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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October 23, 2007 at 6:39 pm (all, blogging, Blogroll, children, classroom management, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, ESE, ESOL, Gifted, High School, history, kids, Middle School, Parents, Pedagogy, principals, reading, school, school administration, teachers, Thornebrooke, thoughts, Uncategorized, writing)


By using a variety of ways to show what they know, such as projects, metaphors or graphic organizers, students are allowed to come to closure on some idea, to develop it and to further their imagination to find understanding. Understanding is taking bits of knowledge in all different curriculum and life experiences and applying this new knowledge. When students apply new knowledge, connections are made and learning is meaningful and relevant. Application is a higher order thinking skill that is critical for true learning to occur.


We often require students to hand in a completed paper, project or give them an exam to see what they have learned. In a constructivist classroom, the process moves from the individual to more public, shared knowledge. The power of social interaction shapes learning through critical thinking, communicating and relating. When we keep the product as a private act, we deprive the learner the opportunity to engage in and learn from and with others.

Characteristics of Exhibits

  • Students create a variety of products to ‘show what they know’
  • Students share these products in collaborative or whole group presentations
  • Students respond to questions and openly question others
  • Teachers guide student learning creating learning paths appropriate for each student or groups of students
  • Students take more responsibility and ownership for their learning exhibits

Possible Student Exhibits

Analogies – Students compare a topic or unit of study to an inanimate object such as comparing something known to the unknown or some inanimate object to the topic.

Blogs – Blogs, short for weblogs, are online journals or diaries that have become popular since the mid 1990’s. Bloggers post personal opinions, random thoughts, connections and real life stories to interact with others via the Web! Weblinks and photos can also be added to the blog. A learner may choose to have their own blog to record their learning on a specific topic. A group of learners could choose to share a blog and read, write, challenge, debate, validate and build shared knowledge as a group. Check out to set up your own personal or professional blog – develop your digital voice and model for your students.

Collage – Students cut out or draw pictures to represent a specific topic. To evaluate the level of understanding, students write an explanation or discuss in small groups the significance of the pictures and why they are representative of the topic. This technique encourages students to make connections, to create a visual representation and to then explain or exhibit their understanding.

Celebration of LearningA demonstration where students have the opportunity to share their expertise in several subject areas with other students, teachers and parents.

Graphic Organizers – Graphic organizers, also known as mind maps, are instructional tools used to illustrate prior knowledge.

Portfolios A portfolio is a representative collection of an individual student’s work. A student portfolio is generally composed of best work to date and a few “works in progress” that demonstrate the process. Students show their knowledge, skills and abilities in a variety of different ways that are not dependent upon traditional media such as exams and essays.  Multiple Intelligences Portfolios are an effective way for students to understand not how smart they are but how they are smart.

Project-Based Learning– Students create projects by investigating and making connections from the topic or unit of study to real life situations. Multimedia is one effective tool for students to design their projects.

T-charts – A simple t is drawn and students jot down information relating to a topic in two different columns.

Venn-Diagram – A graphic organizer that is made with 2 intersecting circles and is used to compare and contrast. Using this tool, students identify what is different about 2 topics and identify the overlap between the two topics in the shared shared area.

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12 Tips to Setting up an Autism Classroom

October 10, 2007 at 6:52 pm (all, Autism, blogging, Blogroll, children, classroom management, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, ESE, High School, Middle School, principals, school, school administration, Thornebrooke, thoughts, Uncategorized)

Twelve Tips for Setting Up An Autism Classroom

Standing before your students’ expectant faces, you’re determined to create a successful classroom.   You will!  These twelve tips are here to guide you.  To be truly effective, never lose sight of the secret ingredient.  Your students must know you accept them for who they are.  They must feel your belief in them.  By believing they can do it, you will expect a lot from them and you will get it.  In the process and quite unexpectedly, you will receive a surprise bonus.  Your students will adore you and look forward to learning in your class every day. 

1. Keep it structured

Children with autism thrive in a structured environment.  Establish a routine and keep it as consistent as possible.  In a world that’s ever changing, routine and structure provide great comfort to a child on the autism spectrum.  Define routines clearly.  For example, every morning:

–          Enter the classroom

–          Greet the teacher

–          Greet the friend next to you

–          Unpack your school bag

–          Put notes in the red tray

–          Put lunch bags in the blue tray

–          Sit at your desk 

Activities are successful when they’re broken into small steps.  If children are creating a craft such as a paper airplane, define when it’s time to cut, draw and paste.  Make sure children know what to do if they finish ahead of time.  Typically, children with autism do not use free time productively; therefore strive to have as little downtime between activities as possible.

