Category Archives: Blog

Five Keys to Escaping Analysis Paralysis

Many educators play it safe. They avoid change. Maybe they feel comforted by the class structures they’ve used year after year. Maybe they value control in their classrooms, so they become wary of trying new strategies — even if they know they can be beneficial to their students. Maybe they want to be liked by their peers, so they stay silent when they have great ideas or when they need to be critical. They don’t want to rock the boat.

Fear often drives our actions because we can’t predict the outcomes of a change we’d like to make. “Analysis paralysis” is known as the act of considering every potential problem we may encounter until we never take action at all. Thus, fear keeps us from taking the chances that help us evolve.

For a while, I have had a serious case of analysis paralysis. However, after being in the same position in the same schools for seven years, the comfort is becoming uncomfortable. I need to think about next steps, but I am paralyzed because I don’t know what I should do.

Enter: ASCD L2L 2017. Attending this year’s L2L (especially the networking and planning time) has really helped me move into action. I am so thankful for support and coaching from educators that I truly admire. After reflecting on my conversations and thinking there, I have identified five ways to break out of my own personal analysis paralysis.

1. Write about it.

Taking time to write out your thoughts can be clarifying. So often we think in fragments (especially if we are parents!), or we allow our thoughts to carry us away into daydreams or distractions. We play out worse-case scenarios over and over in the movie theaters of our minds. Or we try to remember great ideas, long lost to the ebb and flow of our monkey minds.

All of these thoughts floating in our mental landscapes don’t actually make a difference in our lives though. Invisible to the tangible world, we cannot make sense of them.

Writing down our thoughts and ideas helps us make sense of them. It frees up brainpower for us to reflect and refine plans. Writing also allows us to set intentions that we are more likely to act upon. Writing could be in a journal (I really like this one), Post-Its, a Google Doc, or in a public blog like this one. The goal is to get your thoughts out of your head, so you can do something with them!

2. Talk it out with someone.

We’ve established that leaving ideas in our heads keeps us from acting upon them. Another idea for making our ideas move into reality is talking to someone about them. Trusting someone to listen and give you feedback is scary, but it also helps you gain confidence to act.

Find someone that you trust, and share an idea that’s percolating. For example, at L2L, I had a great opportunity to share some of my personalized professional development ideas with Krista Leh and Jessica Bohn (both educators you should follow, by the way). I was a little nervous at first, but they were so encouraging. They asked good questions about what I was doing, and they made me want to pursue tackling the PD models I’m creating even more. That’s the motivation many of us need to put our plans in action.

3. Test an idea on as new audience.

Hear me out on this. I find that it can be easier to lead a training at conference sometimes than with teachers in my district. It’s not that I don’t love working with them (I do!), but it is true that the relationships can obscure the quality of your ideas. Those who like you will give you great feedback. Those who don’t like you so much can give mediocre feedback. A “cold” audience can sometimes give you the best feedback.  

Perhaps you want to try a new strategy in your classroom.  Could you switch classes with a colleagues and you both could attempt to try some new things with different students? I am always teaching other people’s students as an instructional coach, and I feel like those students give me “real” feedback because we don’t have longstanding relationships.

Maybe you have an interest in providing professional development but your district doesn’t focus on your passions. I encourage you to present your ideas at a conference or an Edcamp so you can see how other educators respond to them. 

4. Find a nudger.

Once you are clear on what you want to do, find a few people who will encourage you by “nudging.” After this weekend at ASCD L2L, Allie Rodman and I have been planning a calendar of how we can be more consistent in blogging. I am also very fortunate to have Kyle Hamstra asking me about when my post will be ready, while sharing his newest posts with me. Allie and Kyle are great accountability buddies for me as a blogger, and I’d say that they are at least 50% of the reason you are reading this post! Check out their blogs (The Learning Loop and Hamstra Highlights)!

5. Don’t think. Do.

If you are familiar with Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), you may have heard this idea before. Sometimes the best way to shift how we think is to stop thinking and start acting. It is so easy to daydream about all the big goals we have — and then feel resentful that we have not acted upon them. The next time that happens, decide in that moment one ACTION you can take right then that will get you closer to that goal. Trust me. I know this isn’t easy. If you need to work at it, be comforted that I am working at it too. Perhaps we could encourage one another.

