Showing posts with label teaching. Show all posts
Showing posts with label teaching. Show all posts

The Art and Science of Teaching

Many of us have a love/hate relationship with Robert J. Marzano‘s work. His research and others like John Hattie, have impacted the way we teach each and every day.

The topics his research cover include instruction, assessment, writing and implementing standards, cognition, effective leadership and school intervention. These ten design questions by Marzano will improve your teaching and make you a more reflective teacher.

What I like best about him is his advice that teachers need to use their own experiences when implementing his teachings and know that not everything will work for everyone. This certainly is true of all students In The Art and Science of Teaching: A Comprehensive Framework for Effective Instruction, author Robert J. Marzano presents a model for ensuring quality teaching that balances the necessity of research-based data with the equally vital need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of individual students. 

The Science 

1. What will I do to establish and communicate learning goals, track student progress, and celebrate success?

2. What will I do to help students effectively interact with new knowledge?

3. What will I do to help students practice and deepen their understanding of new knowledge?

4. What will I do to help students generate and test hypotheses about new knowledge?

5. What will I do to engage students?

6. What will I do to establish or maintain classroom rules and procedures?

7. What will I do to recognize and acknowledge adherence and lack of adherence to classroom rules and procedures?

8. What will I do to establish and maintain effective relationships with students?

9. What will I do to communicate high expectations for all students?

10. What will I do to develop effective lessons organized into a cohesive unit?

Think about this set of questions. How can they help you with your own teaching? How can they help foster individual connections with your students?

Chat Soon,

How I Use John Hattie to Create Interventions?

I have come to love John Hattie's work on student achievement. It makes creating small group interventions super easy and effective.  Its a resource a have come to use more and more as my budget gets smaller and helps me create something super specific to meet the needs of my ever-changing students with ease.

John Hattie has done the heavy lifting--researching some 200 influences on student achievement. The key is to look for ideas and not get caught up in the everything. You're looking for ideas that have been found to have the greatest effect size (the closer to 1 the better)

When I use Hattie to create interventions, I keep a couple of ideas in mind. I keep the ideas from Hattie to no more than 5, the intervention to 6 to 8 weeks, and very specific data collection.

Welcome to my Classroom

Here's a view of how I created an intervention to meet sight word and reading fluency goals.

Ideas from Hattie:

  • Direct Instruction
  • Feedback
  • Repeated Reading
  • Goals

These 4 influences play different roles in my intervention. Direct Instruction comes from SRA's Reading Mastery--this is the backbone of my instruction (bonus here is its research-based). Goals are set in two different ways-1) learning targets are a building requirement and 2) everyone set a SMART goal for sight words and reading fluency before the intervention started.

The nature of Reading Mastery is the immediate and actionable feedback is a lesson given but where does it come for sight words and reading fluency. For both, it is tied to repeated readings. After cold reads, students practice with an adult model before being timed each day.


This intervention is only set for six weeks. Why? It's long enough to make a couple of changes but short enough not to let half the year go by without seeing if its closing gaps.

Data Collection:

This intervention has four data points. Some data is collected daily and others once a week.

Sight word data is collected daily--as a repeated reading and as an exit ticket. The exit ticket words are reviewed weekly to see if students are progressing towards their goal.

Sight word data is also collected when they play games to see what carryover looks like.

Goal Line is IEP goal not the student set goal.

I also do trendlines more for me than my students. But having everything in graphs means I can look at it and see if they are moving up or if I need to change things up.

I also collect reading fluency data. The grade level data is graphed. The repeated reading data is kept in their binders as they collect it and maintain the data.  These goal lines make sense as they are working toward IEP goals.

I have all this data now what?


Reflect on the positives. Look at what needs to be changed.

Often you don't need to toss out the whole kitchen sink when putting the trashing the bin will work.

This intervention has at least 5 more weeks before it ends. Which gives me time to change things up if I need to.

Repeated Reading tell me if a student needs to spend more time with specific sight words. The same is true with the repeated readings they do with sight word heavy decodable text--if it needs to be more challenging.

Or if I need to look at an error analysis to see what changes need to be made to the overall intervention.

I'd love to hear how you set up your small group interventions. Where are your successes? Where do you need some help? I'd love to hear about your interventions.

Chat soon,

National Boards Professional Learning a Summer Blog Challenge

This post is week 2 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators presented by Hot Lunch Tray. The most important and impactful professional learning I have participated, so far has been achieving National Boards for Professional Teaching. Don’t get me wrong it was three years of videotaping, rewriting, ending late nights or early morning to squeeze in time to write, edit, or cry. I’m really not sure WHY I decided to put myself through that nightmare.

See the source imageAs a Special Education teacher in Colorado, you spend much of your planning on how to be a general education teacher. Which is what NBPT is looking for--four portfolios, two videos, and one three hour test--I learned a lot about myself, my practice and how to move my students. It was hard--really hard but I’m better for it.

The thing is in Colorado achieving National Boards means I’m part of an exclusive club--today there are 45 teachers with National Boards in Exceptional Needs. It’s hard but so worth the time.