2. Use visuals

A picture speaks a thousand words!  Use them whenever you can.  Children with autism learn faster and with greater ease when you use visuals.  In fact, we all respond better to visuals.  Look at any page of advertisements and see which ones catch your eye.  When verbal instructions require too much concentration, children will tune you out.  Visual supports maintain a child’s focus and interest.  So what can you use visuals with?  Just about anything.  Are you teaching hygiene?  Show pictures of children brushing their teeth or combing their hair.   Are you teaching greeting skills?  Show pictures of children greeting their friends, bus driver, parents and teachers.   Are you explaining an outing like a field trip?  Show visuals of what to expect on the trip such as getting on the bus, arriving at the destination, planned activities, eating a snack and returning to school.  Remember to keep explanations simple and short about each picture or concentration will wane.   Give written instructions instead of verbal whenever you can.  Highlight or underline any text for emphasis.


3. Schedules

People with autism like order and detail.  They feel in control and secure when they know what to expect.  Schedules help students know what’s ahead.  Picture schedules are even more powerful because they help a student visualize the actions.  Schedules can be broad or detailed.  You can use them with any sequence of events.  These examples will give you an indication of how they can be used.

 Classroom on Tuesday is an example of a broad schedule since it takes a whole day to complete

Picture of “Unpacking school bag”

Picture of “Writing in a journal”

Picture of “Floor time”

Picture of “Snack”

Picture of “Music class”

Picture of “Math”

Picture of “Lunch”

Picture of “Playing at recess”

Picture of “Science experiment”

Picture of “Reading a book”

Picture of “Geography”

Picture of “Packing school bag”

Picture of “Saying goodbye”

Make sure you have this schedule in a very visible place in your classroom and direct the students’ attention to it frequently, particularly a few minutes before you begin the next activity.

The end of a school day is a more detailed schedule as it explains a short activity

Picture of “A clock depicting the end of day”

Picture of “Retrieving a school bag from its location”

Picture of “Placing a homework book in the backpack”

Picture of “Placing a folder in the backpack”

Picture of “Putting on a coat”

Picture of “Saying good-bye to friends”

Picture of “Saying good-bye to the teacher”

Picture of “Getting on the school bus”

Make sure this schedule is available and draw attention to it before the activity begins.  Another option is to create schedule strips and place it on each student’s desk. 

Written schedules are very effective for good readers.  These can also be typed up and placed on a student’s desk.  The child can “check off” each item as it’s completed, which is often very motivating for a student.

4. Reduce distractions

Many people with autism find it difficult to filter out background noise and visual information.  Children with autism pay attention to detail.  Wall charts and posters can be very distracting.   While you or I would stop “seeing the posters” after a while, children on the spectrum will not.  Each time they look at it will be like the very first time and it will be impossible for them to ignore it.  Try and seat children away from windows and doors.  Use storage bins and closets for packing away toys and books.  Remember the old adage – out of sight, out of mind.  Noise and smells can be very disturbing to people with autism.  Keep the door closed if possible.  If your classroom is in a high traffic area – time to speak to the Principal! 

5. Use concrete language

Always keep your language simple and concrete.   Get your point across in as few words as possible.  Typically, it’s far more effective to say “Pens down, close your journal and line up to go outside” than “It looks so nice outside.  Let’s do our science lesson now.  As soon as you’ve finished your writing, close your books and line up at the door.  We’re going to study plants outdoors today”.   If you ask a question or give an instruction and are greeted with a blank stare, reword your sentence.  Asking a student what you just said helps clarify that you’ve been understood.  Avoid using sarcasm.  If a student accidentally knocks all your papers on the floor and you say “Great!” you will be taken literally and this action might be repeated on a regular basis.  Avoid using idioms.  “Put your thinking caps on”, “Open your ears” and “Zipper your lips” will leave a student completely mystified and wondering how to do that.  Give very clear choices and try not to leave choices open ended.  You’re bound to get a better result by asking “Do you want to read or draw?” than by asking “What do you want to do now?”

