Ms. Donnelly Reads

"A Reader Lives a Thousand Lives" George R.R. Martin

My district has used the Accelerated Reader program for as long as I’ve been there (18 years) and probably longer than that. It’s an easy, but ineffective, way to make sure kids are reading their library books.

The gist:

  • Accelerated Reader, or AR, is a computer program that monitors students’ independent reading that schools began using in 1986. Since then, the program has undergone name changes and program upgrades. The latest version is called Accelerated Reader 360™.
  • Each book, and there are over 180,000 in the catalog, is assigned a certain number of points based on the reading level. Since the learning is individualized, it’s thought that children will be more invested when they’re successful on the tests which will create a love of reading.

The nuts and bolts:

  • Students take the STAR Reading test, also owned by Renaissance Learning, to determine students’ reading scores and their AR goal is set from those scores
  • Once students know they scores, they can choose their own books based on interest and/or reading level
  • After they read the book, they take an online test with 5, 10, or 20 questions depending on the length and content of the book
  • If a student scores 60% or below, they do not receive any points for that book. Scores of 70%-95% are awarded a percentage of the total points. Only a score of 100% will earn a student full points for the book

“A parent’s guide to Renaissance Accelerated Reader 360.” Renaissance. Accessed 29 January 2019.

The cost in both time and dollars:

  • The program’s developer recommends using Accelerated Reader™ during in-class time dedicated to reading practice for at least 35 minutes
  • Teachers can use points to set goals for the quantity and quality of reading practice for each student. Point accumulation, as well as other optional teacher-provided rewards, are intended to motivate student learning (though the program does not explicitly suggest giving external rewards)
  • Accelerated Reader™ and Accelerated Reader 360™ are sold on an annual, per-student subscription. Additional cost information is available from the distributor (I’ve seen the numbers vary from a one-time $1,500 fee and $4/student to the cost being flexible depending on the district’s contract

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, What Works Clearinghouse. (2016, June). Beginning Reading intervention report: Accelerated Reader™. Retrieved from


None of these numbers surprise me, because they all validate my argument against AR in the schools. All too often, a district gets stuck in a rut and stays there simply because it’s easier than finding something that truly fits in with the makeup of their students.

The last few years I’ve forced myself into making friends with technology and social media in my classroom. I developed a website for my students, started using Remind to stay in contact with them, and created an Instagram account for my classes (that, though, was short lived. I didn’t want there to be any trouble with postings or comments).

In reading 9 Ways to Use Social Media in Your Classroom, there were several items that I may try next year. I liked the idea of focusing on ONE social media component a month. School is overwhelming for students and teachers. There are so many demands, so laying them all down at their feet the first month of school is premature and they won’t have any connection to it in May. And, by having them zoom in on one social media topic, they can really flesh out the uses and distractions of each program.

Getting Social: everyone, including the teacher, needs to pick a platform and follow it for the month. Once a week, everyone checks in with what they’ve learned, terms they’ve come across, and information they’ve found for academic purposes.

Blogging: Teacher sets up a blog platform for kids. They write about a topic and provide meaningful feedback to each other (sound familiar)? The accounts are password protected, so it’s private for the class. Students can go on to use this work for their portfolio.

Twitter: Have kids create Twitter accounts (if they’re old enough) and populate their account with topics in class, post their homework, or start a #TrendingTopic for the class to discuss.

Scoop: It’s ok. But, teachers need to pay $7/month for a subscription. This may put educators off because they already spend SO MUCH of their OWN money every year.

Tumblr AND Pinterest: Curate pages for classroom topics with images and/or websites that are relevant. There are so many ways to use these two platforms in a classroom! It’s a less messy way to create collages 🙂

Flickr: Document what’s going on in school: field trips, class projects, presentations, etc. Alongside Twitter, this is another place to create a #TrendingTopic that deals with the classroom.

Skype: What a wonderful way to connect with people! Bringing experts into a classroom without having to do anything other than set up a connection. Students are exposed to a great number of people, places, and ideas that they may have never experienced before.

Time It: A great history class tool. Kind of like Google Hang Outs, students can be in a document at the same time to create timelines. It can be used in other classes, too. Also, students are able to comment and critique other students’ work.



