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The #1 Reason Formative Assessment is Imperative to Learning


Previously, I wrote a post featuring some of my favorite formative assessment tools.  They are pretty simple and fairly well-known, and yet, I received many thanks from talented teachers for the list.  I also hear, often, of formative and summative assessments being confused.  That led me to write a very simplistic comparison of the two.  Then, recently, I saw a tweet to the effect that formative assessment is more important than summative assessment.  I couldn’t agree more!  All of these together led me to write today’s post.  What makes formative assessment so imperative to learning? Let’s look at the definition:

DefinitionFormative assessment including diagnostic testing is a range of formal and informal assessment procedures conducted by teachers during the learning process in order to modify teaching and learning activities to improve student attainment.

The last part is the answer.  Formative assessment is used to modify teaching (daily instruction must be reflected upon and future instruction guided by student learning).  By doing so, students have more relevant learning experiences and better opportunities to learn and retain the new knowledge, skills, and concepts. I’m not sure how teachers can know what the students are ready to learn without some type of formative assessment.  It could be a pretest that proves content mastery already,  a mid-way check to determine whether to move on, a posttest that shows the need for reteaching, or any number of other gauges throughout instruction and learning.  I’m very much opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach to instruction.  Personalized instruction must be based on individual needs and learning styles.  The bottom line is that without consistent formative assessment, true student-centered learning isn’t taking place.

As always, I value feedback and opinions.  Data analysis and assessment management are just a couple of areas that I help schools with.

Want more information on how I can work with your leaders, teachers, and staff?

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Connect with me on Twitter:  @Ms_Mac4

Connect with me on LinkedIn: Janelle McLaughlin, Innovative Education Solutions

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My Beginnings as a Blogger


Confession time:  I have always hated journaling.  I would attend some great workshop, or talk to some fantastic writer and be convinced of the joys and benefits of journaling regularly.  I’d open up a cute new notebook, determined to make it work this time.  And I’d quickly lose that drive.  It always seemed tedious and forced.  I could sit and read a good book for eight hours straight, but other than that, I am not a sit still kind of person.  I’m doing well to keep my kids’ photo albums up to date (and by that, I mean at least current within the last six months).

Then a few of years ago I attended the NCTE national conference in Chicago.  One of the best conferences I’ve ever been to (and, remember, I have never been an English teacher – still phenomenal!).  I came home determined and committed to more reflective practice.  And this blog was born.  I like it so much better than a cute new notebook. It’s easier, faster, and much more likely for me to maintain.  It has, however, morphed from what I had originally intended.  My previous school system went 1:1 with iPads for our 5-12 grades in 2013.  Being the curriculum director at the time (and seeing as how technology and instruction must be a seamless blend), I was chosen as one of those to spearhead this initiative.  It was mostly wonderful.  I am a tech geek convert.

As I was thinking through how to continue the professional development I began with the teachers for the move to 1:1, my blog seemed like a natural fit for one component.  So, I committed to blogging each week on digital resources.  I had fun discovering new things, or looking at old resources in a new way, and I got to share them with other educators.

Since moving on from that position, I find myself blogging more about leadership and other areas of education (which really was what it was supposed to be in the beginning – writing about things that inspired me).

And while you still won’t catch me journaling in a notebook, I’m enjoying discovering my inner-blogger.  I like to write in the same way I would converse with someone in person.  So, thanks for stopping by, and I’d love to connect.

You can check out my Contact Information page for ways to find me via social media or through email.

Using Google Drawing across the curriculum


I have long been a fan and user of Google Drive and all the apps have to offer.  It wasn’t until recently, however, that I showed any favor to Google Drawing.  In my recent round of technology integration coaching with some teachers in Texas, I had two request mind maps as a component to the lesson we were going to team-teach.  I looked into Lucid Charts and various other “concept mapping” applications but didn’t fall in love with any of them.  I created a couple in Lucid Charts to use as templates for the classes but just didn’t get a good feel for them.  This led me to have another look at Google Drawing – an app I had previously discarded as fairly benign.  I ended up using Google Drawing in a fourth-grade science class where they created drawings of the phases of the moon.  They also learned how to search for images within the drawing, imported photos, and animations.  Right after that, I used Drawings to teach concept-mapping in a fifth-grade social studies class.  They used “The Road to War” to map out four major events/reasons leading up to the American Revolution and then mapped off of those clusters to add more specific details.  The best part in both lessons was the individuality of each students’ work.  I taught the process of using Drawings, but they put their own personal choice to it.  Most times, their maps looked better than mine!  I have included two examples at the bottom of this post.  Here are some quick ways to utilize this Google App in other subject areas:

  1. English/Language Arts:
    1. Reading Response charts (character T-charts, story element charts, chapter summaries)
    2. Writing Prewrites (Beginning/Middle/End, story element charts, main idea and supporting details)
  2. Social Studies:
    1. Concept maps, Timelines
  3. Science:
    1. Phases of the moon, life cycles, food chains, water cycles, diagrams of cells
  4. Math:
    1. Picture problems, visual demonstration








Eric Curts recently published this blog post on using Google Drawing to have students create Motivational Posters. It’s a great way to reinforce vocabulary, build community, and teach art elements. Check out his step-by-step guide and other ideas on how to use them in any content area.