6. It’s not personal

Children with autism are not rude.  They simply don’t understand social rules or how they’re supposed to behave.   It can feel insulting when you excitedly give a gift or eagerly try and share information and you get little to no response.   Turn these incidents into learning experiences.  As an example, if you enthusiastically greet a child with autism and you get the cold shoulder, create a “Greeting Lesson”.  Take two index cards.  Draw a stick figure saying “Hi” on the first card.  On the second card draw a stick figure smiling and waving.  Show each card to the child as you say. “When somebody says Hi, you can either say “Hi” or you can smile and wave.  Which one do you want to do?”  When the child picks a card, say “Great, let’s practice.  “Hi Jordan”.  Show the card to prompt the child to respond according to the card he picked.  Praise the child highly after a response and have your cards ready for the next morning greeting!  Keep it consistent by asking the parents to follow through with this activity at home.  If you get frustrated (and we all have our days) always remember the golden rule.  NEVER, ever, speak about a child on the autism spectrum as if they weren’t present.  While it might look like the student isn’t listening or doesn’t understand, this probably is not the case.  People with autism often have acute hearing.  They can be absorbed in a book on the other side of the room and despite the noise level in the class, they will easily be able to tune into what you are saying.  Despite the lack of reaction they sometimes present, hearing you speak about them in a negative way will crush their self esteem.      

7. Transitions

Children on the autism spectrum feel secure when things are constant.  Changing an activity provides a fear of the unknown.  This elevates stress which produces anxiety.  While a typical child easily moves from sitting in a circle on the floor to their desk, it can be a very big deal to a child on the spectrum.  Reduce the stress of transitions by giving ample warning.  Some ways you can do this is by verbal instruction example “In 5 minutes, it’s time to return to our desks” and then again “Three minutes until we return to our desks” and then again “One more minute till we return to our desks”.  Another option is to use a timer.  Explain that when the timer goes off, it’s time to start a new activity.  Periodically, let students know approximately how much time is left.   When you ask a child to transition from a preferred activity, they might be very resistant if they have no idea when they will be allowed to resume.  If a student loves reading, you could say “In 5 minutes it’s time to do science.  Then it’s math and then you can read again”. This way, the child knows that it’s OK to stop because the activity can be resumed again soon.  If a child is particularly struggling with a transition, it often helps to allow them to hold onto a “transitional object” such as a preferred small toy or an object of their choice.  This helps a child feel in control and gives them something to look forward to.  As an example you can say “In 3 minutes we’re going to pick a toy and then we’re going down the hall to music class”.  Using schedules helps with transitions too as students have time to “psyche themselves up” for the changes ahead.

8. Establish independence

Teaching students with autism how to be independent is vital to their well being.  While it’s tempting to help someone that’s struggling to close a zipper, it’s a much greater service to calmly teach that person how to do it themselves.  People can be slow when they are learning a new skill until they become proficient.  Time is usually something we don’t have to spare, particularly in western societies.  However in order to help a person progress we must make time to show them the ropes.  While it’s wonderful that your students take direction from you, it’s equally important they learn to respond to peers.  If a student asks for a scissor, tell him to ask his peer.  Encourage your students to ask each other for help and information.  By doing so, students learn there are many people they can seek out for help and companionship.  Making decisions is equally important and this begins by teaching students to make a choice.  Offer two choices.  Once students can easily decide between two options introduce a third choice.  This method will help children think of various options and make decisions.  People with autism may take extra time to process verbal instructions.  When giving a directive or asking a question, make sure you allow for extra processing time before offering guidance.  Self help skills are essential to learn.  Some of these include navigating the school halls, putting on outerwear, asking for assistance and accounting for personal belongings. Fade all prompts as soon as you can.  Remember that written prompts are usually easier to fade than verbal prompts.  Fading prompts can be done in a phased approach.  If you are prompting a child to greet someone by showing them an index card with the word “Hello”, try fading it to a blank index card as a reminder before you completely remove the prompt.   Never underestimate the power of consistency.  Nothing works in a day whether it’s a diet, an exercise plan or learning to behave in class.  Often we implement solutions and if there are no results within a few days we throw our hands up in the air and say “This doesn’t work.  Let me try something else”.  Avoid this temptation and make sure you allow ample time before you abandon an idea.  Remember that consistency is a key component of success.  If you’re teaching a student to control aggression, the same plan should be implemented in all settings, at school and at home.

