How Do You Engage Students November 10, 2017 07:13

I recently presented at a conference for the Orange County Gifted Association's Annual Conference. My topic was "Secrets About Teachers Who Engage." Since I always have amazing teachers attending my sessions, I like to access what they have to offer. I don't want to bore them with information they already have, and I like to hear some new ideas myself. I want to thank those who shared with the group. The following were recommendations suggested by the attendees:

  1. Incorporate music and videos
  2. Share personal experience
  3. Seesaw
  4. Pear Deck: An app
  5. Uchole Brain Teaching
  6. Allow students to teach
  7. Use guest speakers
  8. Involve art
  9. Songs for Schools
  10. Kahoot
  11. Khan Academy

I have not used any of the above techniques, so I can not attest to their effectiveness, but others felt they were worth mentioning.

Today I'll share a few of the strategies I have found effective in getting every student engaged in answering questions.

1. I use Post-it Notes or little scraps of paper to have students answer questions. I require all students to answer the question, and I wait until all have given a stab at it. Given enough time, students who rarely participate because they are slower processors find they can come up with great ideas. Fast processors find they can generate more indepth ideas if they give themselves a chance to think deeply.

2. Pair share with a twist is a great strategy. Instead of asking students to share their ideas, I ask them to share their partner's idea. The first time this is done, it is difficult for students to remember what the other person said. After instruction in listening strategies, they become more engaged with their classmate's idea.

Stay tuned for more ideas in my next post. 

What Would Your Children Put in Their Bags? August 21, 2017 15:17

My grandson just started second grade. His first homework assignment was to fill a bag with five items that would tell the class something about him. He gave it great thought and placed the following items in his bag: 

  • A medal he earned from swim team that required lots of practice to show improvement
  • A belt that he earned in Tai Kwon Do
  • A medal he earned in diving that only came after many back and belly flops
  • His Par Core Band 
  • A badge he earned in Cub Scouts

I thought he would put in a dinosaur because he used to spend hours playing with them. Each of his choices are centered around something that didn't come as a gift, but instead came only after hard work. His medals weren't the "you tried and so you deserve a medal" kind. They represented a symbol of hard work. Not one of the items were connected to anyone helping him.

There were times when he wanted to quit, because he wasn't making progress. My daughter encouraged him to keep working at it. She retold stories of people who gave up on mountain climbs one foot from the top of the mountain. He heard stories of Michael Jordan, who was told he would never make the high school team, but kept practicing until he did. 

So when we want to step in and help our children do that which they can do for themselves, we need to remember the struggle is what holds the real value. We simply need to coach in strategies that will allow them to experience the joy of the journey and obstacles they overcome. They will come to realize the real joy is in the struggle and not the medal, grade, or award.

Be sure to take time to celebrate every struggle as a means to an end. When they achieve their goal, celebrate the struggle that led to the success. Tap into how the struggle felt and how the achievement feels. Tapping into the emotions will assure them of continuing the work toward future goals.

To Guarantee a Successful Year-Start at the End! August 18, 2017 07:17

It’s a new school year and an opportunity for students to get a fresh start. Now is the time to decide what they want to accomplish this year. 

The best way to have a good year is to start at the end. This may sound odd, but I am a firm believer in creating a clear picture of what one wants to accomplish and the specific reasons as to why. 

I ask students to write what they would like to see on their report cards at the end of the semester. Some of the comments might be, “Susan was an active participant in the class,” or “Jane never gave up and when things got hard, she eagerly asked for support.” I focus on the behaviors they might exhibit rather than on grades.

If students initially focus on the grade, I ask them to define the behaviors or actions to demonstrate in order to achieve the desired grade. It is helpful to coach students with some of the following statements:

To get an “A” I will need to:

  1. Listen intently in class.
  2. Pay attention to what the teacher writes on the board.
  3. Remember to ask for material I miss when I am ill or out of class.
  4. Preview chapters and form questions about what I think I will learn.
  5. Read the questions first on all assignments before reading the material and before the concept is being taught. This will allow me to focus better on the things I need to learn.
  6. Read written work aloud several times to both proofread and check that it makes sense.
  7. Ask for clarification to be sure I understand the teacher’s instructions. 
  8. Make note cards to use for studying and review material regularly.
  9. Ask questions when I am unsure of what the teacher is explaining.
  10. Pay attention to homework assignments when I enter the classroom, so I know what I am expected to complete after school. Plan to get started during recess, if I have a lot to do after school. 
  11. Pre-read homework assignments to see what I do not know and ask questions before I leave class. 
  12. Do nightly homework and turn on time.
  13. Check over graded work and find out why I missed problems.
  14. Have someone quiz me before tests, so I am sure I understand the material.
  15. Use only positive comments when thinking or speaking about my abilities.
  16. When I do not do as well as I expect, I immediately make an appointment with the teacher to ask for strategies to improve. 
  17. Write reasons I made mistakes on my corrected work.
  18. Review all tests for information to check to see if there were possibly errors in correction and to find out what I didn’t know.
  19. {Made a separate item.} When studying for a semester or year exam, I will make sure to determine the correct answers and make note cards for review.
  20. Use the teacher’s office hours to discuss my progress.
  21. Keep a running record of my grades so I know where I stand at all times. 

