Edulastic: Authentic M-STEP Prep

Formative Assessment Literacy & Technology Oakland Writing Project

M-Step-Logo_473059_7With test prep season beginning and the M-STEP looming, teachers can become frustrated because there are not many M-STEP released items to use with students, in order to help them practice the item types. The items that are released are likely not related to the content being taught at the time, and, therefore, feel very out of context and inauthentic to students.  

I recently came across a web tool called Edulastic that helps address this problem. Edulastic allows teachers to create assessments that mimic the look and feel of the M-STEP; they include online, technology-enhanced formative, interim, benchmark, and summative assessments. Some of the features of Edulastic include:

  • Instant and real-time data on student performance, in the form of many types of reports
  • The ability for teachers to create their own technology-enhanced items (30+ question types, including embedded multimedia items)
  • Google Classroom syncing
  • An item bank of over 80,000 standards-aligned items, some of which are user created, and some of which are from verified sources, like SBAC and PARCC
  • Free account for teachers; districts can purchase a district account with more features

Linking Test Prep with Coursework

Edulastic’s data reporting seems to be very robust and could benefit teachers and students in the long run. But the web tool’s immediate benefit to teachers is that it allows them to create technology-enhanced questions about the content they are teaching at any given time. Instead of teachers giving a traditional multiple choice test, Edulastic can help teachers mimic M-STEP style in any test at any time, with items like hot text, editing a passage, drag and drop, matching tables, re-sequencing, and more.

Below you will see a few comparisons of what M-STEP released items look like compared with what teachers can create with Edulastic. M-STEP is on the left, and Edulastic is on the right. You can click the paired images to enlarge them in a new window.

Sentence Response: students select a sentence(s) from a passage to answer a question

Sentence Response Item

Passage Based: students read a passage and answer questions about it

Passage Based Item

Multiple Select: students must select more than one answer option

Multiple Select Item

Multimedia Embedded: video or audio is included

Multimedia Embedded Item

Matching Tables: students select features in a table

Matching Tables Item

Essay/Constructed Response: students must type a response to the question

Essay/Constructed Response Item

Being able to create these types of questions for any content means that test preparation doesn’t have to be decontextualized and something “extra” we have to fit in. Instead, this practice can happen at anytime throughout the year on any given assessment. Rather than kids’ having to learn to navigate new types of questions shortly before taking a high-stakes assessment, they can practice all year. Not to mention that these question types often require a higher level of thinking, so they are more than just test prep–they are good assessment practices.

Screenshot 2014-09-26 at 12.44.07 PM Jianna Taylor (@JiannaTaylor) is the ELA Curriculum Coordinator for the West Bloomfield School District. Prior to this role, she was a middle school ELA and Title 1 teacher. She is a MiELA Network Summer Institute facilitator and is an Oakland Writing Project Teacher Leader. Jianna earned her bachelor’s degree from Oakland University and her master’s degree from the University of Michigan. She also writes reviews of children’s books and young adult novels for the magazine School Library Connection.

The Words We Carry

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_323200592Sixteen years ago I wrote a book.

I was inspired by my then-three-year-old son, who asked the innocent question, “Won’t the school be lonely this summer?” That question sparked something in me and I quickly drafted a story about a new school being lonely over the summer. My children enjoyed it immensely.

A few years later, I went to a children’s book writing conference and I paid extra to have an editor review my story. I will never forget sitting across from her as she told me that the concept of a school with thoughts and feelings was “creepy.” She told me perhaps I should rewrite it from the perspective of the school’s friend, the janitor. I never did. It didn’t feel right. I put the book away in a drawer and deferred that dream.

Two weeks ago I began to gather books to do a Mock Caldecott unit with my students, inspired by a teacher’s blog I found through a Twitter post. Imagine my shock when I came across School’s First Day of School, a story about a new school that has thoughts and feelings. A new school who talks to the janitor.

I was dumbfounded. I thought, “This could have been me. I could have gotten my book published. But I quit trying.”

The takeaway for me was immediate: the power of our words. I let someone’s negative words stop me. I knew all of the stories about authors who were rejected many times. But there was something about her words that struck me and made me feel so bad about my writing that I just quit. As a teacher, it made me think: have I done that to a student? Have I ever said something carelessly, even jokingly, that has caused a student to quit writing, quit trying, to defer his or her dream?

