August 30, 2014

How to Earn 10,000 Scholastic Bonus Points (It Really Works!)

Amazing system that works like a charm! This freebie from Laura Candler makes it easy for your class to earn massive numbers of Scholastic Bonus Points with a single order!
Who loves Scholastic Reading Club? I do! I do! I love how every month they send a new flyer that's packed with great reading selections. I also love how they reward teachers with bonus points for their classrooms. A few years ago Scholastic started offering a fabulous deal in August and September where you could get thousands of bonus points with your first order.

Of course there was a catch - back then, your order had to be $200 or more. With an order that size, you could get 4,000 bonus points. Wow! I couldn't even begin to imagine what I could do with that many points! I also wondered, "How in the world am I going to get an order that large? Lately I haven't even gotten many $20 orders!"

But I couldn't walk away from a deal that sweet, so I decided to give it a try. I explained Scholastic's offer to my students and put the challenge to them. I told them that we would be able to use those bonus points to buy books and materials for our classroom, and I sent a letter to parents explaining our goal. Amazingly, we not only met that goal but we surpassed it by about $30! My class was thrilled when FOUR big boxes of books showed up a week later! It was exciting to hand out the books, and I loved spending those bonus points on books throughout the year. I was able to purchase dozens of sets of books for literature circles and for my reading workshop program.

Classroom Goal-Setting Lesson
Over the years I tweaked my system and turned it into a complete goal-setting program. I actually used the program as a way of teaching my class how to set goals and create action plans. Every year it worked better and better, and I began to tell other teachers about it.They system worked for them, too! Eventually I typed up detailed directions, complete with a customizable letter to parents, a star-themed poster for tracking our progress, and coupons.

Earn 10,000 Points in 2017
Fast forward to 2017.... This year's minimum is much higher, but the offer also has the potential for much greater rewards. With an order of $300 you can get 10,000 points! The system is basically the same, but it will take a little more persistence to reach the top goal. Don't give up because you can do it!

I recently updated my packet based on the new Scholastic flyers that were sent out, so if you were using my system from last year, please download the new version of How to Earn 10,000 Scholastic Bonus Points from my TpT store. Even if you don't think you can reach a goal of $300, any size order will generate loads of additional points, so why not give it a try?

August 29, 2014

Teaching Kids How to Have REAL Discussions

discussion strategies, literature circles, discussion skills, cooperative learning
Do you remember the last time you and your friends had a great discussion? I’ll bet you didn’t take turns around the table with each person speaking for 30 seconds or a minute! Instead, it was probably a lively conversation with everyone listening to each other and responding to everyone's ideas. Although you didn't speak for the same amount of time, everyone was involved and participated actively. If group members disagreed with each other, they were polite and supported their own views with facts and relevant details. Everyone was energized by the discussion and came away with some new perspectives.

Now think about what happens in team discussions at school. One student dominates the discussion while others are too shy to share their own views. To prevent this from happening, we ask them to take turns around the team ... but those discussions don’t feel like real conversations. It’s obvious that team members aren't really listening to each other because they don’t link their ideas to what anyone else has said. Instead, it’s almost as if they’re simply waiting for their turn to talk. Because most kids don’t know how to disagree politely, either they all agree with each other or when they do disagree, someone's feelings are sure to be hurt. Watching these "discussions" is almost painful!

Learning to Link Ideas
As you know from your own discussions, a great conversationalist is someone who really listens to others and who demonstrates this by linking his or her ideas to those of others in the group.

This skill is so important that it's now stated in the Common Core Speaking and Listening Standards for collaborative discussion at almost every grade level. But how do we teach that skill?

One way to link your response to someone else's idea is to use these steps:
  1. Name the person who shared the idea to which you are connecting.
  2. Mention a key idea, fact, or opinion the other person shared.
  3. Clearly state your own question, opinion, or idea.
For example, "Julie, I can see why you might say that Cindy is outgoing, but I thought she was shy because ...." or "Tom, I agree with you about ________, and another detail that supports your point is..."

Introducing the Strategies

When you begin teaching students to have real discussions in which they link their ideas to others, it's best to start with baby steps. Introduce the concept in a whole group setting by posing a question and asking volunteers to come forward and link arms to show how they are connecting their ideas to others. Model the three parts of a linked response described above.

Next, students can create paper chain links to model how speakers often have multiple discussion threads going at the same time. Finally, you can introduce older students to team "discussion webs" where their ideas are interconnected in complex ways.

During last week's Active Engagement Strategies for Success Webinar (Part Two), I explained how to implement several discussion strategies for linking ideas and why we need to teach these skills. To watch the entire webinar, visit the Active Engagement Strategies page on Teaching Resources. Click the play button below to watch the segment about how to foster great discussions.

