Author Archives: Kenneth McKee


Quizlet Engages Students in Vocabulary Learning

Quizlet Engages Students in Vocabulary Learning Quizlet is a free website providing learning tools for students, including flashcards, study activities, and games. All of the material is user-generated.  Students enjoy studying terms with Quizlet because of its interactive nature.  Quizlet even has an app so students can easily (and for many teens, discreetly!) study vocabulary!

I recently created two sets of terms for sophomore English language arts students.  If you have never used Quizlet before, check out these links to get an idea of how Quizlet works.  Feel free to use them if you would like.

English I and II Common Core Literary Terms 

English I and II Common Core Academic Language

Quizlet can become one tool for students to learn new vocabulary.  Based upon the work of Robert J. Marzano and Deborah J. Pickering in Building Academic Vocabulary, games are a vital part of their six-step process of learning vocabulary.  Quizlet on its own will not solve all of your vocabulary problems, but it will powerfully enhance your classroom instruction.

Want to begin?  I have compiled some information to help you navigate Quizlet if it is new for you.

Creating an Account

Creating an account on Quizlet is relatively simple, but it is not always necessary.  One can click “Create a Set” on the top bar of the screen to make a set of terms to study.  The set will be searchable on Quizlet, or you could save the weblink of the card set to get back to it it later.  However, the advantage of having your own account is that you can find all of the card sets you have created easily.

To create a free account, simply click on “Sign Up” in the upper right hand bar on the website.  You will need to enter your birthdate, a username, and a password.  You will also need to check the box that says that you agree to the terms of service.  Once you have an account created, you can simply click on “Log In” in the upper righthand corner of the site to enter your username and password.

Creating a Set of Vocabulary Terms

Simply click “Create a Set” on the top bar of the website.  You will be prompted to enter a title and description for your set of terms.  Select a language for terms and definitions (these may be different if you are a world language teacher).

Quizlet has a new “auto-define” feature, which can save you a lot of time. When you enter a word, Quizlet will offer you some suggestions for definitions.  You may choose to select one of the auto-define selections or enter your own definition.

To add words to your list, simply click the “+” at the bottom of the text boxes.

Using the Vocabulary Sets

Students can retrieve terms easily if you place a link to your set on your teacher website or other webpage.  Once they have found the set, they can study using (1) Flashcards, (2) Learn, (3) Speller, (4) Test, (5) Scatter or (6) Space Race.

Creating a Class

Another option is to create a class.  Click “Join or Create a Class” in the lefthand column.  Enter the name of your class.  Then you can enter the name of your school.  You may add your card sets into the class.  Students can be invited into your class two ways.  First, you can send an invitation through the student e-mail.  If you choose this method, students will need to be able to access their school e-mail accounts.  Second, you can post an invitation link.  This link can be embedded on your teacher website or another web page.

Many educators have found Quizlet to be an amazing tool for enhancing vocabulary learning.  If you’re new to Quizlet, or if you haven’t used it in a while, I highly recommend checking it out.

After attending the NCTIES 2014 conference, I have learned about so many cool new technology tools.

I have to share the really awesome ColAR app.  This morning I printed some of the free coloring pages from  This particular one  is  a “holiday” image of pumpkins.  My son loves pumpkins all year, so I thought it would be a perfect one to try.  He and I commenced coloring the pumpkins together which resulted in this final product.


But then, using the the ColAR (the capital AR stands for Augmented Reality) app on the iPad brought the coloring page to life.


These are not static images.  They are dancing, jumping, and spinning.  My son loves this, and so do I.  You must check out this fun app whether you are a parent or a teacher!

You are sure to hear more about things I learned at NCTIES over the next few weeks.

Mentor Texts and the NC Graduation Project

Recently, a friend and colleague who teaches 12th grade English approached me about a troubling situation.  Her students had turned in drafts of their research papers for the NC Graduation Project, and she had provided feedback to all of them on how to move forward.  One particular student became upset.  He said that he had worked really hard on his project, and he could not believe all the corrections he must make.

The teacher took what he said to heart.  She knew that he had put a lot of effort in to his paper, but it was so far from her expectations.  As an instructional coach, I know I don’t always have the answers, but I understand the power of questions.  After a few questions, I asked the one that led to our “A-ha” moment:  “Have students ever seen a completed research paper for graduation project?”  Well, they hadn’t.

This leads me to the power of using mentor texts for teaching writing.  A “mentor text” is simply a finished example of a particular genre or style of writing.  If you would like to study mentor texts more deeply, you can always check out the work of teacher/author Kelly Gallagher who has written extensively on them.  I have learned much about mentor texts from my colleague, middle school instructional coach Kendra Jarvis (@KCameronJarvis).

The teacher and I decided to collaborate by introducing the research paper when she had a new class of students during the second semester.  We asked former student authors for permission to use their completed graduation project papers for instruction.  They agreed.  We did remove their names and replaced them with fun pseudonyms.  The paper I used for the lesson I taught was on the health benefits of martial arts and written by Tony Stark.  The paper met the classroom teacher’s requirements, but it still had room for improvement.