Let me know what you think of these five methods for escaping “analysis paralysis.” Which one would make the biggest difference for you? What others might you add?


Resources for Designing Morphologically-Rich Lessons

This post contains resources for teachers to build morphologically-rich lessons, based upon an action research study I conducted while part of the Governor’s Teacher Network program. To learn more about the study, check out the slideshow below.

Select Your Goals

Please download the lesson plan template to get you started. Think about your goals for students. What standards will you meet? What will your learning targets be? For most of us, tracing word meanings and morphology will be found in the Vocabulary Acquisition and Use standard in the Language strand of the Common Core State Standards.

Choose a Text

Choose a text of your choice, or you can explore some of the adapted texts at these websites. They are free to use, but you will need to create an account.


Read Works

Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week

Select the Anchor Word(s)

Find one or two morphologically rich words necessary to understand the text.  You can use the Academic Word List or the Academic Word Finder from Achieve the Core to help you.

Determine the morpheme you would like to provide instruction on.  Here are some links to help you.

Words Their Way

Learn That Word

Scholastic – Most Common Prefixes and Suffixes

Reading First — Virginia DOE

Better Endings List

Instructional Strategies for Reading

Say Something


T-charts for collecting evidence

Text Coding

Chunking and Annotation


Create Games




Word Study Uno

Free Microsoft Office-Based Game Templates

“Level Up” Learning with Newsela’s Binder

This is the final post in a series exploring Newsela strategies, and it focuses on ideas for Newsela Pro binder users.  You can check out other posts for ideas for using the free version of Newsela or Newsela Pro features.

So imagine that you are now using all of Newsela’s features with your students, and you want to determine how the information stored in the binder can help you “level up” learning in your classroom and across your school. Here are two simple ideas.

  1. Use Binder Data for Student Conferences and Personalized Instruction

When you confer with students, you can have them access their data in their student binders. Once students open their binders, you are able to see the overall percentage of questions they’ve gotten correct on quizzes. Although a good piece of benchmarking data, this percentage is not necessarily very helpful for growth.  

However, there is a great tool for guiding growth. A simple search feature at the top of the binder allows you to isolate different reading standards. Both the students and you can see percentages of correct answers for each type of skill and compare those percentages to the student’s average. This activity creates an enriching discussion about strengths and areas for growth.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.07.37 PMFor example, I worked with a student who opened her binder, and she had a 76% overall on her quizzes.  Her first response was, “ I always get 75’s on my quizzes.” She seemed downtrodden by this fact (in actuality, 75% is a perfectly good score for students reading on their instructional Lexile level according to Newsela). 


Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.07.27 PMSo, I encouraged her to isolate some of the reading standards, using the filter in the binder. We found that she had gotten 95% of central idea questions correct, and I acknowledged that as a strength for her (compared to her 76% average). We then saw that she had a 65% on questions dealing with perspective and point of view.  We realized that this is was a growth area for her. I shared possible strategies she could use when reading in the future. We also explored some of point-of-view questions to learn more about what they asked.

Using this data allows us to give personalized feedback, help students self-assess their strengths and areas for improvement, and aids personalized instruction as well as targeted interventions.

2. Using Data for Schoolwide Focus

If you are a Newsela team leader, you have access to school-wide data in the School Performance tab. In this area, you can look at the average level of achievement of all students in your school. Here, you can also use the filter to learn about how students are doing in each individual reading standard.

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I was recently able to do this with one of my schools. I noticed that the school was doing particularly well on Standard 4, which deals with understanding vocabulary and figurative language in context. However, students were doing very poorly on the Standard 7 multimedia questions, which usually ask them to compare a print text to some visual text such as a map or a piece of art. This information was helpful for teachers, so they could be mindful of strengthening intertextual connections for students, regardless of the subject area where they teach.

If you want to hear about these strategies in depth, access the Newsela “Celebrate the Educator” webinar in which I share 6 strategies for “leveling up” with Newsela.

What are some interesting ways that you are using the Newsela Pro Binder?

“Level Up” Your Teaching with Newsela Pro

This is the second post in a series of three, and it focuses on ideas for Newsela Pro users. For ideas for the free version of Newsela, check out my last post.

