Tag Archives: Ottauquechee School

PLPs in Seesaw

Seeing students for who they are and what they can do

We’re all still looking at various tools for building PLPs with our students but one thing we can all agree on is the power of PLPs to let us more clearly see our students, and learn more about them as individuals. Let’s look at two schools building PLPs and digital portfolios in Seesaw and check out how they’re using this tool to know their students better.

“Look there I am!”

“Dad, I hope you are proud of me.”

“You mean I can post a picture of my hockey team?”

There are student comments I have heard in the last two weeks, in schools I have been working in. The commonalities are stunning: students exclaiming, smiling, satisfied. They are seen, heard, and known.

Let me back up.

The research

It’s become clear to educators and researchers that seeing and valuing our students for who they are — right now, each day — has powerful effects.

Take this study about greeting students by name at the door. Simply starting each day with this has been linked to fewer disruptions and higher engagement. Which is no shock, because we know that developing relationships with students is critically important, and this is one way to support this.

Or this one about the power of having a gay/straight alliance group at your school. The Smithsonian shared a study that illustrated having a GSA at schools reduced discrimination and suicide rates for all students.

The commonality here? Students are seen, heard, respected, and valued.

While this Edutopia article discusses how teachers are making sure they know personal information to be able to connect with each students, Vermont takes it further by having students tell their own stories of their learning lives, both in and out of schools, in the PLP.

Examples from schools

Next, we focus on how schools are making students’ lives and learning visible.

Sutton School

PLPs in Seesaw

The sixth graders settled into their seats with mild curiosity. They had seen me before, but not in front of the class. On this rainy fall day, Kelly Mulligan and I were going to launch PLPs.

It felt like a big task.

We started with a slideshow with the focus of the PLP as a way to tell your story. Show who you are, inside and outside of school. I asked them to imagine something about their lives that their teachers doesn’t know. They didn’t need to share it out loud, but something important about their lives that could be shared with the teacher.

They paused, thoughtful. A few of them shared what they were thinking. Then we showed this video from Harwood Union School and asked these prompts:

Some kids shifted in their seats. They saw that their home life, their interests, often that are not celebrated in schools, could be noted, validated, and celebrated in this new format.

One students said, “Like you mean how I work on cars in the mornings with my dad?”


Or how I am the goalie of our hockey team, and we are state champions?


Or how I love to fix computers and code?


You get the idea. The power of validation and choice spread.

Then we used Seesaw, and gave them choice. Use these tools to show us who you are. Here are a few suggestions for activities, but you can post what you think is best to describe what you love, what you do, how you learn, and who you are.

What I saw next was 100 percent engagement, and students popping up to help each other with the tools.

I heard a special educator say, “I didn’t know you were a goalie, that must be really challenging.” (Relationships! See earlier research).

Ottauquechee School

Ottauquechee School third grade team: Logan Russell, Staci McDougall, Kathy Bishop, and Erica LaFond.

Next up, I was in a co-teaching teacher meeting of third grade teachers at Ottauquechee School. In came Staci McDougall, special educator. She was showing the rest of the team how she used Seesaw to support her students. What I saw next was incredible. She showed a video on Seesaw of a mostly non-verbal student who was engaging with math manipulatives. In the video, he exclaimed, he found numbers, he showed his thinking and work. The teachers were spellbound and teary. They hadn’t seen him this focused, or this engaged, ever. This video had been shared with his parents immediately, and now with his teachers, who see what he can do when barriers are removed.

Earlier that day, I had stopped by Staci’s room, at the exact moment I saw a student with her phone held right up to his mouth. The student said,

“Hi dad! I hope you are having a good day. I made it all day in class today and I hope you are proud of me! Love you dad.”

This was his 18th day of staying in class all day, and before this plan, he had not been able to stay in class with other students. The pride in his voice was clear, and took my breath away. I wondered, how many negative phone calls had this dad received before this? What is the power of regular positive calls and posts on a student and family that has experienced a lot of negative interactions with school?

These two uses of PLPs in Seesaw: as a behavior plan support, and as a tool to increase access and share learning with students with intensive needs, were new to me, but the ideas were not. PLPs, tied with regular family communication, are a tool to help everyone see students, make their lives visible, and are for everyone: caregivers, teachers, and community partners, and help all see students for who they are and what they can do.

Seesaw as a tool

The commonality here was that both schools were using Seesaw as a tool for digital portfolios and PLPs. The benefits of this tool are clear:


  • It is very easy to use, students can set it up and get going with posting in about 30 minutes or less. Students can login with their school google email tools or a QR code.
  • It is very intuitive, and looks like a social media feed, but it totally private between the student, caregivers and teachers.
  • Teachers can set up folders that students can tag their posts to to develop a PLP or portfolio organization system.
  • And students can explore developing other aspects of their portfolio as PLPs in Seesaw, such as personal and academic goals and college and career explorations.
  • Families access the portfolio through an app on their phones, so there is no need for computer access. Caregivers are notified every time their child posts something to the portfolio and can interact with the post. This creates a quick and regular feedback loop for families and reduces the need to find and return the papers (which is hard for all).
  • Use of this tool reduces barriers to the demonstration of learning. Students can pick a tool to demonstrate their reflections and learning, such as video, notes, photos, and art. Almost immediately, I saw the benefits of this. Students did not have to wrangle digital tools to increase access, they were readily available to all, just like the Universal Design for Learning  calls for.
  • To create 100 percent access to family conferences, students could rehearse for their student led conferences with the video feature of Seesaw. That way, if a family can’t attend the conference, they could at least see the presentation via video, and interact with their student through the post.