Achieving National Boards changed how I looked at my teaching practice. I make time at the end of a week to reflect on my practice. Sometimes even after a lesson didn’t hit a target or if I’m trying something new.

I also encourage my students to reflect on their work--actively. I mean I have built in ways for my students to think about what they did, what needs to change, and how they are doing. It has become more than just check-ins and Marzano. I have added a video or drawing with notes for students to share their how they are doing. They have gotten used to exit tickets and open-ended questions and knowing they have a strong voice in how there group time in structured.

Giving 1st or 2nd graders a voice in how things are run may seem like a crazy thing to do but by giving them a voice in what is read or how they want to demonstrate what they learned means I have student buy-in without having to build in extrinsic motivation system. They know that the “fun stuff” is part of their week and the really fun stuff is earned. Those days are built in and have a purpose such as using “Where’s My Water?” to build perseverance and giving feedback to peers. Or STEM days to work on “soft skills” and higher order thinking without stressing anyone out (including myself!).  (These are the things that mean more to my IEP goals and to my teacher rubric.)

Data is the vain of any special education provider. We love it. We hate it. We can’t live without. After boards-data has taken on a new meaning. I look beyond the number of progress monitoring like the numbers you get from DIBELS or AIMSweb. I look at those soft skills and the feedback students give themselves. I make a point to have students reflect on and set goals based on that data. They see it as a challenge and make it if not exceed the goal they set.

Boards helped me focus my time. If my students can do it than I give them that job. I don’t hold on to student data or student goal sheets or IEP pieces anymore. My students keep all their stuff--reading material, data sheets, IEP pieces, writing and even attendance is kept in their binder.  They LOVE taking care of the anything and everything. Plus, it’s all in one place for me to grab run to a meeting or to write reports or for them to bring when they meet with me.

Boards has challenged me to make the most of my daily practice with students. To help them grow and challenge them to better themselves as they grow up. Even though I thought about giving up as I was in the thick of it I’m beyond thrilled about what National Boards has done for my special education practice. If your thinking about it--DO IT. You’ll grow and your practice will thank you.

Until next time,

Why I use STEM and STEAM {freebie}

STEM Power! STEM education, driven by learner-centered instruction, provides a powerful learning program for kids. I love seeing my student’s eyes light up when we do STEM. Why? Because its active, hands-on, and most importantly focuses on everything they can do!

STEM is more about integrating science and math into the curriculum with real-world, problem-based activities. STEM in education is NOT about adding something new to my day. Instead, it is teaching science and math in creative and hands-on ways. Often, you will find STEM projects synonymous with engineering projects. You will also see the acronym STEAM which is STEM with “A” added. The A stands for arts and encourages an integration of all of the arts, language arts–reading, writing, drama, as well as visual arts and design.

Why I teach STEM?

Here are my Top 10 reasons for focusing on STEM in my Elementary Resource Room:
  1. Real world many times do your students ask you, “Why are we learning this?” STEM projects help answer that question by encouraging students to use math and science to solve real-world problems. Perhaps they are using area and perimeter to design a zoo blueprint or planning a vacation using math and critical thinking. Many STEM projects offer the skills in a real-world context.
  2. Problem solving. Students practice solving problems that don’t necessarily have a single “right” answer. They practice trial and error and how to come up with creative solutions. (the big word PERSEVERANCE)  They get to practice divergent thinking and adaptability. These are all skills that can be applied in all areas of life.
  3. Hands-On. Students learn by doing, and with many STEM projects, students are using tools and science materials. They are solving problems or constructing structures, not just reading about them or answering questions. (Need I mention--my students LOVE hands on anything)
  4. Differentiated Instruction at its finest. Since there can be any number of possible solutions, most STEM activities are naturally differentiated. Everyone can solve the problem to the best of his or her own ability. Sometimes I find students who are not the best traditional students thrive with STEM projects. There is truly a place for everyone. (think behaviorally challenged)
  5. Cooperative Learning.STEM projects give students practice working as a team. They learn and solve together, often playing different roles on the team. Teamwork skills are important not just in the school setting but in the “real world,” as well. 
  6. Access creativity. STEM activities give my students a chance to show off their creative side. They will get a chance to think outside of the box and sometimes even use art and design. My creative students will get a chance to shine.
  7. Failure. STEM projects give students the opportunity to try a design or solution that may or may not work. With STEM projects, they can fail in a safe and supportive environment and learn from their mistakes. After all, many great inventions were made from failures or mistakes. (multiple iterations with reflections and feedback)
  8. Higher Level Thinking. Students must be able to apply and use their knowledge to solve problems and complete projects. (An easy win on my teacher rubric--YEAH!)
  9. Active Engagement. Students are actively engaged when participating in STEM projects. They are not daydreaming or doodling, they are participating, solving, measuring, and doing.
  10. STEM is the future. As new technologies develop, so do new STEM careers. It’s not just doctors and engineers but architects, graphic design, video game programmers, and more. Think of all the ‘soft skills’ (as my dad would call them) are taught or guided through STEM activities. I reflect on my most challenging student or the one who struggles with reading excel through STEM activities and build those impossibly difficult ‘soft skills.’ 