Here is what happened in the lesson:

1.  Real Collaborative Inquiry

Instead of giving students a rubric for evaluating the paper at first or telling them what I thought about it, I asked them to work with a class mate to find (1) what was effective, (2) what recommendations they would they to the writer, and (3) what questions they had.  Students had the option of collecting their thoughts on 3-column charts or through text codes and annotations (E-effective, R-recommendations, ?-Questions).  Many students raised good questions about the format of in-text citations, and how often/where they should be used.  Some discussed ways the author could have varied his sentences after noticing a series of sentences beginning “Karate is…Karate is…Karate is….”  In addition students praised the well-crafted first paragraph, understanding that the author clearly stated his thesis and prepared the reader for the information in the paper.   Organization was also a strength.

2.  Beginning with the End in Mind

Early in the lesson, I asked the students, who have all heard about the impending graduation project since 9th grade, “Have you ever seen a finished graduation project paper?”  Not a single one had.  As Stephen Covey said, highly effective people begin with the end in mind.  These students had no idea of how the end of this long research road would look.  After reading and discussing the mentor text, I literally saw the students’ stress diminish.  They all said that they believed that they could accomplish their own papers, now that they had seen a finished one.

3. Formative Assessment Increasing Knowledge and Motivation

Once students had seen a finished paper, they became more motivated to ask questions about the process.  Because we were not focused on what was “right”, students’ questioning and ideas flowed in a safe, collaborative learning environment, where even the teachers were questioning and learning from students.  Instead of beginning with a barrage of lessons about correct citations, students first learned the purpose of citations.  Then, their questions drove the instruction.  Their motivation increased because they were now the ones steering the learning.  Later, I shared the NC Graduation Project Paper Rubric with students.  I asked them to make note of where they had noticed effective writing that the rubric also valued.  I also asked them to mark elements we hadn’t discussed.  Areas we missed became the topics of future lessons because students and the classroom teacher now understood that those areas would be their “blind spots” in the writing process.

PLN Blogging Challenge

This fun blogging challenge encouraged me to reflect on my work. Mr. George Champlin, a principal in South Carolina, nominated me to participate.  George and I began following each on Twitter during an ASCD conference in Atlanta last year.  If you are interested in inspired, 21st century school leadership, you should follow him on Twitter:  You also can read George’s thoughts at


  • Acknowledge the nominating blogger. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  • List 11 bloggers.  They should be bloggers you believe deserve a little recognition and a little blogging love!
  • Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they’ve been nominated.  (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you).
  • This is a challenge but you do not have accept.

Random Facts about Me:

  1. I am the father of a toddler.  He is amazing and intelligent.  He loves books, blocks, and music.
  2. My wife has experience as a website developer, and she encouraged me to begin this website.
  3. I live in Asheville, NC, which is such an interesting town that one alternates between intensely loving and hating it minute-by-minute.
  4. I love to “read” films.  I’m a movie buff who listens to multiple podcasts in order to learn more about the art (and commercialism) behind film-making.
  5. I am making an effort to get back in shape, after dropping much of my workouts during my last three years in graduate school.
  6. I am an instructional coach for my school system.  It is rewarding and challenging.  I work with the best people in the world — teachers!
  7. I like to cook.
  8. I received a Kindle for Christmas from my parents, and I have to confess that it’s pretty amazing.
  9. I never feel like I’ve done enough.  I am a very hard worker.
  10. I wanted to be a scientist when I grew up.
  11. It snowed today, and we are out of school.  Thus, I wrote a detailed blog post for your enjoyment!

My responses to Mr. Champlin’s questions:

  1. What book or magazine are you reading? One professional book I am reading is Assessment and Student Success in a Differentiated Classroom by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Tonya R. Moon.  I have found the chapter on pre-assessment and the classroom vignettes to be especially helpful.  I am also reading The Fault in our Stars  by John Green.  This is the first of Green’s books I’ve read, and I’m enjoying it so far.
  2. What inspires you?  I am most inspired by fellow educators.  When I am working with other educators (teachers, media specialists, administrators, instructional coaches, professors, etc.), I find that I am most inspired by the synergy of discussing ideas about teaching and learning.
  3. Who was the educator that has most impacted your life?  Wow!  This is a very hard question.  There have been so many mentors along the way.  I know that the first educator who greatly impacted my life was my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Vernia Hall. She always made me believe I could excel at classroom work, and she was incredibly kind.
  4. What motivates you to do what you do?  Students.  Even though I primarily work with educators, my goal is to help students develop literacies to become successful.  I always ask for feedback from students about how my teaching helped (or hurt!) their learning when I teach.  In addition, I constantly want feedback on how my coaching work contributes to the success of students in my colleagues’ classrooms.
  5. What is the best advice you received concerning education technology?  Allow plenty of time when you try something new.  There are always a few unexpected issues when first implementing new technology, so we must allocate time for those issues.
  6. Where do you hope to be professionally in 6-10 years?  I would like to continue working in educational leadership, but I am not sure of what form that will take.
  7. What is your happiest childhood memory of school? Learning to read!  I remember being able to independently read sections of a book about a bear and a bunny when I was in first grade.  It was the first time I saw myself as a reader.
  8. What is your happiest memory as a professional educator?  This is tough, but I do believe that the day I received National Board Certification may have been the best!
  9. What advice do you have for peers who are overwhelmed with the current educational environment?  Ha! I need others’ advice!  As far as the environment here in North Carolina, I say, “Keep talking to people outside the field.  Talk to your families, neighbors, friends, politicians, and even people in the grocery store about the challenges we are facing.  These are the people who can influence and impact what our schools become.”
  10. What is the best book you read to help you professionally?  Again, there are so many.  Some of the most memorable are:  The First Days of School by Harry Wong, Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys by Michael W. Smith and Jeff Wilhelm, Making Content Comprehensible for Secondary English Language Learners by Jana J. Echevarria, MaryEllen J. Vogt,  and Deborah J. Short, and What Teachers Can Do When Kids Can’t Read by Kylene Beers.
  11. What superlative would you give yourself and why?  Most Empathetic.  Schools are emotional places for everyone involved.  My goal is to follow Stephen Covey’s advice:  “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Here are my questions:

  1. What do you believe is your greatest asset as an educator?
  2. What do you believe is the greatest challenge you face as an educator?
  3. What professional book(s) are you reading right now?
  4. What do believe is fundamental for a positive school environment?
  5. What do you believe is fundamental for raising student achievement?
  6. What educational apps or websites would you recommend to colleagues?
  7. What is your next professional goal?
  8. What is one professional experience you had in the last month that really inspired you?
  9. What is one happy memory you have from your own experiences as a student?
  10. Who is one university instructor who positively impacted your work as an educator?
  11. How would you define literacy in your content area/work?

My PLN Invitations go to educators who I admire and read on Twitter — although I may not interact with all of them!

Boys and Literacy: The Role of Fathers

Boys and Literacy: The Role of Father

My response is both personal and professional.  I am the literacy role model in my son’s life.
If you even take a cursory interest in education, you probably know that boys are falling behind girls at an increasing rate — especially in reading.  Reading is essential in every content area as well as crucial for a productive, enriching, and successful life.  Dads, listen up!  We have an important job to do.
We have to show our sons the importance of reading.
What is causing this issue?
During my research for a graduate class, I learned that many believe that a “Boy Code” is a contributing reason to why many boys become reluctant readers. “Boy Code” refers to “culturally embedded expectations about masculinity” (Cleveland, 2011, p. 38) that stem from an absence of positive male role models, the massive influence of the media’s distorted images of masculinity, and the fear of being labeled different or feminine (Cleveland, 2011). Because girls generally develop literacy skills at an earlier age (Sadowski, 2010), many boys perceive reading as a feminine activity. This perception leads to some boys shunning reading.
Boys lacking male reading role models often rely on media constructions of men to learn about “being a man.”  We do not see athletes read on television — although most of them probably do.  Movie images portray heroic men as those who go out “on their own”, who behave rashly, or who intuitively know how to do things  — without reading/research.  James Bond doesn’t read much; neither does Batman (at least on screen).  Even Harry Potter, considered by many the “nerdier” male hero rarely reads or studies.  Like his friend Ron, Harry relies on Hermione, their studious female friend, to handle all the “book learning”.
Male reading role models are so important to shattering this constructed image.  Although male teachers can help with this, I feel like dads are the most powerful influence in the lives of their sons in regards to their feelings about reading.   Unfortunately, the lack of reading role models probably leads to Matthew effects.  Boys living in poverty (who often do not have steady “dads” in their lives) suffer from misconceptions of literacy the most. For example, boys in wealthier districts generally report reading more often and have higher reading assessment scores.  Their fathers are also more likely to have jobs where literacy is valued. These boys view literacy as a masculine trait (Sadowski, 2010).
I read to my son nearly every day (I wish I could say every day, but the realities of time and energy do interfere).  His phonemic awareness is already developing as he connects language to those weird scribblings in his Elmo and Clifford books.  He understands how to turn pages in books, which, I have learned from some of my elementary colleagues, not every child entering kindergarten knows how to do.  I can’t wait to take turns reading books together and to ask him questions about what he is reading.  And I can’t wait to analyze movies and video games with him as well, showing him how what we read also helps us understand what we see.  And, my wife bought three Geek Dad books that I can’t wait for us to read, so we can make some really cool stuff like an iPhone Steadi Cam, superhero capes, and an outdoor movie theater.  We are going to have a lot of fun.  We are having a lot of fun.
Take the time.  Make it a priority, dads.  Read with your son.


Cleveland, K. P. (2011). Teaching boys who struggle in school. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Sadowski, M. (2010). Putting the ‘boy crisis’ in context: Finding solutions to boys’ reading problems may require looking beyond gender. Education Digest, 76(3), 10-13.