I think a lot of what Rheingold says is still valid inside a classroom. The one topic that rang true with me was Attention. As an educator for the last 18 years, I’ve noticed a significant drop in attention rates in children. Now, I’ve never seen a class at 100% all the time, but a good 70/30 would probably make sense. Now, in a class of 20, it’s safe to say that I’m usually at 50/50. Reasons for inattention range from daydreaming to the inability to read. We are not a device driven school, our laptops are about 5 years old and show it, and the teacher technology isn’t always working, either. But, because I’m not doing handstands and cartwheels or singing and dancing (wait, I do do that in class from time to time), it’s difficult to hold their attention.

The article explains that students were so engaged with their laptops they missed the actual lecture. Kids in my district are not allowed to use their mobile devices in the classroom. I cannot begin to fathom the chaos that would ensue if they were allowed to do that. When they use classroom laptops or we take a trip to the computer lab, they’re always either: rushing through the work so they can play whatever games they can access with our network OR there are tabs open that shouldn’t be and they can switch quickly back and forth between them in case a teacher is walking by.

I really liked the three probes exercise (Rheingold, 2010).  especially the one where the other students got to “feel” what it was like to be ignored when they were trying to instruct the class. There are wonderful teachable moments here. It’s easy to ignore a teacher when you’re playing on your laptop because you think you’re the only one… Except, EVERYONE thinks they’re the only one. And my other favorite was what I call “musical laptops”! Talk about an exercise in collaboration!

It’s important to take students’ heads out of the laptops and allow them to “marinate” in the sage on the stage every once in a while. I know that education has changed exponentially in the last 20 years, but there are tried and true methods throughout the span of time that suggest at the head of things, you need an educational leader.

Rheingold, H. (n.d.). Attention, and Other 21st-Century Social Media Literacies. Retrieved from 21stcentury-social-media-literacies

Congress designed CIPA and COPPA to protect children who use the internet. And, while all of their efforts are applauded, the honest truth is, kids are going to do what they can and want to do on the internet because they feel like they can’t be seen by adults.

My district has students and parents sign internet safety agreements at registration. Kids cannot use the internet without having a signed copy on file. And, in school, our filters are super stringent. They cannot even access Youtube under their log in credentials, but can find their way in to music websites. My district files for e-rate funding, so I’m guessing that our user agreement that the parents have to sign covers that requirement. The consent letter has been the same for as long as I’ve worked for my district, which is 18 years.

While walls are a super popular topic in the news, lately, I’d like to draw this wonderful comparison about children finding their ways around firewalls if they want something bad enough. They may not do their homework or read or do math at grade level, but they can hack their ways into off-limit places on the internet. (lol)

I’ve been guilty of this a couple of times… But, it was for the purpose of education. I’ve had students in love with Harry Potter and they wanted to know which House they belonged to. Except, Pottermore has an age requirement… And… I may or may not have told those students to just change their birth year… I know… I know… I’m an Irish Catholic, I’m good with holding on to the guilt…

So, are kids really safe? No way! Neither are adults! This is hilariously appropriate:


Photo Credit

I think schools do as much as they can to protect kids in school. But, as we know, there’s no way to always protect them from everything. Even in schools, kids find porn sites, intentionally or unintentionally (recall my comment), music sites, gaming websites, etc. And, even when they’re supposed to use the school’s internet for academic purposes, a simple browser history will have even the most observant of the most stringent of teacher raise their eyebrows.

Kids lie. They say they’re older than they are for a multitude of reasons: to gain access to websites, post pictures, Tweet, post on Facebook (if they aren’t of the opinion that FB is for old people), to listen to music, etc. It’s impossible to keep them completely safe on the internet, especially if they aren’t being honest or following internet rules. And predators can sniff out the liars and set their traps for them. And that’s terrifying.

As far as data mining and children, I know that a couple sites I’ve used as a teacher, Biblionasium and MobyMax, do not collect information on children. If there’s an accidental info capture, they purge those records as soon as they find the mistake. I’m not sure how they do it, but they state that this is their policy about children under 13 that do not have their parents’ consent. Aside from their names, there’s nothing linking them to their actual identity.