I ask students to visualize themselves opening their report card at the end of the semester and reading all the wonderful comments and seeing the desired grades. I want them to tap into the wonderful feeling they get when they achieve what they have planned. Tapping into that feeling is a crucial step towards insuring they stay on task. 

Then they are to type up a copy of their goals to review each morning when they are brushing their teeth. It can be posted on the bathroom mirror as a constant reminder of the things they need to do daily to achieve their goals. 

All students can benefit from using the list provided above, however, high school and college students often have to take classes they don’t want to take to meet a school requirement. There has to be a reward in it for them in order to create the desire to make it through the class. I ask them to list three reasons they are taking the class and three ways it benefits them.


I am taking counseling in order to get a clearer picture of what I want to do for a career. Then I will know what classes to take, and understand the way I learn, and school will be easier for me.

I am taking photography to learn new skills because I love taking pictures. It will give me personal satisfaction, and I can learn about career options related to photography. 

I am taking anthropology because I need to improve my grade, and taking it again give me a better chance of getting into a four-year college.

It will also allow me to try out my new study strategies, because I think they will help to improve my grade.

With an image of the end of the semester clearly in their minds, students will find it much easier to achieve their goals. 

A New School Year- A Fresh Start August 09, 2017 08:19

I love the new school year. Well, for at least the first week. My teacher's plan book is filled out for the first week, the room is clean, and I have a new outfit. But then the students arrive. Each year I feel ready for the new group until they enter the classroom. They are carrying new backpacks and new challenges I have never experienced in my 45 years of teaching. But, none the less, I feel ready to tune into their uniqueness, so I can provide the best guidance possible and also see what they have to teach me this year.

I have made it a practice over the last 45 years not to teach summer school. Instead, I trade places with my students and spend time reflecting on what my students taught me. I also use the few months afforded me during the summer to do my own research and read books that I have not had time to read during the hectic school year. Every year, I enter the classroom rejuvenated with a feeling of enthusiasm for what will change as a result of what I learned through my summer studies and from what my students taught me the prior year. I spend a lot of time reviewing the challenges of the prior year and plan for the new year feeling a little more prepared than the year before. You would think I would have nailed it after 45 years in teaching and 22 years in third grade. But, my students always bring new opportunities for me to learn. Like my students, I like getting a fresh new start.

I was asked this summer how I could still have enthusiasm after teaching for so many years. The young man asking the question wondered how I didn't manage to get burned out. Honestly, I wasn't always so enthusiastic. In fact, there was a time 22 years ago when I thought of leaving teaching forever. With my mother's counseling, I revisited my real reason for teaching, and that was enough to consider finding a new school where I could empower students to find the innate ability they possess to achieve their goals and to coach parents in strategies to empower their children. I left the district I was in and found a school that was inline with my vision. Everyday, I remind myself that I am in this job for the kids. My goal is to stay tuned into the needs of each of my children and the unique needs of their parents. Do I always agree with the administration? Not always, but I don't let that define my role at the school.

So, I'm ready. I have my outfit for the first day ready, and I'm refreshed and excited about the 2017-18 school year.


Promoting Kindness in Children July 22, 2017 08:01

The following recommendations were made by the Greater Good Institute for encouraging kindness in children:

The time required for any of these techniques will vary. Try to use one of them at least once per week.


  1. Avoid using external rewards to reinforce altruistic behavior. For instance, you may want to think twice before telling kids that they’ll get a special treat if they share their toys, or promising them extra TV time if they help clean up after dinner. As tempting as it may be to reward kids when they do something kind, that approach can backfire: They may learn that kindness is only worth performing when they’ll be given some kind of prize as a result. Instead, kids should get to experience the feeling that kindness is its own reward—a view backed up by neuroscience studies showing that pleasure centers of the brain light up when people behave altruistically.
  2. Praise character, not behavior. Research suggests that children are more likely to make kindness a habit if they are praised for being kind people rather than just for doing something kind. For example, saying, “You’re such a helpful person” may be more effective than saying, “That was such a helpful thing to do.” Praising their character encourages children to see kindness as an essential part of who they are and seems to be especially effective around age eight, when children are forming their moral identities.
  3. But criticize behavior, not character. In other words, it’s OK to induce guilt but not shame. Children who feel guilt (“I did a bad thing”) after wrongdoing are more likely to feel remorse and make amends than those who feel shame (“I am a bad person”). Criticizing a behavior conveys that it’s possible for the child to change his or her behavior and make better choices in the future. Such criticism may be especially effective when it also includes positive affirmation (e.g., “You’re a good person, and I know you can do better.”)
  4. Model altruistic behavior. Ultimately, actions speak louder than words when it comes to cultivating altruism. Research shows that when children witness adults behaving altruistically, they are more likely to behave altruistically themselves, regardless of what the adults say to them about the importance of altruism.