I hope not. But I know now I will not.

The Power of Negative Thinking

Coincidentally, last week my principal showed us a video from Tedx, where Alison Ledgerwood talks about getting stuck in the negatives. The research is absolutely astounding about the power of negative thinking, and how negative experiences are often stronger than, and not offset by, positive ones. Wow.

I believe this experience came to me for a reason. Multiple reasons perhaps. But the biggest for me is this: I must always, always, find something good to say to my students. I must encourage them as writers, as readers, as people, so that they never defer any dream. I must find ways to help them not let the words of others get them down, as I did.

Perhaps I should blow the dust off of another manuscript I have in that same drawer and send it out into the world. Then keep sending it, no matter what. For now, I will pledge to myself and to my students to be the voice of encouragement and praise in their heads, one that will hopefully shout louder than any critic they will ever hear.

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

With Writing, Quantity Begets Quality

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_560033377“There are no more words left in me to write, I think.” (Read with melodramatic hand on brow, maybe even a Southern belle accent for an extra flair of drama.)

A student of mine said this the other day as I returned the class’ most recent essays and started describing our next writing adventure. I am lucky to teach both AP Language and Composition and AP Seminar (a new, research-writing based course) this year. The young lady who made the dramatic pronouncement has the pleasure (?) of being in both. That means she did a lot of writing this fall. A crazy amount of writing.

And exactly the right amount of writing, I think.

She’s not the only student in this position. I have about 15 overlappers, and they’ve really made me rethink the amount of writing I’m doing in my classes. Despite the dramatic “there are no words left” comment, they actually have quite a few words left, and those words are getting more insightful and more interesting. All of that writing is paying off–and I think they know it.

I always thought I had a lot of writing in my classes. But watching how far my overlappers’ writing is coming, I’m realizing that maybe they need even more. Kelly Gallagher, a reading-and-writing-teacher guru, is often quoted as saying, Students should be writing way more than a teacher can grade.Though I know that’s true, I have never really embraced it fully. I have been so caught up in the idea that I need to give feedback in order to help them grow, that I thought that meant grading everything. It simply wasn’t possible for them to write and write and write and write, if I wasn’t going to write all over it. Right?


Wrong. There are plenty of smaller writing activities that I could replicate in each class, and I have different strategies from each class that could be copied and pasted into the other. My students shouldn’t need to be in two of my classes to get such a flood of writing opportunities. There are four things I’ve been doing on and off in each class this fall. What if I did all four things consistently in both classes?


A page from my bullet journal. (Click the thumbnail to view a larger image.)

Bullet Journals
My AP Seminar kids have been experimenting with different ways to reflect on their research process all year, and most recently, we’ve started bullet journals. I hesitated to start this with my Lang students because I already had writing notebooks in AP Lang. But, my notebooks in Lang are inconsistent. Bullet journaling would force daily reflection and guarantee that my students would never go a day without writing at least a few lines.

Holistic Feedback
The other thing I’ve been very good about in AP Seminar is giving consistent holistic feedback. There is one, 4-point, simple scale in my Seminar class. Because my students have worked with that scale all year, it works as shorthand with us now. A 3 scribbled in the margins tells them just as much as a paragraph of feedback. And it’s a lot faster. AP Lang has a holistic, 9 pt scale, but it’s not simple and isn’t as clear to my students. If I could break the scale down for them more and help them see the levels more clearly, I could start using this practice in that class as well.

Write Two, Choose Your Best
I often ask my AP Lang students to write two different pieces (different days) and then choose the best one for me to evaluate. This works really well in AP Lang because sometimes students feel great about one analytical piece and horrible about the next one. This both removes the pressure and pushes them to be a little more critical of their own writing. I hadn’t thought about doing this in AP Seminar because all of our writing has been long, workshopped pieces. But, I need to do a better job of assessing my Seminar students’ reading, and this strategy would work well with that.

