October 23, 2007 at 6:44 pm (all, blogging, Blogroll, children, classroom management, culture, drama, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, ESE, ESOL, friends, Gifted, High School, history, kids, life, love, Middle School, movies, Parents, Pedagogy, personal, principals, reading, school, school administration, teachers, Thornebrooke, thoughts, Uncategorized, writing)


Reflection is a process for looking back and integrating new knowledge. Reflections need to occur throughout the building blocks of constructivism and include teacher-led student-driven and teacher reflections. We need to encourage students to stop throughout the learning process and think about their learning. Teachers need to model the reflective process to encourage students to think openly, critically and creatively.


Teacher-Led Student Reflections – Teachers review the learning to revisit concepts and processes that students will take away with them. This is an opportunity to restate and correct misinformation that has been noted. Teachers reframe new information to lead the students in a more appropriate path. Teachers link student learning to help the group make meaningful connections.

Student Reflections – Students reflect on what they thought about during learning process and how they reacted to other exhibits shared by peers. Reflections include what they were thinking, feeling, imagining and processing through the dialogue or learning exchange. Students reflect on what they will always remember. Reflections can be written but it is important to allow students to have purposeful dialogue.

Techniques for Reflections

Closing CircleA quick way to circle around a classroom and ask each student to share one thing they now know about a topic or a connection that they made that will help them to remember or how this new knowledge can be applied in real life.

Exit CardsAn easy 5 minute activity to check student knowledge before, during and after a lesson or complete unit of study. Students respond to 3 questions posed by the teacher. Teachers can quickly read the responses and plan necessary instruction.

Learning LogsShort, ungraded and unedited, reflective writing in learning logs is a venue to promote genuine consideration of learning activities.

Reflective JournalsJournals can be used to allow students to reflect on their own learning. They can be open-ended or the teacher can provide guiding, reflective questions for the students to respond to. These provide insight on how the students are synthesizing their learning but it also helps the students to make connections and better understand how they learn.

RubricsStudents take time to self-evaluate and peer-evaluate using the rubric that was given or created at the beginning of the learning process. By doing this, students will understand what areas they were very strong in and what areas to improve for next time.

Write a LetterThe students write a letter to themselves or to the subject they are studying. This makes the students think of connections in a very personal way. Students enjoy sharing these letters and learn from listening to other ideas.



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Building Habits

August 24, 2007 at 5:53 pm (all, blogging, children, classroom management, culture, drama, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, ESOL, food, friends, High School, history, humor, kids, life, love, Middle School, movies, music, news, Parents, personal, photography, poetry, politics, principals, reading, religion, school, school administration, sports, teachers, technology, Thornebrooke, thoughts, travel, Uncategorized, video, women, writing)

It takes 27 days to form a habit. Remember when your mother used to ask you to make your bed every day? Then, after a while, you simply started making it on your own —without having to be reminded to do it. Making your bed every day had become a habit.

In my column, Laying the Groundwork, I discussed the importance of brainstorming expectations and procedures as part of laying the groundwork for building good habits. This time, I want to discuss in a little more detail the kinds of habits we want to build in our students — and how we can build them.

When thinking about the kinds of good habits you want students to develop, go back to that list of expectations and procedures you created. For me, for example, it’s important that students enter my classroom, check their mailboxes, and start working on their focus assignment before the first bell rings. It’s important that when I use the quiet signal, my students get quiet and focus on me. I expect my students to stay in a quiet straight line when I walk with them down the hall. It’s also important to me for students to be silent, with a clean area, before I dismiss them. Those types of habits, as well as others, also might be important to you. If you’re not really sure what you expect of your students, then take some time right now to brainstorm those actions and behaviors that you want to become habits for your students.

Okay, you have your list. You might be asking yourself, “Why is it important that I help build these habits?” The reason is to save yourself stress later on in the school year. Spring semester might seem like a long way away, but it will come around a lot faster than you think. Students who are not following good habits in the fall have a tendency to let spring fever get out of hand. Behavior can become more erratic then, and without good habits in place, students are more likely to get out of control. By setting the standards at the beginning of the year and turning good behaviors into good habits, you save yourself a lot of time and stress later.

