Flexible Seating in Middle School

Flexible Seating in Middle School

I know I’m an English teacher, but I like a good hypothesis. I love trial and error. And flexible seating is all the rage in the “Personalized Learning” conversation, so I figured I’d do an experiment.

So I began doing research at Edutopia and read articles like this one and this one,  and trolled Pinterest for articles, images, and design ideas like this and this. The idea is a “Starbucks-like” environment, where students are able to learn in comfort rather than sitting in desks all day. And sitting is the new smoking! I want to provide stand up desks and opportunities to move so the kids don’t all get some disease of the derriere.

Then I started acquiring the necessary equipment, some donated, some I paid for, some that required me to rent a Uhaul and call friends to help me unload. All without receipts! The IRS is going to have to trust my deduction at face value. I’ve become preoccupied with trolling Next Door and the Torrance Trash and Treasures group on Facebook for seating options. I don’t really know what will work, so I’m figuring it out, and revising, as I go. I’ve moved furniture around several times, and it seems like every weekend I acquire something new to add. I’m still looking for a stand up table and stools, an area rug, and a coffee table that will fit student legs beneath it.

Next came planning the procedure; instruction has to be different– independent and personal learning centered, since all the seats don’t face a teacher center. I have to use my LMS (Learning Management System) so that any student can access what would have traditionally been on the board or projector. I need to use websites that update live so that students can share information with each other, or work independently as needed. Lessons and activities are being tweaked to allow for more collaboration, and learning goals are based more on growth and skills attainment rather than completion and knowledge.

The experiment begins with planning how to get students seated so that they don’t fight and make choices that are conducive to their individual learning– not that are conducive to their complete relaxation or friend time. I tried to introduce this seating strategy in a way that would eliminate jockeying for seats, running into the classroom, and student combinations that are uncomfortable sharing a couch. I have done this by randomly selecting 4 students to enter at a time and insisting that they all sit together in a group, deciding amongst themselves where they will sit. I have tried to allow all students who want to sit in the various types of chairs to do so, but I haven’t kept track, so I can’t be certain.

Now I have been using observational data and frequent communication of my own learning to manage the seating arrangement. I can often see what seating works for different students, and the products students create gives hints as to whether they are working effectively.  I have taken many notes on which students have required reminders to be on task. I tell the students when I notice something does or doesn’t work for them, and often they agree.

This week I am assigning groups and seats for a week and then will re-evaluate. I am considering a rotation– having whole groups move to a different seating arrangement every few days until everyone has tried everything– I wish I had done this the first weeks of school. Now, however, I have some information about how students work and which students work well together or not, and I will use this data to create the groups.

For more data, I plan to have them fill out a survey that asks them what they prefer– if they prefer flexible or traditional seating, what type of flexible seating if so, and where in the room they prefer to sit. I will have them justify their choices with their own data from the past 3 weeks.

What I have found so far is that the seating has created a renewed excitement about being in the classroom– an honorable first step! I have had no discipline issues so far. Reminders that off task behavior causes immediate on task behavior, and I have had many students come in during nutrition to finish work they could have finished in class– remembering of course, that maybe they couldn’t finish in class because students work at different paces. They want to finish so they have their seating choice!

And as this seating arrangement creates more collaborative learning and discussions, the further hypothesize that the learning itself will become more independent, and require more self-sufficiency, following of directions, and problem-solving.

I hope to update this blog as further data comes in.

Please email me with concerns or questions: rthomas@mbusd.org.

Parents can observe their kids in Canvas

Parents can observe their kids in Canvas


How do Parents follow their kids on Canvas?

Parents (observers) can link their Canvas account to their student’s account so they can see assignment due dates, announcements, and other course content. Observers can view the course content but cannot participate in the course.


  • Observers will create a Canvas account by going to www.canvas.instructure.com.
  • To observe a student, you must know the student’s Canvas username and password.
  • The student must be enrolled in the course and must accept the course invitation before you can sign up to observe the student. If you receive an invalid username or password message during the signup process and the student’s credentials are correct, check with the student to verify that he or she has received and accepted the course invitation.
  • These steps must be completed through the web version of Canvas. The observer signup process cannot be done through the mobile app.

A book club strategy for whole class books

A book club strategy for whole class books

I started book club in my classroom for whole class reads three years ago and have been so impressed with the thinking and motivation of the students that I’ve expanded it to ALL my whole class books.

The first book of the year we do book club for some but not all chapters—1-2 times per week. For the other chapters we do all group activities—close reading, character analysis, non-fiction articles for context and real world connections, lessons on language and symbolism, writing activities, etc.