Teaching Strategies

How can Classroom teachers prepare for and teach students with exceptional needs with STEM activities? 
  • Assume competency. Believe that students with exceptional needs can learn at higher levels and that you can create an environment to help them do that.
  • Build on students’ strengths and interests. Leverage their strong points to increase their comfort and excitement about learning.
  • Use a “flow learning” approach. Clearly define the purpose of their STEM challenge. Set the challenge level high and make sure your students with exceptional needs will have opportunities to be successful with that challenge. Provide clear and immediate feedback so they can change and adapt as needed.
  • Make use of assistive technology tools when needed. Technology can support students with special needs, especially if they have hearing or visual losses. Provide handouts and written materials in a digital format for these students.
  • Focus on safety consideration Be especially alert for safety issues when students are working with equipment to design devices for solving their problem.
  • Model persistence, communication, creativity, and collaboration. These qualities are especially useful to kids with exceptional needs who may need help with social skills.
  • Establish collaborative student teams. That’s a tall order but stick with it all year. Be intentional. Help students understand that respect and inclusiveness are non-negotiable behaviors for all teams. Teammates honor one another’s strengths and accept each other’s differences. Give them specific strategies for showing respect through speech and actions. Teamwork allows ALL students to practice social skills they will need throughout life.
  • Enlist help. Ask for help. Your specialists are there to support you. Use them.  


  • By now you know that teaching any group of students is both rewarding and challenging. Approach your students with exceptional needs with high expectations, but don’t adopt a Pollyanna mindset. You’ll encounter plenty of challenges. For some students, the science and math content may be beyond their current learning level. The pace of the lesson may be difficult for some to keep up. Some students will want to work alone instead of in teams.
  • Noise levels in the class may distract and annoy some students. Busy visual stimulation on classroom walls may distract others. Social expectations may frustrate students with exceptional needs. So what do you do?
  • Get to know your students with exceptional needs. Work together with their specialists and learn as much as you can about their strengths and difficulties. You’ll find many ways to make reasonable accommodations.
  • You might use images and graphics to make handouts clearer, headphones for those distracted by noise, a break zone or a quiet space, and technology that enlarges print. Your specialists will be your most valuable resource as you plan for and include these students in your STEM lessons.
  • The unique design of STEM lessons allows students, regardless of disability, access to the real-life learning experiences. Give these students with exceptional needs STEM experiences to help them get ready for a future society where all types of people live and work together seamlessly.

My Framework

I have adapted John Spencer’s and AJ Julian’s "Design Thinking: LAUNCH". Design thinking is a flexible framework for getting the most out of the creative process. It is used in the arts, in engineering, in the corporate world, and in social and civic spaces. It can use in every subject with every age group. You can read how I use their model with my students here. You can learn more about John Spencer’s and AJ Julian's Design Thinking LAUNCH hereClick here grab a copy of LAUNCH.

Teacher Rubric Impact

I have to tell you when I was challenged (by Principal) to provide more meaningful feedback to score better on the teacher rubric I was at a loss as to what to do. The challenge--students grades 1 to 3 come to me for 30 minutes 4 days a week for reading and math. I need to add more feedback. HOW? The same time this conversation happened, I was talking with a 1st-grade teacher who I knew was going to have my students in her room mentioned LAUNCH and the district was offering a book study as well. As she went on, she continued to tell me AJ Julian was coming to the district summer professional development and would be a good intro to his work.  So my journey began.

One year later

  • I read both books--LAUNCH and EMPOWER. Both are easy reads; filled with information that can be used the same day in your classroom.
  • With district supported group, I was encouraged to use, play with, and make the LAUNCH cycle my own--aka make it work for my students. 
  • STEM and STEAM were not special days or earned days. It was just something we did once a month. Sometimes I would need to carve out more time but I never let it be more than a day. (Why? 1-limited time and 2-attention span). I built Design Sprints. Students loved them and lead to having other professionals visit~engineers or scientists. (A first in my teaching career.)
  • Teacher Rubric. STEM and STEAM days forced me to build in both feedback and higher order thinking. BOTH are weighed heavily on my rubric. Sometimes the feedback was written and sometimes it was shared whole group, or every videotaped in small groups. I found the key was making sure students had enough time for 2 iterations of what they were building.  
  • I built in feedback. Feedback is more than telling students what is wrong but having them reflect on what they doing. This was painful and sometime madding but they each got there in time. I know on my rubric--I had to have both. Having work samples was even better. You can grab them below. These provided a jumping off point to do any videotaping we did. (This was not always me. Using SeeSaw made it super easy for students either to tape themselves or a friend could do it.)  You can grab what I used below.
To read more about how I used Design Thinking visit:

Until Next Time,


Reflect to Increase Teacher Capacity

I don't know about you but every time I'm evaluated-I'm asked to reflect on my lesson and practice. Trust me, all I want to do right NOW with 10 days left is think about the beach. But as the school year draws to a close, it is an important time to stop and reflect on this past year, a year filled with a range of both expected and unexpected challenges and opportunities for many students, families, teachers, and administrators. Is just as important now as it is during the year. It’s also an opportunity to take a deep breath and think about how to best direct your energies in the coming year.