9. Rewards before consequences

We all love being rewarded and people with autism are no different.  Rewards and positive reinforcement are a wonderful way to increase desired behavior.  Help students clearly understand which behaviors and actions lead to rewards.   If possible, let your students pick their own reward so they can anticipate receiving it.  There are many reward systems which include negative responses and typically, these do not work as well.  An example of this type of reward system is where a student will begin with a blank sheet of paper.  For each good behavior the student will receive a smiley face. However if the student performs poorly, he will receive a sad face or have a smiley face taken away.  It’s far better to just stop providing rewards than it is to take them away.   Focusing on negative aspects can often lead to poor results and a de-motivated student.  When used correctly, rewards are very powerful and irresistible.  Think of all the actions you do to receive rewards such as your salary, a good body and close relationships.  There are many wonderful ideas for reward systems.  Ten tokens might equal a big prize.  Collecting pennies until you have enough to “buy” the reward of your choice.  Choice objects to play with after a student does a great job.  Rewards don’t have to be big.  They do have to be something a student desires and show students they have done a great job.  Every reward should be showered in praise.  Even though people on the spectrum might not respond typically when praised, they enjoy it just as much as you!

10. Teach with lists

Teaching with lists can be used in two ways.  One is by setting expectations and the other is by ordering information.  Let’s discuss the first method.  Teaching with lists sets clear expectations.  It defines a beginning, middle and an end.  If I ask you to pay attention because we’re going to do Calculus, you probably wouldn’t jump for joy and might even protest.  However, you’re likely to be a more willing participant if I explain that there are only 5 calculus sums.  I demonstrate this by writing 1 through 5 on the blackboard.  As we complete each sum, I check it off on the board, visually and verbally letting you know how many are left till completion.  The second method of teaching with lists is by ordering information.  People on the autism spectrum respond well to order and lists are no exception.  Almost anything can be taught in a list format.  If a student is struggling with reading comprehension, recreate the passage in list format.  This presentation is much easier for a student to process.  Answering questions about the passage in this format will be easier.  Similarly, if you’re teaching categories, define clear columns and list the items in each category.  While typical people often think in very abstract format, people on the spectrum have a very organized way of thought.  Finding ways to work within these parameters can escalate the learning curve.    

11. Creative teaching

It helps to be creative when you’re teaching students with autism.  People on the spectrum think out of the box and if you do too, you will get great results.  Throw all your old tactics out of the window and get a new perspective.  Often, people with autism have very specific interests.  Use these interests as motivators.  If you’re teaching reading comprehension and students are bored with a story about Miss Mavis, make up your own story about dinosaurs, baseball statistics or any other topic your students enjoy.  Act things out as often as you can.  If you’re teaching good behavior, flick your pencil on the floor as you ask your students “Is it OK to do this?”  Raise your hand as if to ask a question while you ask “Is it OK to do this?”   Another great strategy to use is called “Teaching with questions”.  This method keeps students involved, focused and ensures understanding.  As an example you might say:

Teacher: Plants need sun.  What do they need?

Class: Sun

Teacher: That’s right.  They also need air and water.  What do plants need?

Class: Air and water.

Teacher:  That’s right and what else?

Class:  Sun

Teacher:  Correct.  Plants have stems and leaves.  What do they have?

Class:  Stems and leaves.

Teacher:  And what do they need?

Class: Air and water

Teacher:  And what else?

Class: Sun

Teacher:  That’s right…

Another great way of teaching is by adding humor to your lessons.  We all respond to humor.  If you’re at a conference, think about how a lecturer holds your attention when he makes jokes.  It’s OK to be silly in class.  You will have your students’ attention and they will love learning with you.  The saying goes that people on the autism spectrum march to the beat of their own drum.  Therefore, they often respond to unconventional methods of teaching.  While it might take some imagination and prep time, watching them succeed is definitely well worth the effort.

12. Don’t sweat the small stuff

The final goal is for children to be happy and to function as independently as possible.  Always keep this in mind and pick your battles wisely.  Don’t demand eye contact if a student has trouble processing visual and auditory information simultaneously.  People with autism often have poor attending skills but excellent attendance.  Does it really matter if a student does one page of homework instead of two?  What about if a student is more comfortable sitting on his knees than flat on the floor?  It’s just as important to teach appropriate behavior as it is self esteem.  By correcting every action a person does, you’re sending a message that they’re not good enough the way they are.  When making a decision about what to correct, always ask yourself first, “Will correcting this action help this person lead a productive and happy life?”