Ideas for use

Seesaw could also be used as an everything space, where students across curricular subjects learn how to document and reflect on their own learning. Then, they could curate a portfolio of work to share at student led conferences, and these could be created anywhere, in Google slides, a Google site, or other tool. You could link and access these on PLPs in Seesaw as well.

The  power of being seen, to tell your own learning story, to show who you are and what is important to you, is universal.

How can we make sure each one of our students feels seen, known, and valued?


How to do a library diversity audit

7 tips for educators

Create a place where all students lives are seen and valued.

Ottauquechee students with new books purchased based on their research. High interest!

Expand the idea of what is possible in your classroom or school library.  Every student should be able to see aspects of their lives reflected in the books, media and resources they interact with. But they should also be exposed to stories from different perspectives.  Rudine Sims Bishop describes the role of diverse literature this way:

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.

One way to do that is to have learners lead the inquiry charge by analyzing what books are in the collection, and whose stories might be missing. And then? They can do something about it.

One way to learn about library audits is by seeing one in action. Change-agent and book hero Becky Whitney shared how she launched a full-fledged library exploration with her students, the Diversity Detectives. Now read on to learn how YOU can do a library diversity audit. This is meaningful and critical work with students.

1. Remember the WHY

One look at this data and it is easy to remember WHY this work is so critical.

Becky reflects on the deep purpose of why it is important to expose students to a variety of texts from historically underrepresented and marginalized authors and topics.

There’s so many people in Vermont, in Hartford, who grew up in Hartford, and go to Hartford schools, and they still live in Hartford, and now they teach in Hartford, and that isn’t — it’s not enough exposure to the wider world.  If they don’t have those life experiences, then where else can they get that information? So students and teachers have to get it through books.

In fact, as author, educator, and producer Tananarive Due says,

‘Diversity’ should just be called ‘reality.’ Your books, your tv shows, your movies, your articles, your curricula need to reflect reality.

Diverse collections provide us with the opportunity to see ourselves in the books, and also to see others.  Study after study shows that reading (especially fiction) builds empathy and emotional intelligence.  Libraries then are key to developing these skills in the learners they serve, and developing robust collections that are representative of our larger culture are imperative!

But diverse collections have other positive impacts as well.  Studies have linked them to increased academic performance, social-emotional learning, career and college readiness, and engagement in reading. Diversifying your collection is a win on all counts, and this is real work that your students can do!

2. Find the leaders of this movement

Many activists, scholars, and educators have been leading the way in promoting a diverse books and the auditing of school libraries. Educators beginning this process can find allies and experts who are doing the work, daily, and sharing their knowledge. On Twitter, search out the hashtags #disrupttext and #weneeddiversebooks. Find authors, literacy advocates and scholars to connect with and gain inspiration from (find Dr. Debbie Reese, Dr. Lara M. Jimenez, Mike Jung and Lyn Miller-Lachman to start with!). Remember you’re not the first person to tackle this issue. Listen to the people who’ve already been putting in time.

3. Give students choice – then share with each other

Becky noticed that students were not uncomfortable with this project, and she thinks it has to do with the level of choice she was giving them. Students were able to pick the area they wanted to explore, and then learned from others. The focus could be based on their interest, but expand to include what they are learning from the data and each other.  Students could explore a topic such as gender representation in different ways: Do we have any female protagonists in the action/adventure section? Do we have any mysteries that have female protagonists? Or you could even look at the authors. How many women are writing sports books? 

This questionnaire focused on cultural responsiveness is one way to consider choices for your learners:

Here are some additional lenses through which students could choose to focus their work:

  • Holidays: which holidays are represented in our collection? Which ones are missing?
  • History: what historical events are represented?  Where are there gaps?
  • Science: what scientific innovations and scientists are represented?  Who and what might be missing?
  • Biography: whose life stories are on the shelves (gender, race, nationality, ability, sexual orientation, etc.)?  Whose stories would make our collection more representative of the larger world?
  • Sports and hobbies: what sports, hobbies, and special interest areas show up on the shelves?  What’s missing?

There are so many ways to examine the collection. Allowing students to choose their area of interest increases engagement and focuses their work.

4. Treat learning about diversity just like any other learning


Critical text analysis, creating and analyzing data, and deep dialogue are part of a robust education, and this project is an example of that. Becky used her normal way of communicating with families about this unit: the Facebook page, the blog, and the newsletter. This way, she wasn’t framing this work as “controversial” but just part of the library curriculum and learning. And in fact, examining a library collection for bias isn’t controversial.  Fewer than 2% of librarians surveyed find building diverse collections “unimportant,” while 94% find this work important or very important.  If you are concerned about negative parental feedback, host a parent night to provide information and answer questions or concerns. 

5. Find school and community partners in this work

library diversity audit
John Hall (kneeling, right), chair of the committee for Racial Inclusion and Equality in Hartford VT, joined Ottauquechee students for their discussions around inclusion and equality in their school library catalog.

A student-led library audit is an excellent opportunity for engaging local community partners! Becky shares:

I would recommend incorporating as many people as you can. It would have been really nice if I could have worked out a way to incorporate more people in the school, so that more people are aware of what I’m doing, and maybe — those conversations could trickle out into other areas. It’s like a conversation-starter if they’re studying something else. And then bringing in the gentleman from the Hartford committee, that was really powerful, and it helped open, potentially open a door for this further conversation about this entire idea in schools.