Self-reflection by teachers at the end of each school year is a vitally important part of their ongoing
professional development.  It is a way it will to improvement teaching and learning.  It allows us to fine-tune our craft by improving or eliminating what doesn't work in our teaching.  It gives us a chance to start over at the beginning of each new school year. I should point out, we can do meaningful self-reflection at any time of the school year in order to improve the teaching and learning experience.  A thorough analysis of what worked, what failed, and why, in both cases, conduces to future success.

Reflect on what every student should know and be able to do. Curriculum and instruction decisions are built around the question “What should every student know and be able to do?” Standards are designed to support student understanding. As teachers, we may focus on activities rather than teaching for understanding. This type of reflection should be ongoing throughout the school year. Traditional planning focuses on what we know and be able to do with each group of students. Through conversations with coworkers, teachers will develop an intentional focus on desired learning outcomes and student engagement.

Reflect on the learning space. One thing that is often overlooked in education is the learning space. Learning space is determined by adults in most schools. The way learning space is organized highlights what the adults in the school value. If we take the time to reflect on the importance of design, purpose, and space, we may find that the old structure is a barrier to student achievement. As I design my space in the beginning of the year I ask myself but I review this question as the year moves on: “Does this learning space support the type of learning opportunities we are designing for students?” All students deserve a learning space, not just a classroom.

Reflect on student voice, choice, and contribution. When I reflect on student understanding, I often reflect on student achievement or test scores, student growth, student engagement, or gaps in student understanding. This is a list that focuses on the right things. However, a focus on student understanding and student growth may not tell us if student voice, choice, and contribution were present throughout the unit. For me this is huge as voice and choice are BIG parts of my Teacher Rubric. Reflecting back on what skills to determine whether or not a recent lesson or unit helped students acquire or improve one or more of the skills. It’s easy to look at data points from tests, it’s harder and more important to begin reflecting on whether students had the opportunity for student voice, choice, and contribution!

Reflect on the understood curriculum. The danger in never-ending planning, using the all important of curriculum maps, units, vertical alignment, course blueprints, pacing guides, and support documents. But not reflecting on the understood curriculum can result in prematurely moving to the next topic because a certain unit needs to be finished by the end of the month. Without this how can we ensure that the learned curriculum is maximized?

Reflect on the whole child. In my Resource Room practice, I make decisions based on the whole child. Always reflecting on the data and asking “What does the whole child need to be successful, access, or be independent in the classroom?” “How can I support the whole child?” Ask most classroom teachers if they have a “whole child” classroom and they struggle to intentionally plan to support the whole child.

Reflection is critically important, yet it is so difficult to squeeze into our weekly schedule. It really wasn’t until I work to achieve National Boards I found a true purpose for reflecting on my practice. It’s hard. It’s hard to be honest with yourself, your practice or your team about what needs to change or what went will. But to grow as a teacher--you have to find the three minutes to look back on the lesson, the IEP meeting, or your class set-up to be better tomorrow. It's not uncommon for the lesson I did three days ago to circle back in my mind while in the shower or buying milk. I have learned I’m a processor. I give myself that time to reflect back on how things went. My end of the year reflecting will most likely happen closer to the 4th of July than the last day of school.

Take your time reflecting on your year. Process and reflect using my Free End of Year Teacher Reflection Workbook. Until next time,

Teacher Self Care Toolbox Ideas

May is the never ending month for me. I have less than 15 days to Summer Break and you’d think it’s 60. Mind you it’s not the only month I teach from the beginning to the end of the month without a day off. But by mid-May I’m fried! My students are fried! My team is fried! Hang tough--It's almost Summer Break. Try these on for size.

1. Do some deep breathing. Did you know you can trick your brain into thinking everything is fine (no need for those stress hormones, thank you very much!) with slow, deliberate breathing?

2. Reach out to your fellow teachers. Vent with your coworkers and hold each other accountable for your self-care contract.

3. Take a 15-minute timeout. Schedule your timeouts as periods during the day when you have no interruptions. Soon you’ll look forward to this mini-recharge.

4. Get moving! Even if you don’t have time for a formal exercise plan, you can see stress-relieving benefits from a minor activity like jumping jacks in your living room.

5. Get back to nature. Teachers don’t have a lot of time for long hikes or adventure trips, but being with nature can be as simple as taking walk or stopping by a park after work.

6. Disconnect from technology. Constant digital stimulation can increase your anxiety or sense that “you aren’t doing enough.” Plan some no-tech time.

7. Reflect on the little things. Think about all of the things for which you are grateful. Even when life is stormy, you can always find one bright moment to reflect on.