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The Importance of Self-Esteem

October 10, 2007 at 6:43 pm (all, blogging, Blogroll, children, classroom management, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, ESE, ESOL, High School, kids, love, Middle School, Parents, Pedagogy, personal, principals, school, school administration, teachers, Thornebrooke, thoughts, Uncategorized)

The Power of Self-Esteem:
Build It and They Will Flourish

Jim Paterson

The term “self-esteem,” long the centerpiece of most discussions concerning the emotional well being of young adolescents, has taken a beating lately.

Some people who question this emphasis on adolescent self-esteem suggest that it takes time and attention away from more important aspects of education. Others contend that many of the most difficult adolescents suffer from too much self-esteem and our insistence on building higher levels is detrimental to the student and to society.

But many experts and middle school educators stand firm in their conviction that since self-worth is rigorously tested during the middle school years, attention to it can only help students become successful. Perhaps, they say, self-esteem simply has not been defined properly or the strategies used to build it have done more harm than good.

For example, “Praising kids for a lack of effort is useless,” says Jane Bluestein, a former classroom teacher, school administrator, speaker, and the author of several books and articles on adolescence and self-esteem. “Calling a bad job on a paper a ‘great first draft’ doesn’t do anyone any good. I think we’ve learned that. If I’m feeling stupid and worthless and you tell me I’m smart, that makes you stupid in my eyes,” she says. “It doesn’t make me any better.”

But Bluestein and others say that simply because the corrective methods are misguided doesn’t mean middle school educators should not pay close attention to their students’ self-esteem.

Jan Burgess, a former principal at Lake Oswego Junior High School in Oregon, explains, “We’ve all seen kids whose parents believe self-esteem is absolutely the highest priority. But heaping praise without warrant is empty praise. Self-esteem is important, and it comes from aiming high and reaching the goal. That is much more meaningful.”

On the other hand, James Bierma, a school counselor at Washington Technical Magnet in St. Paul, Minnesota, says he is wary of those who want to reduce praise for students. “I don’t see heaping praise on kids as a big problem. I work in an urban area where we have more than 85% of students in poverty. I wish our students received more praise,” he says. “You can go overboard, but that rarely happens in my dealings with families. Students respond well to praise from parents and school staff.”

Robert Reasoner, a former school administrator and the developer of a model for measuring and building self-esteem that has been adopted by schools throughout the United States, says there has been a lot of confusion about the concept of self-esteem.

“Some have referred to self-esteem as merely ‘feeling good’ or having positive feelings about oneself,” says Reasoner, who is president of the National Association of Self Esteem. “Others have gone so far as to equate it with egotism, arrogance, conceit, narcissism, a sense of superiority, and traits that lead to violence. Those things actually suggest that self-esteem is lacking.”

He notes that self-value is difficult to study and address because it is both a psychological and sociological issue and affects students in many different ways.

“Self-esteem is a fluid rather than static condition,” says Sylvia Starkey, a school psychologist and counselor for 16 years in the Lake Oswego School District. She notes that the way adolescents view themselves can depend on how they feel about their competence in a particular activity. It also is influenced by the child’s general temperament and even family birth order, all of which might make it harder to identify the causes of low self-esteem—or raise it.

Reasoner says self-esteem can be defined as “the experience of being capable of meeting life’s challenges and being worthy of happiness.” He notes that the worthiness is the psychological aspect of self-esteem, while the competence, or meeting challenges, is the sociological aspect.

He notes that when we heap praise on a student, a sense of personal worth may elevate, but competence may not—which can make someone egotistical. Self-esteem, he says, comes from accomplishing meaningful things, overcoming adversity, bouncing back from failure, assuming self-responsibility, and maintaining integrity.

Self-Esteem at the Middle Level

Middle school students are particularly vulnerable to blows to their self-esteem because they are moving to a more complex, more challenging school environment; they are adjusting to huge physical and emotional changes; and their feelings of self-worth are beginning to come from peers rather than adults, just at a time when peer support can be uncertain, Reasoner says.

“Early on, it’s parents who affirm the young person’s worth, then it’s the teacher. In middle school, peer esteem is a powerful source of one’s sense of self,” according to Mary Pat McCartney, a counselor at Bristow Run Elementary School in Bristow, Virginia, and former elementary-level vice president of the American School Counselors Association. No matter how much students have been swamped with praise by well-meaning parents, she says, what their friends think of them is most important.