Students can work with experts to develop recommendations for weeding and adding to the collection.  Local historians, scientists, and professionals can share their expertise.  Discipline-specific experts in the school district might help students as they examine discipline specific books.  And Vermont organizations can weigh in on increasing diversity about specific issues.  Consider this list of possible partners:

6. Your students CAN do this

Book purchases based on students’ research and a desire to make the library a place where all students can see themselves and others. Click or tap to enlarge.

Many people think that younger students are not ready for this kind of inquiry and these issues. But Becky finds them eager and open participants and researchers in the work, and finds this age to be the perfect time to engage in inquiry and discourse:

It’s kind of like the whole goalkeeper thing, too, when you say to them “who’s going to solve this problem?” They’re like “us, we are, we’re going to solve this problem. We are the goalkeepers, we’re the game-changers. We’re going to solve this problem.” I just think that they are — they’re really, they’re very aware of what is right and wrong. They are very passionate about justice.

Studies show that kids are aware of differences from a very early age.  Work like this helps them make better sense of the world and build their capacity for understanding difference and taking action when they notice bias and inequity.

7. Remember to ask: what do the students think?

library diversity audit

Students are key partners in this work. They are learning to navigate information, representation, and are often grappling with their own identities and societal norms, pressures, and current events. Be sure to check in with them frequently, and provide many opportunities for reflection. Becky shared about her students:

I think that they are just so much more accepting. They see the world as this diverse place, and I just don’t think they have the hang-ups yet. I would like them — to go at the world with curiosity, and fairness, and — drive for justice. And if they leave the library with that, and the understanding that libraries are not just mirrors, and not just windows, and not just doors — but I love the idea I read about them being maps. All of those things.

But I’m hoping that this is going to spark them to be inquisitive and find — if I have questions, if I don’t know, then we’ll figure it out in the library. Let’s go figure it out.

Here are a variety of tools to have students reflect on their learning through an audit experience.

The role of the librarian as change agent

Libraries are often the places where societal shifts happen, are cultivated, and explored. As the hub of a school (and some would say, the heart), libraries foster critical thinking, empathy, connection, and imagination How about we add creating the world we would like to see?

Becky considers the role of the librarian in helping students understand what it might be like to not see yourself reflected in the library:

Especially in Vermont, since it’s predominantly white, you have to make students feel what it’s like to not have your story be told. If you don’t say that, if you don’t make them feel it, they won’t care.

These boys are looking around the room, and they see Hatchet and they see Holes, and they see My Side of the Mountain, and they’re just like “Oh yeah, look, white boys and dogs, they’re everywhere.” But people who aren’t white boys, or white girls — where are their stories?

So, they have to realize that that’s a problem. If they don’t get that that’s a problem, then — you missed it. Great that they can do research, great they can use Canva to create an infographic. You improved their skills. You missed the opportunity to create good humans.

Deep exploration and expansion of library collection is possible and can be lead by students. By becoming researchers of the library collection, students learn to look for biases, dominant narratives, and who’s story is missing at their own level, with support. This work opens their eyes to systems of power in our society in clear ways and allow them to learn and then follow that up with action.

How might you engage in an exploration of your school’s library and who’s story might not be included (yet)?

Can Minecraft save the world?

These 4th graders say yes.

With a little help from the UN’s Global Goals.

Students at Ottauquechee Elementary School took Minecraft, the popular video game platform, and turned it to something serious: saving the world. They paired Minecraft with the UN’s 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development, and started creating towns that are innovative, sustainable, and focused on helping communities thrive.

They started by pondering two great big questions:

  • What is a community?
  • What do we value in a community?

As students contemplated these driving questions, they also considered what towns need. They thought about how their ideal community would function. And what it would include. For Ottauquechee students, a Sustainable City or Community includes:

  • a hospital
  • a school
  • green spaces
  • clean water
  • renewable energy sources
  • solar panels
  • an animal hospital
  • a grocery store with fresh fish
  • a farm
  • a beach

Which community asset ties in with which Global Goal?

Students knew they needed more information, so they decided to pull in a community partner with expertise in this area. Who better than someone who does this for their job?

Meet your town planner

Paige Greenfield is the town planner for Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission in Woodstock, Vermont. She visited fourth and fifth grade students to explain first what town planners do. They talked about accessibility for food sources, and how to manage waste and recycling. And at that point, had concrete, real-world information on what makes a town work.

For the younger students, librarian Becky Whitney shared this YouTube video describing the role town planners play in community development.

If you build it, it will work

The students started designing their towns by looking at maps and seeing where towns and building are laid out and what they wanted their towns to look like. Then they applied what they know about Minecraft, the Global Goals, and their 2D designs. Per Ottauquechee librarian Becky Whitney,

“Students used large grid paper to make a 1:1 model of the building they were responsible for making in their community. Then we laid out their plans as they would appear in the Minecraft world, making sure to make intelligent choices as to where everything is located based on our conversation with Ms. Greenfield.”

Staying focused on the big picture

Students had conversations about their values aligning with their design. In Minecraft, your plants keep growing even when you’re not logged in. And so do the animals. And as we learn about resource access, we have to talk about what to do with the excess animals. We have to talk about having an Animal Control Officer in-world. But students and teachers came to the : if we believe in life on land, and life under water if we are creating things for the sake of killing things that is not in line with our values. Big discussions for these elementary school students!

