Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Revisited: My Favorite WSQ

Over the next year, I'll be revisiting some of my favorite (and most popular) posts from the last (almost) 5 years of blogging.  I hope to add extra insight and reflection to these posts from my experiences both in my classroom and in training and coaching other teachers with flipped learning.  Any changes from the original post are changed to blue font.

My Favorite WSQ was originally published on January 23, 2012. 

The WSQ method has been the most impactful strategy in my flipped classroom experience.  It gives some structure and a consistent routine for both teachers and students to thrive in what is most likely a new learning environment.  In addition, I believe it answers what I have come to believe are the "5 Questions Every Flipped Classroom Teacher Must Answer".  While there is definitely more than one way to answer these questions, I have found that the WSQ method addresses all of these questions and allows you to have all 5 X's in the image below.

If you are interested in learning more about the WSQ strategy, I recommend that you check out my book, Flipping with Kirch: The Ups and Downs from Inside my Flipped Classroom, which was released in May of 2016.
  • 1.      How will you organize your content and materials in a way that is easy for students to access and follow?
  • 2.      How will you hold students accountable for actually watching and engaging with the video content?
  • 3.      How will you structure in processing time for your students to make sense of the material and internalize it?
  • 4.      How will you gather feedback from your students before they come to class, so you can effectively structure class time to meet their needs?
  • 5.      How will you facilitate discussion, collaboration, and higher-order thinking among students during class time?

See original Google Drawing at

~Original Post Below~ 
Any changes from the original post are changed to blue font.

A "WSQ" (pronounced wisk) in my class is what we call "homework" in my flipped classroom. It stands for this:

W - Watch
Students must watch the video for the assigned lesson and take notes in their SSS packets (this stands for "Student Success Sheets" and I have them for each unit/chapter; see more info on my FAQ page here) I have created for them. I check to see that these notes are complete and thorough and that everything I wrote down the students have. Because they can pause and rewind, there is no exception for these notes not being well done and complete. I don't spend class time specifically checking notes - I look at them while the students are working and I'm visiting with each group.  So, they know the notes will be checked at some point, but I'm not going to waste 5-10 minutes of class time checking them.

Some of my very high achieving students have asked "Do I have to watch the video" and under certain circumstances, I say "no", but you still have to complete the notes on the SSS packet. A lot of times these students know how to figure out the problems without my explanation and I have no problem with them completing the notes that way. They have to check their SSS page versus the finished SSS page on Edmodo to make sure their notation and answers are correct. I rarely had a lot of students do this - only the top few each year would consider it. 

A few issues I am already noticing with this is that there are still important things that I say about the concepts that students miss if they don't watch the video. This includes details about how/why we do something, details about notation, etc. Some thoughts that have come to my mind to alleviate this is to divide the videos into sections (whether this becomes separate videos or just a heading on the video). The first portion of the video must be watched by all students of all levels and will cover the basics, vocabulary, notation, purpose, etc. Then, the second half will cover the few examples I go over for the students before their first class day. I'll still have to think about this. Thoughts? Update: As time went on, this is what I did. I normally had an intro to the concept and all examples were worked out on separate videos.  Sometimes there was one example video, other times there were 2 - an "easy" examples video and a "medium" examples video.  "Hard" problems were almost always reserved for class time where there was collaboration and immediate support. 

For my Algebra 1 students, I already have been making an additional "part 2" of most videos that has even more extra examples than in the main video for students to watch or go back to later. I like that setup because the main video covers 2-3 examples, depending on the length of the problem. However, in my SSS packet I have at least twice as many examples for students to work through. I still want those to be explained to the students; I figure the more the better! Then they have no excuses! Having the extra examples was valuable.  When students need additional practice or review, they are right there for them.  When I need to fresh example to help explain something, I don't have to go find one.  I definitely recommend this!  There is also the underlying thought in the back of students' heads of "Gosh, I'm glad the video didn't cover ALL these examples!"  They are grateful that it is shorter.

S - Summary
Students have to write a summary of what they watched in the video. This is supposed to be completed immediately after watching to pretty much judge "Did you understand what you just watched?" I tell the students that their summary tells me if they understood the video or not. If I can't make sense of their summary, then they probably didn't understand it well enough because they couldn't verbalize it. I tell them that if they can't summarize it, they need to re-watch it because they didn't get it. If you have read other posts on this blog, you know that this evolved to consist of lots of types of summaries - full summaries, guided summaries, guided summaries with sentence frames, etc.  Whatever scaffolds my students needed to help learn how to effectively summarize and show their ability to process the video content, that's what I found a way to do.  You can learn more details of all the ways to approach the "S" part of the WSQ in  Flipping with Kirch: The Ups and Downs from Inside my Flipped Classroom,

In class, we talk about the summaries. Since I just started this, we are doing this mostly as a whole-class activity to train the students on what I expect to see. We put a "WSQ" on the screen and read through it. Then, I have all the students vote if they think it was a "Great" "Good" or "Bad" summary of what we watched. Yes, I have had all three levels of summaries and students have realized that if their summary is bad we will say so and talk about it. I ask the student whose notebook is on the screen what they would vote for themselves and then we talk as a class or in their small groups about what is missing, or what pieces that are in there are the REALLY IMPORTANT pieces that should definitely be included. I have students look at their individual WSQ's, give themselves a grade, and add anything they were missing. This was a hugely important "training" piece to what I now called "WSQ Chats".  It's just one of about 20 methods I describe in Flipping with Kirch: The Ups and Downs from Inside my Flipped Classroom,  The whole-class norming takes up more class time than you may prefer, but as I always tell teachers when I'm training them - better to spend a lot of time those first few weeks setting the bar high for what you expect than to spend the entire year frustrated that students continually are falling short of your hopes.

