Domain 1: 2015 Reflections

1a. Demonstrating knowledge of content and pedagogy

I have taken several workshops in Visible Thinking, and I use it consistently in my classroom.  I have found that the SEE/THINK/WONDER exercise is a wonderful lead-in to the Jane Schaeffer style of writing embraced by the Webster Central School District.

My experience with on-line publishing through the publication of my own books aids me in this part of my work with students.  As such, I have working knowledge of what makes good writing.

I have published over twenty “LitPlans” through both Teacher’s Pet Publications and BMI Educational Services. For BMI, I designed their format for their Literature Study Guides and Student Workbooks, which was used for the entire series.

As a stage performer who was trained in Theatre during a summer session at Thames Valley University in London, England under the tutelage of Rodney West from the Royal Shakespeare Company, I have much to bring to my students’ understanding of theatre and plays, particularly the works of William Shakespeare.  I also perform with various community theatre companies in the Rochester area, and I serve on the Board of Directors for Everyone’s Theatre Company.


1b. Demonstrating knowledge of students

I was fortunate enough to work with the same group of consultant students for two years in a row (both English 9 and English 10). This was extremely beneficial to the students as they were already familiar with classroom expectations and knew what was expected from them as regard to their class work. They did VERY well this year, and each one of them said at their CSE meetings in March that they were glad to have had that opportunity.

Early in the year, the English Department used on of the EngageNY modules (“Letter From a Birmingham Jail”) as a form of pre-assessment so as to determine the strengths and weaknesses of our particular group of students.  Through the results, I knew what I needed to focus on at least in the realm of persuasive writing with my classes.

This year was my second year teaching Consultant classes, and I worked with my consulting teacher to better get to know my special education students through studying their IEP’s and/or 504 plans in depth. While working with their accommodations, I still held them to the same rigor and level of expectations as my Regents students. As they will be taking the same assessments, it would have been a disservice to them to do otherwise.

Next year I will be working with the newly developed ICT program for 9th grade. I will be doing summer training in preparation for that.


1c. Setting instructional outcomes

I use District-approved rubrics for grading writing assignments, particularly those that model state assessments.  I allow students to see the rubrics in advance so that they are aware of the expectations.   For some long-term projects, I show them models of former students’ work (many allow me to keep their projects afterwards) so that they can get an idea of what I am looking for in their work. 

I also decided that it would serve the Consultant classes better if I did the research paper in conjunction with the Social Studies Model U.N. project.


1d. Demonstrating knowledge of resources

For my junior classes, I demonstrated how to create and maintain a WordPress blog site. This was for their personal narrative writing, so I used the websites to monitor student performance on online assignments.

For vocabulary with the juniors, I attempted something creative by allowing them to choose words from the text (just not nouns), and then take a photograph of something that demonstrated the meaning of that word. I anticipated this being a fun way to creatively share vocabulary; sadly, the juniors did not think so, and most of them declined to do it.

On my school classroom site, I place links to helpful online sources for all units, as well as copies of study guides and other documents in the event they lose the ones I give them..


1e. Designing coherent instruction

I create study guides for my students that not only provide background material about the author and topics/ideas we shall be exploring in a particular piece, but I give them vocabulary lists, reading questions, Reader Response questions, and literary analysis questions.   Because I have seen how Visible Thinking exercises have benefited my students’ writing in the past, I work to create thoughtful Visible Thinking exercises to accompany the units of study.  I know that students need to be prepared for the state tests, so I design lessons and assessments that mirror what they might see in the future.

My curriculum advisor, Jeremy McBride, has copies of all my unit plans on file.


1f. Designing student assessments

All assessments are designed to test skills that students will need to be successful in all areas of English Language Arts, but particularly those that will be presented on state (and soon, federal) standardized tests.  I particularly focus on the areas of:

  1. persuasive writing
  2. literary analysis
  3. close reading of both fiction and non-fiction
  4. research

Domain 2: 2015 Reflections

2a. Creating an environment of respect and rapport

On the first day of class, I give students a course expectations sheet.  On it, I outline classroom procedures, materials/supplies needed, class rules, grading and assessment practices, and a list of units of study for the year.  I also include contact information for parents and students alike. 