Culminating event

When I showed up in the Ottauquechee library, the place was pulsing with energy. Up on the big screen were the Minecraft worlds that the groups created.

On one side of the floor was their younger buddies: students in grades 1/2 who were there to learn about these projects. Students in K, 1, and 2 paired up with students in 3, 4, and 5 and each group had a chance to present to their buddy grade.. The students took the stage and described the features and buildings they created, along with what Global Goal they were focused on, to the younger students (and vice versa!). Parents, community members, and district administrators looked on, and had the opportunity to assess students on their communication skills. The students were proud of this work, and they excitedly pointed out what they made and why. It was truly using this technology for good — to promote creativity, purpose, and communication skills, not just more screen time.

One of Ottauquechee’s student designers presents to a full room of Vermont educators at Dynamic Landscapes 2019.

In another opportunity to share about this work, students at Ottauquechee had to write a compelling persuasive essay to join the Dynamic Landscapes conference, a statewide education conference, to present about STEAM. A team of eight students came and presented their Minecraft projects to a full house.

Authentic audiences? Double-check!

Tips for teachers

Since Minecraft was designed to be a video game, it takes a bit of finagling to make it useful for this kind of learning and project. Here are some of librarian Becky Whitney’s tips for using Minecraft for education:

  1. Line up  your experts. Here is a real chance to make a connection to careers and local communities. By connecting to the Town Planner, or other community groups, you create relevance and ground the experience in the community, instead of existing solely in the virtual world.
  2.  Create a high-trust environment for students. Establish student-led rules for the Minecraft world. Once students learn that they are using Minecraft for education, and expectations are created for what students can and can’t do as digital citizens, place a high-trust in students. This builds their ability and confidence about engaging in technology for learning.
  3. Present to each other. This is a great opportunity for students to role model using technology collaboratively and positively for other students. Students can present to younger students to foster digital citizenship, empathy, and transferable skills.
  4. Open up assessment. This is an opportunity to invite school staff and community members to help assess students on their communication skills, and to connect with the community about shared goals, such as a healthy, thriving town.
  5. Minecraft hacks (via librarian Becky Whitney!).
  • Understand how to use “cheats” to have more than 5 people join one world
  • Mark which iPad is the “master”
  • Make roads before the students log on so they have somewhere to orient themselves. It’s possible to make street signs or use different color rock to help them locate where they belong on the “street”
  • Make note of defining characteristics to help students remember where they are working

Find out more at the  OQS blog!

How could you use Minecraft to change the world?

Ottauquechee’s Diversity Detectives in:

The Case of The Library Diversity Audit

Whose stories are being told in your library? Whose stories are being left out?

Look around your library. It is such a beautiful space. It’s filled with vibrant colors and flexible furniture, student art and encouraging signs and posters. Maybe it has a makerspace. And it’s stocked full of books of all shapes, sizes and colors. Every book imaginable is available somewhere, from a YA-version Hamlet, to Winnie the Pooh and The Big Friendly Giant. Plus of course, Catcher in the Rye. You’ve got some new classics as well: Twilight, Hunger Games, City of Bones. Your collection is amazing. Why on earth would you need a library audit?


What’s a library audit?

Librarians audit their collections for any number of reasons. Books like to live, they like to find readers. Part of library management is curating which books to add and which to discard.

But recently, quite a few librarians have noticed that their collections represent only a minority of voices in the communities they serve. Publishing has favored a limited number of narratives. Those narratives feature a large number of protagonists who are white, who are male, who are able-bodied, who are straight. Those characteristics taken together reference a small set of the population. Therefore, many librarians are finding it useful to use lenses of diversity in conducting their audits. As you buy new books, and as you discard older ones, having lenses of race, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation and economic class — even a subset of those lenses — can make a collection more useful to its community.

And why did Ottauquechee need one?

“I thought about my students. Do they see themselves in the library?”

The Ottauquechee School, in Quechee VT, is home to an amazing library space. Work tables cluster under a wall of windows. Beanbags and soft, plush reading chairs beckon invitingly. Laptops sit ready atop a tech bar, and a whiteboard asks students to write questions for an upcoming discussion. And Ottauquechee School librarian Becky Whitney wanted to make sure the collection was just as welcoming as the space itself.

I was inspired from the Deeper Learning Conference we attended in 2018, and in one session we attended, called Little People have Big Ideas: Implementing a Social Justice Lens in Elementary, with Jeffrey Feitelberg, elementary students did a classroom library audit. And I always felt, because I didn’t have my own classroom, that I couldn’t make systemic change. I only see the students for 45 minutes a week  — and then sometimes there’s holidays or vacations and field trips and then it’s two weeks until I see them. And I thought, “There’s really no way to make these great PBL projects in library.” It’s just not enough time to make it meaningful.

But when I went to that session, and the presenter talked about the kid’s classroom library, I just thought “I could do that with a very small segment of the library,” and then use it as a research project.  The diversity audit, it kind of takes my responsibility and my passion and melds them.

Then I thought, there are a few students of color at our school. Where are they reflected in the library? 

Becky knew that conducting a diversity audit of the library would not just improve the range of the collection, but teach students to be more critical readers. It would teach them to think powerfully about empathy and inclusion. So she got to work.

