PLPs and Presentation

Personal Learning Plans can be leveraged into outstanding presentations. Here’s the proof.

A few months ago, our school’s Technology PLC was asked to present the work we had completed towards implementation of a Google-based Personal Learning Plan template. Having a year of experience with the PLPs, we agreed.

After discussion and input from group members, we decided to focus on multiple goals. First, we wanted to evaluate staff understanding or awareness of Act 77, the statute identifying personalized learning and flexible pathways. Second, we wanted to model relevant and appropriate professional development around personalized learning and its role in the classroom. Finally, and most importantly, the team wanted to familiarize the staff with the Google Sites template that was created and adopted for the pilot project.

Deciding on the best method for presenting our work on the PLPs was difficult. We had a limited amount of time and we wanted to give teachers proof that the PLPs could be a viable part of the classroom. To do that, we asked several students to present their work.

The first student segment was conducted by two eighth graders who have completed Phase 1 of the PLP process. Admittedly, these two students provided exemplars of the PLP process. That said, their presentation, created without teacher guidance, was outstanding. They were able to move through the pages of the Google site fluently and, because of the “personal” elements of the project, with great familiarity. The old adage about students doing their best work on topics that they know most deeply was brought to life.

The second student segment included a student panel answering questions from the staff about their PLP experience. Again, these students were asked to speak without prior preparation. Again, their performance was flawless. Not only did they provide accurate information about the PLP process, they also were able to articulate how the process differed from traditional teaching methods.

Post-presentation feedback indicated that the student presentations were convincing, relevant, authentic, and professional.

My conclusion? PLPs can be used to help students create outstanding presentations because they are comfortable and familiar with the material. It’s an added bonus to the project.


Mavericks, Teaching, and Google Scholar

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This picture was taken at Mavericks, a famous big wave surfing spot in California. Intrepid surfers are enticed by the huge waves, regular break, and recognition that comes from successfully navigating the treacherous surf. Having never surfed, I’m assuming that the fear of being crushed by the wave is also a motivating factor in getting out of the tube successfully.

As a teacher, I often feel that the swell of responsibilities often threatens to overwhelm my ability to operate effectively in my core role: classroom instructor. Among the long list of Things To Do, meetings, email responses, lesson planning, accommodations, and problem-solving, we sometimes overlook the importance of focusing on our craft.

To that end, I have been attempting to develop research habits that allow me to find short, easy-to-read, educational pieces that can directly inform my classroom work. To do so, I have started using Google Scholar, one of many research oriented applications provided from Google. I definitely don’t know all the bells and whistles that come with the program, but simple searches can often provide excellent resources in a wide-range of easily consumable formats. For teachers lacking the energy to read books and journals during the school year, the option to refresh and re-invigorate can come from shorter research articles.

More importantly, the information found through research can be directly implemented in the classroom setting. For example, a recent search turned up a document titled, What Works In Classroom Education², a text outlining 9 essential strategies for classroom instruction. Following the links provided by Google Scholar, educators can access a PDF of the document for quick reading and consumption. Furthermore, once a researcher gets hold of an idea or text, one can often find related articles on the topic, also using Google Scholar.

One of the recommended strategies from Marzano, et al., was the use of note-taking. Seems simple right? No so fast. The authors also suggest that teachers should encourage and give time for review and revision of notes; notes can be the best study guides for tests.³ In my case, this seemed like simple advice. Prior to a summary writing exercise, I asked students to review their notes by reading through them silently and then having a short table-talk to review the information.

Was it effective? I’m not sure. I’ll have more information when I review the writing. That said, this little tip, garnered from some quick research, helped me to re-focus my efforts and avoid wiping out on this day.

  1. Quirarte, Frank. Mavericks Californing USA. Digital N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2014. <;.
  2. Marzano, Robert J., Barbara B. Gaddy, and Ceri Dean. “What Works in Classroom Instruction.” (2000).
  3. Marzano, Robert J., Debra Pickering, and Jane E. Pollock. Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Ascd, 2001.

Writing Matters: Using Wordclouds To Identify Key Terms

If you are comfortable with using a wide range of technology in your classroom, I highly suggest you follow Richard Byrne who runs and manages the website Free Technology of Teachers. He can also be followed on Twitter @rmbyrne. 

Mr. Byrne is a prolific technology teacher who is a huge provider of amazing sites and tools that can help regular teachers improve their game. Last week, he posted about a Google script that can be installed in Google Docs to create word clouds.

What’s the big deal? First, and I quote his column, “Word clouds can help students analyze documents written by others as well as documents of their own creation. By copying the text of a document into a word cloud generator your students can quickly see the words that appear most frequently in that document.”¹

This is important for three reasons. Students can analyze the word clouds to determine if the text of their response includes key concepts and terms from the course of study. Second, by creating multiple word clouds of notes taken electronically, students can identify which set of notes most accurately reflects the essential learning of the original source. Third, teachers can highlight the academic vocabulary that should appear in student writing. Teachers can also clarify any misunderstanding or student questions regarding these topics.

Having read Mr. Byrne’s blog, I quickly and easily installed the word cloud script following his directions. I then copied and pasted several examples of world clouds, taken from notes on identical digital texts, for students to compare. Sure enough, students unanimously selected the word cloud that most effectively identified key vocabulary and concepts.

Utilizing this visual technology is simply another way to engage students in conversations about key terms, effective note-taking, and academic vocabulary. It is quick, easy to use, and provides students with a visual element in their revision process.


  1. Byrne, Richard. “Create a Word Cloud Within Your Google Documents.”Free Technology for Teachers. Blogger, 19 Oct. 2014. Web. 27 Oct. 2014. <>.