The most powerful moment for me during the Republican and Democratic Conventions.

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I teach an 8th history class that competes in the We the People’s constitutional and civics program.  It is an understatement that this election season (which is now years long) is interesting.  I am nearly at my capacity after dedicating 8 days and nights to watching the conventions, following the comments of pundits and social media trolls.  Each convention held moments for me that stay with me.  There were moments throughout the conventions that caused me pause; but there was only one moment that made me openly weep.

In an election season of “if you are not with me, you are the enemy” and where the  voices of compromise and moderation are only canyon echoes.  It was the speech given by Khizr Khan on the last night of the Democratic Convention that moved me as a father, a veteran, a student of history and political science.

History has been unkind to “easily recognizable minorities”; the Jews in Nazi Germany, the Rohingya minority in Burma, the Ainu in Japan, African-Americans in our own country.  Our country has failed to live up to its own ideals of equal protection under the law in the infamous cases of Dred Scott, Minersville School District v Gobitis, Korematsu v the United States, Buck v Bell and Plessy v Ferguson.  In each case the easily identifiable minority was unprotected by the very government that bore the responsibility to protect those most vulnerable from the tyranny spawned from fear and self-interest.

Mr. and Mrs. Khan are gold star parents and are true Americans; their son Humayun cemented their place and his own place as an American patriot when he paid a soldier’s ultimate price.  His remains are forever interred in the hallowed ground of Arlington.

I was privileged to take the Fishers High School We the People team to Nationals in 2013.  As part of that trip we walked through the grounds of Arlington National Cemetary.  I pointed out brief lives of patriots and heroes as we walked through the curved paths.  I choked up at the graves of personal heroes and lives with short spans between their dates of birth and death, and shed silent tears at the site of John F Kennedy’s flame for my mom who cried so hard at his death.  I placed coins on the stones of some (it is the Irish in me).  I stood rigid at the changing of the guard and marvelled at the World War II veterans who left wheel chairs to render hand salutes.  On my next trip to Arlington I will find Humayan Khan’s grave and I will place a coin in his honor.  The symbol of Islam on his tombstone will join the religious symbols of so many that define America.

Those of you that know me understand that I am a political enigma.  I have no party identification and split ticket vote every time.  I have voted for Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and have used a pencil in my votes for president.  When I took the I Side With quiz, isidewith.com, in the primary season the two candidates that I had the most in common with were Rand Paul at 72% and Bernie Sanders at 71%.  Go figure.   I am secretive with vote…I don’t tell my politics and don’t share my voting record.

I believe in the ideals that made America the marvel of the world.  The concepts of liberty, equal protection, and rule of law matter.  Khizr Khan reminded me of these ideals and that America should live up to the observation of Alexis de Tocqueville so many years ago when he wrote, “America is great, because Americans are good.”

A Tiny Look Back at Year 19 and a Look Forward to Year 20

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My 19th teaching year has passed into the past.  In my mind it is 20 years because of the joy and impact that my student teaching year kids had on my life [still think of you as kids who are now 32 and 33!!].   First off, it was truly a great year.  My 7th grade kids bought in [measured by the number who still gave me maximum effort during the last 10 days of school]  and my 8th grade class was truly special [suffered from emotional dehydration for a week after school].  Teaching 196 students was filled with late nights and many 2-day prep periods called Saturday and Sunday, but it was worth it.

My 8th grade class was a source of particular joy.  They were a great group; talented, personable, competitive, and special.  They will be hard to replace.We the People Team Photo at State - Dec 2015

On a personal level the year energized me.  Teaching students that are willing [well mostly willing], with people that inspire me, and for someone so supportive of real learning has inspired me to keep growing as a teacher.

Probably the only real negative was the loss of families from redistricting.  It was difficult to see some of these foundational families leave our building.  Listening to them lament that their younger children would not come through our school was heart wrenching for me as I tried to keep the neighborhoods as a member of the redistricting committee.  I have been through it three times before so I expected the feeling of loss.

That is my look back.  Anything more violates my principle of:



Sketch noting and Learning Walls.  Two years ago I read an article about effective and lasting note taking strategies.  Every teacher complains about the lack of note taking skills and every student complains about note taking.  Last year Fassold SketchnoteI introduced sketch noting to my students.  Pinterest was a lot of help and I found a great YouTube channel called Verbal to Visual [I cannot recommend this channel enough].  My kids took to the format.  In fact it made up the bulk of my three-part final exam.  The skill requires constant engagement from the note-taker.   To the right is my quick sketch note about my opening 7th grade units for next year:

Gracey Scholl Learning Wall

On the left is a learning wall (more a graphic representation of learning).  I use these as a metacognition summative activity versus a real time activity.  The assignment was an academic honors culmination project.  I use learning walls in my interactive notebooks for religions and philosophies.  Each lend themselves to the format.