The Diversity Detectives are on the case


Becky began by showing this inspiring video of 11 year old Marley Dias, a Black 6th grader who wanted to see herself in more books. Marley noticed the books she was reading in school were mostly about “white boys and dogs”. She wanted more books with characters who look like her.  Her mother asked her, “Well, what are you going to do about it?” What Marley did was begin a movement demanding more racial diversity YA books. She went looking for #1000Blackgirlbooks, crowd-sourcing a collection of books with a Black female protagonist. She distributes the books to school libraries. The movement went viral, and kicked off a lot of powerful conversations for librarians around race in YA publishing.

But for Ottauquechee students, Marley’s activism provided a relatable example. Whose stories would they find in their own library? Whose stories did they want to find? Could everyone see themselves in the collection?

Dream of a Common Language

Becky introduced and unpacked the 4 Agreements of Courageous Conversations (Singleton & Linton)  to her students:

  • Stay engaged
  • Speak your truth
  • Expect discomfort
  • Expect non-closure

They would use these four guidelines as a way to move through tough topics together.

Becky also worked with a community partner in this project, John Hall, the chair of the committee for Racial Inclusion and Equality in Hartford.

And what he said was, “Just the discussion was the important and powerful piece. The research is great, buying new and diverse books for the library is great,” but I would have done that anyway. So, including the kids in the discussion, including the kids and giving them agency, and giving them a voice in what kind of library, whose story are we telling — making them realize, the lack of diversity not okay. 

Becky also defined specific lenses students could use in the audit. They could look for stories that featured diversity around race, religion, disability, and culture. Becky and her students chewed over the vocabulary together. They examined current data on the state of children’s book publishing and representation, then they moved into interest-based groups. They in effect became Diversity Detectives, studying Ottauquechee’s library collection for clues to inclusion.

Tackling the stacks…

library audit rubric

…and making the case

The Diversity Detectives studied different sets of books in Ottauquechee’s library, using their Courageous Conversations agreements and the diversity lenses. They worked on analyzing the data they collected, then they created infographics in Canva. Here is a single point rubric Becky created for assessing the infographics. Lastly, students will share the infographics with their whole school community in the hopes of continuing discussions of inclusion.

Now be the change you want to see in the world.

For librarian Becky Whitney, this wasn’t just a theoretical exercise. The Diversity Detectives’ research will directly inform the direction Ottauquechee’s library collection takes as it grows. Taking the infographics and associated research into account, she will be partnering with the Diversity Detectives on recommended new purchases and culls. She also reached out to a local bookstore, in Norwich VT. The Norwich Bookstore’s proprietor, Liza Bernard, has agreed to share with students how she purchases books and what influences those decisions. All part of making sure this exercise remains more than academic. Becky hopes to come home from Norwich Bookstore with about 20 new titles based on the students’ research. Conversations around inclusion and diversity will have real-world relevance in Ottauquechee. They will shape the library collection, and hopefully extend to other areas of students’ lives.

Teaching the library audit

Becky ponders how she has challenged herself to move beyond her own initial discomfort with addressing these issues in school:

I’ve forced myself to be uncomfortable. I’m forcing myself to be aware of the language I use. And I had never understood that as fully as I have now because of the amount of research that I did, to make sure that I knew what I was talking about. It’s kind of like the whole — white fragility thing, and the whole thing about “I’m uncomfortable talking about race, and so I’m just going to not really talk about it.”

Students are leading these conversations and growing their agency, voice and understanding of critical issues in the process. And teachers are giving them the opportunity to share power and critically analyze their library spaces.

What does your library collection look like? How do you choose whose stories are included?

Further reading:

Toward a student-directed classroom

Releasing responsibility in Ottauquechee

an action research module examining scheduling and student choiceOttauquechee Elementary School teacher Kim Dumont had a vision. She wanted to build her students’s self-direction and self-efficacy. She wanted students to feel like leaders of their classroom and their own learning. Over the summer, with the help of a week at Vermont’s Middle Grades Conference, Dumont put together a plan to help her fourth grade students learn self-direction and self-efficacy.

An action research plan was born.

This fall, she launched that plan, helping to build her students self-direct and efficacy through modeling and through releasing responsibility. Here’s the Google Site where she’s documenting her research:

Kim Dumont's action research plan

The results

She presented the results of this research over the first half of the school year at the 2019 Middle Grades Conference. You can either watch Kim’s presentation in the video below, or read how it went, in Kim’s own words, below.



“Good morning, thank you all for being here. I called my presentation “Letting Go”, because I’m trying to give control of classroom operations to my fourth graders.

This is really a journey that we are all on together. I wanna introduce our cast of characters.

As you can see, they really are characters. I don’t know about other grades, but fourth graders, they won’t take a serious picture if you don’t promise them the goofy one. So here’s the goofy one. In the classroom everyday, it’s me, a wonderful paraprofessional who works one on one with one of my students, and 16 nine to ten year old learners. At the beginning of the year, they gave themselves the name — team name — the Dumontstars. And we really do use that name. And so there they are.

Our story begins with my belief that fourth graders need to feel ownership over their classroom and their learning to get the most out of school.

It’s really the foundation for this. My goal is that the class will run everything for the entire day and I won’t say a word to them. We’ll call it the silent day. The next point is that I will gradually release responsibility for the running of the classroom to the students and promote self-efficacy.

This really came about through MGI in June. We talked a lot about identity and self-efficacy, and how important it is for students to feel that ownership and feel that they can succeed. Really that’s what self-efficacy is — the belief that you can succeed.

