The First 5 Minutes

January 31, 2007 at 11:50 pm (Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, High School, Middle School, reading, school)

The First Five Minutes Are Critical
Justin was one of those students all teachers dream of having. He was a superior student and a student body officer; but he was always late for third period class. Homeroom period was between second and third periods and he would use this time in the office to take care of his student body duties.

One day I said, “Justin, why are you always late to class?” And he said, “Because, Mr. Wong, nothing happens during the first five to ten minutes in this class!”

Justin teaches us all an important lesson. Many teachers believe that their first responsibility in the classroom is to take the roll, return papers to students absent from class, answer questions, and do any and all other tasks that are essential at the beginning of a class period.

Justin knew that class did not really start until ten minutes after the tardy bell, so why bother coming on time. In this case it is not the student who is late for class, it is the teacher who is late starting the class!

The most essential thing for a teacher to do is to structure an assignment the second the students walk into the room.

For many teachers much of the management of a classroom is by default. Students will wander around the room and chat because the teacher has not structured anything for the students to do.

When a teacher abdicates structuring a classroom,
structure is left to the student.
The Fastest Growing School District

Clark County Schools in Las Vegas, Nevada, is the fastest growing school district in America, hiring some 1500 to 1800 new teachers each year. Yet, their annual attrition rate (turnover of teachers) is about 6 to 8 percent. To help their new teachers succeed, they publish a monthly newsletter for their elementary and secondary teachers. The secondary newsletter is the New Teacher Times, published by the Systems Design and Staff Development Department. Karyn Wright is the Director of Teacher Training and Staff Development Department.

The following items appeared in the September 1999 issue of New Teacher Times. Note the consistency of the teachers’ comments and their recommendations for learning to take place as soon as the students enter the classroom.

Be prepared and be yourself!

“It has been said, ‘A well-planned lesson eliminates 90% of discipline problems.’ As a successful teacher for the past 20 years, I am inclined to agree with this statement. There should be no free time planned in your daily lesson. It is better to have too much planned for the class period instead of too little. Ask your department chairperson about daily openers for your subject area(s). Daily openers such as Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) in reading, or Daily Oral Language (DOL) in English will help your students begin their daily task as soon as they enter your classroom. If a reading strategist is available in your building, he or she can provide overhead transparencies of Terra Nova Test samples to be used as daily openers.
“Be yourself. Although most teachers have excellent role models, we can only be ourselves! Acting like someone else, no matter how wonderful that person is, will be perceived as fake by your students. Your love for students will be enough to overcome any honest mistakes (we never stop making mistakes) that you may make as a teacher.”

Mattie White, Sawyer Middle School

Set the mood the first five minutes
“The first few minutes are crucial. Students must know what they are expected to do as soon as the tardy bell rings. Do not allow ‘FREE Time’ while you take roll. My students have learned during the first week to be in their seats ready to work when the bell rings. I assign a monitor to turn on the overhead where the D.O.L.D. (Daily Oral Language Drill) is for students to do while I take roll. A monitor goes to the basket for each class to distribute work to be done or that has been graded. Students returning from an absence use this time to write down work missed (from the Agenda Mate). All students must write down the date, objective, and homework assignment in their daily agenda books. Once a week I check agendas for completion.”
Patricia Revzin, Woodbury Middle School

The minute the bell rings
“As students file in, I remind them of the materials they will need that day, to have pencils sharpened, and to have paper out. The minute the bell rings, I turn on the overhead projector to reveal a warm-up problem. The problem is either a review of a recent lesson or of important information I don’t want them to forget, such as basic math skills. As students are working the problem, I take roll and walk around the room to check students’ progress and answer quick questions. When students have finished the warm-up, we either go through it as a class or it is treated as a quiz and is collected to be graded.”
Eric Johnson, Math Teacher

A jumping off point
“The first five minutes of class are devoted to either a preview or review activity. The format of the activity varies. Students might be asked to write a reaction to a quote or newspaper article, copy a timeline, brainstorm emotions felt in response to a piece of music, or take a quiz on the previous night’s reading assignment. Whatever the opening activity, its primary purpose is to engage students the minute they walk through the door and to provide me an opportunity to handle attendance and other housekeeping duties. The opening activity also provides a jumping off point for the day’s lesson.”
Heidi Olive, Desert Pines High School

It’s obvious from the excerpts above that structuring the opening of class is critical for student involvement the rest of the school day. It’s like the opening of a movie-it needs to capture your attention and keep you in your seat. If there is no opening of class activity, the students will be out of their seats waiting for the class to begin.
YOU Can Make a Difference

People who achieve mastery in whatever they do are constant, lifelong learners. If you dare to choose teaching as your profession, then you must never cease to learn. We have shared with you some techniques that individual teachers use in their classrooms to structure the learning environment. And, we have shared with you stories of administrators who structure the entire school.