But how can you build in students the good habits you expect? First, clearly explain your expectations to students. Next, make sure students practice the correct actions and behaviors daily. (It’s especially important to practice behaviors over and over again during the first couple of weeks of school.) Third, be consistent about requiring specific behaviors. If you see students not meeting your expectations, don’t be afraid to stop and take the time to practice the correct action or behavior right then and there.

For example, if I notice that many students are entering the classroom and “hanging out” without starting their work before the bell rings, I stop everything and practice my expectations. I have students file out of the classroom and re-enter correctly. If students are not following my quiet signal, we stop immediately and practice until they get it right. By doing that consistently, students begin to see that I will hold them accountable for their actions. After 27 days or more of doing the same actions over and over again, the behaviors become a habit for students. What you want to achieve is a classroom in which students know what to do and when to do it. That is a well-disciplined classroom.
You might find, of course, that as the year progresses, you need to stop and practice your expectations again. That is perfectly normal and can be thought of as “maintenance.”

Before you know it, however, your students will be entering the classroom and doing exactly what you expect of them — whether you are there to remind them or not. Good behavior has become — just like making your bed each day — a habit. In the end, that’s precisely what we strive to accomplish.
As you work toward that goal, remember the maxim “Good habits are hard to break” — and practice, practice, practice.

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Teaching the Story of Movies

April 6, 2007 at 5:48 pm (all, art, blogging, children, culture, drama, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, ESOL, High School, kids, Middle School, movies, music, Parents, principals, school, school administration, teachers, technology, Thornebrooke, Uncategorized, video)


We’re classic movie buffs here at MiddleWeb, so when we saw several middle school teachers talking about this program on the Turner Classic Movies channel, we perked up! The Story of Movies is an interdisciplinary curriculum introducing middle school students to classic cinema and the cultural, historical and artistic significance of film. Created by The Film Foundation in partnership with IBM and TCM, the program offers three films for in-depth study: To Kill a Mockingbird, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and The Day the Earth Stood Still. The Foundation provides free DVDs, a Teacher’s Guide, and a Student Activities Booklet–plus online resources, including a professional development area for teachers. Teachers don’t have to be film experts. “Because of the interdisciplinary approach, much of the content will be familiar to educators–methods of characterization, the link between history and culture, the function of music, and principles of composition. The online teacher’s guides for each classic film provide overviews and background information to assist educators in facilitating discussions and presentations.” Visit the site, examine the resources, and find out how to engage your students in some higher-order thinking about the movies. Popcorn optional.

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Fun in the Classroom – Pt 3

March 27, 2007 at 6:31 pm (all, blogging, children, culture, drama, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, High School, humor, kids, life, Middle School, Parents, principals, reading, school, school administration, teachers, Thornebrooke)

Can you believe it?  This is the last tip from Jonathan Erwin’s Classroom of Choice.  I hope that you have found this series to be useful.

The following are fun activities that can be used for transitions, tension-busting, or camaraderie building.

Who Is the Leader?

This game starts out with the students sitting in a circle in chairs or at desks.  One person leaves the room.  Another person is chosen to be leader.  The leader stays in his place and gestures, makes faces, and fidgets.  The rest of the class follow along with the leader’s actions.  The student who left the room returns, joins the circle, and tries to guess who the leader is by carefully observing the group.

I’m Going to California

Everyone sits in a circle.  Someone begins by saying, “I’m going to California, and when I go, I’m taking      .”  The first player fills in the blank with anything: “my favorite CD” or something else.  Player 2 must say “I’m going to California, and when I go, I’m taking – and list Player 1’s object and a new one.  This is a great game to stress focus. 

Zip Zap Boing

This game helps students learn to focus and concentrate.  It begins with students standing or sitting in a circle.  One player starts by turning his head sharply to the right, and exclaiming, “zip!” with energy and enthusiasm.  The player to his right keeps it going, snapping her head to the right and saying “zip!”  This continues around the circle until a player shouts “boing!” as he turns back to the person to his left.  This person snaps his head to the left and says, “zap!”  Now the wave of zaps continues to the left around the group until another player says, “boing!”  The object of the game is to create a fast continuous flowing sound and movement around the circle.  It takes practice to get to that point, but the practice is lots of fun!