So you have access to Newsela Pro, but you only use the quizzes. Here are two easy ways you can “level up” how you use Newsela Pro in your classroom.

  1. Supporting Writing and Academic Language with the Write Prompt

I recently had the opportunity to work with a group of English language Learners. In the lesson, we looked at conflicts occurring in Syria. I chose a Newsela article about the teenage rebels that fighting in the conflict .

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The purpose of the lesson was for students to use a graphic organizer to track causes and effects of teenagers being involved in the war. You can check out the lesson plan for resources. Every Newsela article comes with a Write prompt, where students respond to a CCSS standard-aligned question. If you have access to Newsela Pro, you are able to edit the Write prompt. For this class, I embedded these sentence frames into the Write prompt in order the scaffold their responses.

  • One factor that has caused teenagers to fight in Syria is __________________. Another reason that teens are fighting is ________________. (Other factors causing teens to fight include ___________).
  • One of the effects of teenagers fighting in Syria is _____________. Additional impacts from teens fighting include _________________________.Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 3.24.10 PM

2. Scaffolding Complex Texts with Annotations and the Lexile Selector

What are the major three shifts of the English language arts and literacy common core standards is text complexity. Newsela’s Lexile feature allows students to change the complexity of text to suit their comprehension. However, there are times I want to really challenge them with the text at or above their grade level. One way I can do this while still scaffolding students is this adaption of the “Trying on the Most Difficult Text First” strategy from this International Literacy Association publication on close reading.

  • Use Newsela’s annotation questions or create your own annotation questions in a complex version (for your grade level and students) of the article.
  • Ask students to make initial responses to the answers, and annotate their own confusions.
  • Then have students read a more comfortable Lexile version of the article to aid comprehension.
  • Next, have students return to the complex Lexile version and revise their responses.

This method encourages students to tackle rigorous text, while also providing scaffolding for them to grow as readers!

If you want to hear about any of these strategies in depth, access the Newsela “Celebrate the Educator” webinar in which I share 6 strategies for “leveling up” with Newsela.

What are some interesting ways that you are using Newsela Pro features with your students?

“Level Up” your Teaching with Newsela’s Free Features

So you’ve started using Newsela, but you haven’t done much besides having students access articles and possibly taking quizzes. I’ll offer some new ways you could use Newsela to “level up” implementation in your classroom. This post is the first in a series of three short posts, and it focuses on ideas for the free version of Newsela than any teacher can use.

  1. Highlight Purposefully as a Reading and Research Strategy

Newsela comes equipped with a highlighting feature. Students can use up to four colors to code text in different ways. For example, last year I had 9th grade English students participate in an inquiry unit called “The Grown-up Project.” Students were tasked at reading literary and informational texts for evidence that would answer the following compelling question: “What primarily causes someone to grow up: the aging process, external events, or personal choices?” For the informational texts, students selected articles from a Newsela text set that I created, looking for evidence to answer the question. I assigned students to use a different highlighting color for each of the possible types of evidence as well as the fourth color to highlight the quote they believed was most important in the article.

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2. Differentiated Reading Groups

One of the main reasons I love Newsela is that each text has a Lexile selector that allows you to differentiate readability at five levels. It is an amazing tool to differentiate with dignity.  If your students have access to devices, that can very easily select the levels for themselves. However, if you don’t have devices, you can print articles on whatever level you choose. One way to use this feature is creating differentiated reading groups.

Students can be divided into groups where each group reads a different article under a the same topic or theme. However, each group’s article can be leveled differently based upon the current proficiencies of that certain group (obviously, the teacher would need to create groups for this to work well). As an example, my colleague Lily, a biology teacher, created a genetics text set, where each student group read about a selective breeding and genetically modified organisms. Each article was leveled differently based upon the current proficiencies of the group. Then, a member of each group jigsawed with members from other groups in order to share information about their articles. All of the students were on equal playing field in regards to content, even if they had texts at different Lexile levels. By the way, since each group has a different article, it is not obvious that they have different readabilities. 

If you want to hear about any of these strategies in depth, access the Newsela “Celebrate the Educator” webinar in which I shared the 6 strategies for “leveling up” with Newsela.  

What are some interesting ways that you are using the free version of Newsela with your students?