You can read more on this topic at:



Summer: A Great Time for Grit Building July 02, 2017 08:58

One of the attributes of truly successful people is they have grit. Grit is the courage and resolve to complete what one has started no matter what obstacles are met. I do not believe grit builders are just born that way. I believe they learn it at a very young age. This summer, I will be sharing different strategies for facilitate grit building. 

Grit building comes from an environment that allows for mistakes and imperfections. It doesn’t expect a perfect product, but celebrates the process a child goes through in completing a goal. It celebrates mistakes as opportunities for change, and it is an optimistic environment where all things are possible.

Working with children over the years, I have come across a lot of parents who do things naturally that we can all learn from to help our children. I want to share the wisdom of a mother I met several years ago whose child clearly possessed grit before he entered school.

I recall observing her son on the Pre-K playground trying to figure out how to put the blocks together in just the right way to create a tunnel through which others could crawl. The tunnel would collapse, but that didn’t stop this little fellow. He tried a different configuration. It didn’t work. He continued working the entire recess. When the bell rang, he begged the teacher to leave the blocks the way they were so he could continue working on his plan.

His teacher shared that it took him two days to finally find the right configuration. She shared how he celebrated quietly with some “Yes, I did it,” hand gestures and promptly called his classmates over to test it out.

 How did he learn this? I was curious, so I asked his mother about the motivational strategies she used to help her son stick with a job until it was successful. She said it simply, “I just always felt he could work things out. A puzzle frustrated him, so I just kept telling him to try something else. I didn’t play into his crying like I have seen other mothers do by showing him how to do it. I just had confidence that he would eventually get it. He didn’t that day or even the next week. I think it was a month later while he was in the playroom, that I finally heard a shout of excitement that indicated he had achieved success at something. When I went to see what the shouting was about, he held up the puzzle and showed me he had done it. I didn’t want to praise the product, but I did want to praise his effort and the fact he didn’t give up, so I asked, 'Aren’t you glad you didn’t give up?' He was definitely glad he didn’t. I think this is why he sticks with a project until he gets it complete. I was not one who tolerated crying. But I did recognize the frustration when it didn’t work. I would tell him, “I get that this is frustrating. Put it away for now and come back to it when you feel like you want to try it again. Crying won’t help put the puzzle together, so go play outside for a while and you can try it later.”

This mother was helping her son develop strong character and at the same time was providing him with strategies for coping with challenges that he will use for his entire life.

It's easier to do things for frustrated children, but that does not build grit. It eventually creates co-dependency. Grit building can begin today, by establishing a mindset reset about our children’s challenges. If we see them as opportunities to try a different way, our children are more likely to develop the girt necessary to experience success in whatever they pursue.

How can you do it today? Try teaching your child a new game. Pick something that would not be easy, but something that the child could get better at with practice. My mother never let us win. We had to win legitimately. I played Scrabble with her for years and it wasn’t until I was 65 that I was able to beat her. I was so proud of that win that I posted my success on Facebook.  Throwing a game so the child can feel good now does not teach grit. Being a gracious looser and learning to try again will help build grit. Offer to share a few strategies, if the child wants it. Giving up is not an option. Extrinsic rewards for the effort a child puts into playing a game or learning a new are not as helpful as praising their effort and the the fact they did not give up. Take time to recognize improvements your child has made and encourage them to keep at it, because practice will improve performance.  



Summer 's Here - Balancing Computer Use June 22, 2017 11:46

Summertime is a great time to teach mindful use of devices. 

Summertime is a great time to teach mindful use of devices. 
Let's help children form wonderful summer memories by teaching them to manage their devices first.

Summer is here and for me it brings a flood of memories of simpler times. There were very few television shows to watch and no computers to distract me. My entertainment was up to me and my friends and our creativity. We didn't have Barbie's dream house, so we had to make a shoe box be a multiple of things to satisfy Barbie's dreams. She didn't have a wardrobe we could buy, so we had to make her clothes. We had phones plugged into the wall, so to talk to our friends without someone listening on the line meant we had to go to their house and talk face to face. The pace was definitely slower and summers were a time for the beach and pool play, being at the park looking for creatures to take home for pets, and playing sports at the local sports park. As I reminisce, I can relive those happy times and experience the same feeling of exhilaration I did 50-60 years ago.

What will our children's memories be of their summers. Will if be hours of computer time, or will it be experiencing nature as I once did.

I am not one who would say, "Remove all computers and make televisions enabled for only one hour a day." Technology has many benefits and is our future. I do believe a gift we can give our children is to learn how to manage the dependency on technology. Taking everything away does not create responsible use, but facilitating responsible use will help them in the future.

Summer is a great time to teach mindful use, self-regulation, and deferred gratification. Allow your children to schedule their days. Their schedules should include the activities that stimulate their brains and bodies such as sports, board games, art, free exploration, reading, or any activity that gets them away from their devices and television. It should also include reasonable amount of tech time. There are many  creative ways of using the computer, such as creating movies or radio programs ,or painting on the computer. There are also some video games that require higher level thinking, but are also designed to keep the users engaged. They produce a dopamine release that creates a feel good affect our children need to learn to manage. During school time, this engagement can interfere with getting work done, so summer is a perfect time for the users to learn to manage that feeling of wanting to play for hours.