8. Nurture your artsy side. Artistic expression is one of the most therapeutic techniques for relieving stress. You might try drawing, painting, photography, or crafting.

9. Create a comfort kit. For those days when you’re feeling particularly defeated, a comfort kit reminds you that everything will be okay. It can include anything you love, from your favorite tea to a note from your BFF.

10. Pamper yourself.  Set aside some time during the school year for something special. It could be a nice dinner, a manicure, or a weekend day trip, experiences that will help you refuel and recharge for the school days ahead.

During the day - small ways to stay grounded. Let’s be honest we know someone who has this in their desks:
  • Tea
  • Chocolate
  • Protein boost (nuts, granola bar)
  • Healthy snacks
  • Stress ball
Got a few minutes-- two-minute strategies:
  • Do a few yoga poses or stretches to get your blood moving
  • Get out of the building for some fresh air and a change of scenery
  • Take a mindful moment and pay attention to your breathing to center yourself
After a tough day.
Get creative:
  • Knit
  • Quilt
  • Draw
  • Play air guitar
  • Bake cookies
  • Sing
Connect with others to fill your bucket:
  • Share projects with fellow teachers
  • Make positive phone calls to parents
  • Spend time with loved ones
  • Spend time with animals
  • Give back to your community by volunteering

Need a positive:
  • Keep a folder of kind notes or feedback from students and families
  • Keep a notebook of inspirational quotes
  • Record something positive each day in your journal
Chill Time:
  • Watch a mindless TV show
  • Take a hot bath
  • Read
  • Listen to music
  • Meditate
  • Take the scenic route home
  • Eat chocolate

Get moving:
  • Run
  • Dance
  • Yoga
  • Crossfit
  • Go for a walk

Everyone's self-care may look a little different, and there's no single way to take good care of yourself. Try some different strategies until you have a full toolbox: something that energizes you, something that helps you unwind, and something that helps you manage when you're having a hard time. Finally, encourage students to do the same. Self-care helps us be us. These suggestions from team help us--what works for your team? I can't wait to add more ideas to my toolbox.

April: Show & Tell Linky

Happy Tuesday. Today I'm linking up with Stephanie from "Forever in 5th Grade" for this months peek into my Resource Room.  This month I have been helping with PARCC testing. It's also the time of year when I start reflecting back on the past 9 months and beginning thinking about next year.

I know for me this year, striking a balance between the art and science of teaching was not as balanced as I would have liked. I think I bent more towards the art and a little less than the science. Using data binders students kept track of their goals and data. This helped move them more than a year. These are a must for next year.
I have things I want to trash to like rotations. But I want to add more co-teaching and student driven embedded data collection--students collecting their own IEP data and taking more ownership of their growth.

If you have not tried Seesaw--I would.  I came across Seesaw and was impressed with the idea that it is student and time friendly. I only have my groups for about 30 minutes. This means I either need to do it when I have 2 minutes or they need to do the uploading and creating within that 30 minutes. I love the app options that can be uploaded into the platform. My hope is this is REALLY student friendly and will become a place students can create and show off their app-smashing.

Students are proficient in using Seesaw as part of their workflow and it has been a great and easy place for them to put their work to share, self-assess, and track their own progress. A must for next year. Seesaw makes data collection in Special Education and RTI easy to do. (Which we all need. Right?)

CHAMPS: bulletin board set to help implement the CHAMPS program into your classroom
CHAMPS. A behavior management system I added this year. I love this as I set a visual expectation for each task like "Group Instruction" or "Test." Students are aware of what the expectations are before I start talking. A must keep!

Student created rubric with pictures to show them what is expected to score a 3
I love putting things in pictures. Pictures move faster to the brain than words. This one has become our Problem Solving Rubric which shows not tells students what is needed to score a 3 on the rubric. Problem Solving is one skill I want students' to take back to the classroom. When I do rubrics I do them with each group's input. The picture helps remind them what it needs to look like. I need to add more like this--not sure for what but this needs to happen.

If you remember I had a couple of groups early in the year almost to grade level and started reading rotations with them. Well with 30 minutes, this was not successful. As they were 2nd and 3rd graders, they didn't have tons of independence to maintain work on their own part of this idea. I ended up moving them back to guided reading and changing their schedule to have them spend more time in the classroom. 

This year has been filled up ups and downs. Ideas I want to keep and ideas that need to be trashed. I need to find more ways to embed data collection of IEP goals and RTI needs. What do you want to trash? What do you want to keep? Share them.

21 Ideas to Improve Student Motivation

When Spring Break is over, I'll have 6 maybe 7 weeks of solid instruction time left before Summer Break. Sometimes I think its hard to teach after Spring Break than between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The hard part keeping them motivated to keep moving forward. I have compiled a short list of ideas that I use to keep students motivated when the going gets tough.

Motivation, both intrinsic and extrinsic, is a key factor in the success. For the students I work with I play a key role in providing and encouraging that motivation in their students. Easier said than done, as all students are motivated differently and it takes time and a lot of effort to learn to get a classroom full of kids enthusiastic about learning, working hard, and pushing themselves to excel.