Begin a class or period with specific directions or structure. Do this by providing an activity for the students to do each day while you take care of your administrative duties. If you already have your class structured so that students immediately come in, sit down, and get to work, try getting your grade level, department, or entire school to do it, too.

Imagine the lessons to be taught if the first five minutes of every school day were put to learning. You would gain about 2 ½ days of instructional time over the course of the school year. Most all of us just savored one hour in our personal lives with the switching to daylight savings time. Just think of the possibilities with the new-found days in your teaching year.

Make every second count with your students!

Ideas for the first 5 minutes:

Recording objective / agenda / homework in the student planner
Problem of the day
Journal writing
FCAT sample test problems
Brain teasers
Vocabulary “Word of the Day”
Reaction to a quote
Warm-up problems
Video news clips of current events
Response to a newspaper editorial
Creative questions (Teacher supplies the answer and students generate the questions)


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The Teenage Brain

January 31, 2007 at 10:38 am (children, Education, kids, Parents, school)

Scary Thoughts: The Teenage Brain


          Their large and well-developed forms enter your building. You may have to look up to have eye contact with many of them. It has become difficult for some to be seated comfortably in their desks. Male voices are either squeaky or notably deep. Heavy makeup and trendy hairstyles are commonplace among the girls; their fitted T-shirts and tight jeans reveal mature bodies.

          As you look at these adult-like creatures, you assume that their minds have also matured. You ask them to think.

Big mistake.

           Beneath those funky hairdos and baseball caps lie three pounds of brain tissue looking not nearly as mature as the bodies that house them. Their brains are undergoing some enormous changes that will continue throughout the high school years. At puberty the brain structure called the hypothalamus begins to secrete chemicals to increase appetite in girls. This is nature’s way of preparing the body for childbirth by adding fat. (Liebowitz 1998)  In our society; however, extra pounds may be cause for alarm and many girls become obsessed with their weight. An emotional structure, the amygdala, enlarges at this time due to the release of testosterone. This hormone is more prevalent in males, so their amygdala becomes larger than the females’. At the same time, the hippocampus, which is a strong memory pathway for factual information, swells from the release of estrogen. Estrogen is more prevalent in females, so they have the larger hippocampus. To put the consequences of this simply, we have children beginning adolescence. It can begin as early as age ten. The boys may be overemotional and over-reactive due to the size and sensitivity of the emotional structure, the amygdala. The girls, who may have an easier time remembering factual information, could also be struggling with their body images as their appetites increase.

(Brownlee 1999)

          If that seems overwhelming, there’s more. The pre-frontal cortex is the area of the cerebrum that controls the amygdala. It has not yet fully developed, and may not do so until these students are in their twenties. Consequently, the brain structure that could help these young adults deal with their emotions, may not be physically able to do so. We have to accept the fact that these students may have difficulty making good choices.

          Let’s take a closer look at that very specialized and important brain area, the pre-frontal cortex. Why is it so important? Why does it affect so many skills, talents, and behaviors?


           There are two functions of this brain area to consider. This is the structure that acts as the logical decision-maker in the brain. As the amygdala creates an emotional attitude toward people and events, the prefrontal cortex shapes that attitude or stops that attitude from being displayed. Without the prefrontal cortex, decision-making is relying heavily on a strictly emotional response. The other function of this area is that of working memory. In order for information to be processed, that is, either new information worked with and added to old information, or old information spread out and reworked, there has to be space for this to occur. The prefrontal cortex is working space for these processes.


          Sasha and Rochelle are studying for a final exam in Spanish. They are working at Sasha’s house since her little brother is gone for the evening and Rochelle’s house is always crowded and noisy with all of her siblings and their friends. The girls spread their books and notes out on Sasha’s bed. Rochelle opens her text and begins to compare her notes and the chapter contents. Sasha goes to the radio and turns it on.