Putting your children in the driver’s seat is very effective. I recommend parents share that the goal of the gaming industry is to create a chemical release in the brain that makes the user want to continue playing. In a sense it makes the brain happy. It is up to them to decide if they are going to let the game control them or if they are going to control the game. Asking your children to think of ways to manage device use themselves is very empowering. I have found that students who create the solutions for managing this control are more likely to follow through with them.

Spend time each evening helping them evaluate their plans and asking them to create something different until they find a plan that is workable. Given the summer to develop successful strategies will guarantee your children will become mindful users of their devices and learn to control them independently. It may seem like it takes them a long time to come up with a plan, but the time will be well worth it. The younger they learn to manage themselves the better off they will be later on. Do this now and you won’t have worry about your children missing class when they are away at college because they couldn’t put the game down.

What I've Learned From My Students June 14, 2017 06:59

Two things I have learned: I can't read minds! I am not a magician.

I am entering my 23rd year of teaching third grade. In my 45 year in this profession, I think I have enjoyed what I have learned from my students more than anything. I think the one most important thing I've learned from them and an Ah Ha I would want new teachers to know about is I can't read their minds. 

When I finally realized that I could not predict what my students would glean from my words of wisdom, I became a more effective teacher. It was when I stopped teaching concepts and started answering their questions that real engagement occurred. Yes, the good old Socratic method of teaching. It is by far the most effective way of engaging students I have found to date.

Students today are more self-centered than in the past. The influence of technology has changed the way they think. They want immediate gratification and have little patient for long drawn out instruction. I can't model their games, so I just have to cut to the chase. I begin by sharing with them the following words, "I don't know what you don't know. I want to know what you don't know, because I don't want to teach you what you know already because that would not be interesting. I tried taking mind reading classes and have been hugely unsuccessful. So, since I don't know what you don't know by looking at you, how am I going to know?" Of course, it takes them a few minutes to process what I have said, so I often repeat it. It gets a chuckle and then one student raises his/her hand and answers, "If we tell you?" Then that follows with how can you tell me what you don't know? The obvious answer is by asking questions. 

Why does this method engage so beautifully? Think about our engagement when we ask someone a question. We want to hear the answer. 

The one challenge with this method was getting students to recognize the value of listening to their classmates questions. So, I ask them, "Whose question is more important than your own? It is your classmates. They are going to ask something that you didn't even think of asking and alert you to something you didn't realize you needed to ask. When others ask questions, think to yourself, 'Can I answer that?'" 

I love this method of instruction. It puts the students in the driver's seat and allows for natural differentiation of instruction. I have been teaching the curriculum for 22 years and I always get questions I have never heard before. It really takes the boredom out of teaching for me. 

Boredom- What Does it Mean? May 16, 2017 21:07


This one word can get a ground swell going in no time flat. One parent can complain to another that their child is bored in math class and the rest become concerned. Then they ask their child, "Are you bored in math?" Of course, the answer is going to be yes in most cases. This then feeds the fears that boredom is a sign schools are not challenging their chldren. The fact is, a challenging program can feel like boredom to a child who doesnt' understand the definition of boredom. 

When asked what they felt was boring, each student had a different definition. The following are a few of things that my students defined as boring: not having video games to play, having to wait for parents completing tasks, eating alone, not having television to watch, hard math problems, having to write in class, sitting for too long, listening to someone else talk, learning something I learned before, when I am tired, and when I have read every book there is to read in my house and on the internet.

Children and parents are working with two different definitions. The children are defining a feeling connected with nothing to entertain them. Parents are responding to what they think is programing that is not stimulating. 

What are we really looking when it comes to boredom? It's more a lack of interest. Who's responsibility is it to create interest. One can lead a horse to water, but can not make them drink. Teachers can provide a stimulating program and high interest lessons, but we can't create interest on the part of the student. That is solely their responsibility. Recognizing what bored feels like to the student and accepting responsibility for changing the feeling will stop the use of this word. 

When students use this word to define how they are feeling, it is helpful for parents to clarify what their children why. The following is an example of how to help students idenitfy what they really mean by boring.

Teacher: "Why are you not completing your written assignments,

John: "I'm bored with writing."

Teacher: Is there a subject you don't find boring?"

John: "I love math."

Teacher: "Why don't you find math boring?

John: "Because it is fun."

Teacher: "Is it fun becasue it comes easily to you?"

John: "Yes!"

Teacher: "So, is writing boring because it is hard?"

John: "Yes."

Teacher: "What I am hearing is when work is hard, you are calling the feeling you are experiencing as boring, but wouldn't be clearer if you said it was hard?"

John: "Yes."

Teacher: "When you have that feeling in the future, instead of going off into lala land or talking to your classmates, come to me and tell me you are stuck, and I can help you figure out ways to make writing easier for you."



