Due Dates and Deadlines and Competency Ed


In competency-based education, our job as educators is to coach and support students as they work toward competency.

This makes assessment tough:  We know that some students work slower than others.  Some work faster.   Some don’t work at all because they have no idea how to start.

Despite this, the school year does eventually end.  So we set goals and deadlines for summative assessments.

And many secondary educators academically penalize students for late assessments, or assessments not passed in at all, because: “IN THE ‘REAL WORLD’ THEY WILL HAVE DEADLINES AND THEY NEED TO KNOW THAT DEADLINES ARE IMPORTANT.”

Let’s be honest here:
How many of us here, “in the real world,” have missed a deadline or negotiated an extension?  

While I sit and type this, my car is 2,500 miles overdue for an oil change.
My car will forgive me, and it probably won’t die before I can schedule one soon.


The furniture truck also got stuck in the snow at the end of the driveway on the day of delivery.  Oh, New Hampshire.

A few weeks ago, a furniture delivery I was expecting had to reschedule, due to icy roads leading to my home in New Hampshire.  I forgave the furniture guys, because we rescheduled and they delivered the next week. 

Many years ago, I worked at an academic publishing company.  Lightning hit our print shop, our schedule fell behind, and all of our books would be late.  The schools forgave our company, because we gave them our best work, even though it arrived a few days late.  They even ordered again the following year.



In many schools, it’s common to give zeros for missing work, and expected that students should lose points for late work.  I’m ashamed to say that I’ve caved to these expectations in the past.  It made me feel rotten.  

Because of that rotten feeling, I don’t academically penalize students for late work anymore.  Honestly, it doesn’t even make sense to me to do so.  I don’t give zeros on summative assessments.  I bother students until they complete them.  

This year, I’ve consistently told my students that if they’re not turning in their best work on the due date, I’d rather take it the next day.  Or the day after that.

I tell them that if they’re not finished with their assigned book, they shouldn’t even start the assessment until they do.  We make new plans.  This makes me controversial.

27972757_10100951526979547_6918545332140961438_nThis week, my students had a summative project due on their 1930s book club books. In the days before the due date, I told students that if they felt like they couldn’t meet this due date, for whatever reason, all I asked was that they communicate.

And by the night before the due date, I’d received 35 emails from students, telling me that they wouldn’t have it done on time.

Yes, 35.

Now, while you might think I’d be screaming inside, I felt a weird sense of peace.

I was elated. My students understood that “best work” and competency took precedent over producing a rushed project, just to meet an arbitrary deadline.

More than that, I was happy that they’d learned to take responsibility for procrastination, to be proactive, and to communicate, and to make a new plan for completion.

That’s a life skill.  

On the original due date, a few days ago, only a small percentage of completed projects came in, and they all represented great work.

A larger amount came in yesterday, and they also showed great work.  I’m still waiting for some projects, and I’m confident that they’ll also represent great work.

In the end, what’s more important:  meeting a due date with junk that will probably need to be reassessed, or communicating your struggles, making a plan, and showing your best work a little late?

I vote for the latter, even if I’m taking still taking late work in June.







UDL and Reinventing The Great Gatsby.

youre-not-special-for-reading-the-great-gatsbyIn our American Studies course, The Great Gatsby is used to complement a history unit on 1920s America.

When told I’d be teaching it again this year, I knew I was up for a challenge.   Based on last-year’s data, I knew I’d need to readjust and refocus my instruction and assessment with different goals, as many kids fake-read the text last year.

Despite my feelings about The Great Gatsby being, well, great, my students don’t tend to agree.

Instead of teaching The Great Gatsby as a “whole novel,” I wanted to teach Gatsby as a story, incorporating audiobook, independent reading, film, and performance.

Throughout the process, students had exposure and practice to what they deem to be “really hard” prose.   Students received a reading schedule, but I didn’t assign discussion points or quizzes. 

I wanted to design a unit that would help them practice reading difficult text and give them an experience with the story, rather than a torture session.  


Teacher-led passage analysis

I know that I can’t measure reading competency if students’ aren’t really reading a text.  So instead of an assessment on the whole novel, our summative assessment was a less intimidating, genuine, but still challenging passage analysis.

I’ve pasted the unit plan below, and linked to resources throughout the plan.

I hope this helps you, friendly Googling educator!  

UDL 1920s and modernist literature plan
Time frame:  4-5 weeks

Competencies addressed:  
Reading: Given a variety of texts, students will use reading strategies to identify purpose, theme, and literary techniques.