          “Could you please turn down that music?” Rochelle asks with some frustration in her voice.


         “Oh, this is the song that was playing when Angelo and I were on our first date!” Sasha declares.

          I don’t care when it was playing — it isn’t playing now!” Rochelle suddenly snaps the radio to off.

          “What’s the matter with you? This is my house and I can listen to whatever I want! Besides, it will be over in a minute and then we’ll study!”

          “You can study by yourself!” With that, Rochelle grabs her books and storms out of the house.

          In this case, Rochelle was reacting emotionally. She may have been stressed about the exam, and then became further irritated by the music while she was trying to concentrate. Her overreaction is evident as it appeared that Sasha would turn the radio off right after the song. Rochelle was having trouble controlling her emotional response to the situation. Her prefrontal cortex was not able to monitor her amygdala’s response to the circumstances.


          Nathan could not sit still. It was only one class period from art class, and he could not wait to get his hands on Michael. If Michael thought for one minute that he could get away with saying that kinda stuff about his baby sister, well, boy, he was gonna get it. Nathan watched the clock as the minutes ticked by. He wanted to jump up and run out of English and go find Michael, but something wouldn’t let him do it. He looked up at Mr. Sterling’s algebra equation, but he had no clue as to what was going on. He tried to concentrate on what his teacher was explaining, but he couldn’t stop thinking about those words Michael had said, “Nathan’s little sister is easy ….” Thinking those words took Nathan’s breath away. He wiggled in his seat and tried to focus on the board again. Finally, the bell rang, and Nathan headed for the door.

          “Oh, Nathan,” Mr. Sterling called to him, “don’t forget that assignment.”

          “Oh, yeah, sure!” Nathan yelled back. But he didn’t know what Mr. Sterling was talking about.

          Nathan was fortunate that his prefrontal cortex was able to control his emotions. As much as he wanted to act on his need to find Michael, he knew he should wait until his next class with him. Unfortunately, because the prefrontal cortex was so busy keeping his amygdala in check, Nathan had no space free for working memory. He couldn’t take any of the information that was offered in his math class and work with it in his brain. He didn’t even realize that he had been given an assignment. Learning cannot take place under those circumstances.

          Another problem many of our adolescents face is common among adults: sleep deprivation. Did you get your eight hours last night? Our young adult students need more — nine hours and fifteen minutes to be exact. Why so much? For the brain to go through the stages of sleep an appropriate number of times, it takes that long. Why aren’t our students getting enough sleep? There are several explanations. It is known that changes in the brain at adolescence change the biological clock, a cluster of neurons that send signals throughout the body and controls fundamentally all of the internal operations. One of those operations is sleep. The time that melatonin, the chemical that is released to induce sleep, is distributed in the brain suddenly becomes about one hour later, so these students are not ready for sleep. Add to that the desire to be more independent, the need to control your own life, and the fact that many of our older teenagers work late hours; a problem exists. What’s more, those chemicals needed for sleep are still in their bodies during first hour class. Edina, Minnesota schools changed their starting time from 7:25 to 8:30 and found better grades, higher test scores, and happier teachers and students. (University of Minnesota 1997) (Have you ever wondered why that difficult class you have never seems to be a problem to the first hour teacher? They’re virtually still sleeping!)

          What makes this information even more alarming are the possible repercussions of sleep deprivation. The first to consider is the negative effect it has on learning and memory. The brain needs sleep to dispose of unimportant information and to practice new information. (Dement 1999) Sleep also appears to be necessary to regulate emotions. Emotions are already a problem for this age group. It has been hypothesized that this may be adding to some of the increased violence. (Carskadon 1995)

          That was the bad news. The good news is that this brain is plastic. It is still growing and changing. It is not too late for positive transformations and eventually most of these students will have the physical ability to perform the operations that are expected of adults.

          As a classroom teacher who has dealt with adolescents since 1971, it amazes me how science is confirming so many of the strategies that have been useful with these students. How do we deal with these learning limitations? First, we must recognize that many of our students handle these situations quite well. However, there are ways to make learning less of a struggle for all.