Discussion Connections Mini Pack

You don't need to purchase anything to start teaching your students how to have real discussions, but the Discussion Connections Mini Pack offers some time-saving resources to make your job a little easier. It's a step-by-step guide for introducing discussion skills in the elementary classroom, and the basic concepts can be applied in middle school and high school classrooms, too. You'll find all the directions and printables needed, including discussion prompts to help students link their ideas. The pages below let you peek inside, or you can click here to preview the entire Discussion Connections Mini Pack.

Just to clarify, there's nothing wrong with having students take turns sharing ideas around the table, especially when they first work in cooperative learning teams. It's a great place to start! The problem comes in when we don't take our students to the next level and teach them how to have REAL discussions.

In order to have meaningful interactions in cooperative learning teams, literatures circles, and even in the lunchroom, kids need to understand that discussion involves LISTENING as well as talking. When we take time to connect our ideas, we show that we are listening to others and considering their viewpoints, rather than waiting for our turn to talk. Taking time to teach discussion strategies at the beginning of the year will reap dividends later, and those benefits will reach far beyond the classroom!

August 21, 2014

Halting Back Talkers in Their Tracks!

Guest post by Chris Biffle
Director, Whole Brain Teaching

Note: This is the final post in the WBT's Classroom Transforming Rules series. To find all of the posts in the series, click here. To see Whole Brain Teaching in action, watch the videos on the WBT website.

Need a rule that stops back-talking students in their tracks?  Discover the golden signpost on the road to Teaching Heaven.

When my teaching colleagues and I developed Whole Brain Teaching’s classroom rules in 1999, our goal was to cover every classroom problem.
We wanted a couple of rules that were as specific as possible and one or two others that covered all varieties disruptive behavior. Thus, we have three rules that target specific classroom problems. As described in this series,
  • Rule 1:  “Follow directions quickly” addresses slow transitions.
  • Rule 2:  “Raise your hand for permission to speak,” targets kids who are spontaneously chatty.
  • Rule 3:  “Raise your hand for permission to leave your seat,” keeps classrooms from turning into playgrounds.
Unfortunately, these three rules don’t cover every classroom misbehavior. Rule 4 “Make smart choices” is marvelously general, addressing every decision a child (or adult!) can make. Rule 4 can be applied to any issue not covered by the first three rules.

So, why do we need Rule 5, “Keep your dear teacher happy?” Rule 5 addresses your most challenging students … the ones who will quarrel with you about Rules 1-4! (Click here to download all the free rule posters.)
  • Children who dawdle along, can claim they are following directions quickly.  
  • Chatty students can claim they weren’t speaking to anyone.  
  • Your most challenging kids can even deny they are out of their seat … when they are standing in the middle of the classroom!  “I’m not out of my seat.  I’m just getting my pencil sharpened.”  
Of course, your most resistant spirits can argue that all their choices are smart, no matter how obviously foolish.

So, what’s a beleaguered teacher to do? You need one rule that can’t be disputed. In 15 years in thousands of classrooms, we’ve never had a child convince their instructor that their disruptive behavior made the teacher happy! Rule 5 is the argument stopper, the backtalk squelcher, the golden signpost to Teaching Heaven.

If a parent or administrator is troubled by the rule, explain, “I know Rule 5, ‘Keep your dear teacher happy’ sounds like it is about me, but that’s not the case. My only happiness is seeing my students learn.”

Here’s a two-step procedure to establish Rule 5, "Keep your dear teacher happy."

Step One
For a minute or so, five times a day, rehearse the five classroom rules. You call out the rule number; your students rapidly reply with the rule and the matching gesture. After several weeks, place special emphasis on Rule 5. During rehearsals and at random times during the day, call out “Rule 5!” Students respond, “Keep your dear teacher happy!” while framing their smiling faces with their fingers.

As an explanation of the rule, say something like the following to your kids, “It doesn't take presents, or anything material, to keep me happy. I only want one thing, one thing in all the universe, and that’s seeing you learn. Your growth as students fills my heart with happiness.”

Step Two
Once students can instantly respond with the rule and gesture, when you call out “Rule 5,” you’re ready for implementation.

Pick a lively student, Sarah, and say, “I’m going to pretend like I’m teaching and then I’ll say to you, Sarah please pay attention.  I want you to say back, with real attitude in your tone of voice “I am paying attention!”

This will be wonderfully shocking to your class … a student gets to backtalk you!  And so, the little skit is played.  When Sarah backtalks, you exclaim, “Great job Sarah!  That was a wonderful example of breaking Rule 5! Class, give her a 10 finger woo!!”  Your kids extend their wiggling fingers toward Sarah and exclaim, “Woo!”  (More fun than applause.)

Then say, “This time when Sarah backtalks, I'll call out Rule 5. I want you to respond using our gesture and quickly say, ‘Keep your dear teacher happy!”