One thing that I absolutely insist upon in my classroom is that we all respect one another.  I do not allow teasing or bullying of any kind, and I when I hear kids “joking” with one another in what may be considered a disrespectful way, I make students apologize to one another.  As part of classroom respect, I insist that gentlemen do not wear hats indoors, undergarments are UNDER clothing, electronics are where I cannot see them, and food is left in the cafeteria. 


2b. Establishing a culture for learning

Once students know what to expect, I have very few discipline problems.  I keep students on task by asking questions pertaining to the reading/task at hand whenever they seem to be veering on to another path. 

I display their work around the room, particularly their creative work.   I have posted pictures of the posters they have created (and may refer back to as needed when they are hanging up), as well as their Visible Thinking exercises for the unit so that we may refer back to things they may have seen or thought about earlier in the unit.

I have a specific shelf for each class’ journals, as well as reference materials around the room for them to use (dictionaries, thesauri, etc).   When a student asks me what something means, they have come to know that my response to them will be, “Get thee to a dictionary.”  


2c. Managing classroom procedures

Kids know that we have set routines for group work, their packets are set up in a similar fashion, their vocabulary quizzes follow a specific format, as do their reading quizzes.  I create this routine so that they become comfortable in knowing what is coming.  When they see their journals on their desks, they know that we are doing a Visible Thinking exercise.  When they trade papers for peer grading, they know automatically that they have to have a red pen and put their name in the lower right-hand corner.  They also know that they are expected to have the MLA heading on every piece of work that comes in for a grade, and that the heading is checked by peers during written/vocab quizzes. 


2d. Managing student behavior

If students know what to expect, then there are very few surprises.  The fewer surprises, the more comfortable they seem with a routine, and classes run smoothly.

I expect that students will refer to me as Ms Woodward, and not simply as “Woodward.”  I also expect that they will respect my boundaries and work space just as I respect theirs.  That means that students may not simply walk up to my desk and help themselves to anything they find (such as a writing utensil or a stapler).   I remind them that I would never come up to their desk to help myself, so they may not do so with my desk.  Students seem to understand and respect this guideline.


2e. Organizing physical space

I change the configuration of my room quite frequently.  While I begin the year in rows (better for me to learn their names from a seating chart), I do form various sized groups for each unit, depending up on how many groups I need. 

This gets a little tricky when I have two class levels doing different pieces or are at different points in a unit. I tried to plot my units out to last an entire quarter so that I could leave the desks in one set configuration for the full ten weeks.

For the most part, we worked either in rows (which allowed for paired partners) or in six groups. The six groups allowed me to chunk information or chapters from a reading selection into six sections for closer analysis.

During Lord of the Flies, we turned the room into a jungle in an effort to create a certain “atmosphere” that related to the characters in the novel. We also did a classroom completion called “Survivor” for this unit as a motivational technique.

Decor 2

Decor 1

Decor 3

Decor and Journals 4

Decor and Journals 5

Journals Katherine

I mixed students up during the year so that they had the opportunity to work with as many people in the class as possible.


Domain 3: 2015 Reflections

3a.  Communicating with students

At the beginning of a new unit, students are given a calendar and a schedule of due dates for homework, tests/quizzes, and classroom activities.  In this way, students can organize their own schedules and plan to have work competed on time.  Also, in the event of an absence, students know what has to be made up. 

Students are also given a study packet for each unit as well.   These packets include: introductory information pertinent to the unit, vocabulary word lists, reading/study questions, literary analysis questions, and any supplementary materials that we may need in the unit (poems, stories, articles, worksheets, etc).  All of my unit packets look alike, so students come to know where to find certain materials in them.   The expectation is that all study questions will be answered in 5 varied sentences (as a way to improve the development of a response) that include a properly cited embedded quotation from the text (as support).