Want more information on how I can work with your leaders, teachers, and staff?

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Connect with me on Twitter:  @Ms_Mac4

Connect with me on LinkedIn: Janelle McLaughlin, Innovative Education Solutions

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Five Reasons I Love My Job


This past summer I made the switch from public school educator to entrepreneur.  I get to use my years of experience as a classroom teacher and district-level curriculum director to impact schools around our country as an educational consultant and trainer.  I just returned (in the wee hours of the morning) from a work trip in Texas.  Though I am exhausted, I’m still glowing from the after-effects from getting to do what I love.   Here is why my career is so incredible:

  1. I believe in the power of education, and that all students can learn.  They deserve caring teachers who make learning applicable, relevant, and engaging.
  2. I get to work with teachers, students, technology integrationists, district-level administrators, and principals.  It’s fun to work with different stakeholders and make a positive impact on the organization as a whole.
  3. I constantly get to meet new people.  I meet people daily via LinkedIn, airplanes, and schools because of my work.
  4. I get to learn new things and share them with people to make their jobs easier and more exciting.  I am a lifelong learner.  Sharing what I’ve learned with others is more energizing than my favorite coffee.
  5. I get to work from home some of the time.  I have the two most amazing kids of my own.  Being an educational consultant and trainer takes me away from home on a regular basis, but when I am here, I get to be a full-time mom (well, mostly…) and enjoy my own children.  

Want more information on how I can work with your leaders, teachers, and staff?

Email me:

Connect with me on Twitter:  @Ms_Mac4

Connect with me on LinkedIn: Janelle McLaughlin, Innovative Education Solutions

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Rock star, Movie Star, or Me?


What a week!  I just spent three, jam-packed days with teachers and students in Round Rock ISD, in Texas.  I first met “my” group of nineteen teachers and ten instructional technology specialists in September at a whole-group “kick-off”.  These teachers are in their first or second year of technology integration, and the ITSs support them.  They all have Dell Chromebooks in their classrooms, and that is where I enter the picture.  I get to provide them with support, encouragement, and training throughout this school year.  This was my third visit to Round Rock. I observed 2 teachers, had conferences during prep time with 4, and co-taught with 11.  Here is a snapshot of what we did:

  • Explored Exit Ticket and Pear Deck
  • Used WeVideo to record science investigations, and edit videos
  • Used Google drawing to create mind maps for the American Revolution in one room, and the phases of the moon in another.
  • Used Google Slides to create class “blogs”, collaborative research projects, science fair data displays, math review portfolios, and poetry anthologies
  • Observed a teacher using Chromebooks to have students do bell ringers, and then later to record math discoveries
  • Observed a group of middle schoolers using Chromebooks to study groundwater, and then collaborate on a shared doc to jigsaw their findings
  • Taught a class how to use Kahoot as a way to review telling time to the minute
  • Taught Google search ninja tips 🙂 to two different classes
  • Helped each teacher discover and plan some next “action steps”

 The teachers were fantastic. They were appreciative and eager to learn. The kids were even better!  I was rewarded with multiple hugs and requests to come back from the kiddos (fortunately just at elementary schools – lol).  So while one told me that I looked like Hilary Swank, and another asked me if I was a famous singer, I’m happy to be me.   
I love that I get to do this kind of work on a regular basis.  The prep leading up to this week was pretty intensive, I will admit.  But, sitting in the airport, exhausted, I can say that it was worth it.  

There’s Power in Your Story

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I saw this image somewhere earlier this month. It immediately struck a chord with me, but not in the manner the creator probably intended.  The thing is, our past has directly impacted our story, and because of that will always have power in our lives.  Instead of shunning it, take the power and use it to continue writing your journey.

Eric Sheninger has said, “If you don’t tell your story, someone else will.”  This is in regards to being a connected educator, and digital leader for your schools/districts.  I’d argue, however, that it applies to each one of us.  That doesn’t mean that we all need to get on every social media platform to tell our stories.  But, I would urge each of you to share your story with someone.  I once had a great friend tell me that she could see God asking me to share my story with other women at some point in the future.  I remember thinking, why on Earth would anyone want to hear about my pain, mistakes, heartaches?  What do I have that could possibly be helpful to someone else?  But that’s the thing.  We all have pain, mistakes, and heartaches somewhere in our past.  And those events have each shaped our present lives, and will impact our futures.  By sharing my story, maybe someone will feel less alone.  While I agree, that we shouldn’t let past inflictions continue to hurt us in the present, there is power in learning, growing, and in becoming because of these.  There is power in every chapter of my story.  There is power in every chapter, every sentence, every word, of your story.   