1. Give students a sense of control
While guidance from a teacher is important to keeping kids on task and motivated, allowing students to have some choice and control over what happens in the classroom is actually one of the best ways to keep them engaged. For example, allowing students to choose the type of assignment they do or which problems to work on can give them a sense of control that may just motivate them to do more.

2. Define the objectives
It can be very frustrating for students to complete an assignment or even to behave in class if there aren’t clearly defined objectives. Students want and need to know what is expected of them in order to stay motivated to work. At the beginning of the year, lay out clear objectives, rules, and expectations of students so that there is no confusion and students have goals to work towards. Student binders mean they keep everything—even the items they don’t finish. They know where to find it the next day.

3. Create a threat-free environment
While students do need to understand that there are consequences to their actions, far more motivating for students than threats are positive reinforcements. We have to create a safe, supportive environment for students, affirming their belief in a student’s abilities rather than laying out the consequences of not doing things, students are much more likely to get and stay motivated to do their work. At the end of the day, students will fulfill the expectations that the adults around them communicate, so focus on can, not can’t.

4. Change your scenery
A classroom is a great place for learning, but sitting at a desk day in and day out can make school start to seem a bit dull for some students. To renew interest in the subject matter or just in learning in general, give your students a chance to get out of the classroom. Take field trips, bring in speakers, or even just head to the library for some research. The brain loves novelty and a new setting can be just what some students need to stay motivated to learn. I don’t do field trips but I love taking the groups outside.

5. Offer varied experiences
Not all students will respond to lessons in the same way. For some, hands-on experiences may be the best. Others may love to read books quietly or to work in groups. In order to keep all students motivated, mix up your lessons so that students with different preferences will each get time focused on the things they like best. Doing so will help students stay engaged and pay attention. It’s hard changing things up because we all know consistency is what our guys need but I like to vary how they get tasks done.

6. Use positive competition
Competition in the classroom isn’t always a bad thing, and in some cases can motivate students to try harder and work to excel. Work to foster a friendly spirit of competition in your classroom, perhaps through group games related to the material or other opportunities for students to show off their knowledge.

7. Offer rewards
This is for those who have your own classrooms everyone likes getting rewards, and offering your students the chance to earn them is an excellent source of motivation. Things like pizza parties, watching movies, or even something as simple as a sticker on a paper can make students work harder and really aim to achieve. Consider the personalities and needs of your students to determine appropriate rewards for your class.  I do things like game day and extra computer time.

8. Give students responsibility
Assigning students classroom jobs is a great way to build a community and to give students a sense of motivation. Most students will see classroom jobs as a privilege rather than a burden and will work hard to ensure that they, and other students, are meeting expectations. It can also be useful to allow students to take turns leading activities or helping out so that each feels important and valued.

9. Allow students to work together
While not all students will jump at the chance to work in groups, many will find it fun to try to solve problems, do experiments, and work on projects with other students. The social interaction can get them excited about things in the classroom and students can motivate one another to reach a goal. As much as I try to ensure that groups are balanced and fair, however, so that some students aren’t doing more work than others—most of the time I find whole group works way better!

10. Give praise when earned.
There is no other form of motivation that works quite as well as encouragement. Even as adults we crave recognition and praise, and students at any age are no exception. We as teachers give students a bounty of motivation by rewarding success publicly, giving praise for a job well done, and sharing exemplary work but it is every better when students give it to other students.

11. Encourage self-reflection
Most students want to succeed, they just need help figuring out what they need to do in order to get there. One way to motivate students is to get them to take a hard look at themselves and determine their own strengths and weaknesses. Students are often much more motivated by creating these kinds of critiques of themselves than by having a teacher do it for them, as it makes them feel in charge of creating their own objectives and goals. This is something I added to our data notebooks—more time then not we not so successful here but I walk students through self-reflection before their IEP meetings.

12. Be excited
One of the best ways to get students motivated is to share your own enthusiasm. When I’m excited about teaching, they’ll be much more excited about learning. It’s that simple. Think Ron Clark.

13. Know your students
Getting to know your students is about more than just memorizing their names. They need to know that you has a genuine interest in them and cares about them and their success. When students feel appreciated it creates a safe learning environment and motivates them to work harder, as they want to get praise and good feedback from someone they feel knows and respects them as individuals.
I do sharing circles just about every time I meet with a group. We share (if they want) about something in their life. I get to hear what is going on in their life and they get to know about mine. I have students asking randomly about my dogs and nephew.

14. Harness student interests
Knowing your students also has some other benefits, namely that it allows you to relate classroom material to things that students are interested in or have experienced. Teachers can use these interests to make things more interesting and relatable to students, keeping students motivated for longer.

15. Help students find intrinsic motivation
It can be great to help students get motivated, but at the end of the day they need to be able to generate their own motivation. Helping students find their own personal reasons for doing class work and working hard, whether because they find material interesting, want to go to college, or just love to learn, is one of the most powerful gifts you can give them.