I will be teaching 7 periods a day next year.  To be honest this scares me to death.  It is not the actual teaching that scares me.  It is more the loss of my prep period.  I CONSTANTLY tinker on my lessons…every day.  Some of you know that I get to work around 6 am; without first period prep I can see that arrival time creeping toward 5 am to allow sufficient tinker time.  My principal gave me 5th period for my We the People class–the additional time is critical and the prospect of having “working lunches” with units is exciting.

Camp Tecumseh. Our program is building and expanding.  Thanks to our newest co-director, Deb Kletch [aka Science Queen], we are moving forward with a centralized science theme that will include real-time reporting of data tracking erosion and invasion of foreign plants.  The new Camp Tecumseh program director is also a science teacher so that help as Camp is as interested in expanding the science in our program as we are in taking advantage of the 600+ acres.

The Mapping Project is Coming Back!! I have missed this cornerstone of my class.  When I moved classes the project went away due to a lack of room.  I spent the summer adapting the project for the outdoors…spray paint, 2 gallon kitty litter containers, and pvc pipe.  I am looking forward to watching my kids struggle, succeed, and become frustrated when I do the whole project in 12 minutes.

John Hattie’s Visible Learning. I cannot recommend this book enough.  Below are the factors that his consolidated research has proven to make a difference in the teaching of studejohn-hattie-effect-sizes-on-achievement-22-728nts.  I am stuck by how much of what matters in teaching is not always valued in practice.  I understand why those that profit through testing would discount what actually matters.

Teachers need to also take a hard look at their practices.  The things on the list that jump out at me are “Teacher-student relationships”, “Feedback” and “Providing formative evaluation to teachers”.

Hattie’s exhaustive research also sparked my interest in what was deemed “Not Worth It Yeinfluences-on-achievement-john-hattie-13-638t” and “Disasters”. It would be an interesting discussion with our lawmakers and their “education reformer” masters the research behind their support for “Religious Schools” and “Charter Schools”.



The Reality of Fishers Junior High.

Burden Quote

Improve my students’ ability to reason.  Metacognition and proving understanding has  been the right and left eye of my class (some of my former students might recognize the line).   It comes from my days as a systems analyst and belief that teaching must be transferrable outside of the school environment.  Problem solving and understanding are critical skills that need to be developed and nurtured.  Writing has to become more intentional in my class.

My focus will be to deepen the natural writings that fit into my class:

  1. Deciphering text; with an emphasis on identifying main points and supporting information.
  2. Making an argument; with an emphasis on supporting a position and considering the opposite position.
  3. Synthesizing multiple texts; with an emphasis on linking arguments between texts.

I had already curated 180 bell work sources for the upcoming year (please don’t judge me–every one has addictions).  I want to use the bell works as formative activities. I love educational books that I can immediately make improvements in my class.  For me it was Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison.  The practical activities that uncover thinking and push understanding will find a way into my class and into their interactive notebooks.

Fassold and Potts - July 2016

Fassold and Potts at IU at the We the People Institute

We the People.  This is our school’s third year with a team.  Each year we finished second to Mike Potts’ great Brown County team.  I learned a lot our first year and we got better last year; unfortunately, so did Mike’s team.  This year we will be even better.  I have studied a lot this summer to improve my knowledge base.   This is especially true for my Unit 5’s case law.  The We the People Institute in Bloomington was such a great experience again.  I heard two great speakers; Dr. David H. Adler and Dr. Thomas Mackey.


Crystal Thorpe, my great principal, went to great lengths to give me more time and it will make a difference.

For the first time I have a clear plan on what we need to do.  I am excited for next year’s kids.  They are already working.  Our goal is to win State.

I decluttered my classroom and made a lot of additions.  My classroom is cleaner, more organized, less junky this year.  Barrel after barrel of junk and paper was trashed or recycled.  I am more ready for the year than ever before.

Classroom Panoramic View

Panoramic View of my Classroom





Classroom Ceiling Tiles

G101 Gallery

Tony Sturgeon.  It is our 20 year anniversary this year.  We started our teaching careers together and have worked hard to make each other better.  I value his opinion.  I count each year from this point a gift.