One of the ways I save time prior to writing conferences in AP Lang is by asking the students to annotate their own essays with reflective comments and questions. What were you trying to accomplish with a particular section? Why did you choose one word rather than another? This reflective writing has been absent from my Seminar class, and I think I need to add it. 


When my son was a baby, his pediatrician used to tell us, “Sleep begets sleep.” Put him to bed early, make sure he gets lots of naps, and he will sleep perfectly. My pediatrician was right. Lots of sleep led to better sleep.

This fall I learned the same thing about my writers. Lots of writing leads to better writing. Quantity begets quality.  This spring, I’ll see if I can up the writing in each class. My poor overlappers don’t know what they’re in for.

Hattie Maguire (@TeacherHattie) is an English teacher and Content Area Leader at Novi High School. She is spending her sixteenth year in the classroom teaching AP English Language and Composition, AP Seminar and doing Tier 2 writing intervention. She is a National Board Certified Teacher who earned her BS in English and MA in Curriculum and Teaching from Michigan State University.

Using the Early Literacy Grant

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

interventions-that-workQuickly introduced to the intricacies of my new job, I was handed a well-developed grant plan to execute. The grant is known as the Early Literacy Grant and the funds must be used to enhance K-2 literacy instruction. From county-level conversations, I know that districts are using these funds in many ways, such as summer-school programs, purchasing formative assessment modules, and extended-school-day stipends. The plan in my district, written by my predecessors, has two components for 1st grade students and teachers:  

  1. Targeted intervention groups
  2. Enhanced professional learning for teachers

This blog is about our journey so far.

Targeted Intervention Groups

The targeted intervention groups include children with the lowest achievement on the Observation Survey, a series of six literacy observations including letter identification, word tests, concepts about print, writing vocabulary, hearing and recording sounds, and running records on leveled text. An Observation Survey of Early Literacy, by Marie Clay, is also one of the approved measures of achievement for the 3rd Grade Reading Law.

Most of the grant money is being used to pay substitute teachers to enhance this targeted intervention. With the assistance of a 1st grade assigned substitute, each 1st grade teacher has 45 minutes daily to run interventions with this group of children, for 90 days. The intervention typically runs for 20-30 minutes with the additional time used by teachers for formative assessments (progress monitoring) to set goals and next steps for the individual students.  

Using consistent data sets, like running records and checklists from Interventions That Work, by Dorn and Soffos, the teachers know if a student is progressing toward grade-level independence–or possibly if they have reached independence with the intervention. In this way, the groups are malleable. Students may remain in the group or move out to the general classroom groups.  

In December reflections, following 18-32 days of intervention (dependent on substitute start date), teachers observed that students were growing in their literacy skills, based on common assessments. Many teachers reflected on the wish for this opportunity with children whom they had last year. I always assure them that we can only be our best that day and we can always hope to grow, which most would say that we’ve done with this program.  

Enhanced Teacher Professional Learning

Other important uses of this grant money are days of professional learning, because the best way to enhance achievement in a district is to increase the professional capacity of the teachers. We conducted three days of learning for each teacher throughout September and October, so that teachers could start this practice in a common way. Teachers have remarked that the learning days were valuable and something that they look forward to. One teacher notes, “Leaving kids at the beginning of the year was hard, but the rewards are there; learning new practice and implementing the learning has had the biggest impact. I am happy to have been trained and been able to use that to impact students.”

Additionally, in conversations across buildings on our learning days, teachers see the value in common practice and the common language of practice while having professional dialogue, and they hope to increase that capacity among their kindergarten and 2nd grade colleagues in the coming years. The topics that we have covered so far include observation surveys, progress monitoring, and specific training on Assisted Writing and Guided Reading Plus intervention groups from the Comprehensive Intervention Model portfolio (Center for Literacy UALR). As we continue with the year, I will continue to reflect with teachers, and we will have additional learning days. I’ll let you know how the story turns out, but so far the journey is powerful.

pic 2Amy Gurney (@agurney_amy) is an ELA and Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator for Walled Lake Schools. She has a Master’s degree from Michigan State University in Educational Administration and is currently pursuing an Education Specialist in Educational Leadership at Oakland University. She is a current Galileo Leader. She worked on the MAISA units of study and has studied reading and writing workshop practice and conducted action research.