          Changing starting times would be helpful. Short of that, be aware that your first hour students may not perform as well as your other classes. Repetition and out of class work may be necessary for these students to stay on track. Rotating schedules will help this situation. I was involved in a rotating schedule for several years; both students and teachers loved it. It is simply starting Tuesday with second hour instead of first, Wednesday with third hour, etc. In this way, it takes six or seven days before that first hour class is back in your room first hour. It’s also an excellent way to see how students perform at different times of the day. Let’s face it, last hour classes can be a challenge for teachers and students.

“What about me?”

          I have often felt that students, in their own ways, were always asking this question, so I look at it as an acronym. The m is for  motion and the e for emotion. I find that if I keep students moving and deal with their emotions, the adolescents in my classroom learned more rapidly and easily.

          Provide emotional outlets. Journaling is one way to do this, or five minutes of group conversation at the beginning of class may allow students to calm themselves down and attend to learning. A technique I borrowed from a primary teacher works very well with adolescents. She called it the “backburner.” First, I explain how sometimes we have to put something that is on our mind on the backburner – like your mom might put food on the backburner while she attends to other details in the kitchen. I ask them to write down anything that might be bothering them and that could interfere with their learning. After they write them on small pieces of paper, they fold them, write their names on the back, and deposit them in a box on my desk. I tell them that I need their attention now and these things are on the backburner until the end of class. At that time, I hand them back. The students look at their problem and decide if it is still important and needs some attention. They are offered a few minutes to discuss the issues with me or their classmates.

          Put students in groups or on teams. The older the students are, the smaller the groups should be. Teams provide a feeling of belonging. Becoming a significant part of a relationship allows the brain to release feel-good chemicals (Glenn 1990), and this is one way to promote it. Another plus is that team projects allow for students to physically move in the classroom in appropriate ways.

          Become aware of their emotional states and be prepared to manage them. Look for frustration, anger, fear, and apathy. Of these, frustration is the easiest to change. If students are frustrated with what you are teaching, try a different approach. Have students teach each other. Studies have shown that scores increase with peer teaching. (Ginsberg-Block 1997)  It is also a great state change. As the students begin to drift away from what you are teaching, or if they become frustrated or even bored with the material, teaching it will give a much needed change. It will also reinforce the learning for those who know it and help the student who just doesn’t quite get it the way you presented it.

          Provide ritual. Rituals make room for challenge, novelty, and a little craziness which make the classroom fun. This simply means that at certain times and in certain situations they know what is going to happen. It’s a stimulus/response situation.  Predictability puts students at ease.  I use music to provide ritual. Each day my students enter my classroom with specific music playing. They have grown to expect it and many find it comforting. Other examples are celebrations, openings and closings of class, and test taking rituals.  These provide the security that the brain needs to feel safe enough to transmit messages to higher levels for complex thinking.

        Classroom rules are very important. They also provide security as long as you stick to them. Be sure students understand the rules. It is always good to have the students help you make them. Post them, send them home, and follow them. They become rituals if you follow them consistently.

          Give overviews. Students need to know what they are going to be doing each day. Create a mind map or outline on the board  with the schedule of events. This will help your students de-stress. Knowing what is going to happen, even if it is painful, gives students a feeling of “Okay, I know we are going to write an essay, but I can get through it.” (It’s like going to the dentist. If I know he has another appointment thirty minutes after mine, I can cope knowing it won’t last too long.)

          If those mature bodies are entering your classroom everyday, or the smaller bodies start exhibiting some strange behaviors, understand that many changes are occurring. Teenagers don’t really have such scary thoughts. They are simply at a fascinating time in their development. Understanding the changes that are taking place and providing for some basic needs may keep the classroom running smoothly.


Brownlee, Shannon. (1999, August 9). Inside the teen brain. US News & World Report, 127, 44-54.

Carskadon, Mary A. A prominent sleep researcher says staying awake may be overrated. Q & A (On-line). December 1995. Available: http://www.brown,edu/Administration/Brown_Alumni_Magaxine/96/12-95/elms/qa.html.

Dement, William & C. Vaughan. (1999) The Promise of Sleep. New York: Delacorte Press.

Ginsburg-Block, Marika; and John Fantuzzo. 1997. Reciprocal peer tutoring: An analysis of teacher and student interactions as a function of training and experience. School Psychology Quarterly; Summer; 12(2): 134-149.

Glenn, H. Stephen. (1990). The Greatest Human Need. (Video recording.) Gold River, CA: Capabilities, Inc.

