Periods of Reflection

Just random musings from an elementary perspective. Views are my own.

Month: November, 2015

Google Forms and Reading Conferences


Streamlining and curating information is an easy way to organize our data in today’s technological world.  There are advancements using a multitude of tools to ensure the workflow in our classrooms is functional and attainable.  With this spirit in mind, I want to share a simple way to use Google Forms during reading conferences. I am a strong believer in the power of conferences.  Discussing book selections with students fosters independence, as well as gives us an opportunity to discuss the written word. To be frank, conferencing should be a non-negotiable.

Google Forms:

I’ve taken three screenshot for viewing so you can see how my form is organized.  This form was created directly from the amazing and inspiring Donalyn Miller conference form.  Click here for a link to her slide-share presentations.  They are a wealth of information.

Independent Reading Conference Form

Informal Reading Conference Form

I also wanted to share an older form that I used that I may incorporate into my new form. I will monitor and adjust as needed.


You must have a Google account in order to create a form.  Once you have a Google account, click drive and the red rectangle in the left column.  This will open a new menu.  Hover down to more and a new pop up will appear with a choice to choose forms. Much has been written about the how-to with nuances of google forms, so I am not going to cover that.

Next Steps:

The next steps are quite simple. During independent reading time, which is a non-negotiable every day in my classroom, I confer with students.  On days when I am not conferencing, I am meeting with small, flexible groups formed based on student’s needs from the data collected.

I walk around my classroom with my Chromebook, but this work can be done on a mobile device as well.  I ask the questions that were created on my google form.  Doing it digitally helps me confer with more students in a shorter amount of time.  Once I finish conferencing, I hit submit at the bottom of the form and the data is automatically imported into a google sheet.

I can then easily share information with the students and parents and it eliminates the issue of losing paperwork.  I can simply then start a new form and repeat the process.

The information collected from the conference is invaluable.  It can allow teachers to monitor and adjust based on what a child’s needs are.  It’s a great time to set reading goals, have short, focused conversations about text in an informal, non threatening environment.  The goals the students set in the conference is recorded digitally for my own purposes, but they also have a place in their reader’s notebook to write down their goals for future reference. After all, good readers always have a plan. It also gives us a chance to ensure students are making wise book choices.

Additionally, I plan on creating a google form for writing conferences as well.  I will post once I create the new form.

Remember it’s important to have the student talking more during the conferences. Our feedback is important, but their voice should be paramount.  That’s an important piece to remember.


I am a passionate teacher in Stamford, CT. I teach fifth grade ELA/Social Studies. I am proud to be an active member of the Twitter educational community. I am an organizer for #EdCampSWCT, a moderator for #ctedu, technology professional develop leader in my district, and a believer in a high tech/high touch blended learning approach to teaching.  I was nominated for the Bammy of 2015 Elementary School Teacher of the Year. I was Stamford, CT Teacher of the Year in 2014. I am a certified administrator and presenter. I believe in taking risks and working collaboratively to augment student achievement. I love children’s literature and strive to become better everyday. I am a husband and father. Follow me on Twitter @mrsapia_teach


Creating Learning EXPERIENCES for Readers

I’ve had many experiences in my life.  Those experiences can vary in a range of levels but it’s those experiences who shaped who I am today. Being a teacher I like to use my life experiences as my muse. I embrace my learning through experiences of traveling, seeing live music, being a new dad, and translating that energy into learning experiences for my kids.

I currently teach 5th grade humanities, which falls under the umbrella of English Language Arts and Social Studies. I am a voracious reader and hope to instill that love of reading into my students so they can be passionate about the written word. Below are two ways that I created exciting learning experiences for my students.

Reading Warrior:

In the spirit of creating meaningful and memorable learning experiences for my students, I decided to dress up as a “Reading Warrior.” I called my brother up borrowed his sparkly cape and star sunglasses, and a new idea was born. This is a good time to note that Teach Like a pirate by Dave Burgess had a huge impact about creating learning experiences for students.