For this book club I group students according to ability. The higher level thinkers/stronger readers need less support are relieved that they don’t have to explain everything to their peers or be the leader. This grouping gives me time to spend with the groups who struggle with deep reading, and also allows me to walk the room and note interesting/impressive conversations that I then share with the class at the end of the book club. I have also been delighted to find that the other students rise to the occasion of both leadership and critical thinking and through the peer interactivity, are much more likely to keep up with the reading.

The second book club we do it for the entire book, every other class, and I offer a higher level parallel book that students can choose, reading the class book for independent reading and the higher level book to discuss in class. I have students self-select for these books. I read the back of each book and tell them the reading level of each. Typically, all the GATE and high achieving students gravitate toward the more challenging book, and those who don’t are easily convinced (even flattered when I suggest it) to read the higher book. I also have low achieving students who have chosen the higher level book, and I have been so surprised and impressed with who they became. They have risen to the challenge, are more prepared for class than they ever had been before, and demonstrate a depth and leadership that I didn’t know they had. And to my delight, they have sustained the newfound motivation for the rest of the year!

When it comes time to make groups, I have done two things based on the class—1) put them on opposite sides of the room and told them to independently get into groups of four, or 2) had them fill out a google form telling me 4 students in the book group they would like to work with. Option 2 takes some sorting… I sit down with the lists and make sure everyone is in a group with at least one of their choices.

I have students bring food for book clubs, because we eat at mine! I use this as an opportunity to talk about hosting skills. The kids LOVE bringing food and sharing with their friends, and I think it helps them take the whole role of host more seriously.

I have two versions of the worksheet students use to prepare for book club, Book Club Discussion Starters v1 and Book Club Discussion Starters-v2.

My book clubs typically last 20-25 minutes, depending on what I hear as I walk the room. If there’s something important that I think students are missing, or worry they won’t get to, I put up some prepared “ideas for discussion” on the LCD mid-club as an option. I find they can’t resist looking, and those who have already covered those topics feel good and those who haven’t are glad to have a prompt.


I use several strategies to grade book club. First, after every book club students fill out an evaluation of their peers giving specific evidence as to why their peers deserve a given grade. I find it interesting to see how similar the grades are… sometimes I have one student with a 5/5 and a 2/5—in which case I look at the evaluator and see if it’s a friend. Then I look at the explanations of preparedness and participation. My groups are 3-4 students, though sometimes there are absences. I then do some loose averaging to come up with a score out of 15. The evaluation itself is worth 5 points, 25% of the grade, to encourage students to use specific evidence and strong writing to support their evaluation. As I walk the room I note if someone didn’t have their discussion questions ready and can quickly compare that to the evaluation comments to catch dishonesty.

I also periodically check annotations by having students take a picture of two specific pages (different for every class) and turn that in. This done before book club speaks to preparedness, and after book club speaks to participation and listening. I do both at different times. It’s very quick to grade.

The third strategy is to collect the Discussion Ideas worksheet. I do this digitally before book club to check preparedness, and it’s very quick to grade.

Checking annotations and collecting the Discussion Ideas sheet replace comprehension activities for me. So far it has been very easy to figure out who is behind in reading and address it with them and sometimes their parents.

I don’t do all three at once (or even two at once). That’s too much grading! When they never know which one is coming, they are more careful to be prepared.

How to Make Your Last Name Plural, Not Just at Christmas

How to Make Your Last Name Plural, Not Just at Christmas

I love this post!

How to Make Your Last Name Plural This Christmas Season

It’s Christmas! Celebrate by not doing violence to the laws of pluralization.

Photo by Rosie Greenway/Getty Images

This post originally appeared on the author’s blog, A Happy Medium.

Nothing quells my Christmas cheer as quickly as a stray apostrophe. Every year they assault me.

Usually it’s in the middle of an otherwise quaint moment: I am padding around my parents’ house, wearing pink slippers, sipping on some hot chocolate. Snow is falling outside the window, and Josh Groban’s Christmas CD is filling the downstairs with peace on earth and mercy mild. My mother is baking a pie. She’s about to ask if I want to lick the spatula (which, duh, I will).

First, though, I find a stack of Christmas cards and begin to flip through them—pausing to marvel at how big so-and-so’s kids have gotten. And then I spot it: anapostrophe in a last name that isn’t supposed to be possessive.

I shudder, flipping past the unwarranted punctuation. But as I keep flipping, the apostrophes do, too—flipping me off, that is. They defile Christmas card after Christmas card, last name after last name with their presence. Gone is my Christmas cheer! All my glad tidings, replaced with fury.

“Did no one teach these people how to make their last names plural!?” I scream as I chuck the cards into the fire heretofore crackling peacefully beneath the mantel.

