Making a Case for the Emoticon :)

Emoticons Screen Captured by Dr. Gregg McGough



Many of our daily digital correspondences, both personal and professional, slip silently across virtual pathways shedding much of the human touch of the sender. In the name of efficiency, we allow our virtual selves to conduct business through quick text/email responses rather than getting tied up in face-to-face or phone conversations.

Who has time for that? 😉

Sean Convey’s text 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens dedicates an entire chapter to explaining how successful people “Seek First to Understand Before Being Understood.” He explains that when a person encodes a face-to-face message, s/he blends it using three essential elements: “words,” tone of voice, and body language. Not all of these elements carry the same importance in the successful delivery of the message. The actual words that someone selects is of minor importance…only 7% of the message. A full 93% of the message is comprised of the non-verbal cues that the sender displays during the conversation. That is why many disagreements feature the comment, “That is not what I said! 🙁 ” Maybe not in so many words…

Here is Covey’s mathematical breakdown of communication:

“words” – 7%

tone of voice – 13%

body language – 80%

Using these percentages, it is easy to see how so much of a digital message is lost when we text/email friends or colleagues. Nearly 93% of the message! When someone texts or sends an email, s/he is only sending 7% of the message, and this could ultimately cause confusion in the mind of the receiver.

Enter the emoticon :)… (a portmanteau of emotion and icon) . In an age of digital communication, this little symbol allSmiling emoticon captured by Dr. Gregg McGoughows for the quick display of the sender’s emotional state when composing the message. Although it is an artificial replacement for actual face-to-face talking, the widespread use of emoticons may help clarify digital messages.

In preparation for 21st Century careers, should schools begin teaching a new form of digital writing that infuses emoticons into a text to pick up the subtle tones and body language of the writer?

Dr. Gregg McGough, CRI Blogger & Podcaster


Don’t Fear Change…Fear Your Inability to Adapt to Change

My Stack of Non-Fiction Picture taken by G. McGough
My Stack of Non-Fiction
Picture taken by G. McGough

I am a YouTube junkie! Sometimes I find myself searching, selecting, and streaming one-man film festivals. During my latest iCinematic experience, I happened to be binge watching TEDx videos, and I was inspired by Tai Lopez who delivered a talk titled, “The law of 33%.” My one mental take-away from Tai’s talk was his system to set his own reading pace so that he can read a book a day. In his video, he claims that many non-fiction books have a single truth that can be reached through a series of power-skimming techniques.

After ransacking the used bookshelves at the local Thrift Store, I began devouring non fiction books one day at a time. During my month long experiment, I found a book that would profoundly alter my perception of moving people to accept change, bounce, The Art of Turning Tough Times Into Triumph, by Keith McFarland. The one truth contained in the pages of this 166 page book is that one should not fear change; rather, one should fear what might happen if s/he doesn’t adapt to change.

High school seniors, for the most part, live in a zone of relative comfort. As a result, they tend to fear the change that is going to disrupt their comfortable high school routines. If asked, the students would claim high levels of anxiety because of their fear of an unknown future outside the safety of the schoolhouse walls. Instead of fearing the change that is going to disrupt their relative state of calm, they need to understand what might happen to them if they do not adapt to that perceived change. By focusing on the adaptability factor in change theory, one has the power to alter the future rather than fall prey to its chaotic pin-balling between a seemingly unknown series of events.

Skim-reading the book bounce allowed me to put a theory behind a practice that I have been using for many semesters. I have always attempted to design learning plans that place an emphasis on the learner’s ability to apply the concepts or skills to real world situations. In an effort to introduce my career readiness unit, I have the students calculate their projected budget for their first year out of high school. There are many generic programs that provide stock templates, but my Google Sheets program was tailored to my particular economic region, south central Pennsylvania. The rather sparse yet dynamic nature of the presentation of my Google Sheet Budget Calculator creates a feeling of individuality that is appealing to my students. They take the document and tailor it to their specific needs. This lesson is all about adaptability and planning for a better future. Once they see what the world looks like through the lens of a budget…they are more open to increasing their career skill abilities.

If you would like to use my Google Sheets Senior Budget with your students, please see my easy to follow instructions at the end of this blog. (You will need a Google account.)

The Common Core State Standards focus on college and CAREER ready skills…how are you incorporating CAREER skills in your classroom?