Even the Worst Teachers Can Offer Valuable Lessons May 16, 2017 21:02

This sounds wrong. How can a terrible teacher be the best teacher for a child? 

As my children traveled the educational highway, they hit many potholes along the way. Some of these obstacles were the teachers they encountered. I was like any parent and wanted great teachers for my children. They lucked out most years with teachers who loved what they did, but there were a few teachers who clearly had chosen teaching for the summers off. 

Like any mama bear, I wanted to protect my children from teachers who treated students poorly. Since my policy was never to go to battle for my childrenI did what a friend said she would do I armed them for battle by teaching them how to diffuse and process comments that were less than supportive.  What I discovered along the path was poor teachers would offer me opportunities to teach my children how to talk to and deal with people who didn't appear to care about them nor their education. I now realize these teachers were offering my children opportunities to learn life skills that would take them far in their secondary education and beyond. The skills they learned by interacting with difficult people has served them well in their careers. 

As a student educational coach, I have come across students who have also formed negative self-images because of an unkind comment from a teacher. 

One middle school girl came to me for tutoring in math. As a tutor, I don't do the instruction. I coach children how to ask questions of their teachers which helps the teacher become more effective. It also empowers students to get what they need from their instructors. This method ultimately ends the need for tutoring. 

As I worked with this twelve year old (let's call her Svenia), I discovered her questions indicated how bright she was. I asked her, "When did you decide you weren't smart in math?"

This question sparked a memory that brought tears to her eyes. She shared that the question caused her to see a green eyed monster and heard her say, "You are so smart in everything else, how can you be so dumb in math?" 

After much questioning, we were able to determine that it was possible for the teacher to have said that she found it funny that math was so hard for Svenia. This middle schooler had added her own interpretation of this comment because she found math to be her only challenging subject in school. She didn't realize that although math was not her strongest subject, it didn't mean she was dumb. She spent years suffering with this idea, which translated into her giving up any time there was a challenge. 

At the time, her mother just got mad and blamed the teacher for not understanding her daughter. This teacher had offered Svenia a great opportunity had her mother capitalized upon it. 

When Svenia first complained that she felt stupid in math, her mother could have asked a few questions: Why do you feel that way? Did something happen to make you feel that way? 

Svenia needed reassurance that a struggle did not indicate she was dumb. She never learned that a struggle means one needs to ask some questions and persevere

When I shared this story with another mother, she said, "Well, there are some teachers who judge children and don't like it when they ask questions. And when they do, they get criticized for it and are told they aren't smart enough."

My daughters had a few of those types of teachers. They discovered two of them in middle school and a few in high school and a lot of them in college.

The first experience my daughter had was in middle school math. She worked very hard to do well in math. She found her questions resulted in getting one-to-one instruction from previous teachers.

In seventh grade she came across one of 'those' teachers who didn't seem to like children. He had formerly been a high school math teacher. He didn't have time to deal with questions in the short time he had the students. However, my daughter knew the power of asking questions, because they had been so powerful in the past. She was a little frustrated because this teacher had made students feel stupid when they asked questions. Because she didn't know how to deal with this type of teacher, we role played how she could ask for support. We practiced scenarios she might encounter, until she felt comfortable asking him for support. She asked for a conference with him during lunch. He surprising agreed to it, but he stipulated she would need to make it fast. 

My daughter shared the following with him"I know it can be frustrating answering questions when you have so much to teach. I am not sure why I don't know this one step, but I really want to do well in this class, and I'm afraid if I don't understand this formula, I'll get lost with new lessons. Could you show me where I went wrong with this problem?" She showed him her attempt to out work the problem. He looked at it and said, "I'm so glad you made an appointment. It is hard to deal with questions in class." He proceeded to show her where she had gone wrong, and then he spent the entire lunch helping her clear up her thinking.  

From that point on, he would stop by her desk and ask her to show him her work to be sure she was doing it right. 

My own daughters' experiences with poor teachers have been wonderful opportunities to teach something that was not on the curriculum: How to deal with mean people who don't always have common sense (seem to lack compassion???).  

What I have learned over the years, is that when students have teachers who respond in rude and/or negative ways, it creates opportunities to learn a great deal beyond the curriculum: 

How to survive in less than desirable conditions.

How to recover from snide comments, rise above them, and still communicate in ways to get their needs met.

How to diffuse an angry person. 

How to persevere.

If I had stepped in, my daughters would never have learned how to diffuse the difficult people they have since had to work with in their professional lives. One daughter is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and is very comfortable respectfully questioning doctors about the protocols they may have prescribed for their patients, when she feels it's in the best interest of those patients. Quite simply, those early potholes were truly teachable moments for the realities of life. 

For this reason, I am grateful to those 'less than wonderful teachers' who taught my children that there is much more to education than academics. 

Not Getting Results From Editing Student Work? April 24, 2017 12:11

My enthusiasm for grading papers waned the first year of teaching when I was faced with 70 papers to grade each week. I noticed that the correcting I was doing was not making a difference in my students’ growth in writing.