I watch the cards curl and disintegrate in the flames, and I wonder if I’ve overreacted.

Is pluralizing last names more difficult than I realize? Apparently so. Because we get these cards every year—these cards with their adorable photos and their apostrophe catastrophes.

The Definitive Guide to Pluralizing Your Last Name

Last letter(s) of last name What should you add to make it plural? Does it need an apostrophe?
a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h (see exceptions below), i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, t, u, v, w, y -s NO
s, x, z, ch, sh -es NO

This year I’d like to preempt the pluralization problems. It’s mid-November now, time to order Christmas cards again. I have created a brief guide to help you pluralize your last name. It is my humble attempt to preserve not only apostrophe protocol but also the dignity of the letter S.

Pluralization FAQs

Q: What if my last name ends in a Y? 
A: Add an S. Do not add -IES or an apostrophe.
Merry Christmas from the Murphys. 

Q: What if my last name already ends in an S? 
A: Add -ES. Do not add an apostrophe.
Season’s greetings from the Simmonses.

Q: What if the end of my last name normally functions as an irregular noun? 
A: It is not irregular when it is part of a last name.
Happy holidays from the Hoffmans. Warm wishes from the Wolfs. 

Q: What would adding an apostrophe do? 
A: It would hurt Tiny Tim make your last name possessive.

Don’t hurt Tiny Tim.

Illustration via Wikimedia Commons.

Q: Is there ever a reason to add an apostrophe? 
A: Only if you want to make your last name possessive.

Q: Why do people add apostrophes? 
A: I have no idea.

If your goal is to make your last name possessive, then, by all means, use an apostrophe. If your goal is simply pluralization, however, forgo the apostrophe. In the spirit of the season, I beg you.

Kate Brannen is a University of Missouri journalism school grad who blogs about grace, pop culture, and life as a twentysomething girl at katebrannen.com/blog.

What are the rules for splitting a word?

What are the rules for splitting a word?

I found this answer on the English Language and Usage website.


Firstly, it is preferable not to split a word at the end of a line.

From the APA Style Guide, Section 1.A.9

Do not hyphenate (split) words at the end of a line.

If possible, add another word to the line, or take one away, so you don’t need to split in the first place.

In fact. NEVER EVER split words. However, I will give what I consider to be ok guidelines:

There are really no proper rules as to how it should be done, when it is, so basically, use common sense. If it must be done, try to keep the components of meaning together – this is easy with obviously compound words, such as keyboard. E.g.

board. Super-

It is also easy with words with prefixes such as “quasi” or “psuedo” e.g.


But mostly, splitting the words just makes them hard to read – and can lead to nightmares when the content of text is changed, because words that were once at the end of a line will no longer be at the end of a line, and everything will have to be re-done.

Unfortunately, most word processors are not very good at automatically splitting words, so it is best to keep that feature off. It is also possible, however, to put markers in words where the word processor will be allowed to split the word. In Microsoft Word, this is done by using Ctrl+-. This hyphen is invisible, unless the word gets split at the end of a line.

But as a rule of thumb, see if the word is still easy to understand if you say it out loud with a pause where you are going to break the word. Usually, try and split it in the middle of the word.


But, as you can see, it just makes it harder to read. Just don’t do it.

Creative Visualization For Beginners

Creative Visualization For Beginners


Creative visualization may sound all fuzzy, new age and far-fetched to you.Many of the world’s top athletes use creative visualization to mentally prepare for their sport. So, if you can put aside your doubts for a moment and give it a try, the results of your creative visualization exercise could surprise and delight you. Creative visualization involves the use of mental images to project the achievement of a particular task, performance or any desired outcome. The key here is the fact that your subconscious mind cannot tell the difference between the images that it is feed during the creative visualization process and reality. As such, perfect outcomes can be created in your own mental lab and used to increase your levels of self belief and confidence. Of course the only way that you can “see” for yourself what creative visualization can do for you is to give it a try.

Here are some steps to get you off the mental imaging starting block

1) Recall A Strong, Positive Memory

You can make this positive memory as racy or inspiring as you like- nobody else will know anyway. For example, recall your graduation day or the birth of your child is the kind of strong, positive memory that I am talking about. What you want to notice is “how” you recall the memory. Are you able to see the past events in full color, do any scents come to mind or can you recall some of the words that you said with only a vague recollection of the actual event? What was the feeling you had surrounding this event? Use your dominant areas of recall to model your first visualization exercises. Ie. Which of your 5 senses are most memorable when you recall the event?

2) Start With An EASY First Visualization Exercise

Now that you’ve recalled your past, mentally project a future event or reality based on an aspect of your daily life that you can easily recall. For example, you can visualize yourself reaching the office on time in your favorite blue shirt or feeling great while doing your usual morning exercise.