#YOY2016: My Year of Yes

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

RhimesLast January I watched a TED Talk given by Shonda Rhimes, writer, producer–you name it, she’s doing it–about her year of saying “yes” to everything that scared her. Ms. Rhimes says that saying “yes” to things that scared her, transformed both them and her.

It’s a powerful idea, and I decided that for 2016 I would be like Shonda and say “yes.” I didn’t make a big announcement but I did tell a few colleagues, and I made it clear to my children and students that my Year of Yes was mostly about professional requests. Sorry boys, no new dog named Jurgen.

Because of this commitment, I said “yes” to a few things that I might have passed on, not because they scared me, but because they sounded like more work than I really wanted, or they didn’t interest me, or it was a busy time of year (when isn’t it?). Things did get hectic, and I remember a colleague asking me if I’d gone a week without a professional development appointment. But I wasn’t as busy as many of the people I was saying “yes” to, and their examples pushed me when I was tempted to give it up.

Getting off the Back Burner

My first test came when the Oakland Writing Project chapter of the National Writing Project offered the opportunity to participate in a book study of Geneva Gay’s book Culturally Responsive Teaching, led by Richard Koch. It involved reading the book again as well as doing some reflection, and meeting with the group both in person and online.

Professional reading, a book study–I never find time for these. Like most teachers, I habitually skim and read professional material on teaching, education, writing, reading and so on. My desk has a pile devoted to “interesting stuff” I’m going to really dig into when I get a minute . . . this summer . . . someday. Gay’s book was buried in that pile, bookmarked, highlighted, forgotten.

Year of Yes, or YOY, made me dig it out and reread passages that I thought were worth thinking more about. I’d also committed to meeting with smart people and talking about Gay’s ideas, which meant I had to be prepared.

I’ve written before about Gay’s book and how it’s impacted me. But I’ll say again that the conversations around it have driven more of my decisions this year than anything else I’ve read.

These conversations weren’t pleasant. I’ve been confronting aspects of my practice that I’m not proud of. But I think that the conversations are making me a better teacher, and I wonder if perhaps the book was lingering on that pile because I didn’t want to think about the hard conversations I needed to have. Shonda, and the YOY, provided the push.

Saying Yes to a Big Project

Last April I was leading a small group of colleagues through a short workshop, which introduced the principles of Design Thinking. It went well, and one or two people suggested that we put together another one, this time for students. Good idea, but what’s that look like?

In a matter of a 30 minutes this energetic group decided that we should try an all-day deep dive into the Design Thinking experience for 70 staff and students off site–so a field trip–and that we do this in a month, before school let out and we lost our momentum.

I’d done some work coaching Design Thinking workshops in the summer, but I’d never planned one, and never been the lead presenter. And we had a really tight time frame.

But YOY meant I had to do it. We pitched the idea and got approval–was everyone else also in their YOY?–and through tremendous group effort we pulled it off. Seventy students and staff learned about Design Thinking and then, using what they learned, went into the community and redesigned the lunch experience for patrons of downtown Auburn Hills. Since then we’ve had two more workshops, and I turned over the lead presenter role to a member of that initial group. The conversations we’re having now are about how to grow this and sustain it.

I’m not sure I’d have done it if not for Shonda and our YOY.

So 2016, my Year of Yes, is over now. I’m not going to extend it and those are just two of the best takeaways. But I learned that when I took “no” off the menu, I tried more. And while I didn’t like all of it, I’m building from the new ingredients.

RICKRick Kreinbring (@kreinbring_rick) teaches English at Avondale High School in Auburn Hills, Michigan. His current assignments include teaching AP Language and Composition and AP Literature and Composition. He is a member of a statewide research project through the Michigan Teachers as Researchers Collaborative partnered with the MSU Writing in Digital Environments Program, which concentrates on improving student writing and peer feedback. Rick has presented at the National Advanced Placement Convention and the National Council of Teachers of English Conference. He is in his twenty-third year of teaching and makes his home in Huntington Woods.

The Grid and The Great Gatsby

Notes from the Classroom

toplogo2xMy last post was about the new app Flipgrid and my plan to use it to get my students talking about revision. My goal was pretty simple: Get students to make meaningful revisions that they could explain and support as good writing.


