one is not enough. There is incredible research around the impact of ipads on students with Autism. There are Assistive Technology tools out there that allow non-verbal students to communicate through eye-gaze, and communication devices that support social growth. I know because I’ve used these tools in the classroom. Some tools help teachers differentiate content to reach their lowest and highest functioning students simultaneously. Yes the field is still emerging, but I want SXSWedu to be a place where that type of innovation is celebrated.

At the end of my reflections last year, I wrote “SxSWedu is still in its infancy and is trying to find itself. The feedback we are able to give via survey and email will be crucial for its growth in the coming years.” This remains true. We have made great strides and as a person who always takes the feedback form seriously, I did see some concrete change occur this year. That being said there is always more… Here are my hopes and dreams for SXSWedu2014.

Increased teacher, student and parent presence

In order for this to become a reality, we need some kind of funding model. Teachers, students and parents should not pay what the general attendee pays. Perhaps every entrepreneur must bring along one teacher, student or parent:) We also need to build a few teacher panels – for sessions, feedback during the Launch competition or for Q&A from entrepreneurs. It would be great to have a Betaroom where teachers can test out some tools and offer real time feedback.

Creativity of presentation style for sessions

I would love to find a way to measure the creativity level of the presentation style. It is exhausting to attend an entire day of sessions where people are speaking at you…kind of like being in school. SXSWedu can be the conference for education innovation but in order to do that, the session leaders must model innovation of teaching practices in their own work.

Technology in Special Education

We have made some strides but have further to go. Hopefully SXSWedu2014 and will have Daniel back and will welcome some practitioners using assistive technology in their classrooms to share best practices.


At the EdGrowth Summit this year, there were a series of mini-debates. This could be a useful model for SXSWedu Keynotes. I measure the impact of a session by how much it makes me think and how close it comes to making me change my mind about something. I would love to see a series of debates about controversial issues in education by some of the heavyweights in our industry.

Day 1 SXSWedu 2012

Days 2 & 3 SXSWedu 2012

Reflections SXSWedu 2012

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SXSWedu Top Questions and Awards

Solid week here at SXSWedu – it’s a different feel than last year. If you’re just tuning in now, be sure to check out EdSurge’s coverage: MOOCs and Assessments and Makers, Oh My!


As always, I’m most intrigued by questions so I’ve decided to share some of the top questions that have come up thus far in sessions, at networking events, and in lounges.

  • Bubble: Can our marketplace handle 5 new incubators? –Tony Wan
  •  Data: What kind of data excites you? –Tom Vander Ark
  • Audience: What can we do to engage the two absent groups in education (teachers and students?) Audrey Watters
  • Access & Equity: Why aren’t families astounded if there is no broadband in school that day. They should be just as astounded as they would be if there was no water or electricity that day. –Richard Culatta
  • Families: What are we doing to support early literacy and math in low income areas? How are we supporting families to set them up with success in the home? –Sarah Dewitt
  • Stakeholders: Which stakeholders do we serve first? Students, teachers, investors? -Anonymous:)


Coolest New Person I’ve Met

Viktor Venson, Founder of @NRBLB – Find him, he’s awesome!

Most exciting learning tools (that I’ve seen so far!)

Lego Story Starter for Sequencing in Literacy Monkey Jump courtesy of PBS Kids
photo (38) More to come on this later… Screen Shot 2013-03-06 at 1.51.48 PM


Best new tattoo

Heather Gilchrist: My EdTech Fairy Godmother


Most Creative Swag

photo (39)

With no help from me at all, Michael Bernstein got super crafty with mini paper airplanes for PenPal News.

Got questions or awards to add? Leave a comment!

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THaSIS Inaugural Meeting


A new techie-teacher group blooms in NYC. THaSIS (an acronym for Teachers Hacker Space for Independent Schools) had its inaugural meeting on Friday, February 22nd at the Dalton School. Check out my coverage on EdSurge.