Follow this routine once or twice until the class instantly implements the Rule 5 callback.

For several days, and whenever necessary thereafter, practice the routine just described. We've found that the key to stopping challenging behavior is to practice the class response … before disruption occurs!

The only problem we've discovered with implementing Rule 5 is that students implement it too eagerly! Kids will start calling out “Rule 5!” whenever they hear the slightest amount of guff. When this occurs say, with a broad, honest grin, “I appreciate how quickly you are using Rule 5 … but believe me, I will let you know when I think it’s necessary.”  Oh happy day … your kids have your back at the faintest whisper of ornery behavior!!!

If you don’t have challenging kids, then Rules 1-4 will be all you’ll need. Of course, if your classroom has no disruptions, then you’re already in Teaching Heaven!

 To download the free classroom rule posters described in this article, click here or on the Rule 4 poster image above.

For more information on Rule 5 and WBT’s other classroom rules, look at Chapter 7 in “Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids” on

Chris Biffle
Director, Whole Brain Teachers of America
Facebook | Twitter | Youtube | WBT Bookclub | Webcast Archive

Chris Biffle, a college philosophy professor for 40 years, is the author of seven books (McGraw-Hill, HarperCollins) on critical thinking, reading and writing. He has received grants from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In the last 15 years, Chris has been lead presenter at over 100 Whole Brain Teaching conferences, attended by 20,000+ educators. Thousands of instructors across the United States and around the world base their teaching methods on his free ebooks available at

August 16, 2014

Family Science Night: Hands-on, Minds-on Fun!

Guest post by Carol Wooten

As one walks the hallway on the evening of Family Science Night, the echoes of excited young scientists fill the school building. From extracting strawberry DNA to investigating a car that runs on alternative fuel to constructing a Rube Goldberg machine from everyday materials, the students are actively engaged in learning that will impact them for a lifetime.

According to the well-known quotation from Benjamin Franklin, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” This ideology was taken into account with the design of Family Science Night. Our focus was to involve all participants through stimulating hands-on investigations. As with science investigations during class, the emphasis was not on simply telling or teaching, but making science come to life for families.

As a member of the planning committee for Family Science night and eventual chairperson for over a decade, I had the opportunity to directly observe the evolution of the evening and its amazing positive impact on both parents and students. Ten years ago, Family Science Night included five presentations from parents who were scientists and several university professors. The next year, students also became involved and conducted hands-on presentations for various sessions such as basic physics, landforms, and ecosystems. We included make-and-take stations where students (and parents) were able to construct and work on various challenges such as using science concepts to design and build the tallest straw tower.

Within the past five years, the popularity of Family Science Night has grown to over thirty presentations and make-and-take stations. Hence, the attendance has increased from under one hundred participants to over 500. The development of Family Science Night has flourished each year. As schools begin holding these exciting evenings of science, those organizing the event should remember to start small and then grow during consecutive years. Having parents and community involved in any aspect with the evening is vital to a successful event.

The key element of Family Science Night is that the evening is hands-on and minds-on. When university professors and scientists in the community agree to present at Family Science Night, this agreement includes a hands-on and often inquiry-based session where participants are able to explore the concept rather than receive a lecture.

In addition to outstanding speakers who incorporate hands-on learning for participants to explore a wealth of science concepts, schools may also integrate a science project into the Family Science Night. The cafeteria could be utilized to display these family science projects. Due to the end of year testing in science for fifth graders, the fifth grade students’ projects envelop one of the main concepts that will be assessed.

Family Science Nights may also progress into various formats.  For instance, students may share what they have learned from science class in stations using hands-on and inquiry based models, volunteers implement a variety of make-and-take stations, local scientists incorporate presentations that encompass hands-on and minds-on learning, or a combination of all of the above idea formats.

How to Plan and Host a Family Science Night

If schools are initiating a thrilling Family Science Night for the first time or for the hundredth time, the guidelines below will help to create an outstanding event that not only promotes science, but also involves the family and community in an astounding learning experience.