Sequence of Lesson:

To initiate the lesson I had the students listen to Superheroes by The Script. At the conclusion of the song I had the students turn and talk about the message of the song by analyzing the words and video. I went over to another classroom and changed into my atter ego, the Reading Warrior.  I came storming back into the classroom and took on the persona of my alter ego. Some students laughed, some students gasped,  but once the initial shock was over I went on to tell them my mission of the day was to create passionate learners who can become voracious readers.   The whole point of this lesson tied in music, close reading, collaboration, and finding their inner superhero. It was also my creative way to introduce about 40 new titles into the classroom library. so the last few minutes of class we did a countdown and I had students close their eyes and when we got to 0 I unveiled the new titles. I  passed one book out to each reader and they skimmed it for about 5 to 7 minutes. Then they had to reconvene on the carpet to talk about the book. The level of engagement and enthusiasm was infectious. The hook was successful!  Students then filled out books of interest on their Read Next list in Reader’s Notebook. After all, good readers always have a plan.

Click here to see photos and videos from the lesson!


Detective Read Aloud:

In order to teach the complex skill of inferring I decided to summon another alter ego, Detective Read Aloud. Detective Read Aloud was much more subdued than the Reading Warrior. At the start of the lesson I had some Inspector Gadget music playing in my classroom. The students were immediately questioning why this specific kind of music was playing. It was at that time that I left the classroom put on my fedora,  trench coat, and grab my magnifying glass and slowly strolled back into the classroom.

I then asked the students what the role of a detective is and told them that they were going to be junior detectives. I also mentioned how authors leave clues sprinkled in texts to help the readers deepen their understanding. With that idea in mind I had students pair up in groups and they went on an inference scavenger hunt around our fifth grade wing. I placed arrows on the floor as “clues” for students to follow. They read a short passage and had to answer comprehension questions tied into inferring. The passages were short and the questions were straightforward.  In order for students to move on to the next clue they had to check with Detective Read Aloud to ensure their responses were correct. It was only at the end of the lesson where I actually introduced the term inferencing to students.

This type of flipped lesson was incredibly successful because students actually walked through the learning process first, then learned the term.    As we reflected on the lesson the students said it was powerful for them to walk through the process and acting like detective which helped deepen their understanding of inferring.
Creating this experience for students can have a significant impact on their learning and also how they transfer the new information they encounter throughout a lesson. Not to mention it’s an absolute blast as a teacher to dress up and show that side of you to your students. This goes a long way to creating an environment of trust, student voice, and risk taking because it models those three skills for the students.  I’d be remiss if I did not mention Pernille Ripp for creating awesome “Reading Warrior” shirts!


I am a passionate teacher in Stamford, CT. I teach fifth grade ELA/Social Studies. I am proud to be an active member of the Twitter educational community. I am an organizer for #EdCampSWCT, a moderator for #ctedu, technology professional develop leader in my district, and a believer in a high tech/high touch blended learning approach to teaching.  I am nominated for the Bammy of 2015 Elementary School Teacher of the Year. I am a certified administrator. I believe in taking risks and working collaboratively to augment student achievement. I love children’s literature and strive to become better everyday. I am a husband and father. Follow me on Twitter @mrsapia_teach

Choice Based PD Can Happen!


I’ve been involved in education for the past 14 years. I can probably count on one hand how much relevant, meaningful, and purposeful professional development that I participated in. This is beyond sad to me. It was time to turn that sadness into possibilities and set forth on our journey to create relevant PD. 

About three months ago my principal I decided that we wanted to create a professional development focused on purposeful technology integration for our district, where participants had a choice to attend sessions of interest. With the help of our district CIO and our technology professional development leaders, this small idea came to fruition. Our professional development day was modeled after Edcamp,  with some slight variations to it. We titled it “Future Ready.”

How did we do it?

We first created a needs assessment about what staff wanted as a focus in the area of technology integration.