The other inspiration was the book Learn Like A Pirate: Empower Your Students to Collaborate, Lead and Succeed. If you haven’t read it, it’s a fantastic book. I highly recommend it. Paul Solarz talks about his own classroom and his experience releasing responsibility and also just about the “silent day”.

The students that read it were like, “Oh, I can do this.”

With these fourth graders, I hear they’re going to be a really good group. We’re gonna try to do this. So, that’s what our plan was with gradually releasing responsibility. I was hoping to show an increase in their self-efficacy in their classroom ownership.

To put the plan into action, I wrote a list of routines, the rituals that they need to do everyday.

At MGI, you certainly have all the time to think and you’d come up with the best-laid plans and introduce them, “This day, day one, August 28th.”Okay, we’re going to be doing this, this, and this.” And these are the days they are going to be able to do it on their own or self-directed, and this is how we’re gonna know that they’re doing well. Of course with MGI, everything seems all very rosy and wonderful and most of this  happened similar to what it says here.


The red indicates things that we just took out. It wasn’t working for us. Blue was something that we had to change because again, it didn’t go quite as expected. Yellow is something, well, we misses our date and missed our target were still working on it, and that’s okay.


This isn’t the whole list, this is just a snapshot of it. I was going through, I’ve just seen, what do we have to do? What can we change based on what we need?

The other part of this was to introduce self-efficacy.

This was new language. It’s not something that they’ve ever heard. So we did that through first a self-assessment and all they need to do is fill in statements, the ones that Chris Stevenson has developed and have used at MGI, and you’ll see that on that on the next slide, what those statements are.


click or tap to enlarge

So they did that before we even started talking about self-efficacy and what is that, what does that mean. They just filled in statements: “I belong to and get along with…” So they were just really thinking about their own identity at that point.

We also read the book The First Rule of Punk, and we ended up Skyping with the author, Celia C. Perez.

It was just an amazing experience all around. The reason we used this book is because the main character, Malu, is talking about her identity, trying to figure out who she is. So we looked at self-efficacy through her lens.


We also made zines. If you’ve never seen a zine, they’re just about the cutest little thing.They are mini-magazines and one of them is a model based on Malu and her own, her self-efficacies. So, we talked about hers and then we kinda matched them up to the model. Then I made one for myself as a model, and because I felt if they were letting me know about them, I was going to let them know about me.


And so there’s a picture of them all working diligently to cut up words and letters that represent them choosing their little own self-efficacy zines. They love making zines. Once we started, there were zines everywhere all the time for everything. (Just as a warning if anybody decides to do that!)

These are some of the results from the first self-efficacy self-assessment that they did.

click or tap to enlarge

And as you can see, they just have to fill in, finish those phrases. A lot of them are about their families and scores for Math comes up a lot as far as things they need to get better at and how they’re going to do that. This is exactly what they wrote. You might notice the “pinch my nose” as the things they wanna get better at. But you know what, fourth graders, you know them.

This first time, it was really amazing that most of them could write something. So they are feeling that they can be successful, in some ways. We don’t see a lot of school. But this is like the third day of school, so not surprising that they’re not yet feeling that they’re successful at school.

Then in the follow-up though, we see a lot more mention of the classroom environment from the school

Things that are happening in the classroom that they feel that they are having a higher level of self-efficacy in the classroom.

Yes, one student, bless her soul, did write, “I take care of Mrs. Dumont.”

They’re clearly feeling a strong connection with the classroom while with their friends and what we’re doing at school. And so after four months, that’s exactly what I was hoping to see.

The other way that they’re taking ownership is that everyone in the class is entitled to get the group’s attention pretty much any time as long as it’s worthwhile.

click or tap to enlarge

We’re working on that right now. They really love that chime, they love clapping. They love getting the group’s attention for things that sometimes we have to say not that the whole group really need their attention. Well, we do that privately. It’s not like, Hey, you don’t need everybody’s attention. But I think it’s really important for them to know that their voice is powerful, that theirs are just as important as mine. And so if they need the class’ attention, they’re welcome to get it. And like I said, they use it, they use it a lot. Sometimes more successfully than others, but they’re doing it.

The other way that they’re taking ownership, is we came up with classroom jobs.

The first round, they got to get any idea they want to. Nothing was thrown out.

So we have things like “Pillow Patroller”. Basically, we have pillows in the classroom, like somebody should make sure those are picked up. We need a pillow patroller. And so we have some really fine ideas. They did a survey where every idea was put on the survey and they would say yes or no. I want you to rate them. This is an example of one of the results.

Anything that got more than 50% of the vote was an automatic to go on the final list. Anything that got less than 50% of the vote was not in the final. Those that got 50% were put aside to be talked about as a whole group.

So, we voted; some of them stayed, some of them went. Pillow patroller didn’t make the cut but phone answerer did because, they do love answering the phone in the class.

That’s another responsibility that they are welcome to have.

Most classes, I don’t think do that, let the students pick up the phone and say,”Hello, Mrs. Dumont’s room, student speaking.” But I think it’s really important to want that job.

So our final jobs, and I just do wanna draw your attention to one final job because I think that it’s important to show. With the jobs, they also came up with expectations for each of these jobs.

There’s a job description so that they know exactly what they’re supposed to do. That came from them, I just typed it. One of the jobs is volcano monitor. I’m pretty sure that no other classroom ever has had volcano monitor.

We read the book My Mouth Is A Volcano and they recognize it themselves that they have a lot of kids who interrupt and erupt like a volcano.