I needed to make a change to motivate my students to notice their own errors, make the corrections, and subsequently translate those corrections into improved compositions. A reaction of one student had regarding her first poor grade provided me with what I as hoping to find. She looked at her paper and began to cry. After probing, I found she had never received anything less than an "A-" on any paper. To go home with anything less than an “A” would mean she would be grounded for a month. I offered to give her the option to improve her grade by making the corrections and reworking her composition.

Whenever I offer an option to one student, I make the same offer to the other students. The results were amazing. The time I put into editing and the time they spent revising their composition improved their future writings. They had the motivation to critically look at my editings and resubmit their work.

One key component of this approach is students must understand why the corrections need to be made. Just making corrections and rewriting after the teacher has edited will not have a lasting impact on future work, so I added one step to the revision process. When students submitted their revised piece, they also had to include a separate page describing why the corrections made were necessary. For example, if quotation marks were missing, students told why they were needed. It looked something like this,”I need quotation marks because this is the title of a short story.” 

Offering the option for a grade improvement has been the key motivator in getting the students to learn from their errors. If I give the grade after making corrections without the option of improving one’s grade, I can guarantee few students would ever look at their errors. In many cases, they will throw the composition away if it is anything less than an "A" paper. My time will be wasted, and they won't learn how to grow as learners.

Nuts and Bolts Not Included March 18, 2017 09:36

Very few people read directions carefully which can be very time consuming. I am no exception. Students rarely read directions to their homework and projects 'as if' they are going to tackle their assignments right away. So, it stands to reason they experience challenges once they get home.

I encourage them to read the directions so they can ask clarifying quesitons. Many of students read the directions like I did when I went to the store to purchase a "Do-It-Yourself" bookcase. I looked at the directions on the box and determined I could do it. I purchased the bookcase and proceeded home. The trip took a half an hour, but once home and changed, I took out the toolbox I inherited from my father's. Remembering all his instructions about construction, I felt confident to do the job. 

I laid out the pieces on the floor and opened the directions. The first direction said, "Attach piece "A" to piece "B" with a quarter inch bolt."

I looked inside the box and didn't find any nuts and bolts. I thought they might have been taped to one of the pieces, but alas, they were not. 

So I read the directions more carefully. The last thing on the directions was, "Nuts and Bolts NOT Included."

Imagine my frustration. I had to get dressed, get back in the car, go to the store, and find the right sized nuts and bolts. An hour and a half later, I was able to start the construction. 

I tell this story to the students to emphasize the need to read their directions carefully, or they will waste time like I did.

Their homework will take 1/3 the time if they ask about it before they leave the class. Half the work is done when they examine it carefully enough to ask questions. The act of asking actually improves memory, which will make the assignment easier to complete. 



Stories From the Classroom-Stopping Blurters March 17, 2017 06:44

My students have taught me more than I think I have taught them.

I had tried several different strategies in my bag of tricks to get students to be respectful of one another and wait their turn to share ideas. Most of them worked for a short time, but would not have a lasting affect on the repeat blurters.

Last week, I finally found a strategy (by accident) that has had the longest lasting affect than any others I have tried in the past. 

A student was sharing her idea during a classroom discussion. She could barely get her idea out before ir stimulated several other comments. The expression on her face told me she was very frustrated, so I asked her, "Sweetie, how did it feel when you were trying to share your idea and your classmates started talking over you?"

Her response opened up further conversation. "I felt like no one wanted to hear what I had to said."

I asked the class if they had ever had others talk over them or cut them off. Every student in the class had friends or parents cut them off while sharing ideas. So, I asked the class, "How did it feel when you had something really important to share and the person you were talking to wouldn't let you finish?" 

The following were their responses:  

"I felt like I didn't exist."  

"I felt like the other person didn't care what I had to say."

"I felt like I wasn't important."

"I felt frustrated when I was trying to share my ideas."

"I felt like they didn't think what I had to say was important."

"I felt like my idea were wrong and their's were right, and they wouldn't even give me a chance to tell them what I was thinking. It was like they didn't care about my idea and only cared about being right."

I was amazed at how well these 8 and 9 year olds could articulate their feelings.                                                                                       
I followed up with another questions, "Do you think the people that cut you off do it to make you feel this way?" "Why?"                         
The students realized that those who consistently cut others off didn't realize how it made the others feel when they were interrupting them.                                                                                     
I had no idea how powerful this dialogue was going to be. From that point on, we have had five class discussions and a group assignment. In each case, the students have been great listeners who allow their classmates to complete their thoughts before sharing their own ideas.      
Yesterday, the students worked in groups of three and were asked to construct a paragraph in response to a social studies question.      
The paragraphs were great and definitely the result of a collaborative effort. The best part of all wasn't the amazing paragraphs they constructed, it was the comments afterwards.
"I felt like they were open to my ideas."
"I got to share my idea and my friends helped me see why I wasn't correct."                                                                                               
Every child felt heard. I'm holidng my fingers crossed that this will continue. I'll keep you updated.                                                                                               
It only took forty-four years to find this strategy. 
It is June and I can say that the children have not forgotten the discussion we had in October. There are still a few who get very excited and forget, but on the whole this has definitely been one of those strategies I will write in my journal as a must do next year. 