  1. Students will comprehend, analyze, and connect complex texts to American history and other texts read/studied in class.
  2. Students will recognize, identify, and support the use of symbolism and literary devices in text.

Summative Assessment:
Students will choose from a variety of passages from The Great Gatsby.  In written analysis, they will summarize, analyze, identify/support symbolism, literary devices, and discuss the significance of the passage to the story.  (Click here for the assessment.)

Modernism background text
Selection of modernist poetry  (students select a poem of their choice)
The Great Gatsby (text, audio, and film)
Students will be assigned a novel and a planning calendar.
Selection of short stories: “The Yellow Wallpaper,” “The Story of an Hour,” “A Rose for Emily

Learning Plan:
Expo drawingsWeek One:

  • Students will read and annotate background information on Modernism in literature and poetry
  • Students will read, analyze, and illustrate a modernist poem.
  • Students will view the first few minutes of the two versions of The Great Gatsby, brainstorming ideas of what life was like in the 1920s.
  • Students will listen to Chapter 1 of The Great Gatsby, using a whiteboard and Expo marker to draw the story as they listen (35:12).  

Week Two:

  • Students will listen to Chapter 2 (24:49) of The Great Gatsby on audiobook, following along in the text.  During or post-reading, students will compose a discussion point for whole-class discussion on the reading.
  • Reminder/overview of symbolism:  Discussion of THE GREEN LIGHT, THE EYES OF TJ ECKLEBERG and what they might represent.
  • Students will watch “Chapter 3” in Luhrmann’s Gatsby film.  During or post-viewing, students will write a discussion point to aid in whole-class discussion.
  • Formative Assessment:
    Students will read, analyze, and discuss a self-selected short story: “The Yellow Wallpaper,” “The Story of an Hour,” “A Rose for Emily,” identifying symbolism in the texts and making connections to The Great Gatsby.  
  • Assign “Reader’s Theatre” for Chapter 4, 5, and 6 to be performed the following week.



Decapitated Nick and Gatsby in Reader’s Theatre

Week Three:

  • Chapters 4, 5, and 6 performances.
  • Students will watch “Chapter 7” in the 1974 Gatsby film.  During or post-viewing, students will write a discussion point to aid in whole-class discussion.
  • Formative Assessment:
    Students will independently or collaboratively read chapter 8 of The Great Gatsby in class, creating three discussion points to share with the class.  


Week Four:

  • Teacher-led model of passage analysis.
  • Students will listen to chapter 9 (27:00) of The Great Gatsby, following along in the text.  During or post-reading, students will compose a discussion point to aid in class discussion.  

Week Five:

  • Discussion of the end of the novel
  • Symbolism assignment due:  short discussion on student responses
  • Summative Assessment 


While all students may not have read the novel in its entirety, they experienced the whole story through audio, independent reading, film, and performance.

They practiced strategies of reading and comprehending difficult text, analyzed symbols, and they gained a picture of 1920s American life.  And because I’m not assessing them on the novel as a whole, and instead on just one passage, their analysis will be their own, not Google’s.  (I hope so, anyway.)



Students need in-class time to read.

Every time I ask my students to reflect on our assigned reading, they tell me that they need time to read during class.

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But only 38% of my students have read 100% of their assigned, chosen novel, two weeks after the due date.

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Some of them are still working on finishing.

(Any students who have yet to finish have been given extended time to finish.  I don’t assess students on a book that they haven’t read.)

But some of them just faked it.

Screen Shot 2017-10-29 at 5.43.58 PM

I’m feeling a little defeated, but these anonymous, reflective surveys always help me refocus, and figure out how to support my students’ assigned reading.

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It’s been a really, really difficult year, and it’s only October.  
But I’ve also been blessed to teach some of the best kids I’ve ever known.

I’ve just got to keep climbing.

I hiked 13 peaks in 23 days.

Change is good.  Change is hard.

My transition from a completely competency-based school to a school that’s still in transition has been a challenge.  My students made measurable gains and rediscovered the joy in reading, but I still ended the year feeling defeated.   And tired.

I just didn’t know how to deal.


I’m not sure what I’ll do when the soles on these babes finally wear out, since EMS discontinued them years ago.  (Are cobblers still a thing?)

So I went hiking.  

Yes, I am a gigantic cliche of a woman by dealing with my feelings in the woods.

I’m blessed to live in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, and even more blessed to live within ten miles of most of the trailheads in the Belknap Range.  I discovered that I could earn a patch by hiking all twelve peaks in the Belknaps, so I did.  In 23 days.  Because I’m a psycho.