Who and where do you tell your story?  Or with who will you share it for the first time? I tell my story to my children.  I talk about my life, past and present.  I share my dreams for the future.  And I try to help them sort out the “stuff” they encounter each day so that they can be stronger, happier, and wiser because of them.  I hope that I’m teaching them to take ownership over their own lives, even at their young ages.   

I share my story with close friends and family who walk through my life with me, grateful that they are a part of the story.  I provide snippets of my story to strangers and social media peeps through this blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.  Why?  I value reading other people’s stories, and hope I can add value by sharing mine.  I don’t believe in “FaceBook Fairy Tales”, but I do believe in people being real.   I tend to trust people pretty easily.  I end up sharing some personal aspects of “my story”.  Sometimes that has left me hurt, but that’s proven to be the exception.  I have made some great friends by sharing my life with them.  In turn, I listen to their stories.  Giving voice to your past, gives you the power over the story.  How will the story end?  That’s the fun part of the adventure.

Five Friday Faves – Small things that bring me big joy


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This week has been crazy busy (seems like that is the case more than it should be), and that means that my Five Friday Faves topic didn’t get thought about until this morning.  I just dropped my two kids off at school.  My daughter is dropped off at the junior high first, and then my son and I usually have to wait in the drop off line at the elementary school for about ten minutes before they let him in.  This morning, he challenged me to a Thumb War during the wait.  *Let me just say that my reign as all-time champ is still firmly in place.*  That kid makes me laugh more than just about anyone, and it was during my drive away that this idea came to me for my post.  In the midst of life’s craziness, it’s usually the small things that matter most.  Here are my five favorite “small things” that give me BIG joy.

  1. When my kids call me beautiful.  My daughter is twelve, and fighting preteen attitude with a vengeance (fortunately she wins that battle more often than not).  My son is nine and scans the perimeter of his surroundings before giving me a kiss or hug.  At ages when my kids could be indifferent, the fact that they take the time to notice me and compliment me are huge.  Add to it, that they often tell me how pretty I am when I’m not feeling it so much.  Their compliments probably mean more to me than anyone else’s.
  2. Really good hugs.  I’m a hugger.  I may have mentioned this in other posts, and it remains so.  I value friends who give real hugs – not the obligatory “nice to see you” hugs, and definitely not the A-frame “polite” hugs – but real, squeeze-you-hard-because-you-are-important-to-me hugs.  Obviously, I don’t want hugs like that from strangers, or mere acquaintances.  That would just be awkward, and borderline obnoxious.
  3. Funny people.  Here’s the thing I’ve noticed…truly funny people are also very intelligent.  You have to be smart to have a quick wit.  People who I find most humorous, are also good friends.  We have to understand each other to understand the sense of humor we each possess.  So, it’s not just about the laughing, but about enjoying the company of the person making me laugh.  And I love to laugh as much as I love a good hug.
  4. Snail mail.  Seriously, this is a dying endearment.  Honestly, though, who doesn’t like getting a kind card or package in the mail?  Something about finding it on your doorstep, or in the mailbox makes it extra special.  It says that this person cared an extra bit to go to the effort of mailing me something.
  5. Good music.  I love to sing and dance.  Am I gifted in those areas? (Close friends and family will be chuckling at this point.)  No, I’m not.  My friend, Rena, and I often joke about why we haven’t been invited to the worship team at church.  Well, I was having a “down” day yesterday.  Anyone else get those?  (If not, keep that info to yourself.  I like to pretend that I’m normal most days.)  I kind of moped around all day.  I even tried coffee and chocolate.  Who am I kidding?  Coffee and chocolate are parts of my daily routine.  Anyway, it wasn’t until I finally worked out at 7pm last night with my buddy Shawn T on my Hip Hop Abs DVD (I’m guessing there is some more chuckling happening right now at that visual), that I actually started to feel better.  Why?  Because I got to dance to fun music and call it a workout.  I love to make up show tune-esque songs to my kids to make them laugh.  I often threaten to sing and dance around their friends if they don’t do what I tell them to do.  My family has been know to put in an old Jock Jams CD (remember those round shiny discs??) and have dance parties in the living room.  When I travel for work, I love listening to gorgeous piano music on when I get ready in my hotel room each morning.  Music just feeds my soul.

I could definitely make this list longer, but I wanted to focus more on feelings and less on events and things.  The five that made my list are on there because of the joy that comes with them (and most often, the people involved).  What brings you joy?