My ultimate goal is that we only have to do the whole-class "norming" process once a week or even once a unit. The rest of the time, the students will be sharing and discussing their summaries in their small "WSQ groups" of four students. That way every student has a chance to talk every day and they are all held more accountable. I want students to be okay talking about what is both good and bad about their summary and realizing what important pieces need to be added. Reflecting back now about 4.5 years later, I never really did this past the beginning of the year and I think it would have been helpful to do it once a month or once a unit.

In my Algebra 1 class, I actually wrote an entire summary with the class all the way through one day. It was a pretty complex lesson on Graphing Systems of Linear Inequalities and I wasn't really happy with the WSQ that was put on the screen. I realized that my students might need a better model of what I am truly looking for, rather than always calling their summaries "bad" or "good minus" (I let them grade themselves as Great +, Great, Great -, Good +, Good, Good -, Bad +, Bad, or Bad -). I think it was one of the most beneficial times for my students to realize what a good and complete and DETAILED summary should look like. That also may be something I need to model once a unit or so to get my students back on track.

Most of all, the purpose of the summary is to get my students Thinking & Writing (at home), and Reading, Speaking, and Listening (at school) - it all comes down to TWRLS... we need to support our students' language development at all grade levels and in all subjects.

Q - Question
At the end of the WSQ, all students must ask a question. The first few days I did this, I had a lot of students respond with "I don't have any questions". They quickly learned that is not an acceptable answer. The question must be related to the content and can be:

(1) A specific question about an example that was worked out and where they got stuck or confused
(2) A general question about the concept and something that was said or explained
or (most of the time)
(3) A question that could be asked and expected to be answered after watching the video. This may be a question you think your classmates might have, or just a good question you think I (the teacher) would ask and expect you to know.

I've streamlined this to be "Ask a Question that is either a Confusion, Clarification, Discussion, or Example".  

In class, we look at a few questions as a group, and I always ask the writer "Is this a question you know the answer to or don't know the answer to?". Then, I have the students answer the question in their small groups and then we share out to the class.

The purpose of this is two-fold:
(1) I want my students comfortable asking and answering questions of each other, especially when they are confused.
(2) I just want my students asking questions, period! That is where discussion and deeper thought come from!

Every day, students ask their questions in their groups of four before getting to work on the problem set. That way, students who have a question they DON'T know the answer to can get it answered, and students who asked a question they already know can see if their group members also know it. I am there to help if the group gets stuck on answering a question.

I found lots of other strategies in working with questions as time went on since this original post.  I'm sure I'll have a repost explaining that soon ;).  

With my Math Analysis Honors students, we go a step further... I challenge them to make their questions "HOT" and move up Bloom's Taxonomy past the basic Knowledge and Comprehension level. I have them tell me what level they think their question is at. I have given them the question starters for each level of questioning (see link on top right) and I think that helps them. The better their questions, the deeper we can probe, and the better discussions we can have.


When I came up with this WSQ idea at the start of the new year, I really didn't have a clear vision of what it would look like. What I described above came out of random thought, to be honest. Every day though, I was able to think about what I liked and didn't like about the process, and the students got used to what I expect. Reflection Reflection Reflection is key to any teacher's success, not just a flipped classroom teacher.  You've got to continually Reflect, Reach Out to others for ideas, and Refine your practices so they are meeting the purposes that you have intentionally set.

I am already SOOOOOOOOOOOO HAPPY with what I have been seeing and we have only done this for 9 or 10 class days! I really hope my students continue to develop their TWRLS, which ultimately I hope leads to them not only understanding the math BETTER but DEEPER!!!

Purchase my new book today!  Click here for more details and to place an order!  Also on at

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Reflections on Recent Readings (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

GUEST POST: Improving Student Learning through Instant Feedback & Constant Communication (Tracy Dawson)

This is in a series of posts by teachers in the TUSD Connect Fellowship for the 2015-2016 school year. I hope you enjoy reading their reflections on the impact of technology in their classroom, specific tools and strategies that have made a positive impact on teaching and learning, and their goals moving forward.

Technology has transformed my classroom this year!

I have infused technology in my lessons in previous years but through this Technology Fellowship I have created a learning environment that is dynamic, effective, and efficient for my students all driven by the purposeful use of technology.  I teach Human Body Systems (HBS), AVID, and Biology CP and I have integrated technology into each of them in different ways.  