Staff - Tecumseh 2009 - Sturgeon Napping with Crown

Staff Departures.  Our building does not turn over very often.  Sometimes redistricting has cost us people we did not want to loss, family relocations take some, retirements cause changes in our staff.  Our building is losing someone to a well deserved promotion; Donna Schiele is moving on to become an administrator at the Tindley Academy.  I normally would leave my emails private, but Donna deserves better.  For my students you will recognize the chapter from my favorite book.  If were lucky enough to know Mrs. Schiele (pronounced She-Lee) you will understand my respect and adoration.  Below is what I sent her.


I expected it, but that does not mean that I like it.  You represent what is right in education.  In my favorite book, The Prophet; Khalil Gibran writes this about work:

You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth.
For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons,
and to step out of life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.

When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.
Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison?

Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.
But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born,
And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life,
And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret.


 Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.
And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.

 You have worked with love.  You enriched our building and our kids.  Your loss will be felt,  You are one of finest educators that I have known in both my careers.  I wish you every success and joy.  Give my love to your family.

I am grateful for our paths crossing.

With respect,


My Golden Birthday?  I was born in 1958 and will turn 58 this year.  It seems that this should be something special; lottery win, good luck, 58 straight days of gifts, something. As one of two oldest teachers in my school the conversation about when I am going to retire comes up a lot.  My answer?  I don’t know.  My energy level is still good and my love of teaching has not waned.  There is a part of me that would like to teach for seven more years.  I am pretty sure that I will teach for 2 more as Ally will graduate from college by then with Caitlin graduating a year and a half earlier.  Regardless, each day in the classroom is a gift; every day teaching at Fishers Junior High is a gift; every day working for Crystal and Tige is a gift; so who am I to be ungrateful for such wonderful gifts.

Have a great school year. 









What Does a Grade in My Class Mean?

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My mind has been vexed by this simple question.  Specifically, what does the report card grade tell the my students and the parents?  Does it reflect what my students know?  Their faithfulness?  Their understanding?  Their tenacity?  Or is it, as I have come to view it, the fulfillment of the social contract between my students, their families, and myself?  The social contract should be that if students show understanding and push themselves, they will earn a grade that reflects the fulfilment of the implied contract.  Conversely, a hard-working student that pushes himself, but does not understand the essential learning of my class, cannot earn a grade that gives the appearance that he can transfer these skills into future classes and the working world.  Just as much, a student that shows understanding, but lacks the drive and work ethic expected of productive individuals, also cannot receive a grade that gives the impression that he is ready for the demands of the workplace. This is the frame of my reflective writing.  It is something that has evolved a lot over my teaching career.  After nearly a score of teaching years some clarity has become to emerge.

Of course, it would be a simple thing to say that my grading is a zero-tolerance endeavor.  The reality is that I want all my students to get an “A” in my class.  Every teacher will say this, but the challenge is what extra efforts do we teachers make to ensure that goal becomes reality.

First off, my grading thoughts needed a mission statement.  If you know me this seemingly easy thing causes me hours of grief.  The reason that it is so difficult lies in clarifying what the letter grade should tell parents and students.  Below is my attempt:

A grade in a class reflects the student’s understanding of the essential questions along with his or her faithfulness and work ethic.  The grade can also reflect the understanding of the cultural literacy associated with the class. Version 1.4

I am sure that this mission statement will change as this article extends, but it is a start.  The next challenge was for me to be honest in my belief statements. (I hate belief statements.  As they peel away the façade that I like to erect in front of me.  One of the reasons that I don’t want to publish my book is that it is too personal.  Also it invites criticism.  I don’t mind criticism for the most part.  But my teaching beliefs are personal; it is the equivalent of people criticizing my musical tastes.  I can’t control what I like in music.  I wrestle a lot with these type of things because I try to do them justice.)  So here goes.

