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 9, 2017 10:44

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Secrets Students Need to Know #6 March 9, 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 7, 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 3, 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 2, 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 1, 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.

Anxiety in Parents and Students February 12, 2017 10:08

When did parents stop trusting our educational system and anxiety begin building in our children?

As an educator, I can remember the shift. My fifth and sixth students in the early 70's did not experience the high anxiety of the children today. They were very productive young people who enjoyed the learning process. They were challenged, but responded to challenges differently.

The shift began when the newspapers began posting standardized test scores and reporting that the schools were failing our children. That started the public looking for any evidence that we had failed our children.

What resulted was a hyper focus on tests scores instead of the real evidence that we were, in fact, successful. Parents trusted us until the media bashed the system in place. As their distrust grew, we began seeing heightened anxiety in our students.

Was the system perfect? No, but it was not a failure.

Winning back the trust of parents is hard when the media continues to show how we are failing and not how we are succeeding. This instills fears in parents that did not exist when I first began teaching.

We also have to contend with those who gain financially from parent's fears and offer expensive programs that guarantee students will score well. Who really gains from this?

I don't know about you, but I would prefer my students learn how to navigate challenges and become problem solvers rather than be good test takers. 

Intend to Attend February 2, 2017 06:58

I love the sayings on my wall in my classroom:

Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performances!
Proper Prior Practice Prevents Poor Performances!
Get the Edison Ethic!


I’ve added a new one.

Intend to Attend!

My third grader reading class students are very precocious. They somehow got the impression that being smart meant they needed to be good at everything. So, when they come into my den of learners, they find the first challenge most have had since they entered school. Imagine determining their ability to achieve at such a young age even without having been introduced to problem solving strategies. When we delve into the topic, some confess they are afraid to let the teaches know they don’t know how to do something because they get the response, “You can figure this out, you are smart.’ Wow, that is a powerful message. Since they are bright, they form the opinion that they have to know everything or they aren’t smart. In other cases, they have people who automatically do everything to make things easy, so when they hit a challenge they can’t solve independently, they don’t feel they are as smart as others have told them.


Since these students are competent readers when they came into third grade, I step up the demands, but not without many discussions about how the activities make them feel.

The first assignment always is a half page story. The questions require inferential answers. I assure the children that this is an assignment that they are free to leave blanks if they can’t find the answer. They look at the paper and think, “She doesn’t know how smart we are,” and deduce it is an easy assignment because of its length. Then they proceed to speed through it. It isn’t long before I begin to see squirming and in some cases outward signs of distress. It all starts with the first child crying. Then another comes to me privately with expression of frustration. It is clear by the lack of answers on the papers, that I have achieved my objective. My goal is to deal with how these types of activities make them feel.


In a Socratic dialogue circle, we discuss how this assignment made them feel. It takes a little staging to get them to be honest. I always share how this type of assignment made me feel. “I hated these assignments. It didn’t help when the kid next to me finished in ten minutes and celebrated his completion. Then I felt even dumber. Anyone share my experience?“ The following responses followed:

“I pride myself on finding the right answers and I couldn’t in this assignment and I felt like ripping up the paper.”

“I’ve been told I have to get 100% on everything, or I wasn’t a good enough student to stay at this school.”

“I should have been able to do this, Everything else has been easy and this is the first hard reading assignment I’ve had.”

“I felt frustrated and thought I shouldn’t be in this class if I couldn’t do this paper.”

“If I don’t do well on all my work, my parents make me go to a tutor.”

There wasn’t a child in the class of 26 that didn’t share their feelings. What they needed to know was they were in good company and others shared their feelings.

The semester has been spent with delving into different types of text and exploring different strategies for each type. As a result, when I gave them another short story to read their responses changed, “Oh cool, I can do this.”


They felt empowered until they discovered I increased the difficulty one more time.They handed the frustration so much better and tried many of the strategies they had learned. I had a few asked to read the assignment aloud outside. Before I knew it, there were more children outside then inside.

The right amount of frustration is good if, and only if, it is followed up with a means for relief.

It was clear they had reached another level of frustration and needed more strategies. This provided an excellent opportunity to touch on the topic of automatic negative thoughts. The negative thoughts set off the amygdala and block their ability to see the answers.  My job was to demonstrated how the negative thoughts about this assignment was impacting their ability to complete it successfully.

“If you have already decided you can’t find the answers, you have told your hippocampus to stop looking, so put down your pencils down and don’t do anything more because you won;t find the answer with that mindset. However, if you have decided that you haven’t found the answers yet and have told yourself you are not giving until you do, continue re-reading the passage differently until you do. Your brain will keep searching until it finds it. You may have to read it seventeen times using different tones each time. If you decide before that you couldn’t find the answers, change your thinking and you will change your results.”

I demonstrated seven ways to read the first two words, “Mother! Mother!” Just in those readings, three children realized that the third way I read it helped him find the answer. The children continued to reread the story and smiles began to appear on faces around the room. They had acquired yet another strategy and validation that they were in fact smart.


They decided to “Intend to Attend” until they found the answer.

Cure For Hissy Fits Over Homework October 2, 2016 08:32

"When people feel that they have no control over their situation, they may also begin to behave in a helpless manner. This inaction can lead people to overlook opportunities for relief or change." Theory on Learned Helplessness

"I am going to get into trouble because I forgot an assignment. The teacher is going to yell at me and embarrass me in front of the class. I don't want to go to school tomorrow. I want to change schools. I hate my teacher!" Susie screamed after she realized she left her workbook page at home. Her mom stepped in and tried to console her, but she didn't get anywhere because Susie was unconsolable. She was certain of the outcome of forgetting a paper. So, her mom did what many mothers do, she got angry at the teacher and threatened to report her to the principal, "No teacher should make fun of a child who forgets a paper! I'll just have to do something about this." 