My quiz formats are all alike as well throughout the year.  Keeping quizzes in a familiar format creates a sense of comfort in the students as there are no surprises.  All reading quizzes are comprised of ten multiple-choice questions (text-based and also related to literary analysis) and three short responses (taken directly from the homework questions).  I tell students that the homework is a dry run for the quiz.  The better job they do on the homework, the better it will stick in their memories as they answer the same questions on the quizzes. 

I made changes to vocabulary quizzes this year as I wished for students to actually learn to apply the words to their writing as opposed to memorizing and spelling them. I also wanted to implement some element of choice into their assessments. Each vocabulary quiz consisted of matching ten words with definitions (not an even match, as I included definitions for words not being quizzed at that time). After matching, the students had to choose five of the words that they felt they could use well in a sentence that not only utilized the correct part of speech, but the context of the sentence needed to indicate that they knew what the work meant. This forced them to use compound and complex sentences as opposed to mere simple sentences. This worked very well.

By being upfront with students about quizzes and keeping up with the schedules in the study packets, this helps to alleviate the stress of wondering what’s coming next.  I give as much advance notice for all assignments as possible to allow students to adapt to their personal schedules, which include sports, music and other activities.


3b. Using questioning and discussion techniques

I ask higher level questions both on quizzes and in the classroom.  I want students to be able to back their responses up with textual evidence, so I follow their answers with, “So how do you know?” or “What makes you say that?”  Also, when a student responds to a question, I ask others to add to the response.

Students also work in cooperative groups throughout the year.   I mix up the groups so that they get to work a unit with everyone in the class at least once.  I pose questions to each group, and they work together to come up with an answer, which they then present to the rest of the class.  This works especially well with the literary analysis questions that I give in each unit.  For example, during the Shakespeare unit, I divided a list of twelve questions among the six groups.  This allowed the groups to focus in on two particular literary devices in depth (because was group was responsible for only two questions).  When a group presented to the class, the listeners were responsible for writing down what they heard.  During the presentations, I would interject with, “And….” or “Soooo…” or “But…” and students would then elaborate on their responses.  This continued until the question had been thoroughly answered.  By the time we were finished, each student had an answer to all of the questions. 


3c. Engaging students in learning

For most classes, the learning was student driven. I provided topics and ideas to get them started, but they had to elaborate on their own. Each group member was called on to participate, to there was no passive absorption of information.

For all classes, I also offer as much choice as possible so that students feel they have some input into their assignments. For example, when we worked with the Evidence-Based Claims in both the 10th and 11th grade short story units, the students were allowed to choose which of the stories they felt most comfortable using in the completion of a writing assignment (each claim focused on a different literary device, so students could choose to write about the one they felt they could shine with). The Juniors also chose their own short story from the class anthology to use for analysis. I believe that if they have some choice, they will be more inclined to look deeper into the story.


3d. Using assessment in instruction

For many quizzes, students graded each other’s papers, and they also did quite of bit of peer editing.

When they (both grade levels) completed character journals, one of the instructions was that another character would also happen across the journal and respond to each entry. For the Sophomores, we called this a Doppelganger Journal because students had to write 5 one-hundred-word entries by either Henry Jekyll or Edward Hyde. The other half of the project was to go back as the opposite character and pretend that he had come across the journal and wrote comments on each entry. In this way, the students were showing characterization for two major characters in the novella. I also did this same assignment when my juniors analyzed character development in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. On the day the journals were due, the students exchanged journals with a partner, read the entries and commented on each one, giving both positive feedback and constructive criticism. They then had to select their favorite of the entries they’d read to share aloud in class. Each student read their favorite entry for their partner’s journal (using both character’s words), then explained why it was their favorite, and then thanked the author for allowing them to share their work. This work exceptionally well!

Students are able to monitor their own progress via the Parent Portal online.


3e. Demonstrating flexibility and responsiveness

I have made it my practice to eat lunch in my classroom in order to be available for students on a regular basis.  They can come to me during period 5 for make-up quizzes, to ask questions, or to seek help with homework/assignments. 

In the event of a student struggling with material, I have been willing to work with that student to help him/her succeed. I have worked specifically with several students who have suffered from concussions this year, as well as extra support for my IEP students.  I have also extended deadlines to students who come to me and ask for help. 