Beth Graney, guidance director at Bull Run Middle School in Gainesville, Virginia, says adults gain their self-esteem through accomplishments and by setting themselves apart from others, while adolescents gain it from their group. “Peer relationships are so critical to kids feeling good about themselves,” she says.

Opportunities to Succeed

The solution, rather than praising without merit, seems to be providing students with an opportunity to succeed.

“Self-esteem that comes from aiming high and reaching goals helps build resilience for students as well,” says Burgess. She says teachers can help kids target their learning and fashion goals that are obtainable, while giving them constructive feedback along the way. “Self-esteem rises and students feel in charge—and this can help parents understand how to heap praise when it is earned.”

Bluestein says students often want an opportunity to feel valued and successful. As a group, they can perhaps make a simple decision in class (which of two topics they study first, for example) and individuals might gain from helping others, either collaboratively or as a mentor or tutor. She suggests having students work with others in a lower grade level. As a result, the self-esteem of the students being helped also improves.

“Peer helpers, lunch buddies, peer mentors often help kids feel that someone is in their corner and can help them fit in with a larger group,” Graney says. She says parents should encourage their children to find an activity that they like where they can have some success and feel accepted.

Bluestein recalls a program she began in which her “worst kids” who seemed to have lower levels of self-worth were asked to work with younger students. Their sense of themselves improved, she says, and eventually they were skipping recess or lunch periods to work with the younger students.

Mary Elleen Eisensee, a middle school counselor for more than 30 years at Lake Oswego Junior High School, says if kids can be “guided to accept and support one another, the resulting atmosphere will be conducive for building self-confidence and esteem for everyone.”

Special Care for Special Students

Michelle Borba, nationally known author and consultant on self-esteem and achievement in children, says there are five things middle school educators can do easily to improve the self-esteem of their students:

  • Mentor a child. Find one student who looks as though he or she needs a connection and just take a little more time (even one minute a day) to find a positive moment.
  • Connect with your team about a student. Pass on concerns to at least one other staff member so you’re both on the same page. You can then reinforce the same positive traits about a student together and optimize the effort.
  • Reframe children’s images of themselves. Find one positive trait that is earned and deserved—artistic, great smile, kind heart—and let the student be aware of it. Reframing an image generally takes 21 days, so reinforce the same trait 10 seconds a day for 21 days.
  • Turn students on to a great book, Web site, hobby, or a club that might capitalize on their natural interests or strengths.
  • Make yourself available. Give students your e-mail address and let them know special times you can be reached.

Adult Affirmation Is Important

Adults play a role, too, by helping students find areas where they can have success and making note of it when they do. They can also just notice students.

“Legitimate affirmation makes a huge difference. But plain recognition is just as meaningful. Greeting a student by name even pays big dividends,” says Starkey. She says adult volunteer tutors and mentors help students with social and academic skills and encourage them. An assessment of factors that promote self-esteem in her school district showed such adult attention is very valuable.

At Bierma’s school, counselors call parents on Fridays when students’ scores on achievement, attendance, academic, and behavior goals are announced. “It has helped students turn negative behaviors into positive ones.”

McCartney says simply treating students respectfully and listening carefully affirms a student’s self-worth. She says teachers can also bolster self-esteem if they allow the students to accidentally “overhear key adults bragging about one of their accomplishments.”

Reasoner points out that despite thinking to the contrary, strong self-esteem is critical in the middle school years. Students without it withdraw or develop unhealthy ways of gaining social acceptance, often by responding to peer pressure to engage in sex, drinking, drug abuse, or other harmful behaviors.

“Many of these problems can simply be avoided if a child has healthy self-esteem,” Reasoner says.

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Understanding Learning Disabilities

October 4, 2007 at 7:31 pm (all, Autism, blogging, Blogroll, children, classroom management, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, ESE, ESOL, Gifted, High School, kids, Middle School, Parents, Pedagogy, personal, principals, school, school administration, teachers, Thornebrooke, thoughts, Uncategorized)

Learning Disabilities: Signs, Symptoms and Strategies


A learning disability is a neurological disorder that affects one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using spoken or written language. The disability may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or to do mathematical calculations.

Every individual with a learning disability is unique and shows a different combination and degree of difficulties. A common characteristic among people with learning disabilities is uneven areas of ability, “a weakness within a sea of strengths.” For instance, a child with dyslexia who struggles with reading, writing and spelling may be very capable in math and science.

Learning disabilities should not be confused with learning problems which are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps; of mental retardation; of emotional disturbance; or of environmental, cultural or economic disadvantages.