Susie's mother made an appointment with the principal the next day, and the principal asked her to speak with the teacher. Susie's mom met with the teacher reluctantly. She really wanted to tell her off for being so mean, but she quickly discovered the teacher was very sweet about the missing assignment, "We all forget things and this will not be the last time Susie forgets something. I will make sure she knows that it is not a big deal. We are working on strategies in the class to help children resolve issues like forgetting assignments. When children have strategies for handling challenges, they will stop with the meltdowns. Should Susie get upset again, please reassure her that all she has to do is come to me and let me know she had a challenge, and we can discuss ways to avoid the same mistake again." 

Susie was conditioned to respond to mistakes in a learned helplessness way. Her mother would respond emotionally each time and step in to resolve the problem. Susie's mom became the momma bear ready to protect her disturbed cub. Susie had FEARS: Feelings and Emotions that Appeared Real to her. Her mother's reaction validated the unrealistic fears. Both Susie and her mother lacked strategies for handling challenges related to the homework. 

With the support of Susie's teacher, Susie's mom was able to fill her toolbox with strategies to help Susie manage future challenges. 

Homework Solutions for Weary Students and Their Parents offers 32 different challenges students face and the possible solutions which will fill student's toolboxes and empower them to no longer feel helpless. 

I'm Beaming September 4, 2016 06:29

It was September 2012 when I first taught my granddaughter how to do her first night of homework scheduling. She is a strong willed child and my daughter thought I could deal with this task while she went to Back to School for the kindergarteners. Alex had just turned five, and as any proud grandparent would tell you, she is very bright.

Most people would think I was crazy doing a 5 day schedule with a five year old, but she took to it like a duck to water. I asked her to decide if she was going to do her homework before dinner or after. We discussed showering and when she would watch a little television. Her response, "I think I'll do it tomorrow." That was not an offered option. We discussed the ramifications if she overslept or if the work took longer than she'd predicted. She was told she would not get to go to gymnastics on Thursday if her homework wasn't done by Wednesday night.  That was enough for her to stick to doing work in the afternoon. 

Since dinner was a fixed time, she decided when she would shower, put out her clothes for the next day, do her homework, play, and watch television. 

Fast forward to September 2016. My daughter presented my granddaughter with five daily plan sheets for her to schedule her coming week. I asked her to share her thinking process with me as she completed each pay. I was blown away by this nine year old. I heard things like, "I have to be in bed by eight. I want to read a little, so I really need to get to bed by 7:30. I don't want to go to bed with wet hair, so I will need to shower before dinner which is 5 o'clock. I will have to shower at 4:30 to give my hair time to dry. I want to play a little Mine Craft, but I know I need time to come down from playing, so I think I'll do that right after I eat dinner at 5:45 until 6:30. I'll make my lunch at 6:30. Then I'll still have time to talk to mom and dad if they are available. If they aren't, I can read or play with my Legos. That means I'll need to do my homework before I shower. I guess I'll do my homework right when I get home. I'll put it at 3:45, so I have enough time to have a snack. I'm starved after school. That gives me 45 minutes to do homework and if I need more time, I just wont' play Mine Craft or read." 

I was amazed at her backwards planning. She started at the last thing she was going to do and planned the rest from there.

This was no accident. There there many failures since 2012. They, however, were viewed as learning opportunities. She did go to bed with an uncomfortable wet head, which she lived through but did not like. There were natural consequences such as incomplete assignments and forgotten lunches and backpacks. Though uncomfortable, she survived and is still motivated to avoid them to this day. 

It's much like traffic school for adults. We hate it, but it does motivate us to watch our driving closely for at least a little while afterwards. 

Seven Secrets About Teachers Every Student Should Know August 24, 2016 10:47

If you are a parent,  share these secrets with your children before they begin their new year.

If you are a teacher, share these secrets the first day to get them off on the right foot and establish an environment that will maximize their performance while taking the guesswork out of providing effective instruction. 

  1. Teachers are not mind readers. They have no idea if students understand what they are teaching. They don’t know what your last year’s teacher taught. They don’t know if you were sick or at a doctor’s appointment when it was taught. Help them help you by asking questions when instruction is unclear. They prefer you save your questions for them and not a tutor or parent.
  2. Teachers learn more about how to be a good teacher for you by the questions you ask.
  3. Teachers do not go on pause when you leave the room or are on vacation. Have a friend take notes should you need to leave the room. Have a note buddy who can take notes for you when you are not at school.
  4. Pay attention to whatever the teacher writes on the board. If they feel its important this is one way they will let you know. You can be sure that 90% of what they write will appear on a test or be referred to later.
  5. Teachers only judge you by your actions. They will not judge you on your past, only your present. Every year offers a new start.
  6. Teachers like when students tell them they want to improve.
  7. Visit their office hours. They want you to ask for help. It takes the guesswork out of how to be the best teacher for you.

Students Are Our Best Teachers August 24, 2016 08:38

I have had many students impact my teaching. Suzy is one. She had the biggest blue eyes and sat in the front row of my second grade class. Her curly blond hair was always adorned with a big huge bow. She struggled and was not doing well in class.  One Monday morning I tried to bring her out of her daydreaming state by informing her that she would not know how to do her homework if she didn't watch what I was demonstrating. "It's okay, my mom will help me at home." This response changed the way I taught from then on out.

For years, teachers swore children weren't listening because they suffered from the "Sesame Street Syndrome," which resulted in children only listening when they were entertained.  But, Suzy shed a different light on the reason for their lack of engagement. If mom could help her, she didn't need to listen when got lost during instruction. 

Once we removed her mother's help and taught her how to ask for mine, this little seven year old soared.