Secrets Students Should Know #7 March 12, 2017 10:27

Secret #7: Secret Makes Mistakes, Too!

Because teachers make mistakes in grading or when writing on the board, it is important for students to keep a watchful eye and be respectful when they catch an error.

Instead of shouting, "You left out a 't'," it would be more productive to ask for clarification about how the word is spelled. For example, one could ask, "I might be wrong, but I think the word has a "t" in it." 

The mistakes on tests are more important for students than getting 95%. They tell the student what they didn't know. It is very important that they get used to reviewing their corrected papers to find out what they missed. 

If a mistake is detected, telling the teacher they made a mistake is not an effective form of communication. Instead, state, "I think I got number five right because......(state the proof). Can you tell me why I got it wrong?" 

This approach will demonstrate students' thinking about the question and aides the teacher in offering more effective instruction. 

Teachers often write questions with one answer in mind, and they don't realize the other possibilities until students bring them to their attention. If students support their answers with facts and reasons, they will demonstrate their true understanding and gain favor in the teachers' eyes.

Through their questions, students can alert teachers to a question that needs rewording. 

Students can also improve their grade in three ways by advocating for themselves:

1. They may be correct and an error was made in grading which will raise their score.

2. Grading is subjective. Therefore, if a student is wavering between a B+ and an A-, the teacher will feel comfortable giving the A- if the student has been a respectful self-advocate.

3. Asking about errors on tests helps students think about the questions and improves memory for later recall. 

Please Help Me Help Others March 09, 2017 10:44

Help me help others! 

Please like my Facebook Page!

Secrets Students Need to Know #6 March 09, 2017 09:48

Secret #6: Teachers Don't Love Grading Papers!

Students need to know that presenting teachers with messy papers isn't a good idea, since not all teachers love grading. If teachers are not in a good frame of mind about grading in the first place, they aren't going be any happier if the paper looks unorganized, dirty, or crumpled. 

Paper grading is subjective. If a teacher is vacillating between a B+ and an A-, the look of the paper can make a big difference in deciding which way to go.

Want to impress teachers before they grade your papers? 

  1. Make your paper look organized by using heading and margins.
  2. Present teachers with legible work.
  3. Self-edit your work by pretending you are grading someone's paper you do not like.
  4. Read your work backwards to make sure you spelled words correctly and used punctuation.



Secrets Students Need to Know #5 March 07, 2017 14:03

Secret #5 Teachers Won't Do For You What You Can Do Yourself

Children need to learn how to work things out themselves. Offering problem solving strategies is all that is necessary to empower children to find their independence. They learn to dig deep and find the infinite ability they possess to be problem solvers.

If we read directions aloud for them, we are disabling them. Reading word problems and detail directions are best done aloud, but if students feel they always have to have someone do it for them, they never find the power they possess. 

Secrets Students Need to Know #4 March 03, 2017 06:14

Secret #4: Teachers only judge students by their actions, not by what they might have heard about them.

Sharing this secret with students at the beginning of the year will set the stage for a positive year. Listing specific observable behaviors that would demonstrate the type of student they want the teacher to see is very important before they enter the classroom.

If a student has had a bad reputation in the past, it is helpful to approach the teacher before school starts and state, "I don't know what you have heard about me, but I want to be a better student this year."  This enlists the support of the teacher before school even begins. 

It's Never Too Late To Change

Teachers know that children change and they love being part of positive changes in their students. If students don't like the impression they have been giving, it's possible to enlist their help in making changes. They can elicit the help by stating, "Ms. __, I know have been not behaving well. I don't like getting in trouble, I want to do better. What can I do?"

Self-advocates send a message that they are serious about wanting to be a better student. Teachers will jump through hoops to help students who want to help themselves. 

Secrets Students Need to Know #3 March 02, 2017 07:09

Secret #3 If a teacher writes it on the board, it is probably important.

Using focused attention and creating a mental picture of the board as the teacher is writing will allow students to easily retrieve the information once they leave the classroom or during a test.


Secrets Students Need to Know #2 March 01, 2017 07:09

Secret #2: Teachers don't hit pause when you leave the room.

One secret I love sharing with the children is one I received from Marianne Gazille, a retired elementary school teacher. She was experiencing an increase in children leaving the class to use the restroom. In her frustration she came up with this pearl and my second secret about teachers, "You know I don't hit pause when you leave the classroom. You might miss something while you're gone."

I love this quote. I use it frequently, especially when we are reviewing over a test and students insist they missed problems because I never covered the material. 


A Secret About Teachers Every Student Should Know February 28, 2017 07:01

I have severn secrets about teachers that every student should know to maximize their performance.

Today's Secret #1: Teachers are Not Mind Readers. 