(Follow-up discussions about this blog topic can occur in the various CRI communities…see you in the virtual neighborhood!)


Dr. McGough’s Senior Budget

1. Click on the above hyperlink to my Google Sheets

2. Click on the drop down menu titled “File”

3. Select “Make a Copy”

4. Title it with Your Name (Make it yours!)

5. Save it to your *Google Drive and share with your students.

*If you don’t have a google drive account, you can sign up for one here.

Dr. Gregg McGough, CRI Blogger & Podcaster

Check out the 1Skill Podcast that will explore what employers are looking for in an employee from four career pathways: health & social services, business & finance, arts & communications, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Labeling Career Readiness Behaviors, Mindsets and Character Traits

The reality of today’s workplace requires an individual possess the skills that will allow him/her to: work effectively on cross-functional teams and across disciplines; persist and persevere in the face of setbacks and challenges; analyze complex data and make sound decisions; react swiftly and thoughtfully to dynamic circumstances. There is no doubt that readiness for todays and future workplaces require strong academic foundation and technical expertise. But more and more educators are acknowledging that true readiness requires a third domain of learning that involves behaviors, mindsets and character traits.

This third domain of intangible readiness traits is often titled in research as non-cognitive, soft, employability or social-emotional skills. No matter the nomenclature, they are the abilities that make one resilient, tenacious, sociable, personable, trustworthy, reliable, nimble, confident, self-aware, self-regulating and armed with the grit necessary to navigate life and career in a rapidly changing world.

We at SPN prefer to call this domain Life/Career Abilities; we find it a misnomer to suggest these skills are devoid of cognition when using the term non-cognitive. In fact, to gain, evolve and adeptly and flexibly apply these skills in a nuanced fashion to a variety of scenarios takes high-level cognition. Further, soft skills seems to imply they are soft and not hard to teach, in reality they are hard to teach and even harder to assess. When using employability skills with school audiences, there is a tendency to only consider these the responsibility of Career and Technical Education rather than the entire school. Many academic teachers do not consider their work as readying students for employment.

We consider social-emotional, non-cognitive, employability and soft skills overlapping categories and synonyms, in our work in this domain — collectively referring to them as Life/Career Abilities. Life/Career Abilities is a positive term that also implies focusing student learning with a relevancy beyond school – life and career. Life skills might be too broad as a single label. The combined term also denotes that many of these essential behaviors apply to personal lives and the workplace.

To further clarify and also follow “begin with the end in mind” approach, we are including in the list Life/Career Abilities those behaviors that can be observed. It is behaviors that teachers can most easily give student feedback on. As for teaching, there are knowledge topics that teachers can introduce and skills that students can practice. However, most facilitation of Life/Career Abilities will be through giving students feedback in student projects and performances of their academic and technical skills.

We must thoughtfully move forward with curriculum, instruction and assessment approaches to incorporate this Life/Career domain. It cannot and should not be taught and tested in the same manner we handle basic reading or math. Neither should we ignore it, because it is hard to test with our current tools.

Do you have any “sleepers” in your Fantasy Classroom Draft?

Original photo taken by Dr. G. McGough
Original photo taken by Dr. G. McGough

At this time of year, my attention drifts to one of my favorite past times, Fantasy Football. For those who do not participate in this pigskin rivalry between family and friends, here is a small tutorial…for those of you who do participate in this annual Fall event, you may skip ahead to the third paragraph.

Football fans join fantasy leagues and draft players at the beginning of the season. Players are selected from the different NFL organizations at the various positions: quarterback, running back, wide receivers, etc. One tries to select a team of players that will accrue the most points during the weekly match-ups. Players score points for their fantasy owner with the sum total of their weekly performance. Much of the selection process at the beginning of the season is made based upon a complex rating system that takes into account a player’s past performance. Each week of the regular season, two individuals put their “fantasy roster” teams against each other in a head-to-head competition. The winner is determined after the Monday Football game is over and all the players’ points from both teams are tallied.

At the beginning of this school year, I participated in my district’s “data day” in an effort to establish new curricular goals that will help my student’s find academic success. It was during this data event that I made the rather obvious connection between my ELA class rosters and my fantasy draft. The competition of high stakes assessments is looming at the end of the semester, and just like my Fantasy Football Team, my class/team is a combination of individuals projected to be winners and losers.