The list below is a starting point for a Family Science Night. Since each school is unique, organizers should feel free to modify the list and event planning to meet the needs of the school. A more detailed general planning list is found at; however, remember that the list is not cookie-cutter. It can be adapted to meet the needs of various schools.
  1. Develop a school team of interested members and delegate a chairperson. The committee can include staff members and parents—anyone who is motivated in enhancing children’s love of science. Establish meeting dates and begin to assign roles.
  2. Decide on the size of the event. Will you have five presentations or are you expanding to over thirty? Your size may also depend on your budget. Our budget was $400 for 30 stations, which mainly provides materials for the make-and-take stations. However, the event has been run with less than a $100 budget—you simply have to minimize the materials for make-and-takes or depend on a variety of donations to facilitate these stations.
  3. Develop a theme for the event. For example, “Connecting with Super Scientists” was last year’s theme that emphasized the integration of technology. 
  4. Brainstorm a list of possible presenters and session topics. Conduct research of excellent presenters by first determining parents skilled in the area and then contacting other universities and/or companies to present. What types of content for presentations would yield high interest?
  5. Determine the number of make-and take stations and the content for each station. Examples of make-and-take stations include straw towers, bird feeders, UV bead bracelets, Rube Goldberg machines that are designed using scrap materials, Oreo moon phases, and silly putty.
  6. Create a “to do” list in preparation for this sensational evening.
  7. Distribute speaker invitation letters.
  8. Organize the presenters/speakers based on their attendance replies. Which presenters noted they were able to attend? Which presenters were unable to attend but showed an interest for next year’s event?
  9. Assign classrooms to the presenters and stations.
  10. Create a program for the event. A sample program can be found on the aforementioned website.
  11. Purchase and organize make-and-take materials. Organizing and labeling each station’s materials in a separate box is very beneficial. Include precise directions for the station in the box.
  12. Ask for additional help and decide what roles need to be completed the day of the event. An efficient method of structuring and assigning your helpers is to use a program such as Sign Up Genius.
  13. Confirm speakers/presenters again (a week prior to the event). It is also beneficial to confirm what types of technology the speaker needs for the presentation.
  14. Prepare packets/envelopes for the presenters. It could include a map of the school, a student-created thank you note, and/or a voucher for free food (if food is being served at the event). The thank you notes are always greatly appreciated.
  15. On the day of the event, greet speakers and monitor to make sure all technology needs are met. 
  16. Following Family Science Night, evaluate the evening. What went well? What areas would you improve? Then, celebrate and set the date for the next year’s event.

Passport System Encourages Participation

During our first several years implementing a Family Science Night, we realized that attendees were definitely drawn to the make-and-take stations such as the pine cone bird feeders or straw towers. But how could we ensure that all presenters were visited equitably? This question led to the design of a passport system. With this system, attendees received a passport handout with their program upon arrival at the Family Science Night. After attending each session, they would earn a sticker from the presenter or volunteer to place on this form. Click the page of passport sticker image on the right to download our passport packet.

Once all stickers were earned, the participants returned the form to the main table to receive a prize. These prizes have included anything from science related washable tattoos to neon “Family Science Night” pencils. Participants also completed the form with their name and contact information to place into the bin for a grand prize drawing—a $25 gift card that is given away at the conclusion of Family Science Night.

Furthermore, Family Science Night provides an excellent opportunity to create leadership roles for students, especially fourth and fifth graders. Student ambassadors work to assist with sign design, greeting presenters, distributing programs, and creating thank you notes for all presenters. Schools may have students apply for this position, or the role can be teacher selected.  Students take pride in their roles and work diligently to ensure they fulfill their assigned ambassador duties.

With each year, we embark on Family Science Night as a new and exciting experience. As a science committee, we learn from each event and strive to make the next year’s Family Science Night even more electrifying.

Carol Wooten is a fifth grade math and science teacher at Hunter GT/AIG Magnet Elementary in Raleigh, NC where she is entering her seventeenth year of teaching. Wooten is a former Kenan Fellow whose project was entitled “Science Inquiry and Assessment.” She is a past recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching. Wooten serves on the NCAEE board as the Teacher Director at Large. Carol is also a member of the NC Association of Elementary Educators Board of Directors.

August 14, 2014

Why I Stopped Criticizing Common Core Math

Guest Post by Adrianne Meldrum at The Tutor House

One of my favorite scenes in Disney's Tangled is when Rapunzel makes the decision to leave her tower.  She isn't sure whether she should feel guilty or gleeful.  If you don't remember this scene (or just want to watch it again--because it's so below).

Tangled up in emotions.

I relate to those feelings oh so well when I look back at my experience with the Common Core Math Standards.

Much like Rapunzel, I was wide eyed and excited to learn about these math standards. I knew that because we were such a transient culture that it could help more children be at the same place academically when they moved to a new city. I was giddy at the idea that children were going to dig deeper into math as well.

Then my own children experienced Common Core Math.  (cue the scary music)  Suddenly, I felt myself getting angry at the way they were teaching my children to do math. I also felt like we were going against the way we were taught.  What was wrong with the way we were taught?

Math became  hard and confusing at times for my children and me. To make matters more complicated, I am a private math tutor. For goodness sake--I should be able to figure this stuff out! And honestly...I did, but it took some time and thinking. I wanted desperately to go back and have things stay the same.

One night, my son brought me his homework and he was marked wrong (yet again) even when his work was correct. After dealing with my frustrations, I realized what she was trying to teach my son something very important. She wanted him to attend to precision. The very skills that I demand in  my own students when they came to tutoring!