One of the major shifts this year in HBS is making my labs digital.  There is a lot that goes into digitizing a lab so the process has been quite an undertaking but the benefits make it completely worth the time invested.  I utilize Google Classroom in HBS (as well as in AVID and Biology).  The organization of Google Classroom and Google Drive has been a great way for my students to have a place to go to for all labs/handouts/links/announcements/etc.  It avoids students being confused on where to go to get the document or link and it allows for students to have a “homebase”.  In HBS, the students complete a lab about once a week and before digitizing my labs I was not completely satisfied with the way I was checking their progress or their understanding besides informal assessments and check-ins and Friday Quizzes (which at that point was a bit late).  I now can give every student real-time feedback as they are completing their lab through the great collaborative feature of Google Docs.  I have a running dialogue with my students about their lab and it is a place they can ask questions and I can clarify key points as well as checking in on their progress on the lab.  My HBS students are very comfortable with Google Classroom and Google Drive so I can ask them to take pictures of their dissections spur of the moment and they are able to digitally label them in a Google Drawing and upload them to Google Classroom so I can grade their dissections more thoroughly and they can have their labeled dissection to review. Here is an example of a labeled Digestive System from the Fetal Pig Dissection.  

Here are a few other ways technology impacted teaching and learning... with samples for you to look at!
  • I embedded Quizlets into GoFormative for all three of my classes as formative assessments as well as review for the students.  Here is an example of a quizlet embedded into GoFormative for a Biochemistry review for my Biology CP class.  

  • Google Drawings - The students created Google Drawings of concept maps for the Endocrine System as well as for the Insulin/Glucagon Feedback Loop in the Human Body.  Here is a Student Sample of the Insulin/Glucagon Feedback Loop.  In previous years, I had the students draw their concept maps and feedback loops on paper and I was not able to fully review them until they turned them in which was on the day of the quiz so it was too late to fix major misconceptions.  Having the students create them on Google Drawings allowed me to write comments on them as they were making them so misconceptions were dealt with right away.    

  • I also used Quizizz, Socrative, Let’s Recap, and GoFormative to do concept checks and for the students to review for the quizzes and tests in our class.  Anatomy has a lot of terms that the students need to know and the spelling is important so the Quizlets I embedded into GoFormative were particularly helpful because they tested my students on definitions, spelling, and being able to label diagrams.

  • I also utilized Google Forms (for reflections and to collect data), Padlet (get to know activity, summing up lessons, and reflections), and ThingLink (making a diagram of a cow eye more dynamic by adding “tags” to label each part, stating its function, and inserting videos).

  • AVID - Digital Journals (student-teacher dialogue), Google Forms (grade reflections, submitting questions for Socratic Seminars).  All of these allowed me to actually read and provide timely feedback to each of my students which was more difficult and time consuming to do when they wrote their journals on paper.  Before I digitized the journals and reflections in AVID, it took me so long to read them and I felt that in the time it took for me to get my written feedback back to my students, part of the impact of the feedback was lost.  Now, I am able to give immediate feedback and it helped me in the beginning of the year to get to know my students very quickly.

  • Biology - Collaborative labs on Google Docs, Google Forms (submitting lab data, reflecting on test/unit/grade in class), Google Slides (visual vocabulary), Google Drawing (Karyotype Activity), Quizizz, GoFormative, and Padlet.

I am very excited to continue to refine my use of technology in my classroom next year.  This summer, I plan to complete the certification and exams to become a Google Certified Teacher (Levels 1 and 2).  I am also planning on taking two technology courses online (“Flipping the Classroom” and “All Things Google”).  Finally, my new obsession, Twitter!  I will continue to connect with educators on Twitter to grow and develop my purposeful use of technology in the classroom.

I cannot begin to say how impactful this fellowship has been on my teaching practice.  I went from someone who would sometimes shy away from using certain things because I assumed the students wouldn’t have their devices (mostly in Bio) or not knowing if it was going to work well to now wanting to try every awesome idea that I come across!  Like most things in a teacher’s classroom, if it is set as an expectation from the beginning of the school year, then a teacher will have a lot less trouble during the year.  In my class, having your device everyday is like having a pencil and paper.  I also found the more willing and open I am to trying new things in my classroom, the more willing my students are.  There were times when I used a certain technology in my class and I thought “that was okay” but I can make it way better by tweaking a few things or using a different technology to accomplish the same goal in a more effective manner.  But the fact that I was not afraid to try the technology and my students were willing to engage in their learning through the use of a specific technology helped me to discover the things that worked best in my classroom and worked best for my students.

Tracy Dawson is a Human Body Systems, Biology, and AVID teacher at Beckman High School in Irvine, CA.  She is an innately curious person and considers herself a “lifelong learner”.  Tracy is a self-professed science and tech nerd and loves to be constantly adding to her “tech toolbelt” and enhancing her teaching and her students’ learning through the purposeful use of technology.  Tracy also serves as AVID Coordinator and a mentor teacher in the science department.  
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