In order for students to perform well on this revision assignment, they needed to succeed in two separate phases. First, they had to make revisions–based on very directed feedback from me–that improved a section of their paper. Then, they had to fill 90 seconds of video with their explanation of why their revisions constituted effective writing.

Here’s what my rubric looked like for the video itself. In order to receive full credit:

The video

  • clearly explains specific and meaningful changes to the text
  • outlines why the changes were made, using the language of the rubric strand
  • includes visible and thorough annotation of the revised section to help guide viewers
  • Clearly demonstrates that the author understands how to improve writing for future pieces
  • feels polished and uses the full 90 seconds available

When I finalized that rubric, I had to tell myself that if worse came to worst, I could always toss the scores and tell the kids it was a learning experience. I had faith in them, but this assignment basically demanded that each of my writers speak for a minute and a half…like a professional writer.

Which is why I’m pretty comfortable saying that Flipgrid is a game changer. I’m going to let the students’ efforts speak for themselves, but first some context: they revised a narrative that reimagined a scene from The Great Gatsby from a different character’s perspective. My feedback on it narrowed them in on certain areas of their writing that they might choose to improve on (narrator’s voice, organization, etc.), and then they chose one of those for the video. (If you’d like to skip ahead and watch the videos, scroll down to the bottom of this post.)

Flippin’ Fantastic

Turns out my concerns about their meeting the rubric demands were misguided. Most of them killed it with this assignment.

Take note of a few heartening examples:

  • A student who exited ESL about a year ago added sensory detail describing a character praying on the “cold, painful floor.” His explanation of the revision: “This emphasized that he was really sad and was begging for God’s help.”
  • One of my more talented writers, whose original narrative was imbalanced with long flashbacks, color coded her revision to emphasize how her new organizational structure improved things: “There’s an obvious balance [now] between what’s going on in the scene and what Daisy is thinking about,” she explained while pointing to the modified paragraph order.
    A frame from a student video: note the color coding and annotation of how she developed narrative voice.

    A frame from a student video: note the color coding and annotation of how she developed narrative voice.

  • A writer who had struggled to establish the voice of her narrator added several lines of narrative reflection to establish her main character’s selfish motivations in the scene, and explained how this transformed the narrative perspective.
  • A writer who enjoys playing with diction added the phrase “riled me up” to her narrator’s reflections and explained, simply, “I thought that was cool.”

It was cool. All of it was cool. Even the kids whose revisions themselves weren’t quite masterful were able to articulate not only what they had improved in their writing but also why it was better.

Re-vid-sion Is Key

If you like what you’re seeing but you’re also wondering whether the video element really matters to its success, think about this: Talking about writing is a stressful endeavor for most young writers–even the good ones. Using Flipgrid to turn that process into a student-driven, premeditated, predictable, finite process alleviates all sorts of stresses that otherwise tend to silence less experienced writers.

Video is a familiar medium that allows them to combine a visual outline of their efforts with a verbal elaboration of their reasoning. As a result, many of my students suddenly loosened up a bit and actually had some fun talking about their writing (seriously–one student even took a picture of himself with a wad of dollar bills in his mouth as the opening to his video, which I’m going to just presume is a reference to all the wealth in The Great Gatsby and try not to think about ever again).

There’s one more treasure buried in this sea of video footage. My students’ grid of videos are my new models for future writing. Don’t know how to structure dialogue? Go watch Ken’s video. Did I knock your organization last time around? Check out what Lauren did with her opening paragraphs on that last assignment.

It’s the most productive 90 seconds my kids have ever spent on their phones.

The Videos

Here’s a small selection of student videos:




Michael Ziegler

Michael Ziegler (@ZigThinks) is a Content Area Leader and teacher at Novi High School.  This is his 15th year in the classroom. He teaches 11th Grade English and IB Theory of Knowledge. He also coaches JV Girls Soccer and has spent time as a Creative Writing Club sponsor, Poetry Slam team coach, AdvancEd Chair, and Boys JV Soccer Coach. He did his undergraduate work at the University of Michigan, majoring in English, and earned his Masters in Administration from Michigan State University.