And so the pendulum swung for me this previous school year while I sorted out my feelings and own misconceptions about Common Core Math. I decided to confront some of my own thoughts and frustrations. I started to read Common Core Standards beyond the grades that I tutored.  I read the suggested pacing guide and got a more complete picture. While reading, I discovered something that teachers should be telling parents...the standard algorithm that we grew up using is in there! Imagine that. Starting in third grade, the standard algorithm shows up. Students are expected to know how to add and subtract the "old school" way.

"Fluently add and subtract within 1000 using strategies and algorithms
based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship
between addition and subtraction." (3.NBT.2)

I could feel the joy bubbling up inside of me. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for teachers and parents to know where we have been in grades previous and where we are heading. We need to see the full picture. I know that celebrities and comedians like to paint a picture of students using number parts and number lines as adults, (ahem--Stephen Colbert) and I laugh right along with them...because using those methods as an adult is crazy. The point is, the methods being taught in lower grades enables students to do mental math thus freeing up their mind to do harder mathematics. I spend a lot of time as a middle and high school math tutor waiting for a child to tell me what 6 x 8 equals. I've seen a change with some of my students that are younger. They have fluency with math facts whereas, the older students do not.

Common Core Math Mindset

To bring my feelings full circle, I made a choice to attend a mathematics conference this summer.  Phil Daro, the lead author of the Common Core Math Standards, was our keynote speaker. He made excellent points about the teaching children to be critical thinkers and less worried about answer getting. Our world needs more critical thinkers. He emphasized teaching math with this mindset:

You Do:  The student explores a problem and comes to conclusions on their own.

We Do:  The teacher leads a discussion about the conclusions students make. Students are encouraged to share their ideas and the teacher guides them towards the concept being taught.

I Do:  The teacher then steps in and teaches the mathematical concept and provides exercises for students to practice.

No matter what your feelings are about the Common Core Math Standards; it takes time for teachers, children, and parents to adjust. Even if you are hopeful that Common Core will just be a blip in history, we need to stop putting our heads in the sand and get comfortable with these ideas that are not new in any sense.

Educating Parents About Common Core Math

What can you do as a teacher to help implement and educate parents about common core math?

1.  Host a Parent Math Night
At the beginning of the year, show parents how Common Core Math is being taught to their children. Reassure them that the way they learned how to do math is being taught right along side other methods. Laura has a great free resource about how to host such a night like this. Download it here.

2.  Include Parents During Math
If you are having discussion about math with your students, don't be afraid to invite parents to come and watch so they can see the value in what you are teaching their children.  Specifically ask for volunteers to come to class during math as well!

3.  Give Parents a Math Glossary
I've seen many awesome math vocabulary packs on Teachers Pay Teachers, why not take it a step further and allow parents to have their own copy of math vocabulary in a glossary. Make sure the definitions also include examples so that parents can refer to the glossary when an issue arrives with homework.

4.  Provide Quality Articles and References
There are a lot of misleading images and articles floating around on the web. Parents are confused! Help them get some clarity by sharing articles and references that you've found are helpful. If you have a class website, provide an entire page dedicated to links that will help parents understand Common Core more fully. Here are some suggestions:

Americans Are Bad at Math, but It's Not Too Late to Fix It
Common Core Math Standards in Action
Truth About Common Core
The Common Core Savvy Quiz

Bottom line, implementation of Common Core Math Standards is key. If we don't take the time to properly educate and introduce parents to these standards, we will always be facing resistance.

What about you?  How have you educated parents?

Adrianne is a private tutor and creates materials for tutors and teachers alike.  She authors The Tutor House, a blog aimed at helping tutors run an effective business.

August 12, 2014

3 Mindful Classroom Teaching Strategies

No Tricks or Gimmicks: 3 Mindful Classroom Teaching Strategies

Guest post by Shelley of the Write Stuff Teaching Blog

If you are anything like me, you have tried every class management trick in the book. After 20+ years of teaching, that adds up to a lot of time spent on tricks and gimmicks to be able to run your classroom smoothly and effectively. I've tried group points, individual strategies, treats, moving desks around (a lot), classroom bucks, phone calls to parents (both positive and when students are struggling) and many, many more. Even though classroom management is a strength of mine, it is still a difficult challenge, especially now, as our students enter the room with more and more challenges.

Unfortunately, support is not as good as it used to be and teachers are left to deal with the consequences. The trend is towards differentiated learning for each one of our students.  How can we possibly do that when we spend so much of our time on getting kids to focus and learn and less time teaching curriculum? I would like to share with you 3 teaching strategies that I use together that incorporate three popular programs. It can be used with kids from K-8 by adapting these strategies for your own grade level.

I always knew that "intrinsic" motivation (doing something because you want to not because you will get a reward) was more effective than "extrinsic" motivation (earning prizes and points) based on research I had read during my student teaching. But just how do you do this when there are 24+ students who all come from different backgrounds and families with different values and expectations?