16. Manage student anxiety
Some students find the prospect of not doing well so anxiety-inducing that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. For these students, teachers may find that they are most motivated by learning that struggling with a subject isn’t the end of the world. Students have to trust you to risk everything and to know no matter what the end result is and ensure that students don’t feel so overwhelmed by expectations that they just give up. This comes and some days is challenged beyond belief. It’s HARD to get them to see you won’t give up on them—no matter what.

17. Make goals high but attainable
I have a high bar for all my students. I set it through learning targets but this is something they can get to every day. Their faces light up when they hit the target of something they would have never dreamed of is huge for them.
If you’re not pushing your students to do more than the bare minimum, most won’t seek to push themselves on their own. Students like to be challenged and will work to achieve high expectations so long as they believe those goals to be within their reach, so don’t be afraid to push students to get more out of them.

18. Give feedback and offer chances to improve
Students who struggle with class work can sometimes feel frustrated and get down on themselves, draining motivation. In these situations it’s critical for teachers help students to learn exactly where they went wrong and how they can improve next time. Figuring out a method to get where students want to be can also help them to stay motivated to work hard.

19. Track progress
It can be hard for students to see just how far they’ve come, especially with subjects that are difficult for them. Tracking can come in handy in the classroom, not only can I see but also for students. For most of my students this works to motivate students. This year, I have student’s tracking their own growth. They even keep the data—it’s all about ownership.

20. Make things fun
Not all class work needs to be a game or a good time, but students who see school as a place where they can have fun will be more motivated to pay attention and do the work that’s required of them than those who regard it as a chore. Adding fun activities into the day can help students stay engaged and make the classroom a much more friendly place for all students.

21. Provide opportunities for success
Students, even the best ones, can become frustrated and demotivated when they feel like they’re struggling or not getting the recognition that other students are. Make sure that all students get a chance to play to their strengths and feel included and valued. It can make a world of difference in their motivation.

Some days motivating students feels like the only thing I get done and other days it works itself. What are you favorite ways to keep students motivated?

Best Practices: Number Sense

Number sense begins very early and must be a focus of primary math. This is the solid foundation in math that all kids need.

A sense of numbers is critical for primary students to develop math problem solving skills.
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics increasingly calls for districts to give more attention to building this skill, and studies have found that number sense accounts for 66% of the variance in first grade math achievement.  The council have also addressed five critical areas that are characteristic of students who have good number sense:

  • Number Meaning
  • Relationships Between Numbers
  • Number Magnitude
  • Operations Involving Numbers
  • Referents for Numbers/Quantities (referents are words or phrases that denote what something stands for)


Having a sense of how numbers work is a very broad topic that covers all numerical thinking. At its core, it is making sense of math concepts and mathematical reasoning.

Operationally, it is counting skills, having number knowledge, using estimation, and the ability to use problem solving strategies.

Knowing the why of how numbers work is of utmost importance, and children should not be shown the how until they understand the "why."   Techniques such as using ten frames and using concrete models to show place value concepts are daily necessities for young children.

Inquiry-based approaches (such as math dice games) to teaching children mathematics should be utilized as primary teaching methods in the early grades.

This is not to say that explicit teaching of sense of numbers skills is not essential, especially for those students from low socio-economic status.  We absolutely need to do this.

It is saying that teachers should provide multiple opportunities for students to experience numbers and make connections before putting the pencil to paper.

Carefully consider your objectives and the type of learners in your room when choosing a math game to include. NCTM also suggests you consider:

  • the type of mathematical practices involved in each game (there should be more than one)
  • how feedback will be given
  • does the game encourage competition, collaboration and communication?
  • the types of strategies students will have to use to solve a puzzle or to win

Seven ways teachers can directly impact a developing sense of number.

1. Link school math to real-world experiences
Present students with situations that relate to both inside and outside classroom experiences. Students need to recognize that numbers are useful for solving problems.

2. Model different computing methods
Focus on what methods make sense for different situations. There is no one right way to compute. We need our students to be flexible thinkers.

3. Mental Math
Real life requires mental computation. Students need to be able to move numbers around in their heads and discuss their strategies.

4. Discuss Strategies
Students must be able to explain their reasoning. This not only will give you insight into how they think, but also will help the children to cement their own ideas and reevaluate them.

5. Estimate
This should be embedded in problem solving. This is not referring to textbook rounding. Real life estimation is about making sense of a problem and using anchor numbers to base reasoning on.

6. Question Students About Reasoning Strategies
All the time, not just when they make a mistake. Constantly probing sends several important messages: your ideas are valued, math is about reasoning, and there are always alternative ways to look at a problem.

7. Measuring Activities
When teaching children mathematics, measuring activities should be front and center. Make students verify estimates through doing.

New Teacher Support and Giveway

You have your first teaching job, what did you think about? If you’re like most people, you thought about making a difference in children’s lives, about helping them learn, making them think, “touching the future.” You didn’t think about IEPs, disinterested parents, students with behavior problems, or the isolation of being alone in a classroom with thirty students.