The mountains in the Belknaps are small, by New Hampshire standards, ranging from 2384′ (Belknap) to 1670′ (Anna).  But small mountains can still be tough.  Hiking is hard, even when the peak seems small.

I did about 75% of these peaks solo, and about a quarter with my husband.  The hikes with my husband were great.  We laughed and complained and sang stupid songs together.   We ate granola bars and picked blueberries and danced together with our hiking poles.


We were the only people on the top of Mt. Major, which I’m sure hasn’t happened since 1876.

My solo hikes were a little tougher, not because I’m afraid to hike alone; I don’t mind it at all.

But my phone died at the beginning of the month, and I was waiting for my map to arrive in the mail, so I had to hike these first peaks with handwritten directions and a compass, like ye olden days.

Sometimes, I had no clue where I was going and had to just figure it out.  I had nobody to sing to, and nobody to laugh with.  I had nobody to dance with but my hiking poles.


Yesterday, I hiked my last three peaks:  Anna, Klem, and Mack.
9.3 miles.   Alone.
Literally:  I did not see another single person on the trail all day.

I started the journey up to Mt. Klem via the Round Pond Trail.  One of the toughest things for me to do when hiking solo is to pace myself so I don’t burn too much energy too quickly.    I am very bad at this.


View just before the summit of Klem.

I always try my hardest to move slowly, but I’m end-driven.  I focus on a goal, and I (thoughtfully) get there as quickly as I can.  

There was a beautiful view just before the summit, but when I got to the summit of Mt. Klem:  nothing but trees. 

I refueled on some blueberries, and continued onto Mt. Mack.  I knew there wouldn’t be a view there either, but I was hopeful that I’d see some vistas on the way.


Once I got to Mack, I had a choice:  I could hike 2.8 more miles out-and-back to my last peak in the Belknaps, Mt. Anna, or I could call it a day and head back to the car.


I’m nothing if not an overachieving psychopath, so I decided to keep going.

But as I started on this last leg, the trail started descending.  Quickly.
Which meant that I’d have to climb Mack all over again on my way back.

I was all in, though.  I sang songs to myself that included lyrics like, “I don’t want to climb this/damn mountain again/but I have to/if I want to go home!”

The descent continued.  And continued.  And finally, the trail started climbing again.

To another viewless summit.   


Number 12!  I reached my goal!  I’m psyched!

mack again

Reaching the summit the second time was not as exciting as the first.

The climb back up Mack was brutal.  The trail was steep, and I was losing steam quickly.  I had to force myself to take slow, baby steps, because otherwise, I knew I’d burn out.

I’ve never had to reclimb a peak I’ve already climbed on the same hike, and man, it was just as tough as you’d imagine it could be.

All of the same obstacles were there, and I had to navigate around them.  But this time, I stumbled around a lot more.  Because I pushed myself too hard at the start, I was tired.

So tired.


I had the goal of conquering the Belknaps in a summer, and instead, I did it in 23 days.  

As I hiked down to the parking lot yesterday, I thought about how much this last school year was like reclimbing Mt. Rand.

Because I’ve been teaching in a competency-based school for so long, I’d forgotten about how difficult the journey was to get there.  I forgot about the obstacles, the challenges, and just how exhausting it can be.  I forgot to move slowly, and to take baby steps.

I only remembered the view from the summit, and it was glorious.

As July comes to a close, I’m ready to continue this climb, because it’s what’s best for kids. 
All the same obstacles will be there, and I’ll have to navigate them all over again.
There may not be beautiful vistas along the way (but I bet there will be).
I may have to rely on handwritten directions.
I may not even have anyone to sing and dance with. 

But I know that it’s all up from here.

TL;DR:  Teaching is hard and so is hiking.



Reflections and Celebrations

Chain picWe read 989 choice books this year!
Each link = one book!

We made major gains in Real Reading this year.

As far as assigned novels, we started our year with The Great Gatsby as a whole class novel.   All students were provided with time to read in class, audiobook access, and small-group discussions.  It didn’t go very well, with only 22% of students actually reading the whole book.  We gave students choice in the next literature unit, on the 1930s, and it went better, with 54% of students reading their assigned (chosen) novel.

We continued using choice in assigned reading throughout the rest of the year.  Instead of this data improving as the year progressed, it stayed stagnant.
When we read our assigned (chosen) 1950s novel, 51% of students read the entire novel.  


As we moved into our last and final literature unit with 1960s novels, I looked at ways to improve this data.  Instead of holding a 90 minute reading workshop a few times a week, we started holding a 20-minute workshop each day.