1. Teaching Self Awareness

I was watching a program on TV one day and Goldie Hawn (the actress) was on talking about her days in school. At the time, the Vietnam War was on and she became scared and worried. She began to realize that because she was worried, she couldn't learn to her potential. As a result of her experience she created the MindUP program. (This is available at Scholastic for grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8). I knew that this was something near and dear to my heart as I watched many of my learners suffer through episodes of anxiety. I did the training and realized very quickly that implementing it in my classroom would be an easy fit into everything I do and not just another program I didn't have time for.

So, the first mindful strategy I implemented was MindUP. I started by teaching the students about their brains. I didn't know much about that myself but after doing lots of reading and providing books for the kids to read – we all got very excited about this!

I began creating things that would help the students learn about their brains more and to be self aware of their learning. Here is a free Brain Lift the Flap Book that I created that you can have students put together to celebrate their strengths in learning. It’s a great back to school or #geniushour activity.

Every day we do brain breaks. Not the “get up and move around” brain break but a true “let yourself go and be still” brain break. We use a resonating chime and we find a comfortable position to sit and we just breathe with our eyes closed so that our brains aren't working. Kids love how good this feels. Even the “busiest” kids finally have this figured out by the end of the year.

After students learn about their own brains, I move to their 5 senses. I give students opportunities to smell, taste, see, hear and touch items to have them really hone their observations skills. (Not only is this a Science concept but it works great at Writer’s Workshop when I am having students learn about Word Choice and improving their colorful adjectives and vivid verbs – bonus!) Once students got the hang of self-awareness, I moved to awareness of others.

2. Teaching Kids to Become Bucket Fillers

The 2nd mindful strategy was to find a way to encourage students to look beyond themselves and outward toward others. I wanted them to be kind, compassionate and empathetic. I had to teach them this. Enter Have You Filled Someone’s Bucket Today?, a book by Carol McLoud and David Messing and a very popular book and program today. The intermediate version is called Growing up With a Bucket Full of Happiness: 3 Rules For a Happy Life.

I read the students this book and they kept a mindful journal of thoughtful things and new learning about themselves and their brains. They fill out “fill a bucket” coupons to give to their friends and one student a day writes a compliment to the VIP on the whiteboard daily as part of our morning message. Once they understand the classroom kindness, I extend it further.  Have you filled your Mom’s bucket? Your Dad’s? The school custodian or secretary? Truly, the students are really genuine and honest and really get it! Afterwards, we learn about multiculturalism and people around the world to extend their thinking even farther.

So now, my students are becoming self aware and aware of others.  But something was still missing.  It was the knowledge of who they are as a person and how their feelings, emotions and behaviors can affect and impact themselves and others.

3. Fostering Flexible Thinking

Enter strategy number 3 – SUPERFLEX! Superflex is a program that was developed by Stephanie Madrigal and Michelle Garcia Winner and is a very popular program for all elementary grades. I love to introduce this program after MindUP and Bucket Filling because you really need to be able to be open and understanding and willing to accept things about their own personality in order to grow.

Superflex is a superhero that is a “super flexible thinker.” He defeats Rockbrain (stubbornness) and other Unthinkables by using social strategies. Examples of some Unthinkables that I introduce them to are:  Worry Wall (great for students with anxiety), Energy Harry (you know the ones!) Mean Jean (a hard one to admit), Brain Eater (students really relate to this one because there are SO many distractors) and Glassman (students who cry or get really angry for minor things).

For primary learners, I have the students create their own version of themselves as Superflex. This seems to empower them to want to learn more and to feel in control of their own actions.

We do roleplaying based on the suggestions for strategies in the book. One student wears a cape and is Superflex and one or two others are the Unthinkable of the day. Students LOVE watching these skits because they either see themselves in them or they see them as ridiculous but true.

Mindfulness and Classroom Management

So what do mindful and brain based learning, bucket filling and kindness and being a flexible thinker have to do with classroom management? All of these strategies provide a framework for self-awareness that allow a learner to really understand themselves and work with the strengths they have and work on the areas of difficulty they experience by giving them the tools they need. Talking about uncomfortable things really helps students to become better versions of themselves and leads to happier learners. Happier learners are more efficient learners. Check out this link from Edutopia on the neuro science behind this:

This all adds up to a team of classmates who are all supporting each other which helps the teacher to free him or herself up to teach more effectively and add rigor to their lessons while also helping to differentiate for those in need.

When your students can learn efficiently and are aware of their skills, they are more able to set goals, self assess and prepare portfolios of their learning journey to share with others.

I created a set of mindful posters that you can grab for free by clicking here or clicking the image on the right. One shows mindful students and the other shows the mindful teacher.

Remember that if you teach your students to be mindful, you won't need any tricks or gimmicks for classroom management!