Liebowitz, Sarah. (December 1998). Gray Matters: The Teenage Brain. Charles A. Dana Foundation. Available:

University of Minnesota. (September 1997). The College of Education and Human Development. School Start Time Study. Available:


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Best Practices in Teaching Reading

January 30, 2007 at 10:38 am (children, Education, kids, Parents, reading, school)

Are you looking for ways in which to improve your students’ literacy skills?  If so, consider the following information.

Best Practices in Teaching Reading

Increase Decrease
Reading aloud to students
Time for independent reading
Exclusive stress on whole class or reading-group activities
Children’s choice of their own reading materials Teacher selection of all reading materials for individuals and groups
Exposing children to a wide and rich range of literature Relying on selections in basal reader
Teacher modeling and discussing his/her own reading processes Teacher keeping his/her own reading tastes and habits private
Primary instructional emphasis on comprehension Primary instructional emphasis on reading subskills such as phonics, word analysis, syllabication
Teaching reading as a process:

  • Use strategies that activate prior knowledge
  • Help students make and test predictions
  • Structure help during reading
  • Provide after-reading applications
Teaching reading as a single, one-step act
Social, collaborative activities with much discussion and interaction Solitary seatwork
Grouping by interests or book choices Grouping by reading level
Silent reading followed by discussion Round-robin oral reading
Teaching skills in the context of whole and meaningful literature Teaching isolated skills in phonics workbooks or drills
Writing before and after reading Little or no chance to write
Encouraging invented spelling in children’s early writings Punishing pre-conventional spelling in students’ early writings
Use of reading content fields (e.g., historical novels in social studies) Segregation of reading to reading time
Evaluation that focuses on holistic, higher-order thinking processes Evaluation focused on individual, low-level subskills
Measuring success of reading program by students’ reading habits, attitudes, and comprehension Measuring the success of the reading program only by test scores

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Classroom Management and Teaching

January 29, 2007 at 10:47 am (Education, school)

During the ASCD conference, I attended Jon Erwin’s seminar titled “The Classroom of Choice: Giving Students What They Need and Getting What You Want.” It was phenomenal! He has great ideas for motivating students. Below you will find a summary of some of his key ideas. His book, The Classroom of Choice, offers practical suggestions for meeting each of the 5 basic needs in your classroom. If motivating students is an issue for you, I highly recommend Erwin’s material!
Effective Teachers are Great Classroom Managers;

Effective Classroom Managers are Great Teachers!

Effective managing and great teaching are two sides of the same coin. Teachers have a great deal to manage: space, time, materials, and, of course, students – including students’ physical, mental, and emotional states. If teachers manage all this successfully, they experience what many refer to as the “teachable moment.” Once successful in achieving the teachable moment, great teachers engage their students in instructional strategies that appeal to students’ needs and interests. Doing so extends the teachable moment into teachable hours, days, and even weeks. When students are engaged in effective instruction, the need for behavior management is greatly reduced and student achievement dramatically increases.

The three rules of effective management and effective teaching:


The key to effective classroom management and higher student achievement is developing supportive, trusting relationships in the school at all levels. One of the best ways to develop and maintain these essential relationships is to appeal to INTERNAL MOTIVATION.

External vs. Internal Motivation

One of a teacher’s most important concerns is the motivation of his students. Unmotivated students do poor work or no work, learn very little, and often exhibit irresponsible or disruptive behaviors. Motivated students do quality work, learn well, and behave responsibly. There are two ways of approaching the job of motivating students. One approach is appealing to external motivation. External motivation relies heavily on incentives or rewards (positive reinforcement) and consequences or punishment (negative reinforcement). The other general type of motivation is internal motivation, with depends on motivation to come from needs or drives within the students.

The Problems with External Motivation

External motivation is the most prevalent type of motivation used not only in classrooms, but in the world at large. Think of the ways people try to “make” other people do what they want them to do. Whether it is a teacher trying to persuade a student to work, a parent trying to get a child to get ready for school, a husband trying to talk his spouse into doing a household chore, a boss trying to get his employees to work harder, or one nation trying to force another nation to change a policy or ideology, you will often see one or more of the following methods of persuasion (or a variation) being used: asking, reasoning, telling, rewarding (bribing), negotiating, tricking, guilting, nagging, yelling, threatening, criticizing, punishing, or even physically forcing.