Belief Statements (in no particular order):

  1. All multiple-choice tests are formative. I ducked when I wrote this bullet.  I have heard since I started teaching that a “well-crafted” multiple-choice test can uncover deeper and transferable thinking.  You may be able to nuanced connections, but uncover the transferable thinking that we want our students to do in the “real world”?  I don’t think so.  The format is artificial and the assessment foreshadowed.  I just don’t agree with the basic assertion.  This is not condemning multiple-choice test per se; it is just challenging the idea that a multiple-choice test is a long-term, transferable skill measurement.
  2. Students should prove they can perform a task or demonstrate a skill to prove understanding.  This cannot be emphasized enough.  When done correctly the summative assessment can drive a more focused instruction.  Instead of throwing tons of information against the wall to see what sticks it allows for a more intentional instruction.  Every summative assessment should contain a lifelong and transferable skill.
  3. Teachers MUST address the deficits revealed in formative assessments.  Otherwise, there is no reason to check for understanding if you do not react when they fail to demonstrate that they learned what you wanted them to learn. I have been guilty, but this is something that has been a point of improvement for me the last couple years.  Go over the answers and look for trends in wrong answers.  Restructure the information, change the vehicle, and check understanding again.  If it is important enough to ask; it is important enough to make sure they understand. It is criminal to not use formative assessments.
  4. Students should receive new learning three times as a minimum. My class is cumulative.  The key lessons are reviewed and refreshed all year.  My end-of-year test contains formative checks on the cultural literacy of my class.  I use Quizlet for reviews and give quick chunks of class time for my kids to review.  I also play games in Socrative for a little class competition.
  5. Summative assessments should return more than a letter grade.  Students need to know what worked, what did not, and what they can do to make the jump to the next level.  Last on I will share the rubric that I use with summative assessments that emphasizes this belief.
  6. Students should be given the opportunity to redo assignments until they have demonstrated understanding. This seems like a no-brainer and is actually a proof to my very object-ducking assertion that all multiple-choice tests are formative assessments.  As Scantron machines scream terrible scores on multiple-choice scores the dread from teachers and students is the elephant in the room.  The finality of multiple-choice tests drives grades, relationships, and parent-child relationships.  It is a natural transition for students to redo assignments when summative assessments become more genuine.  I hate Buzzword-Bingo, but if the emphasis is to develop the growth mindset in students, it seems logical that students should not only be allowed to redo an assignment; they should be positively encouraged to reach higher. On a related thought; allowing students to redo assignments ends the end of the grading period rush for extra credit as they can just redo a poor assignment.  In addition, it directly puts a student’s grade in the student’s realm of control.  That was one of the unexpected benefits of the change in my assessment worldview.  It was never about “my grading”; it is always about the student choosing to redo a poor assignment to show understanding.
  7. Going along with the previous belief, teachers need to model summative assessments that are projects.  The struggle is real.  There is no better bonding in my class than shared struggles over some of my projects.  It is also important for me to have a realistic idea how much time assignments take.  I normally assume my students need three times the time I need to complete an assignment.  This completely unscientific ratio has served me well over the years.  I also like to post my progress on the front board to serve as benchmarks for my students.
  8. Summative assessment should always link to the essential learning of the class. Okay, one of my favorite projects is my Tang Dynasty Poetry project where I try to get my students to honor the poetry of Du Fu and Li Bo by blending Tang Dynasty art, poetry and Chinese calligraphy.  Now Bill Gates and David Coleman may complain that I am not making my students “college and career ready”, but I disagree.  My students fear risk…like most people.  I want them to embrace the risk…paint, poetry, and struggle.  The perfect summative assignment as its lessons are lasting.
  9. Long tests do not reveal more than short tests.  One of the complaints that I hear from junior high teachers that teach high school courses is that they need extra time to finish tests.  They seek extra time for the test instead of looking at the instrument itself. More is not always better.  Do 50 questions reveal more than 20 questions?  If you subscribe to the idea that multiple-choice question tests are formative assessments, then the test is not about long-term understanding.
  10. Assessments should always be unannounced.  If they have to cram for the test, they don’t know the information.  My only exception to this rule is my cultural literacy (people, place, vocabulary) quizzes that I give on Fridays.  My teaching partner and trusted editor suggested that I explain the exception; therefore, I will.  There is a need for cultural literacy in our population.  Ignorance of the world around us is well documented and sometimes comical (see any of the “Man on the Street” features on YouTube).  There are things that literate citizens can recognize; people, places, landmarks, etc.  This is just a pet of mine.  This is not going to change the world.  I just want my students to not be ignorant.
  11. Summative assessments don’t need to be unnecessarily hard; but they should be challenging. Summative assessments don’t need to result in a bell curve of understanding.  Success must be achievable.  The key is to provide room for students to push higher through choice and open-endedness.