In the early stages of most Fantasy drafts, the franchise players and premier players go quickly because they are predicted to earn big points week after week and carry their fantasy owner into the playoffs at the end of the season. This year I took another strategy and began looking through my fantasy magazines for those players who qualify as “sleepers.” A “sleeper” is a poorly rated player who is underestimated at the beginning of the season and through hard work and determination in the off season scores more points than was predicted.

During my extensive research, I began to wonder what factors cause a player to exceed expectations? The variables are too immense to truly predict. Sometimes a trade to a new football club is all it takes to transform a mediocre player into a star. This type of player fascinates me, so I spent my summer looking for the best “sleeper.” I took my experiment to the next level this season and drafted my “sleeper” in the first round…much to the dismay and ridicule of my league. Call it my teacher instinct, but I think my “underdog” pick might prove the numbers wrong!

As school districts look at data to determine college readiness and future success on standardized assessments, I wonder how many of our poor performing students are actually  “sleepers” who will break out one year and demonstrate the type of performance that exceeds low expectations.

Many of my former tenth grade students leave the traditional classroom setting their junior year and go to the Career and Technology Centers to learn a skilled trade. In this new learning environment, they understand the relevancy of their learning and find academic success. Sometimes it takes a different team and the right coach to take an underperforming individual and help them to achieve greatness.

How will you look for those “sleepers” in your classroom who just need the right coaching and support to wake up and have a great year? What would happen if core subject teachers infused career readiness skills into their courses?

Post Script: For those who are wondering, my “Round 1 Sleeper” in my Fantasy Football League was projected to score 7.35 in the first week of the NFL season, and he ended the game with 17.30! Sometimes the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Yours in Education,

Dr. Gregg McGough, CRI Blogger

“We Got This!”

Original photo taken by Dr. G. McGough
Original photo taken by Dr. G. McGough

At the start of a new school year, I tend to become very reflective on my past practices and the perceived impact on student achievement. As a member of the Career Readiness Institute (CRI), I am constantly analyzing my learning plans to make sure that they stress college & CAREER readiness skills. In an era where standardized assessments drive teachers to push students to be college ready…it is important to help students develop those career readiness skills that are so respected in the workplace.

As I begin to plan my learning experiences this year, there was one moment that stands out from all the rest that will inspire my future thinking.

I was in the middle of my problem-based unit concerning at-risk teens, so I was planning on showing an old VCR video about the Lords of Chaos(LOC) that I captured many years ago. The students laughed at my old timey teaching tools. No sooner did I place the VCR tape in the machine…pop…the tape tore, and the screen went blue.

My students were obviously upset, and I was out of luck. I had a reading about the LOC as a back-up plan, but the students wanted to witness the in-depth interviews first hand.

As I was figuring out what to do, I heard a voice exclaim from the back of the classroom, “We got this”! I walked back and handed the tape to three boys and asked if they had ever seen a VHS tape before. They laughed and said that they had seen them, but they never had the chance to take one apart. They assured me that they take stuff apart and rebuild it all the time on their farms. Their confidence at tackling a new problem was based upon years of tinkering and problem solving.

Before I had a chance to respond, the three had produced tools from their pockets and were busy slowly taking the tape apart. In less than three minutes, they asked for some Scotch tape. They rebuilt the cassette and walked it up to me. I slipped the tape in the machine, and it worked! They appeared to be slightly offended when I was surprised at their success at tinkering.

These senior boys were the three hardest working students both in and out my class. They went to high school full time and then worked 40-hour-a-week jobs in various agricultural industries. They also enjoyed full membership and leadership in the Future Farmers of America (FFA). The ability to collaborate, problem-solve, and tinker was developed over years of on-the-job training.

They wanted to fix the VCR tape because of their personal commitment to our classroom community of learners.  They took their past experiences with tinkering and focused their collective energies to figuring out how this device worked and fix it.

Students need repeated, real-world experiences in problem solving to develop the type of confidence in problem solving and tinkering that my three young men demonstrated so well.

How do you promote real world problem solving and tinkering in your classroom?