One of the problems with these strategies is that none of them are guaranteed to work. If a student, or anyone else, has the mindset not to comply, there is nothing you can do to make him, except possibly using physical force. Unless safety is the issue, that strategy is illegal in most schools. Besides, the behavior we are most interested in is learning, and you can’t physically force anyone to learn.

Another problem with these external motivators is that they actually prevent learning from taking place. In Teaching with the Brain in Mind, Eric Jensen explains the effects of threats on the brain. Perceived threats, which could include many of the external motivation strategies listed above, from yelling to physical force, create conditions that many students regard as highly stressful. When students are feeling highly stressed, “thinking and memory are affected . . . the brain’s short-term memory and ability to form long-term memories are inhibited” (1998). Feeling highly stressed, students’ brains tend to go into the fight-or-flight response, which may be manifested in school through all kinds of acting out or withdrawing behavior. Clearly, “the carrot” approach to motivation is counterproductive.

What then of the “carrot”? Surely rewards provide an incentive for students to behave appropriately and perform well. Contrary to conventional wisdom, rewards are no more effective than threats and punishment in motivating students. In his book Punished by Rewards, Alfie Kohn examines the research on external incentives and concludes that the “do this and you’ll get that” approach to motivation fails. Citing hundreds of studies, Kohn discusses the reasons that incentives like stickers, pizza parties, free time, trips to the toy barrel, and even “A’s” do not work. The most important reason for teachers may be that “rewards change the way people feel about what they do” (1993). He explains that when a student hears, “If you do this then you’ll get that” the message to the learner is “There must be something wrong with this if you have to give me that to get me to do it.” Thus, what we are doing when we offer a reward for learning or following classroom rules, whether we realize it or not, is “killing off the interest in the very thing we are bribing them to do” (1993). Jensen echoes Kohn’s concerns regarding rewards, warning that “students will want [rewards] each time the behavior is required; they’ll want an increasingly valuable reward . . . [and that] the use of rewards actually damages intrinsic motivation” (1998).

Another problem with external motivators is that they tend to rupture relationships. Think of when you were last on the receiving end of any of the strategies listed above (with the exception of asking). When we are feeling manipulated, either blatantly or with subtlety, the level of trust in the relationship is damaged. Subsequently the next time that person tries to get us to do something, we are even less inclined to comply. Therefore, the person trying to motivate us will most likely intensify the external motivation by either increasing the reward or moving down the list above from bribing to threatening or worse, further eroding the relationship.

The Alternative: Appealing to Intrinsic Motivation

Instead of coercing or manipulating students, teachers can design their management and instructional strategies to appeal to what truly motivates them. A clear, practical model that explains intrinsic motivation is Dr. William Glasser’s Choice Theory.

The Components of Intrinsic Motivation: The Five Basic Human Needs

According to Choice Theory, all human behavior is purposeful. The purpose of all behavior is to meet one or more of the following Basic Human Needs:

1. To Survive – The need to survive includes all the physical needs: to eat, seek shelter, get enough rest, go to the bathroom, etc. There is also a psychological component, however. Because humans have the ability to think about the future, seeking security and order are part of the need to survive. In the classroom, students need a safe, orderly, structured environment to learn and to thrive.

2. To Love and Belong: The need to make social connections, to develop strong relationships, and to feel accepted is another powerful motivator. Humans are social creatures and learning almost always has a social component. Students need to feel like an integral part of a classroom, and enjoy making connections to the teacher and their peers.

3. To Gain Power: When Choice Theorists use the word “power,” they are talking about personal empowerment – the need to gain knowledge and skills, to achieve, to be competent, to feel successful and important. In the classroom, this means being listened to, achieving, learning, being successful, and gaining recognition for their achievements. Helping students gain power is what school is really all about.

4. To Be Free: There are two types of freedom – freedom to and freedom from. Freedom to refers to the need to make independent choices. Freedom from refers to the avoidance of pain, physical and emotional, and boredom. In the classroom, this need translates into the need for autonomy and for novelty.

5. To Play: Like other intelligent species, humans need to play, and through play they learn important skills and information. Any inspiring classroom is full of laughter and fun.

By appealing to these five basic needs, teachers can dramatically increase student achievement and reduce behavior problems. By ignoring these needs, teachers are asking for problems.