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Fifth Grader Creates and Implements Original Study Strategy

I work with an incredibly intelligent and talented fifth grader who recently amazed me by creating her own study strategy and implementing it independently.We have been working on improving her spelling for about two months. In addition to working on spelling, we are also working on building accountability for independent work between our sessions. A small portion of our work together includes spelling quizzes so when we first started working together, I asked her to study for our quizzes as her homework. She asked me how to study and I responded, “Study in a way that works for YOU.” I usually work with students to identify learning patterns that work for them and explicitly teach study strategies that will work, but I was curious to see what she would come up with.

Three weeks later, I noticed that she had scored 100% on all of her quizzes. I knew the words were quite challenging for her so I asked her to share her study secrets with me. She brought over her iPod and played me her recordings. She devised an entire study strategy independently. Listen below to hear one of her recordings:


Study Strategy

Step 1: Write a list of words with correct spellings in spelling notebook.

Step 2: Use a voice recording device. This student used her an app on her iPod – I believe it was iTalk Recorder.

Step 3: Record your voice saying the word, a sentence and then a 3-6 second break.

Step 4: Test yourself by playing back the recording and spelling the words on a fresh page in your notebook. Check your work by referring back to your correct word list.

What I am most inspired by is the initiative she took not only to study but to self-test to see if she had mastered the material. She said she would sometimes self-test 2 or 3 times to make sure she really knew her words. I am over the moon that she took the time to do this and that her parents gave me permission to share it with the world.

On a different note, here is another reason she is so awesome! On Halloween, when many kids were simply eating their candy, Little Miss Creative was graphing her candy!

Sugar High


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EdCamp in NYC

It has been an extraordinarily challenging week in New York. Before sharing thoughts about education, I wanted to take a moment to send my love out to all of the families who were affected by Hurricane Sandy and to give thanks for all of the volunteers who have been supporting them. With a little bit of hope and a lot of hard work our community will begin to rebuild.

Just a few days before all of the chaos in New York, I attended my first EdCamp and it was definitely worth sharing about…and no, not just because I got to see two 3-D printers in real life (though that was pretty ridiculous!) It took place at The School at Columbia, which is right in my neighborhood. Families always ask me about this school and I must say after visiting, that it seems like a place where innovation and great teaching happens everyday.

As for EdCamp…I’ve been reading about EdCamp for awhile now, but I still wasn’t sure exactly how it would work. The first hour was what truly made EdCamp so unique. During that time the sessions for the day were created. There was a large board at the front of the room and teachers were crowding around it. Some were stepping up to facilitate a session, while others seemed to be asking questions that would call for a session. By the end of the hour the session board had something for everyone.

Three out of four of the sessions I attended taught me something new, which is a pretty good stat for an ed conference. Don Buckley, director of technology and innovation at The School at Columbia blew my mind speaking about the design thinking project he worked on with his students last year. He collaborated with Tools at Schools to bring design thinking into the classroom. He also shared a video that got my head spinning – it’s definitely worth a view. You can find it on his posterous site.

Click this screenshot to view the video.

Mary Beth Hertz, Kim Sivick and Deven Black led a hands-on session where we got to learn about and try out the Makey Makey. If you can get your hands on one of these, do it! I haven’t had that much fun in awhile. Here is a teacher introducing Makey Makey to a few Kindergarteners for the first time so you can get a visual. If this doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know what will!

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EdGeeks 2.0 Comin’ at Ya This Week

A new laptop, a new decal, a new website…it’s been a long haul but EdGeeks is making a comeback this week. Hope everyone had a lovely summer and a smooth start to the school year. Ed Innovation is bubbling in NYC and I for one think it’s gonna be a big year for learning and teaching.

Glad to be back,


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The Listserve

Firstly, a big shout out to my dear friend Ari Joseph for always passing on inspiring projects! This is not a traditional educational post but I am completely intrigued by this project and wanted to share. It is called The Listserve and it is a really exciting idea!

Basically, it is an email lottery system with a growing number of subscribers. As of the last time I checked, the subscription list was up to 20,640. “Each day, one person is randomly selected to write one e-mail to the growing list. That’s the only e-mail allowed to be sent to The Listserve.” The essential question for this project is: If you could talk to one-million people, what would you say?