Domain 4: 2015 Reflections

4a.  Reflecting on Teaching

As I look back on this 2014-2015 school year, I can see some things that really worked for me and for my students, and I will not be changing those.  For example:

~ Working in cooperative groups for various units.   I used cooperative groups throughout the year for all classes.  As we did close reading of materials, I found that some weaker students benefited from having a strong reader in the group to kind of lead them along.   Quite often I heard phrases like, “How’d you come up with that?” and “Show me where you got that.”  For most units, the class was divided into six groups, and chapters/segments for close reading were divided into six parts, one for each group. In this way, we were able to share aloud student thoughts on an entire chapter. We also used pairs when working on short stories as they developed Evidence-Based Claims related to specific literary devices.

~ Using Visible Thinking Exercises.  I have said it for the past several years, and I’ll say it again: This technique has been the single greatest tool I have gotten in the past several years through Professional Development.  I wish I had been introduced to it much earlier!   Using these exercises helps to focus writing, especially the See/Think/Wonder exercise for coming up with Concrete Details (CDs) and Commentary (CMs) for writing.  Students become more observant while examining paintings/photographs/music videos/film clips, and they begin to look for less obvious details as the year progresses.  This skill is transferred to close reading as we examine specific passages from text.   The Regents/Consultant sophomores did it with articles about Jung’s ideas surrounding the “Shadow” with both Lord of the Flies and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the second semester, while the juniors used this technique with the Transcendentalists, The Crucible, and our 19th Century Literature unit (tied to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Sherlock Holmes). We used Visible Thinking with the 10th grade EngageNY Module developed around Martin Luther King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.”

~ Evidence-Based Claims.  I have found the O’Dell “Forming Evidence-Based Claims” worksheets to be a strong tool that reflects work that I have already been doing with my students.  The Forming Evidence Based Claims worksheet is actually a version of See/Think/Wonder, and I am able to adapt the information on the sheet to a Schaffer-style paragraph. I also found that the Organizing Evidence Based Claims worksheet asks kids to create a thesis statement with two signposts (something I’d reviewed when we worked on the research paper).   I did this piece early in the year so as to set the stage to use the Evidence-Based Claim forms all year. I found they work especially well as graphic organizers for the Regents literature as well because I used them with the short story unit, with To Kill and Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

~Model U.N. In an attempt to collaborate with the Social Studies Department with the District’s new push to create more of a Humanities approach, I contacted Kristen O’Brien about the 10th grade Model U.N. project. Using the research that students gleaned for the Social Studies four-month-long project, I helped students to turn their positions on a particular issue related to their assigned country into a persuasive argument. The outlines from the Social Studies department were in alignment with English department skills, and so we reinforced each other’s work.

~ Narrative Writing Blogs. The juniors began to work on their personal narrative writing skills in preparation for their senior college essays by writing on blog sites that they created. Sadly, many of the students did not take the assignments very seriously and ended up posting about grilled cheese sandwiches instead of about things that have helped them along their path to senior year (and ultimately college). I had modeled my expectations by writing my own blog over the previous summer based on my personal “Walden Experiment” (go to to see how I set it up for them). I also read Thoreau’s Walden while I was living my experiment, and my thoughts are online. That was the kind of thing I had hoped for but did not get (for the most part).

Things that I will change:

I would like to actually work with the Social Studies Department BEFORE they assign the project so as to add suggestions about possible topics. Some of the topics this year were difficult for students to create a persuasive argument (how can one find evidence that anyone supports genocide or that having clean water is a bad thing?).

I might re-think the use of blogging for next year. Perhaps I can find a way to work it into the 10th grade curriculum.


4b.  Maintaining accurate records

I make use of the Infinite Campus grade book online.  Parents may see grades on the portal and keep track of their child’s progress.  I have both positive and negative reactions to this.  On the positive side, parents can see what a child is missing and encourage him/her to turn the work in, or if the child does poorly on a quiz, the parent can intervene with the child.  On the flip side, some parents check the portal constantly and question grading practices for every little point in an attempt to raise their child’s grades.  Also, it might be more helpful to have the grade book go live after a particular quarter has started. Grades really are not reflective of any real progress until there are several assignments online.