We created a Google form for potential presenters had to fill out in order to be considered to present. The forms were vetted through our professional development committee. This was already a change from professional development that we’ve experienced because generally it’s consultants who are hired from the outside. This started as an organic grassroots professional development from teachers in the classroom. Once we reviewed all the submissions we ended up with 32 total sessions, with some teachers presenting multiple times. Teachers have been craving this form of professional development for years in their voices were finally heard, much to their delight.

My principal and district CIO did an incredible job organizing data into Google sheets and forms to manage the event planning, sign-up, and scheduling.

The day was broken up into 4- 50 minute blocks. Once the schedule was finalized teachers were asked to submit their registration online in advance. To be completely transparent there were some hiccups that came along with Google forms, registering, and lack of automatic email response confirming sessions. But due to the flexibility of awesome teachers in our district this turned out to be a very small problem.

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 7.19.41 PM

Rippowam Middle School was the host site for this incredible event. We have four computer labs, chrome books, and participating teachers were encouraged to bring their own devices. Our incredible IT team was on-site to troubleshoot any issues, which were non existent. Our talented art teachers created posters to hang throughout the building, as well as students creating what “Future Ready” meant to them.  There were students who also assisted in helping visiting teachers to find classrooms, as well as participating in green screen video creation sessions.  What’s better than empowering students to become the teacher?!

The day started with opening remarks by our building principal and myself to get the day rolling. Our recurring message was that this day was not about perfection, but about possibilities for technology integration to enhance teaching and learning and creating learning experiences for students in autonomous ways.  My principal was a great model for embracing failure because during his opening remarks he said things did not go as smoothly at he hoped during the signup process.  He acknowledge this openly and I heard people throughout the day really appreciated this type of  honesty.

Unlike many PDs that we’ve attended, besides Edcamp,  you could feel the positive energy in the air from the onset of the event. After each session teachers were walking around smiling. But most importantly they were talking about many of the ideas that they learned during sessions and tools that they can bring to their classroom tomorrow. Old colleagues had opportunities to connect, talk, and share ideas. We encouraged staff on social media to use the #SPSPride hashtag.

Sample Sessions included:

  • Intro to Google Classroom
  • QR Code Hunts
  • Kahoot and Socrative
  • Using Seesaw as a Digital Portfolio
  • Creating a google site
  • Building your PLN using Twitter
  • Google Forms
  • Powerpoint
  • ActivInspire for Beginners
  • Digital Citizenship Roundtable
  • Green Screen Creations
  • Tenmarks in Math
  • Scratch and Coding
  • MakerBot 3D printing

It was an incredible day with perfect weather. It was 68° outside and we had a food truck to serve lunch.  A teacher in our building was the DJ, because what better way to bring people together than with food,music, dancing, and purposeful focused professional development.

Upon completion of the event we received close to 25-30 emails from teachers and central office staff celebrating the accomplishments of all the facilitators and participants.  There is no doubt that planning event of this magnitude takes work but it’s work worth doing. The psychology of choice is an incredible shift from how professional development is mostly presented and should be utilized more often.

Next Steps:

The plan is to host another event in the spring and the hope is that we could get even more teachers on board to present and share with the amazing ways they’re engaging students and parents in their classroom.

This event was about community and celebrated the Stamford Public Schools teachers willingness to take a risk to present with they know works in their classroom in terms of student engagement.  This event is greater than one group of people. It models that when we come together around a focused intention we can empower and push each other. When given choice and what we’d like to learn, inspiration can happen.  This new inspiration can be translated into taking risks and trying out new ways to engage students in the classroom.

At the end of the day it comes down to student learning and adult learning. If teachers can came away with one or two new ideas and a shift in mindset then the day was a complete success. If you’re on the fence about planning an event, I encourage you to take a risk. It’s not about perfection. It’s about possibilities, teacher empowerment, and teamwork.  When the biggest complaint of the day is teachers did not know what sessions to attend, I’d say it was a success. How often does that happen at PD?

Future Ready PD Photos