The last 25 posts on my Facebook account have me cracking up and really do portray who I am as a human being. Honestly, I try to not post political things because it’s so divisive and my family and I do not agree on politics and I’ve got many friends who are not afraid to comment and take offense to any post I make regarding the state of our government and the complete sham that it is (oh! that’s what I try to avoid on the book of  faces…). All in all, I think you can tell that I love music, my kids, and new hair. My posts are relatively positive and I support friends and family who are starting businesses or fighting for what’s right. Looking back, I’m not sure I do any more or any less than anyone else on social media.

Is it “REAL”? Well, no. Not really. I mean, the love I have for the good stuff is real. My kids are real. But, there’s personal stuff that I don’t smear all over the internet, because it’s not everyone’s business. There are days where I want to throw ALL technology away because it consumes so much of my time and take me away from my children. I can’t get laundry done because I’m doing homework for one class or another. My daughter sat on my lap the other night while I was writing the Side Chat, and asked when I’d be done with my homework because she missed me. I’M SITTING RIGHT HERE AND SHE MISSES ME. That’s the stuff I don’t post on FB. I’m not looking for sympathy or pats on the back. I’m doing this because in order for me to be a better mother, I need to get out of the classroom. There are some people litter the feed with personal problems, political dissension, and general overshares. But, really, who wants to read that crap? I like to keep it light most of the time and I’d like to think that my page is a fun place to visit. Like Forrest Gump says, “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

First, I got my hair done and it was SUPER hotsy totsy! And it was BEGGING to posted. That’s the start of my 25 posts.


Personal Photo

Next, in reflection, there are my daily song posts; I’ve been on featuring one artist a week lately. Here are the last few posts from #365MoreSongsWithSarah:


Open Arms

Elton John:

I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues

Sad Songs (Say So Much)

Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word

Someone Saved My Life Tonight

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Tiny Dancer


And then there was a KNOCKOUT performance of Your Song by Lady Gaga that I posted because of my Elton John kick… Sublime!

Bennie and the Jets

Lionel Richie:




You Are the Sun

Running With the Night


Then, in a lame attempt at finding some sucker to get me a Star Wars Valentine Plush Bouquet. They look a little angry, but I feel like, for me, it’s appropriate! LOL!


Star Wars Plush Bouquet – I love you, I know


Also, there was the weather and my sheer exhaustion of it, as well as a Timehop from 4 years where I cussed out Mother Nature.


Photo Credit

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Personal Photo

And then a post about education: There’s a link to a riveting article from NCTE about how teachers don’t need fancy curriculum, they just need to talk to kids about books and READ books with them. I’ve been saying this for 15 years… But, what do I know? I’m just in the classroom every freaking day with the kids…

Beyond the Stacks: Why High School English Teachers Should Be Talking about Books

My mother is making waves! Briefly: her employer HOBO went bankrupt and everyone was robbed of vacation days and any PTO they were owed. Then, medical bills started coming in. That shouldn’t have happened, because all of the employees paid for the insurance and HOBO was responsible for paying the insurance providers. Except, they didn’t. None of the money the employees paid for insurance was actually paid to the provider. All of that money disappeared. So, my mother, the Norma Rae of her time, decided to start calling around to see if any news outlets were interested in the story. And she found Dorothy Tucker with Channel 2. It’s a terrible story that’s getting a lot of attention. I’ve attached the link to the investigative report.

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HOBO Closing Leaves Employees With Hundreds Of Thousands Of Dollars Of Medical Debt

I did two “shout outs” to people who started a side gig or are hosting a painting party.

And, I wouldn’t be a good Facebook mom if I didn’t post my darlings! So, I took down my Carrie Fisher/Harrison Ford FB cover for my children. It was taken at Disney World last year for their 7th birthday. It is, by far, one of my absolute favorites!


Personal Photo

Lastly, I wasn’t sure if people posting to my page counted, so they weren’t counted. But, those, too, were hilarious! So, I’ll add this one as an Honorable Mention! My sister and I love Napoleon Dynamite and there’s this meme that NEVER fails to make me laugh:

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Photo Credit 


Over the summer, I took Integrating Technology Into Programming, Services, and Instruction. In that class, we explored new and interesting ways to deliver instruction to students. One topic that stuck with me is that of Blended Learning and the Flipped Classroom. If you’re unfamiliar, blended learning is the combination of brick and mortar learning and e-learning. Both are awesome approaches to teaching in the modern classroom.




