Shelley Rolston teaches in a suburb outside of Vancouver, BC. She loves to teach literacy and enjoys adding a social learning and character piece to most things she teaches. Visit her blog, The Write Stuff Teaching, to learn more about mindfulness in the classroom.

August 10, 2014

5 Ways to Help Students Become Word Collectors

Guest post by Meg at The Teacher Studio.

The research is clear -- children who have rich vocabularies and who are given the opportunity to learn new words have a much higher academic success rate. Although it is certainly possible to explicitly teach vocabulary, I love to incorporate "word collecting" in everything we do.

I have 5 ways for you to help YOUR students become Word Collectors -- learners who notice, learn, and use interesting and meaningful words!

1. Encourage reading! 

Pretty obvious, right? Read aloud to your students. Encourage them to read. Immerse them in quality literature with rich language. Whether you read aloud picture books and stop and savor a particularly interesting word, whether you pick a chapter book that can help you deliberately expose students to new words (Have you seen "The Willoughby's" by Lois Lowry or "The Word Eater" by Mary Amato? Each of these books has vocabulary as a key part of the story! Otherwise, help your students become more tuned into new words you encounter in books my recording them as you find them and discuss them. Encourage students to make them their own and to use them...after we tracked some of the great vocabulary in "Shredderman", all year my students "hoisted" their backpacks and noticed when people "cringed". They loved it!

2. Model classroom discourse! 

Hearing and using rich language serves a number of purposes--from modeling sophisticated language to showing that you, yourself, are interested in language. Helping students rephrase their idea or restating your own to add in more varied vocabulary is a way to infuse more "word collecting" into your daily classroom discussions. What might this look like? Check out the following dialogue:

Student: I tried and tried until I got the right answer.

Teacher: I love that you tried even when it was tough! That's called "perseverance". Can anyone else think of a time you "persevered" when things were tricky for you?

Getting better at infusing vocabulary into what WE do models for students what THEY can do. Students, by nature, love to learn new words, so we need to make sure we provide them with our expertise!

3. Study content! 

As we teach our content...whether it be math or literacy or science, we need to make sure we are using the language of the discipline. There are many ways to make sure students have access to the vocabulary they need to learn, discuss, and apply new knowledge. Check out the following pictures for some ideas on how to keep content area vocabulary visible and useful to students.

This anchor chart stays up throughout an entire unit on essay writing. Teachers and students can refer to it to make sure everyone uses common "language of essays" - especially if some of the terms are new.

Here's a great way to review vocabulary from a unit. The students brainstormed a list of vocabulary terms studied in an electricity unit. Then they came up to the smart board and "connected" terms they felt went together, and explained how the terms related to each other. You could do with with any unit.

When doing research, ask students to keep track of a list of vocabulary about their topics they feel any "expert" would need to know about the topic. In addition to making sure they use this vocabulary, it serves as a discussion point and a way for them to consciously decide which terms truly match their topics.

Many teachers display unit vocabulary on a bulletin board or have students write them in their notebooks --do whatever makes sense for you to keep those key words accessible to your students.

4. Make it accessible! 

What do I mean by that? We need to do what we can to make words accessible to students. Studying prefixes, roots, and suffixes can help students learn the meanings of new words they encounter. Going on word "hunts" as they read can reinforce those concepts as you teach them. Check out these two examples of charts created with students as they collected words.

This chart evolved as we studied the different types of words that end in "ing". Students would find words in their reading or the world around them, write them on sticky notes to give to me, and then we talked about them. We learned about spelling patterns (dropping those pesky "e's"!), about how some "ing" words are nouns and some are verbs and some are adjectives - and more!

We have hunted for different prefixes, for words that make sounds (onomatopoeia), words that have multiple meanings--and more!

5. Celebrate Words! 

Above all, model having fun with words! Play with words. Celebrate words. Notice words. Consider creating a bulletin board display "graffiti board" where students can jot down nifty words they find. Point out and encourage students to point out words they learn--or words they WANT to learn. Depending on your group, consider giving each student a "Word Collector" notebook...I LOVE giving students these little notebooks where they can really take ownership of their own word collections. Enjoy!

Meg has been teaching for more than 20 years and loves making a difference in students' lives by helping them see how fun and meaningful learning can be! She also loves teaching and working with adults, whether it be doing teacher training, blogging, or creating resources to help push teachers to try new things! Stop by her blog at The Teacher Studio for more ideas!

August 5, 2014

How to Regain Your Love of Teaching

Advice from Real Teachers
Does the return to school each fall fill you with excitement or give you a sinking feeling in your stomach? Even if you love teaching and wouldn't trade your job for any other, it's easy to find yourself dreading the end of summer and the return to school routines and responsibilities.