You weren’t wrong before you started teaching. Hang onto that idealism. But you may be finding out now that making it a reality is harder than you thought. Hopefully, these ideas will out you out.  The first thing I always do before jumping in head first or tackling a difficult situation I always remember to breathe. A deep yoga breath.

Unfortunately, many of us in the education profession are guilty of exacerbating the difficulties faced by new teachers. Handbooks and websites for beginning teachers often try to reassure you that teaching is simple or straightforward, offering quick solutions for simple problems — if you have this kind of “troublemaker,” deal with him this way; try this handy checklist to “get organized.”

So now what?

Ask your team mate. They will help you find the resources, support, ideas, and advice you need to make your classroom the rewarding, positive learning environment you want it to be.

Keep this in mind

Teaching is hard.

Like anything worth doing, good teaching takes work and experience. You can’t expect to walk into a classroom for the first time and immediately connect with every student, make everything clear to everyone and teach every child everything he or she needs to know. What you can do, though, is learn from the experience of successful teachers. Ask questions. Visit others. Ask for help!

You can’t go it alone. (And you don’t have to.)

Are you feeling isolated? Lonely? Many teachers believe that they can — or should — go it alone in the classroom. But you can’t, and you don’t have to. Our resources will help you take advantage of mentoring, learn to communicate more effectively with parents, colleagues, and administrators, and build the support network you need to grow as a teacher (and survive as a human being).

Every classroom is different.

Just as every student is unique, every teacher is unique, too — and every class and classroom is unique. There are no “one size fits all” solutions in teaching, and we don’t try to provide them. Instead, these articles give you the perspectives of real teachers who have faced problems like yours and overcome them. You’ll see how different teachers have used their own talents and teaching styles to be successful in a variety of environments.

Classroom management means solving problems before they occur.

Running your classroom is about more than just discipline. Experienced teachers know that effective classroom management begins before you ever meet your students and carries through every aspect of teaching. It’s about preventing problems, not just cleaning them up after they occur. Instead of looking at student behavior in isolation, our resources for new teachers consider it in the context of classroom design, curriculum, and instructional strategies. It's never perfect and always changes depending on your students. Get to know your students.

Remember to breathe and ask questions. The Colorado Tribe is giving away five meet up bags and five subscriptions to There will be five winners! The photo shows you what's in the meet up bags! Wow!!

Have a great week!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

January Pick 3 Linky--Teacher Collaboration

I think one of the more challenging parts of being a special education teacher, is finding time to talk (really talk) with classroom teachers. This year has only been made more difficult by have close to 40 students on my case load--that I see during a day.  I thinking sharing with teachers about their students are doing towards IEP goals is very important, it also gives me time to share with teachers specific ticks and tips that have worked since the last time I met with them.

 "Learning at the Primary Pond" has created a 1 page communication log for each student but I use it for all the students in the teachers class and put it in her box weekly. This way the teacher knows what kind for progress has been made toward IEP goals. This is also great to keeping everyone on the team in the loop with what the student is doing well and what they need to work on. Perfect
for progress report time or IEP writing time.

 Google is a girls best friend. Google is an over worked special education teachers best friend. The thing I like about google is that I can share my data with teachers before meeting with them. I have found that this makes our time together more focused and easier to create short term game plans. Edgalaxy has highlighted 12 different ways to use google to collaborate with teachers--my favorite being the forms which I can then turn in to graphs. I love my pictures at meetings-this does it for me.

My teachers like most are stretched to the point of breaking, when I'm looking for something new or to reinforce the idea that teacher collaboration I turn to Edutopia. They always have real life examples, ideas and conversations about what is new and old in education.  I have shared videos and articles with teachers from time to time.  This one is to "Ben Johnson from teacher leadership and getting the most on teacher collaboration.

My Teaching Beliefs

Today, I'm linking up with With Love from Texas for this blog hop on my teaching beliefs.

The funny thing about looking for a new position, is listening to others beliefs about their students, program, and building--it focused my own beliefs about the students I work with.

I believe in my students--they can do anything.  I think this is why  love doing student data folders. It is the singularly most important thing that I do with them each year. They take at SMART goal and create their goal and then charge for it. Are the goals always reasonable-no but the important fact is the ownership of their learning.

Others always find it weird to party of other little things like making a goal or finishing a book. These are the things that make my day.

I think one of the hardest things the do in small group is getting them to take risk. They now the other members and sharing is hard but setting up the group rules and not judging them for speaking up and sharing. They in turn get to the point where they understand it's OK to talk and share.

In sum way this Dr. Who quote tells all about my teaching.

Until next time,

Be sure to hop by Rissa's Teaching in the Heart of Florida to learn about her beliefs for her students.

Teaching in the Heart of Florida

About Me

Welcome to my all thing special education blog. I empower busy elementary special education teachers to use best practice strategies to achieve a data and evidence driven classroom community by sharing easy to use, engaging, unique approaches to small group reading and math. Thanks for Hopping By.
Follow on Bloglovin
Special Ed. Blogger

I contribute to:

Search This Blog