Blended Learning- Current Use, Challenges, and Best Practices. (2013). [What is Blended Learning]. The Oxford Group for City & Guilds Kineo. Retrieved from


It doesn’t surprise me that educators are interested in this kind of learning. If 86% of teachers are willing to give this a shot, you know that there’s some merit here. So much is expected in a certain amount of classroom minutes, but there’s never any wiggle room for emergencies, assemblies, behavior problems, technical malfunctions, etc. So, if educators can begin using Blended Learning or the Flipped Classroom model, that frees up so much time in the classroom for the work part of the assignment.

Here’s a quick Youtube video about the flipped classroom and blended learning.

Sprouts. (2015, September 28). The Flipped Classroom Model. Retrieved from


In the infographic below, you see how the class period is split: 65-80 minutes a week where the students are learning new material and then there is only 21-28% of the time left to help students understand what they’re supposed to be learning. That’s nowhere near the amount of time they need for individual attention. And let’s not mention the amount of time you lose, in general, because it’s a Tuesday after a long weekend where it’s raining, an awards show was on Sunday night, and there’s a full moon on the horizon…


Flipped Learning the Big Picture. (2015).  Circulus Education. Retrieved from

The benefits:

  • Gives students some autonomy over their learning
  • Frees up classroom time for the work part of lessons because all of the instruction is done online
  • Stronger motivation to learn online and develop their interests
  • More specialized learning for students- no “one size fits all” curriculum
  • Establishes purposeful homework
  • Creative collaboration with teachers and classmate

The drawbacks (and these are pretty important limitations):

  • Students are 100% responsible for their independent learning
  • Students must have internet access and a device to do the work at home (and some districts, like mine, do not provide devices to students)
  • Teachers will do way more preparation to “front load” for the lessons


With all of the money school districts spend on initiatives and whichever curriculum is slated to be the next big thing,  why wouldn’t they take that money and invest it in the actual kids and teachers. Get them tablets that they can use at home for these assignments. Let’s get back to common sense teaching. Watch the lessons at home, take notes, come in with questions, email teachers for more help. Then, come in ready to do the actual work in class. Sit in groups that make sense, assign peer tutors, and allow teachers to help reinforce skills and utilize every single minute in the classroom for the real work.


Computers and Use of Electronic Networks. (2018-2019). Retrieved from

I’ve worked at my school district for 18 years and this is the first time I’ve looked at the handbook’s AUP! I’ve gone and checked out the uniform, weapons, and fighting policies, but computer usage never struck me as being as important as the rest. Sure, we’ve had kids find porn on the computers (that’s how I learned it’s, not and they played games they weren’t supposed to, but I never chalked it up to being one of the more pressing concerns in our district. That was until 5-7 years ago… When most of the kids became more savvy in their searches and more cunning in their usage, we had to start really paying attention to them.

At the beginning of the school year, each family and teacher has to sign an Authorization for Access to the District’s Electronic Networks slip before being granted permission to use the internet. If that paper isn’t signed, students and teachers are unable to access their accounts. This document outlines the proper usage of school electronics and the possible actions that will be taken against the student, depending on the kind of online behavior. The district also lets families and staff know that there is no expectation of privacy on any of its networks and that all users must demonstrate responsible use or they will be subject to the loss of privileges, disciplinary action, and/or appropriate legal action.

When a kid searched out, found, and distributed porn from one of the school’s computers, he was banned from computer use in the building. Teachers can bar students indiscriminately for classroom laptop misuse. For instance, instead of working on a project, a student looked up pictures of his friends and favorite athletes, I banned him from using the computer in class to finish the project. He was warned twice and redirected, but he chose to continue doing what he wanted. And, next week, he’ll have to complete his assignment on his own time. His online behavior didn’t warrant a write up or further disciplinary action.

I’m looking for language that suggests what users “should” do, but am finding that most of it is written as “shouldn’t”. I feel confident that if I didn’t read the policy, parents and kids didn’t, either. So, I wonder, if the document were written in user friendly language, would it be more inviting and easier to understand? If it were written with a positive tone, instead of the restrictive one it currently has, would that encourage everyone to actually read what’s written.