Yours in Education,

Dr. Gregg McGough, CRI Blogger

A GPS for College and Career Readiness

GPSHiking a nature trail is a great experience for exercise and enjoyment. When hiking familiar trails, we know the route  and we can just enjoy the experience and not have to worry about getting lost or have need for a map. This comfortable experience of hiking can be compared to the conditions in many schools, where a culture of focusing on preparing students for the next grade level, hopefully moving on to college, is familiar territory for educators and we continue to exercise and enjoy the experience. However, when we introduce college AND career readiness to the equation, our comfortable hike takes on a very different experience and we uncomfortably find ourselves in uncharted territory. The area around us is different and we’re unsure of our destination. We are in desperate need of a map.

Finding our way in the world has become much easier and we have added a new term to our navigation vocabulary — GPS (Global Positioning System). Maps and compasses are old technology and today we have the added benefit of GPS. A GPS has the convenience of a well marked map, often in electronic form on a smart phone. But, it also has the exact positioning of where we are in relation to the trail, our environment and can automatically map out a route for us to find our destination. This convenient technology has made it much easier to find our way in a new neighborhood, or a new trail.

In schools, as we negotiate the new terrain of college AND career readiness, leaders often wish we had a similar GPS that would give us greater detail about the unfamiliar terrain, show us exactly where we are and automatically map our route to the destination. We are no where near a smartphone app that would give us a very clear indication of how to improve schools, but recently developed tools give us many of the elements of a GPS to map our way towards this important student goal of college and career readiness.

The Career Readiness Institute (CRI) hosted by the Successful Practices Network (SPN) has created a Career Readiness Self-Assessment. Building upon over a decade of cataloging the best practices in America’s most rapidly improving schools, SPN has developed a series of checklists which serve as the equivalent of a GPS to guide schools toward its destination of college and career readiness. This self-assessment includes a series of checklists which enable schools to more precisely identify where their school community is in relationship to this changing terrain. Since schools have a very comfortable experience in mapping their programs towards college readiness, these checklists primarily focus on career readiness. However, many aspects of school relate to both college and career readiness as partially overlapping goals and several checklists relate to both.

The checklists include school characteristics in three areas. First, Results encourages leadership teams to reflect on their overall student learning results and look beyond the minimum measures of state academic assessments. The checklists encourage schools to examine achievement in stretching students beyond the minimum and also including measures on student performances and developing Life/Career Abilities or “soft skills.” The second area of checklists focus on school Culture. Often the existing culture of the school either enables or hinders a school improvement or change initiative. Examining these current behaviors related to school culture gives leadership teams a more precise identification of aspects of culture that need to be changed over time. Finally, the third area of checklists focuses on Practices — those unique instructional planning, instruction and student support services that are necessary to develop career readiness.

The Career Readiness Self-Assessment is a powerful new resource to guide schools in their planning. You can learn more about the self-assessment by going to the Career Readiness Institute website or viewing this podcast overview .  School leaders and staff should not feel overwhelmed when hiking through new territory of college and career readiness.  There are tools and experience, equivalent of a GPS, that can guide us to this destination.

Wait! Having A College Degree Isn’t Enough?

There used to be a time when having a question diplomacollege degree was all you really needed in order to get a good job and begin a career. However, with more and more students attending college, completing the college program and receiving a degree simply isn’t enough anymore. The competition for jobs in certain career fields is incredible, compared to what it was years ago. What truly matters in today’s job market is not just getting the degree, but rather what you choose to study in college. It is also equally important to realize that some college majors do not lead to long-term successful careers.

It is critical to help students realize that this is the case in today’s job market. Perhaps more importantly, the time to help them realize this is not when they enter college; for many students, this will be too late in the process. Rather, these lessons can, and should, begin as early as elementary school and continue on throughout their secondary years. When students get to the secondary level, teachers and guidance counselors need to be sure that they are providing accurate guidance to students that reflect labor market trends. By helping students understand how to use and interpret labor market data themselves, they can assist students in making better-informed career path decisions.

This chapter of the handbook provides numerous resources for teachers and counselors to use in order to help students understand the connections between their career goals and various labor markets. For more information about appropriate career path preparation, and to read the entire chapter titled Are You Preparing Students For Viable Future Careers?.

Using Data to Overcome Reading Obstacles in Career Readiness

Reading is a subject and skill set taught throughout lexile-levelthe elementary years. However, reading, per se, is seldom taught at the secondary level. Many of us would agree that as textbooks and other assigned reading materials grow in terms of difficulty, vocabulary, and structure, it is critical that we collectively help our secondary students continue to refine their reading skills and strategies, as a mechanism to help prepare them for college and career success.