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Motivating Students to Read

January 29, 2007 at 12:08 am (children, Education, kids, Parents, reading, school)


No matter what subject or grade level you teach, your students have opportunities to read every day. You probably have some students who enjoy reading and look forward to it, and others who avoid it at all costs. It’s important to understand why students avoid reading, and how you can turn days where students have to read into days where students get to read.

How can you appeal to all students, creating experiences and opportunities that encourage them to read? Read on for tips for motivating students to read.

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”
– Mortimer Adler

Research shows that when a text refers to things or concepts with which the reader has no familiarity, he or she will not comprehend the material. Films and television can help enlarge experience and supply vocabulary (Greenwood, 1989; Aiex, 1988).
Research shows that teachers should select books for young people that reflect the actual interests of the students (Fuchs, 1987).

Research shows that we need to make available appropriate reading material at the appropriate time, supplement students’ reading processes with varied print and nonprint experiences, and/or individualize instruction in whatever way is realistic. The goal is to foster an interest in reading that will contribute to the student’s ability to lead a full, productive life (Collins, 1997).


What’s In It For Me?

Students who lack the motivation or incentive to read won’t put forth the effort to comprehend the material, if they read it at all. Students need a reason that they value – a compelling why – before they will invest themselves in reading.

Create situations where students have a compelling why to read. Rather than just assigning pages to read from the textbook on ancient Greece and expecting all students to read them because you’ve asked them to, let them discover something about ancient Greece that appeals to them.

One idea is to provide stacks of picture books on ancient Greece and let students pick from the pile. The fashion-conscious students will appreciate color pictures and captions explaining the clothing worn. Budding chefs might enjoy books that have pictures and descriptions of the cooking utensils used and what types of food were made. Animal lovers will delight in books that talk about the animals that lived an ancient Greece and how they were used. By letting students explore what interests them first, you’ve got a hook to expand their knowledge with readings in the textbooks.

Once you’ve appealed to your students’ interests, they will be inclined to read and learn more.

I Can’t Relate to That!

World War II. Bones in the human body. The rules of basketball. Do your students care to read about these topics?

Sometimes offering extra books isn’t enough to create interest. Sometimes students lack the experience to relate to what you’re teaching them, or what they’re reading about. Media can be a big help here. Bring in a documentary that shows the Amazon. Watch the schedule for coming TV shows, especially on PBS or the Discovery or History channels, for example, that relate to a topic. Have students surf the Internet to find out about World War II. Bring in a video of a basketball game and let students list what they think the rules must be. Instructional strategies like these offer alternative avenues that can help students relate to the material in ways that are more familiar to and fun for them.

Another successful strategy is to let students brainstorm what they already think or know about a topic. Gather as long a list as your students can generate. Most students will start with what interests them about a topic. Once they have opened this door, they may be inclined to read more about it.

Let Me Choose What I Want to Read

The curriculum tells you to teach your students about the solar system. Your first instinct is to assign the pages in the science textbook for your students to read. Your students balk and sigh.

Can they pick out their own books? A trip to the library might be in order. If resources permit, a trip to the planetarium would be engaging. There will be informational signs and possibly brochures to read there. And, of course, the Internet could supply myriads of information that involves reading. Once they have explored on their own and have gained some knowledge on a topic, the textbook readings won’t be as mundane or difficult to understand if your students start with a background in the material that they have gleaned on their own.

Another idea is to let students pick the topic of a research project based on what they are studying. The general assignment could be, for example, the solar system and then within it students pick their own assignment topic (constellations, Milky Way, Jupiter, etc.). They would create a project relating to the assignment. It could be a paper to turn in, a PowerPoint presentation, a poster board with pictures and a presentation to go with it, a display of painted Styrofoam balls to represent the planets, etc. Without being directed to do so, your students will have to read to find the information for their project.

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Greetings from Orlando

January 28, 2007 at 10:56 pm (Education)

My name is Kevin and I live in Orlando, Florida.  I have worked in education for 10 years and have been blessed to learn a lot in that time frame.  I am currently a school-based administrator for 5 years.  I am married to Roxanne, who is also an educator.  Her speciality is reading.  Together, we have a son named Carson who is 3 1/2.

My blog will focus on Education; however, from time to time, it will have some parenting things in there.   When I talk about parenting, by no means is it advice as much as it is how my wife and I are dealing with Carson.  I also would like to have some blogs about some really cool things to do with children in Central Florida.  Not just Disney and Universal, but some festivals, art shows, etc.



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