Teachers don't know what their students don't know unless the students tell them what they don't know. It may look like a student is understanding instruction when they could be thinking about what they are going to do during break or what a friend texted them just before they entered the classroom.  

Teachers want to know what students don't understand, but it is unfair to expect them to be good at guessing what their students are thinking.  

Teachers, therefore, rely heavily on the questions students ask. 

If your children come home with questions about homework, encourage them to get in the habit of asking for clarification during instruction. This will help them develop a better relationship with their teachers, while giving important feedback to their teachers.

Homework! Oh Homework! February 26, 2017 13:03

Homework, Oh Homework,

I hate you, you stink!

With all these projects, I'm right on the brink!

What will be next?  A project? A report? I can't wait to see,

Have no fear, I can do this,

I'm sure you'll agree.

He'll be done with college and I'll finally be FREE.

Victoria Olivadoti & Phyllis Matzkin

My mother and I wrote this poem after receiving a call from my youngest daughter from the Penn State library her freshman year. She had to report an incident she witnessed while working in the computer lab. One of her classmates had announced, "My mother's come through again!" as she printed off the first assignment of the year. She bragged that her mother wrote all her high school essays and even wrote her college essay. 

Fast forward ten years. This  young lady graduated and has moved from one job to another. At age 37, she is currently unemployed and living at home with her parents. Her mother can't help her keep a job, even though she tried to save her daughter's job a few times. 

This is an extreme situation, but emphasizes the need to empower our children to work through the hard stuff independently. Rescuing them isn't helping them find their own power to solve challenges. Each child possesses the innate ability to find solutions to every challenge. The parent's role is to believe their children can.

Proper Prior Planning 9 Year Old Style February 22, 2017 08:22

Alex sat began planning out her week on Sunday afternoon. It was clear she knew how to do "Proper Prior Planning to Prevent a Poor Performance." This is how her dialogue with her mom went, "Mom, I don't want to go to silks' class today. I am stiff, and I think I need a day of rest. I don't think I want to take silks again, because I won't have time to get my homework done. Can I do one extra karate class on Wednesday? I want to practice my form before graduation." 

"You have two silk classes left. When will you get them done? You don't have to take silks after this series is done, but you do need to complete what you started."

"I think I can fit them in in the next two weeks, because I won't have karate."

"Can you do your karate class on Thursday?"

"No, that's graduation day. I want to practice my moves, and I won't have time before then."

"You are right. I didn't think of that. Sure, I can take you on Wednesday."

This is proper prior planning at its best. Alex wanted control of her time, and her mother allowed it to happen. If the schedule didn't work with her mom, she would have found another way to manage. She asked this favor a few days in advance, which gave her mother time to schedule what she needed to do to make it possible for Alex to fulfill her planning desires. 

When given the opportunity, children will plan well. Alex felt respected and had learned from previous experiences that planning in advance could make it possible for her to do what she wanted to do. In the past, there had been times when her mother would tell her, "I'm sorry. If I had known this earlier, I could have rescheduled my day." 

To help students practice "Proper Prior Planning to Prevent Poor Performances" parents need to consider the following:

  • Children are capable of knowing what they want
  • Children are capable of scheduling their time
  • Children need to be taught a system of time management
  • Setting a weekend family scheduling meeting will assure all time needs are considered
  • Consequences are a valuable lesson for children, and will help them learn to honor their parents' time scheduling needs
  • Identifying how it feels to plan well will promote more of the same
  • Identifying how it feels when one does not plan will also promote better planning

Side note: Alex's mother started time management when Alex was old enough to understand she had five minutes to put her toys away if she wanted to watch Sesame Street.


Tom Brady's Story February 13, 2017 06:52

Tom Brady wasn't the best player in high school, but did prepared himself to be ready when opportunities arose. He played as if he was going to be the starter quarterback. 

Tom Brady wasn't the first choice of the Michigan coaches. He didn't fit the profile of a starting quarterback, so he wasn't sought out by recruiters.

He, however, was living with a different story. He had a vision of his future that didn't go by the same rules of those around him.

He could have gone into major league baseball for Montreal right out of high school, but he had a dream. He wanted to play college football. He didn't get natural recognition, so he got creative. If he was to play in college, it was up to him to get recognized. So he sent out tapes to the colleges of his choice.

He settled on Michigan, who offered him a place as seventh in line to play quarterback. He never got on the field his first two years. this would have defeated most young men, but not Tom. He hung in, practicing daily as if he could be called in at any time. He got himself ready for what he knew would come his way.

Even going into the NFL, he was the  sixth round draft. How can someone who didn't have the "right stuff" become a huge Super Bowl record breaker? He didn't listen to anyone else's story.  He believed in himself, kept his vision alive daily, and just played each day with joy and confidence. 

Those who knew him in college say he was easy going and never let being seventh deep in the quarterback line bother him. 

He always practiced "as if" he was going to start and kept a positive attitude. 

I love the message he sends loud and clear to all of us. Enjoy today and live it as if your dreams will come true. The rest will take care of itself.