4c.  Communicating with families

Most frequently, I communicate with families via email.  This gives me an electronic record of the communication, and I always include Mr. McBride (as English Department Supervisor) and the student’s house office administrator in the conversation.   I send emails for significantly late work, failing averages at the halfway point in a quarter, or missing work, and I make suggestions for how a student may improve his/her grade.  I also send emails when a struggling student has improved as a motivation for continued improvement.  If a parent does not respond to my email I follow with a phone call and log the call on Infinite Campus. 


4d.  Participating in a professional community

I had a difficult time participating with my PLC this year because the PLC time was scheduled when I was teaching a class. However, I worked closely with Mary Ealy in the Special Education department, and I also discuss curriculum and other school business with other teachers as well.

For the past five years, I have served the school as the head yearbook advisor, maintaining accurate financial records and helping students and my co-advisor create a quality product.  I have also served as a ski club chaperone for the past ten years, and I was a class advisor for three years from 2007-2010.   Our committee planned the 2008 Junior Prom and the 2009 Senior Ball.


4e.  Growing and developing professionally

I am still a member of the Joseph Campbell Foundation, which correlated with my work in teaching cultural mythology and The Hero’s Journey to my students.  In 2014,I was approached by the Jung Society of San Francisco regarding a presentation that I have delivered at an international Symposium on Mythology in Santa Barbara, California about the work I did with my enriched students over the years, particularly the long-term short story project that we used to do annually, which culminated in the publication of an anthology.  The Jung Association commissioned me to write an article for their journal, Culture and Psyche. My article, “We’re All in Myth Together” was published in their Winter 2014 edition.

I have taken advantage of the Webster Central School District’s professional development offering on Visible Thinking activities in the classroom.  This practice has really added depth to my classroom discussions and to student sharing/writing.  There are examples of Visible Thinking exercises posted for your perusal. 

I am currently enrolled in online classes from the Museum of Modern Art through Coursere, an online site connected to prestigious universities across the country. The courses are called “Art and Activity: Interactive Strategies for Engaging with Art” and “Art and Inquiry: Museum Teaching Strategies for Your Classroom.” Both classes seem to go into more depth with the Visible Thinking exercises that I already use, so I am hoping to develop those further for next year, particularly for the ICT program.


4f.  Demonstrating professionalism

I work hard to maintain my integrity in my chosen profession.  I take my charge to educate students very seriously, and I am consistent in my dealings with students.  While I may be strict, I believe that I am extremely fair and that I do whatever is necessary to see students succeed. 

I offer credit recovery options for students who are missing work.  Because I believe that all assignments are important and should be completed, I have given students “incomplete” grades on report cards until all work has been done. 


Making Our Voices Heard: Letters to the Governor

After taking a close look at the January 2015 Common core ELA exam, students showed many concerns, particularly my sophomores who will face this test next year as a graduation requirement.

In order to express their concerns, we used the skills outlined in Part II of the Common Core exam and wrote arguments about whether or not such a test was an appropriate assessment for them personally. Their arguments had to follow a formal letter format, were required to use a respectful, yet imploring tone, must contain elevated vocabulary with a variety of sentence structures, and must not only argue their concerns, but must offer some sort of a solution that the students feel would make sense as a graduation requirement.

Because the document is now available online from the NYS Education Department, there is no issue with sharing the January 2015 exam here:


We talked about how to write a formal letter, and then came up with a format for them to follow. We also talked about how this same format could be helpful in other meaningful life tasks such as writing cover letters when job searching, college applications, letters of complaint about faulty products, and a host of other opportunities in which it will be most helpful for students to be skilled in persuasive techniques.