3) Practice Daily

For best results, you really should practice your visualization on a daily basis, preferably at a time and place where you will not be interrupted for at least ten minutes.

4) Set Clear, Short-term Goals For Your Creative Visualization Sessions 

Seeing some early success from your visualization sessions will inspire you to keep on practicing. You can easily use visualization to start to develop new habits such as being punctual or being calm with a rude customer by mentally repeating these desired new behaviors in your sessions. I make sure I set intentions and visualize the outcome of those intentions almost every day. For example, you can do a short visualization prior to making a tough phone call, or to set your intention for the outcome of a business meeting. You’ll be surprised what an amazing difference setting short-term intentions and doing your visualizations along with these intentions really makes. Try it! I promise that the outcomes you begin to receive in your life with be a lot more positive for you.

5) What A Glorious Feeling! Allow yourself to truly feel positive emotions such as joy, pride, excitement during your creative visualization exercise. The strong feelings you experience while performing your visualization exercises raise your vibration to act like a magnet to draw the desired imaged results to you faster. Like so many other worthwhile activities, the more time and energy that you invest in creative visualization, the more personal benefits you will be able to enjoy. Do you practice creative visualization yourself? If so, do you have any tips that you’d like to share that help you “get into the zone” when visualizing? Feel free to leave your valuable comments below…



saw it on the radio

Have We Met Before? Doppelgangers Caught On Camera


  • Rudi Kistler and Maurus Oehmann, Mannheim 2012
    Courtesy of Francois Brunelle
  • Sarah Fournier and Alan Madill, Toronto 2001
    Courtesy of Francois Brunelle
  • Nina Singh and Anna Rubin, Montreal 2004
    Courtesy of Francois Brunelle
  • Nathaniel (last name not given) and Edward Toledo, Montreal 2003
    Courtesy of Francois Brunelle
  • Sylvie Gagnon and Caroline Dhavernas, Montreal 2003
    Courtesy of Francois Brunelle
  • Danielle Boucher and Jovette Desmarais, Montreal 2004
    Courtesy of Francois Brunelle
  • Stephane Morin and Claude-Simon Langlois, Montreal 2004
    Courtesy of Francois Brunelle
  • Jean Vachon and Jacques-Dominique Landry, Montreal 2001
    Courtesy of Francois Brunelle
  • Marcel Stepanoff and Ludovic Maillard, Paris 2005
    Courtesy of Francois Brunelle
  • Morgan Bowden and Imogen Rawe, Bath, England 2010
    Courtesy of Francois Brunelle

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Francois Brunelle is a French Canadian photographer whose work gives new meaning to the phrase “double exposure.”

For the past several years, Brunelle has been documenting doppelgangers — people who happen to look strikingly similar but aren’t related. He’s on a quest to make 200 black-and-white portraits, and plans to eventually turn the project into a book.

Brunelle tells Melissa Block, host of All Things Considered, that the project started among his friends. One acquaintance worked with a man and woman who shared the same distinct jaw line and skin tone. That was Brunelle’s first image for the project.

“I was very proud of this one,” Brunelle says. “Since then I’ve had a couple that are men and women, but it was the first one that [wasn’t] the same sex — but it works.”

Another time, he swore he saw a friend’s husband working at a bank. But when he called his friend, he realized he had just discovered a doppelganger.

Francois Brunelle

Francois Brunelle

Courtesy of Francois Brunelle

“So finally it took me about six months to find the guy. I did the picture with the two men; it was fun to see them,” he says. “Each one has two children, they were about the same age, and they were [both] looking for a new spouse. It was very funny.”

After his search for pairs ran dry, Brunelle set up a form on his website where visitors can submit themselves for consideration, as long as they have a lookalike in mind. But he says he receives many requests, especially from China, from people hoping he can track down their own mirror image.

“You would be surprised how many people on this planet are looking for their doppelganger,” he says. “I’ve gotten many emails over the years from Chinese people who are asking me, ‘Could you please find my lookalike so I can have something to relate to?’ ”

Brunelle thinks the widespread desire for a familiar face is a symptom of the modern world we live in — where, despite our connections through social media, we can feel more alone than ever.

Brunelle, of course, has identified his own doppelganger. He told the Toronto Star in 2006 that he could pass for actor Rowan Atkinson, best known for his role as Mr. Bean.

Best Jobs of 2013

Best Jobs of 2013

The following article is an interesting exploration of current jobs. Read the article and write a blog response to what you’ve read. When you get to the end, click on at least three of the top 10 jobs. What do you think? Enter your thoughts, comments, questions, and concerns…