12.Summative assessments should never receive a “B” or “D”.  Both are mercy-grades that are murky messages to students.  Rubrics can add to this problem if it is possible to achieve a “B” grade and not prove understanding, or achieve a “D” without completing the assignment. My problem with a grade of a “B” really comes down to Pizza Hut’s honor roll pizza.   Over the years a “B” on a summative assessment took on one of two characteristics.  Either the work showed effort, the student followed instructions; BUT, they did not showed understanding; or there was some level of understanding, but the work did not follow the basic instructions.   Either condition is not honor roll worthy.  In addition, it is a failure on one side or the other.  “D” grades have been and always will be a mercy-grade; designed to move a failing child along.

How is My Class Grade Weighted?

Grades are weighted in my class.  I like to grade all assignments to insure investment; however, I realize that not everything in my class is of equal importance.  A grade in my class breaks down thusly:

  1. Summative Assessments: 75%.  This category is exclusively made up of unit projects, DBQ assessments, major analysis projects, and performance assessments.
  2. Formative Assessments: 20%.
    1. All formative quizzes.
    2. Class work.
    3. Interactive notebook metacognition assignments.
  3. Cultural Literacy Checks: 5%.  Again I think it is important for my students to recognize famous landmarks, places, people, and transferrable vocabulary.  I normally give a quick quiz every Friday.  Also, the key pieces of learning from each unit are also included on the Quizlet review and the Friday quizzes.

Tang Dynasty - A, C and F Rubric with Feedback


Grading Summative Assessments

This is the biggest change in my grading practices.  Summative assessments can only earn a range of “A’s”, a “C”, or an “F”.  This took me years to resolve in my mind.  Clarity came that my focus had to be on understanding.  I have been a disciple of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe in the design of my units and teaching mindset.  The grading component of my discipleship has never embraced Understanding Design.  To the left is a basic rubric that I use:

In short students can earn three different “A” grades.  Each deals with understanding first.  The difference in an “A- “and “A” is in execution, not understanding.  An “A+” is what is termed lion’s work in my class.  It is that work that stands out both in execution and understanding.

Historically, the hardest grading for me was the kid who worked hard on an assignment, but completely missed the point.  I found that I awarded these kids with a “B”.  This is problematic.  Giving a kid an “honor roll” grade for not understanding stuck in my teacher gut.  It’s duplicitous.

I want kids to redo work until it earns, at least, an “A”.  I want them to demonstrate understanding.

There is a personal cost to this type of grading.  Time.  I grade a lot.  Writing even the briefest notes sap the clock.  There are no short cuts to grading summative assessments.  Thanks to our one-to-one digital-program the time I spend on formative assessments has dropped considerably.  Socrative is worth its weight in gold.  Instant feedback with Excel reports.  Glorious.

However, the off-set is not a zero-sum game.  The time savings is a fraction compared to the summative grading.  I don’t have a magic pill to ease the grading of my summative assessments.  There are some things that have helped.  The tips don’t always apply to every assignment, but they can help.

 Summative Grading Time Savers!!

  1. Collect assignments later in the week so that you have your unofficial prep days (Saturday and Sunday.  I would have put Friday on the list, but I am normally pretty brain dead on Friday) to get started on the grading so the assignment don’t lay around all week getting dusty.
  2. Use a custom graded rubric that has comments that provide clear feedback. It really helps when you do the assignments with the kids to find out those things that are more valuable and difficult in execution.
  3. Try to grade on 10-point scales and then weight them.  It makes the math easier.
  4. Give your students pre-grading work on writing assignments.  Develop a system to highlight those things that you are looking to see.  This will cut down your grading.
  5. Highlight the thesis with a green highlighter
  6. Highlight support factual supports, phrases only in yellow highlighter.
  7. Highlight synthesis statements in blue highlighter.  You will need to teach and encourage your students to make synthesis statements.  The key in my discipline is to apply what they have learned.
  8. Stay focused in your summative assessment design.  I have learned with my work with We the People that more is not necessarily better.  A tight two-page paper (around 675 words) is better than a rambling, unfocused 10-page paper.
  9. Separate mechanics from understanding.  Don’t make margins, fonts, color, and size worth much.  In fact, you can have the kids grade each other on the mechanics of an assignment.  Keep your focus on determining if they understand.
  10. Some teachers might be able to stagger their classes so that they are not picking up a bunch of summative assessments at the same time.  I am not that teacher.

Do I Give Zeroes?

The short answer is “yes”.  The long answer is “yes”, but it takes a lot to keep the zero.  I pursue missing summative assessments.  It is just too devastating to a grade for a zero to appear in the grade book; especially, when you heavily weigh summative assessments.