Not only did we mail the hard copies of the letters, but students copied and pasted their letters into the draft of an email addressed to the governor. Once in class, the students opened their email accounts on their phones (I used my computer to do my letter using the overhead projector), and we hit send simultaneously.

persuasive letter

These are from my first two classes that brought them in, ready to be mailed:


And these are from the other two classes:


Here are a sampling of their letters:



























In an effort to make the students’ writing meaningful, and therefore motivate them to write well for ACTION and not just a grade, we will explore other topics that they care strongly enough about to write letters. Each student will be able to select an issue that they feel strongly about…something that they CARE about (our district acronym)…and then take the initiative to find out more about the problem, attempt to create a solution, and then write to a person in charge to try to make their voices heard. This will certainly be a stronger persuasive piece compared to whether or not extinct species should be brought back!

Persuasive letters only become truly persuasive when there is an element of passion involved. It’s better to write for a purpose rather than just a grade!

Cuomo Receipt

English 11: Visible Thinking: McCarthyism and The Crucible

As we begin to explore ideas for the research topic, Hysteria in America, we watched the following video after reading Act II of The Crucible.

Students were asked to write down ten things they SAW/HEARD in the video and then share them with a member of their group.

After they shared what they saw and heard, I asked them to THINK about three other situations to which the ideas in the video could relate.

They also had to come up with three things they WONDER about what they have seen and heard in the video, and what they have read in The Crucible.

Each student had a colored PostIt (three colors, one for each: See/Think/Wonder), and then we shared the students’ ideas.

hysteria vt

After sharing, students then chose ONE possible idea regarding Hysteria in America (outside The Salem Witch Trials, McCarthyism /The Red Scare, and the H1N1 vaccine) and write a three chunk paragraph about how that idea also relates to what they have read in Arthur Miller’s play.

This is going to be the basis for their research papers.


English 10R: Persuasive Argument in To Kill a Mockingbird

To begin work with analyzing Atticus Finch’s closing arguments in the Tom Robinson case from To Kill a Mockingbird, students read chapter 20 and then watched a clip from the film. The audio version of this film clip can be heard here:

Closing Remarks Close Reading  this is the document that goes with the information here:

Atticus Finch’s Closing Remarks: Close Reading

Each group was assigned a portion of Atticus Finch’s closing remarks in the Tom Robinson trial in To Kill a Mockingbird (from Chapter 20); students had to RHA their assigned portion:

  • Your task is to read the section closely, and then, with your group members, determine which rhetorical device (ethos, pathos, or logos…remember those??) Atticus is using most effectively in that section.
  • Once you have determined WHICH device he is using, you must then highlight at least two ways in which he is doing so IN YOUR SECTION.
  • You must then annotate in the margin HOW the highlighted section is an example of your chosen rhetorical device.
  • On your Post-It note, write the rhetorical device on the top line, and then write your two examples and your explanation on the remaining lines (write SMALL)


Group Assignments:

Part 1: Group 4                                  Part 4: Group 1

Part 2: Group 3                                  Part 5: Group 2

Part 3: Group 6                                  Part 6: Group 5


The text of Atticus’ speech can be found here (complete with the group breakdown):

Atticus’ Argument

As the students worked, they had to share their Post-Its, placing them on the board under the property rhetorical device in the row corresponding to the section they had been assigned.

Rhetorical Devices breakdown

EthosPosts Supporting Ethos

LogosPosts supporting Logos

After we had discussed the entire speech (this took one and a half classes), the students began using the information on the front board to complete an Organized Evidence-Based Claim form.

This is the annotated version containing instructions:


They were also given instructions for an essay, which used the same writing prompt as the EngageNY Module for English 10 (“Letter From a Birmingham Jail” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.):

Analyze how Atticus Finch develops and refines his claims to advance his purpose.


Like we did with the MLK letter, we broke down the writing prompt for clarity:

From our discussions, we already know that:

  • his “purpose” is to persuade the jury to find Tom Robinson “not guilty”
  • “how” he persuades is either through ethos, pathos, or logos (he does use all of them at different points, but you must focus on ONE)
  • focusing on only one type of persuasion will act as a thread running through your essay to hold it together, and will help with how he “develops and refines his claims”.
  • this “analysis” is an explanation of HOW Atticus persuades; it is NOT a summary of events in Maycomb or what Atticus said ABOUT those events.