I signed up yesterday and received my first email from a student in Australia. His words were endearing and it was great to hear a voice from so far away. What a great way to bring people together and to make us question what is truly important! In the spirit of education, this could be a really inspiring project for ELA, Writing, Social Studies…even math with a growing list of subscribers. Thanks Ari, i’m inspired. Can’t wait for today’s Listserve email. Hope I get picked soon:)

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Shout Out to Mentormob


Oh man…I remember back to October 2011, when I first began my blog and thought Twitter was a joke. All of my friends told me it was something I needed to learn more about but I was convinced it was ridiculous. Finally, after called Twitter “Tweet” repeatedly for weeks and having my friends intervene to scaffold learning of Twitter vernacular for me…I got a Twitter handle.

I never thought that just months later I would fly across the country to stay with one of my Twitter friends! I’ve been talking to Mentormob for months now…in fact Kristen was one of my first Tweeps. We’ve skyped and spoken on the phone multiple times and she invited me to come hang out with Mentormob and attend the Flipped Conference. I’m not promoting flying cross country to see your Tweeps…but boy am I glad I did.

Meeting the Mentormob crew was fantastic. The entire team is dedicated to building a tool that truly supports learning. I had so much fun brainstorming with them and look forward to continuing our conversations. Mentormob’s work environment is so inspiring – they’re lucky I don’t live in Chicago or else I’d definitely come hang out there all day to write and plan:)

Anyways, just wanted to give a shout out to Kristin for being the best Twitter roomie ever and to Mentormob for building an innovative tool and working hard to put the user first! You guys rock!

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#flipcon12 Wrapup: Two of Everything

Two Big Takeaways:

  1. The purpose of Flipped Learning is to reach more learners, promote maximal independence and encourage students to take ownership over their learning.
  2. Flipped Learning is NOT about the video. In fact, the strongest speakers I saw at FlipCon12 said you don’t need a video for everything, but that it’s about choosing when a video can help you free up time to support more learners.

Two Quotable moments:

  1. “What we call cheating, I call collaborating.” –Brian Bennett on working together in the classroom
  2. “I don’t want to walk you through this. This is a flipped presentation. You can go learn it at home.” –Jac de Haan during his session on engaging students through video
Two Inspirations:
  1. Talking, listening and thinking about Flipped Learning all week really made me rethink my own learning process, especially in relation to professional development. I am inspired to take more action to self-assess my own development in my teaching practice.
  2. I am completely inspired by the innovative ways that teachers are using technology to differentiate instruction and reach more learners and will definitely watch some videos on creating videos so that I can become stronger at it.

Two Concerns:

1. The title of Bergmann and Sams’ new book is “Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day,” but throughout the conference and my reading about Flipped Learning I’m hearing and seeing quotes like this:

  • “Sams, the Colorado chemistry teacher known as one of the fathers of flipping, acknowledged that about 9 percent of his students have received Fs every year he has taught—both before and after he started delivering lectures through video in his school district.” -Sarah Butrymowicz, Promise of the ‘flipped classroom’ eludes poorer school districts, Hechinger Report
  • “‘Some students, they choose not to learn, not to participate,’ he said. ‘A lot of people ask, ‘What do you do with the unmotivated kid?’ I wish I had a good answer to that.” -Sarah Butrymowicz, Promise of the ‘flipped classroom’ eludes poorer school districts, Hechinger Report
  • “They have a list of things they’re supposed to do – some do, some don’t and if they don’t they’re wasting their time.” –This was one speaker’s response to the question “What are your other students doing while your giving the quiz?” from a session at the Flipped Class Conference
  • During the student panel an audience member asked, “Were there any students in your class who hated the flipped model and why?” The two students began discussing how their peers who didn’t like flipped learning were the ones who didn’t do their homework or care anyway.

I guess the concern I have here is that there are struggling learners who need a lot of structure and we must remember that often times motivation is connected to struggle. Sometimes all it takes to motivate the student who “doesn’t care” is a great teacher. I worry that the students who need the extra push may not get it with flipped instruction the same way I worry that they may not get it once the Common Core State Standards have made their way into the classroom. At one point Brian Bennett said, “You still need to DO your job,” to the audience and that struck me as the most salient piece. Videos do not replace teaching.

2. Access is still an issue that warrants concern. It does not need to be a definitive barrier but it is undoubtedly a huge challenge for some teachers and learners.

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