They decided that one person should be in-charge of letting those people know that they’re being a volcano.

One student actually made a little volcano that says, “I am a volcano”. They take that very seriously and the other kids respond to it really well because they know that they chosen to have that person as the volcano monitor.

I think if I had gone in this with the jobs already created, which I’ve done in the past, that would not make the cut, it wouldn’t represent what they thought they needed.

That’s been really important lesson this year. I don’t always know what they need and they know better than I do. I just really love that job.

Something else that they are helping me out this year is taking the responsibility for is time management.

They have two blocks in the week; goal time and a passion time, that are completely student-led, student-directed. The students decided what their SMART goal is.They decided how they’re going to reach that SMART goal and are tracking their progress toward it. If they come to me and tell me,”Mrs. Dumont, I think I’ve reached my goal.”I’m just, “Okay, what’s your evidence?” They will show me either spelling words that they spelled all correctly that they have done with a partner. Or they show me a math journal where they’ve written beautifully because their goal is writing neatly so others can read it. So that’s really up to them. They have a goal partner who’s working on something similar and they help each other out.

The passion time is a time where they do a project that’s really their passion. I have helped them in projects ranging from World War I to make-up, and if it is used, you know,
they put natural products versus synthetic products.

So it’s really who they are and something that they’re really interested in and they really report to those two times; goal time and passion time.

The TBD blocks are just chunks of times where like, I’m not sure?

What do you want me to do with this time? What do we need to do to be successful? How should we use this time? They’ll say, “Oh, I think we should use it to”finish up that ELA lesson that we didn’t finish the other day.” Or, “We can use it for Math menu time.”

It’s really up to them how we use it. I think the power of their voices really came through in this last item.

One day, we had to finish ELA in the afternoon. We just didn’t finish it and it was one of those days where I like we have to get through this. So we did it and they said, “Mrs. Dumont, can we do this in the afternoon all the time?

“Can we always have ELA in the afternoon?” I said, “Why?” They said, “Well, after recess and lunch, “we’re a lot more settled down, than we are before recess and lunch.”

“We’re a lot more squirrelly and integrated studies is a time where we get to move around more.”Okay, so we put it to a vote and they all voted to do that change. So now we do the ELA in the afternoons.

Yeah, it’s not something that I would have thought of and there was a perfectly valid reason and they were able to explain it. I just thought that was really a highlight for me to know that they realized that their voices are as powerful as they are.

They even changed the schedule. I think that was really important.

Tracking progress


This is how we do it for self-assessments. We try to do it monthly, best-laid plans.

Really what we’re looking for is changes over time. So the next few slides, you’ll get to see some results. I’d go through that rather quickly because really what we’re looking for again is the trend.

So you’ll see some things that jump out.

The data set is small, so we’re kinda just looking for those trends.

The right side indicates the ones that they feel like they’ve improved on. The left side, kinda we’re slipping backwards a little bit. You can see morning, they’re feeling pretty good except for that forgetting their materials.

click or tap to enlarge

Next one is these changes again aren’t that big, but again, respectfully listening to each other. That’s where that volcano monitor really comes in handy!

A lot of these are morning academic times and transitions and things are becoming loud and slow, as you’ll see teachers feel the same. These are really, because the scale is so small, this looks big but really these are about zero.


Then that one really jumps out right at the largely negative, not cleaning out their cubbies.

click or tap to enlarge

That goes along with the observations that we made as teachers where they’re forgetting their morning materials and they’ll be back like, “Oh, no, I don’t have an my math journal.” “I don’t have a pencil.”

During the transitions, loud and slow and when they feel rushed at the end of the day, they forget to do stuff. There’s that cubby thing they have a bunch of stuff and they’re trying to pack it all up and the cubby is the last thing that really gets attention.

So they’re very honest.

The data show that they showed improvements in the morning and they arrive and know what they’re doing.

They’re writing what they’re doing well and what they need to work on, and they need a way to remember it without adult intervention because otherwise that defeats the purpose.

They’re trying to gain responsibility and that independence. Implementation can be difficult. At the end of the day, when it’s time to clean cubbies, they’re kinda held up with other stuff.

So we had to come up with a plan. They decided… I put this data, I just said, “Here’s what we’re seeing, here’s what you’re seeing, “what should we do?”

So they decided that they wanted a checklist so they could self-monitor, so now they have all of those metrics on their little checklist. Here’s students filling it out. She was doing that, I didn’t tell her to do that. She was totally doing it and I just snapped a picture.

You can see that one student felt particularly fantastic that he has two sharpened pencils. Really great.

So we have made progress toward the silent day.

These are the current student-led activities that I could be out of the room and it would still happen. Math station, there is a teacher station, but other than that, if they’re not with a teacher at the station, they’re choosing their own independent work through the math menu and they’re making their own decisions.

They did have a silent morning in October!

I said nothing and they did everything.  It’s just how seriously they took that. They took their responsibility so seriously and they were well-behaved on that day heading for their classroom to music than I think they ever had in the hallways  because they knew that it was up to them, it’s their responsibility.

That leads to our next steps.

click or tap to enlarge

I did assess the student to ratio talk to make sure that their voices are heard much more often than mine. If they’re gonna take control, they need to have that. Determining what
responsibilities they can have as far as academic work, anything else, I’d asked them for input.

They were very interesting.

There were things like we need to be respectful of each other. We need to, you know…Which is all great. It’s all great.

But then it’s like, okay, what about in the academic part?