But, how do we go about doing that when we know that students read on such varied levels of reading proficiency? The best starting place is to determine the level at which each individual student is reading. The use of Lexile measures can pinpoint with great accuracy and individual student’s reading level. These data can then be used to guide the development and implementation of appropriate reading instruction in order to capitalize on the reading strengths and deficiencies possessed by students across a class or course. Engaging in these types of student reading assessments are growing in importance as the Common Core State Standards are requiring students to be able to read at higher, more advanced levels.

Once these reading levels have been determined, educators can adjust reading materials to correspond both to current reading levels and the desired goals as outlined by the Common Core State Standards. Then, both pre-reading and post-reading comprehension strategies can be incorporated in order to increase reading comprehension of more advanced reading passages.

In this corresponding chapter in the handbook, we provide information, resulting from research conducted by MetaMetrics, regarding the desired reading levels (measured in Lexiles), in addition to those that are suggested by the authors of the Common Core State Standards. For more information about teaching to differential reading levels, and to read the entire chapter titled, How Can You Teach Students Who Read At Different Levels?.


The Challenge of Grading Student Performance

Grading has historically implied the determination of whether a grades2student response is correct or incorrect. Averaging correct response often determines an overall grade.  To evaluate  student work on performance assessments—where student skills and capabilities can be directly observed—teachers often use rubrics. These rubrics are much better in giving detailed feedback on the level of performance to students, teachers, and parents. Further, rubrics are much more appropriate where the application of knowledge and skills serves as the focus of the assessment. A challenge for teachers is how to give feedback on performance and still record some student grade.

As opposed to dichotomous scoring, rubrics allow for the “classification” of student performance (e.g., skill mastery, comprehension, competence, etc.) along some sort of well-defined continuum. These various continua might be based quality of performance, frequency of performance, depth of understanding, or numerous other types of performance descriptors. Regardless of whether analytic, holistic, or mini-rubrics are being used, these continua allow teachers to communicate about specific student strengths and deficiencies—something that the typical pencil-and-paper assessments simply cannot do.

However, that being said, care should be taken when developing rubrics. The language must be clear and the descriptions of adjacent levels of specific performance indicators should not “overlap” in any way. This will undoubtedly lead to confusion on the part of the student (or parent) when reviewing the results of a performance assessment rubric completed by the teacher. Honestly, this can also result in confusion in the mind of the teacher, if clarity is not built into the rubric.

Rubrics are fabulous tools that enable teachers to provide substantive and meaningful feedback to students. However, they must be carefully designed in order to accomplish this goal. For more information about designing and using scoring rubrics, and to read the entire chapter titled, How Do You “Grade” Student Work On Performance Assessments?.

Remember That Every Child Learns Differently…

In an earlier blog, we discussed the use of student data to help inform decisions about revising group-level instruction. The process of interpreting assessment data to guide individual student interventions isstudents different faces very similar to the process for revising group-level instruction, beginning with and then targeting content or skill areas where students are noticeably deficient. Similar cautions are important here. For example, educators should make sure that they rely on multiple measures of student proficiencies and capabilities. It is important to look at the results of standardized assessments, as well as classroom assessments.

This being said, educators must be careful to avoid the over-interpretation of standardized test results, especially when using those data to inform individual student interventions.  For example, on a subtest with five items, a student may answer three of the items correctly and perhaps be careless in responding on one item and omit another one. This student’s “proficiency” on that content would be reported as 60%, which most educators would initially interpret as poor understanding or mastery. Of course, we likely do not know why one item was missed (a careless mistake or not?) and the other omitted (did the student inadvertently skip the item or not understand the material at all?). Therefore, it is likely more appropriate to interpret raw scores, as opposed to any other standardized score, such as percentile ranks or even percentages of items answered correctly. Educators should practice the same cautions when interpreting the results of localized classroom assessments.

Utilizing student data for purposes of truly informing the wide variety of decisions that educators are charged with making is a practice that should be a routine part of educator’s “toolbox”. The consequences of making inaccurate decisions about students are simply too grave; they cannot and should not be taken lightly. For more information about using data to help guide the design of individual student interventions, and to read the entire chapter titled, Once You Know Who’s Not Learning, How Can You Help Individual Students?.