While we (my students, my co-teacher, and myself) loved having shorter bursts of reading workshop interspersed with our other classroom activities, I didn’t see the “green needle” move much from the center.  

In fact, it moved lower, with 43% of students reading the entire novel.

chart 60s


And because it’s my nature, I get reflective to the point of self-deprecation.
This bummed me out, especially considering last year’s data.

But one of my administrators reminded me this morning:  I can’t focus on the fact that the gains weren’t as large as I’d hoped they’d be.  What I need to focus on is the fact that my students made tremendous progress and gains in reading this year. 

Like, my kids read over 900 choice books and I’m obsessing over a pie chart?
I’m crazy.

I have a lot to consider and lots of changes I want to make in our workshop structure as we move forward next year.

Hopefully, we’ll make bigger gains that we did this year, but as long as we make gains, that’s worth celebrating.  




Mentor Text Monday! Or Wednesday! Or Friday!

We have a rotating schedule, and because of this, we only have 45 minute-long Monday classes.  This means that after we do our choice reading and quick writing, we only have 25 minutes left of class.  

That might sound stressful and hopeless for the workshop-minded teacher, but these short Mondays have been perfect for lessons around mentor texts, so this semester, I started Mentor Text Monday.  

I detest the word “mini-lesson” (like, isn’t a lesson just a lesson?) but maybe that’s just what this is.

When we worked with writing reviews,  I pulled a few reviews from Rolling Stone  and The A.V. Club and we went through them together as a class, with my copy on a document camera as I wrote all over the text, commenting on author choices and asking questions of the text (and my students).

When we wrote narratives, I used Chrissy Metz’s recent Glamour piece as a mentor text in a similar way.

But then later, after we’d had some practice together, students independently read a piece of testimony from OJ Simpson’s grand jury trial and revised it into a practice piece of writing before starting their own informative, eyewitness piece.


(Side note:  They knew nothing about OJ Simpson!  Here I was, thinking I was picking cool, hip, interesting texts and I had to explain the entire trial before we even started reading…)

Our writing/workshop/revision process usually takes a few weeks per task, so on those Mentor Text Mondays that fall mid-workshop, I’ve played examples of our task from last semester’s podcast.  That’s been pretty fun; it’s given them guidance and gotten them excited (well, most of them) for this semester’s podcast.

Some weeks, we’ll have a long weekend, or a strange schedule, and our Mentor Text Mondays become Mentor Text Wednesdays or Mentor Text Fridays.  On those days, we work with these texts during our 90 minute block and then move into our new writing task, but I do think it works best (for my students, anyway!) in a shorter period. This short period, without an immediate follow-up task, gives them time to process and reflect before applying our analysis to their own piece.

18194927_10100743059245557_6095883277522096389_nWe’ve also read 69 choice books in my writing class this semester…29 last month!
(Those are mentor texts, too.)

We made a cool podcast and it was hard.



A few of my senior boys, reading Last Stop on Market Street.

I was welcomed into my new writing course by the best damn group of students.
The bad thing about that?  Last week I had to say goodbye to them for the semester.

Our class was Introductory Writing, and was composed of students in grades 9-12.  At first, the idea of teaching writing to students who had either (1) just started high school, (2) were in their last year of high school, or (3) somewhere in the middle was completely and totally overwhelming.

But we jumped in.  The best thing about choices?  Everyone works with their own strengths and weaknesses and improves, regardless of their ability. These students were excited and motivated (most days, anyway) and willing to take risks in their writing.

For their final project, I knew that I wanted my students to create and market their writing in professional blogs and through a professional Twitter.

I also had the tremendously overwhelming idea that we’d create a podcast together, featuring our best works of the semester.  

I had absolutely no clue how to do this, but I listen to a lot of podcasts, so I figured that as long as we had recordings and background music, we’d pull it off, somehow.

It was hard.  I’d reserved the last two weeks of the semester for our devotion to recording, and I was glad I did.  On our first day, we ran out of working mics. Then, we discovered that most of the places on the Internet we’d wanted to use were blocked by our school filters. Then, my students suddenly became too nervous to talk in front of one another, which halted our recording progress.

In short, most things that could have gone wrong, did.


We pulled it off, somehow.
We used SoundCloud, voice memos, and all sorts of other strange means to record.  I used Reaper to produce the show, and my genius-musician husband provided the music.

My students named our production The Blank Page, which will become part of their legacy as students at our school, as we’ll keep adding episodes each semester.

Check out our first episode here and please SUBSCRIBE and rate us!  

TL;DR:  We made a cool podcast and it was hard.