To find out how others overcome these feelings, I posted this question on my Teaching Resources Facebook page:
"Have you ever felt like you didn't want to go back to school in the fall, even though you love teaching? What advice do you have to offer to those who might be feeling this way? How do you motivate yourself to regain your enthusiasm for the profession?" 

Over 150 educators responded with fantastic tips and advice! Because most of you don't have time to read all the responses, I eliminated duplicate ideas and pared the list down to 18 of the best tips. If you would like to read all of the responses, click here to find them on my Facebook page. Even if you don't read them all, I'm sure you'll find something below to motivate you to rediscover your love of teaching!

18 Tips for Rediscovering Your Love of Teaching
  1. CarolAnn Eppens - At the end of the year I have students write a letter to me about what they liked about being in my class (I teach 4th grade) and a letter of advice to my future students.  I don't allow myself to read them till August. They bring a smile to my face & remind me of why I teach 
  2. Janette Young - I keep a 'smile' file with adorable cards/notes from students and also kind emails from parents & students. Looking back at them is inspiring - and makes me smile! :)
  3. Becky Ritenour - Think about those "a-ha" moments where you made a difference for one of your students. That kid who said he hated English on the second day of school and then turned around six weeks later and said "That book we just finished? I really liked it." Or the kid who told me "reading that book was better than any TV show or movie I've ever seen". That's what you're there to do. The paperwork, the red tape, the lack of supplies, the appreciation that rarely comes from administration, the daily grind of trying to get everything accomplished, etc. can dim our view, but think about those moments with your students.
  4. Rachel Moore - For me it's the relationships with the kids - I just remember the smiles I get in the morning, the letters and pictures I get drawn (I keep them all in a folder), the thank yous from their parents for making the transition from pre-school to school. 
  5. Rachael Rose - Read the book The First Days of School by Harry Wong. I have been teaching over 22 years and am always excited and inspired after reading this book!
  6. Joanna Martin - Once you get in the door and meet your students your motivation and love for teaching will come right back. Plan fun stuff for classes and then for yourself for after work. Remember the kids are feeling the same way. Think about those amazing transformations!
  7. MeLinda Gray - My best way to get back in the groove is to get in my room early, start redecorating, organizing, and rearranging. Then I start focusing on those first day activities and lesson planning.  Once I'm back in the classroom I tend to get more excited. I'm always up really early the first week of school because I am excited to see all the staff again and then get my kids in and rolling.
  8. Bonnie Jacquel - Look on Pinterest for new ideas! That gets me excited!
  9. Heather Hicks - Make a list of all the things about teaching for which you are grateful. Laughs, love, aha moments, student progress big or small, coworkers, supportive parents, (list individuals by name), students who impacted you in the past, things you've learned, the fact that you have a job when many do not, etc.
  10. Laura Osterman - I try to look for one new thing I want to try in the classroom every year. Sometimes it is just a new twist to an existing unit, lately I committed to totally flipping my class, so that is a 2-3 year project. But each year I look at what I want to try or improve. That and some really great music while moving in!
  11. Cathy Bowman - I downloaded some new activities and centers so I'd have new things to introduce that are fun. I made some new (2nd grade) crafts. It was fun and I'll have examples for them to follow. I always look forward to the new school year but it is hard to give up the summer!
  12. Michelle Pendergast - I changed grades and schools to combat this!
  13. Susan Braun - Read some inspiration. Check out some blogs with cool ideas. Find a passion you want to develop this year and start preparing. Sometimes just working with a theme can get me in gear!
  14. Karen Greenberg - Read an inspiring teaching book the weeks before school starts.
  15. Julie Thibault - Find a new way of doing things.  I started decorating my room using a theme to brighten things up.  Last year I turned my class into a jungle. I looked on Pinterest and TpT for ideas.  I made vines and tissue paper flowers. Then I shopped at the dollar store for fake plants etc.  the kids were so amazed and it was the only class like it in our school. This year I am doing Treasure Island with a pirate theme. It makes my class a fun place to be!
  16. Joan Armstrong - Go school clothes shopping,   :)
  17. Stephanie Compton - Have positive thoughts. Send those happy thoughts out and they will come back to you. Negativity just increases twice as fast. I told myself not to get stressed out, I am only one person and I do the very best job I can do and I have to be happy with that.
  18. Pe Howell - Spend the last few weeks of summer being really good to yourself, and do things that you like to do. That way, when it's time to go back, you're ready. I always know that I'll be working in my classroom the last week before school starts, so I spend the rest of the month of August enjoy the dog days of summer!
Thanks to everyone who shared their ideas and advice! Your words of wisdom will help others rediscover their passion for teaching and return to school with enthusiasm! If you would like to post a question and ask for advice, visit my Facebook page every Wednesday at 8:30 pm EDT and look for the Question Connection post. Chances are that someone else has the very same question, and you are sure to get some great advice from real teachers!