They said, “Oh, well maybe we should have students teach some lessons.” “We could have them teach with you.” So then we came up with all sorts of great ideas.

Now, it’s just giving them those opportunities. We have a plan for a silent afternoon, and it’s going to be next Friday that we don’t have skiing, we have a ski program in our school. They chose Friday afternoon because they thought it was logical because there were three chunks of times and mostly it’s student-directed now, so that’s a good time to practice.

That’s our plan going forward.

How are you building your students self-direction and efficacy?

How can students make global connections?


From Vermont to Mexico and back, via Smart Board

As the world becomes increasingly more connected, so should our schools. For Vermont, many schools existing in rural isolation can take advantage of these connections to bring their students the world. Connecting classrooms globally is not new, but videoconferencing tools have made the experience easier, more immediate and more compelling than in the past.

Connecting with Nuevo Leon, Mexico

Students at The Ottauquechee School in Quechee VT had been prepping for the big day for weeks. Their teachers used the site Empatico to coordinate this global chat.

And now, in just a few minutes they’d be meeting third graders at the Colegio Americano Anauac School, in the town of San Nicolas de Garza.In Mexico. Halfway around the world, but for one afternoon, right there in their rural Vermont classroom.

With frequent glances at the clock next to the Smart Board, they grabbed their notecards and gathered together on the carpet, hushed and expectant. A few bobbed up and down with excitement. Mrs. Stone, their teacher, reviewed how to be respectful and how to take turns asking and answering questions. One student gushed, “I am so excited right now! It’s really cool I’ve never talked to anyone in Mexico before!”

After one last pre-flight check, Mrs. Stone opened the Board’s laptop and dialed up Ottauquechee’s new friends. Half the world away, a browser began to ring.

Why connect globally?

ISTE explores the specific benefits teachers see from experiencing global conversations with peers such as:

  • increasing connection and shared humanity
  • learning through inquiry
  • positions students as experts and question answerers
  • increasing awareness of careers and geography
  • increasing empathy and social action

And the co-author of Teaching and Learning for the Twenty-First Century: Educational Goals, Policies, and Curricula from Six Nations, Fernando M. Reimers, explains:

“In order to participate, as citizens or producers, all people need to be able to understand globalization, be curious about the world and global affairs, know where to deepen their knowledge when necessary, and be capable of communicating and working productively and respectfully with people from other countries and cultural backgrounds.”

As the chat got underway, Ottauquechee students connected right away with their third grade peers.


Ottauquechees global connections


The students in Mexico had prepared images of their town and culture, and one by one, they held up their iPads in front of the camera, proudly sharing these images of the things they loved. They shared about the sports they love, with half the class loving one futbol team, and the other half loving a different one. Students quizzed each other about their favorite foods, the difference in temperature and climate between Nuevo Leon and Vermont, and the favorite things about their towns.

One student from Ottauquechee spent some time explaining what tater tots are. He was genuinely shocked to find out they aren’t as common in Mexico as in the United States. A cheer went up from both classrooms for the popular rock ballad Despacito. A connection was created and the ground was set for these students to meet again, to follow up and ask each other more in-depth questions about life, school and learning in their home countries.

For these students, it seemed clear to me as the observer, even from this first interaction, that these benefits were being enjoyed by students in both Vermont and Mexico.

Global connections are available for all ages

In this Mindshift Post, Kathy Cassidy shares how she integrates global conversations into lessons  for her primary students about digital citizenship, peer to peer learning, teaching empathy and relevant, timely learning.

In Sharon’s Davidson’s kindergarten class at Allen Brook school , they regularly use Skype to talk with experts in the field. And then they tweet about it, asking questions, offering thanks, and collaborating with others. From day one in school, these kindergarteners are global citizens and goalkeepers for the United Nation’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development. They frequently don shiny blue capes in the classroom, as befitting their role as global superheroes.

Students practice the transferable skills of clear and effective communication, responsible and involved citizenship, and self direction during these experiences.

In addition, students are gaining all sorts of academic skills by connecting with students for discussions. They are practicing the the Common Core standards of speaking and listening, which grow with each year of schooling. These are anchor standards, and according to Common Core State Standards Initiative,

“To build a foundation for college and career readiness, students must have ample opportunities to take part in a variety of rich, structured conversations—as part of a whole class, in small groups, and with a partner. Being productive members of these conversations requires that students contribute accurate, relevant information; respond to and develop what others have said; make comparisons and contrasts; and analyze and synthesize a multitude of ideas in various domains.”

For example, this is the standard for Kindergarten for speaking and listening standards:

    Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about kindergarten topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.
    Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions (e.g., listening to others and taking turns speaking about the topics and texts under discussion).
    Continue a conversation through multiple exchanges.
These speaking and listening standards are for every grade level, K-12, and progress to include more skills, perspectives, and aspects of these standards.

Have you connected to a class, community partners, either in the next building or globally?


How to build up STEAM

Making time for making at Ottauquechee

makerspaces and project-based learningSTEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics — gives students the opportunity to create. To make. Maybe to fail. To try again! And to make something that improves a condition, solves a problem, or makes the world a better place. But if your school currently doesn’t offer a STEAM time, it can be daunting to figure out where to begin. And that’s where we pick up our story of Ottauquechee School, in Quechee VT, where we used Design Thinking, a portable makerspace and one amazing library space to figure out how STEAM Time could work at this school.

Welcome to Ottauquechee STEAM Time.

Continue reading How to build up STEAM