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Brain Breaks

March 20, 2007 at 4:47 pm (all, blogging, children, culture, drama, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, humor, kids, Middle School, Parents, principals, reading, school, school administration, teachers)

Working Smarter With Brain Breaks

From a selection of teaching tips by Clinton Lamprecht.

Clinton Lamprecht founded the School of Accelerated Learning and since then has trained thousands of teaching and training professionals in brain-compatible learning strategies worldwide. A degree in psychology, a thesis in accelerated learning, an NLP Trainer and over 10 years’ experience in training and learning confirms he brings with him a rich perspective and experience in accelerated learning that will rarely be matched.

Working Smarter with Brain Breaks
Regular breaks improve learning because they give students time to make sense of information. In the classroom, children need breaks approximately every 20 minutes for learning to be effective. During these breaks, the brain becomes more relaxed and this helps new information sink in on a deeper level because the child is integrating what has been learnt on a non-conscious level. The rule of thumb is to have more beginnings and more endings to boost memory.

Action Steps

Stop after 20 minutes and get students to stand up and talk to a partner for 1 minute about the most valuable thing they have learnt, Then change chairs. Three brain friendly learning outcomes are achieved with this exercise:

Students get time to download and make sense of the information.
Learners’ emotional state changes with the movement to a new seat.
More primacies (beginnings) and regencies (endings) help boost memory.

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Fun in the Classroom – Drama Games

March 19, 2007 at 5:52 pm (all, blogging, children, culture, drama, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, High School, humor, kids, Middle School, Parents, principals, reading, school, school administration, teachers)


Can you believe it?  We are almost at the end of the school year – and this series of Monday tips based on the book “The Classroom of Choice” by Jonathan Erwin.  We have been discussing how to meet your students’ need for fun in the classroom.  Today – drama games.

As a child, some of your favorite games probably involved imagination and role-playing.  As we age, the demands of daily life can erode our imagination.  Drama games can help exercise the imagination, and thus help retain the creative potential that we had as children.  Drama games can also help students develop key skills such as listening, self-expression, articulation, concentration, focus, self-control, spontaneity, and confidence.  Finally, drama games give students a chance to move, to interact, and to enjoy the two kinds of freedom (freedom to and freedom from) that we discussed previously.

Games for verbal expression

Tongue twisters – This verbal game provides good exercise for clear articulation and can be a good transition between classroom activities.  They also help develop focus and concentration.

Quacking up – This warm-up can be used to get people laughing and bonding.  

1.    Give each student a card with the name of an animal on it or whisper to each student the name of an animal.  Choose animals whose sounds are easy to imitate.

2.    Have the class stand in a circle.

3.    Ask them to close their eyes, and tell them when you say, “Go!”, they are to make their animal sound and see how many others of their kind they can find and stand together using the sense of hearing. 

You can also use this to form cooperative groups. 

One-minute please – Pick a student’s name from a hat.  The student must pick a 3 x 5 card from a deck that the teacher has prepared.  On the card is a subject that the student must talk about for one whole minute.  This activity can be used to review and helps students learn presentation skills and how to think on their feet.

Games for physical expression 

Walk this way – Students stand in a circle, each person a couple of paces behind the person in front of her, and begin walking around and around the circle.  The teacher calls out, “Walk as if       ,” filling in the blank with a descriptor (You weigh 2000 pounds, you are in pain, you are on the moon, you are on a hot sidewalk with bare feet, you are getting yelled at, you are angry,…).  For the next few moments, everyone pantomimes walking as if they weighed a ton. 

Musical statues – The teacher plays a dance tune.  When the music stops, everyone freezes absolutely still, like statues.  Anyone who moves is out.  The judging becomes stricter until only one person is left. 

Improvisation games

Three props on a box – The teacher selects three props (possibly from the unit) and places them on a box.  A student selected at random has to come up and tell a story involving all three props.  The more incongruous the props, the more fun and challenging the game is for everyone.

First lines – Each pair of students is handed a card with the first line to an improvised skit on it, and they take it from there.  Let the action continue until they need to be rescued. 

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