Generally speaking, people with learning disabilities are of average or above average intelligence. There often appears to be a gap between the individual’s potential and actual achievement. This is why learning disabilities are referred to as “hidden disabilities:” the person looks perfectly “normal” and seems to be a very bright and intelligent person, yet may be unable to demonstrate the skill level expected from someone of a similar age.

A learning disability cannot be cured or fixed; it is a lifelong challenge. However, with appropriate support and intervention, people with learning disabilities can achieve success in school, at work, in relationships, and in the community.

In Federal law, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the term is “specific learning disability,” one of 13 categories of disability under that law.

“Learning Disabilities” is an “umbrella” term describing a number of other, more specific learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and dysgraphia. Find the signs and symptoms of each, plus strategies to help:

A language and reading disability

Problems with arithmetic and math concepts

A writing disorder resulting in illegibility

Dyspraxia (Sensory Integration Disorder)
Problems with motor coordination

Central Auditory Processing Disorder
Difficulty processing and remembering language-related tasks

Non-Verbal Learning Disorders
Trouble with nonverbal cues, e.g., body language; poor coordination, clumsy

Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit
Reverses letters; cannot copy accurately; eyes hurt and itch; loses place; struggles with cutting

Language Disorders (Aphasia/Dysphasia)
Trouble understanding spoken language; poor reading comprehension

Symptoms of Learning Disabilities


The symptoms of learning disabilities are a diverse set of characteristics which affect development and achievement. Some of these symptoms can be found in all children at some time during their development. However, a person with learning disabilities has a cluster of these symptoms which do not disappear as s/he grows older.

Most frequently displayed symptoms:

  • Short attention span
  • Poor memory
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Inability to discriminate between/among letters, numerals, or sounds
  • Poor reading and/or writing ability
  • Eye-hand coordination problems; poorly coordinated
  • Difficulties with sequencing
  • Disorganization and other sensory difficulties

Other characteristics that may be present:

  • Performs differently from day to day
  • Responds inappropriately in many instances
  • Distractible, restless, impulsive
  • Says one thing, means another
  • Difficult to discipline
  • Doesn’t adjust well to change
  • Difficulty listening and remembering
  • Difficulty telling time and knowing right from left
  • Difficulty sounding out words
  • Reverses letters
  • Places letters in incorrect sequence
  • Difficulty understanding words or concepts
  • Delayed speech development; immature speech

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Effective Instructional Strategies for ESE and Struggling Learners

October 2, 2007 at 2:28 pm (all, Autism, blogging, children, classroom management, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, ESE, ESOL, Gifted, High School, kids, Middle School, Pedagogy, principals, reading, school, school administration, teachers, Thornebrooke, thoughts, Uncategorized)

What are instructional strategies?

Instructional strategies are methods that are used in the lesson to ensure that the sequence or delivery of instruction helps students learn.

What does effective mean?

The term “effective” means that student performance improves when the instructional strategies are used. The strategies were identified in studies conducted using research procedures and guidelines that ensure confidence about the results. In addition, several studies exist for each strategy with an adequate sample size and the use of treatment and control groups to generalize to the target population. This allows teachers to be confident about how to apply the strategies in their classrooms.

Strategies to use in designing effective lessons

These six strategies have been proven to work with diverse groups of learners (Kameenui & Carnine, Effective Teaching Strategies that Accommodate Diverse Learners, 1998). All students, and particularly those with disabilities, benefit when teachers incorporate these strategies into their instruction on a regular basis.

  1. Focus on essentials.
  2. Make linkages obvious and explicit.
  3. Prime background knowledge.
  4. Provide temporary support for learning.
  5. Use conspicuous steps and strategies.
  6. Review for fluency and generalization.

Focus on essentials

Identify important principles, key concepts, and big ideas from the curriculum that apply across major themes in the subject content.


  • Big Ideas: Instruction is organized around the major themes that run through a subject area. This helps students make the connections between concepts and learn to use higher order thinking skills. Kameenui and Carnine (1998) gave these examples of big ideas for social studies:
    • problem-solution-effect
    • success of group efforts is related to motivation, leadership, resources, and capability
  • Graphic organizers: Important ideas and details are laid out graphically to help students see connections between ideas. Semantic webs and concept maps are examples of graphic organizers.
  • Thematic instruction: Instructional units combine subject areas to make themes and essential ideas more apparent and meaningful. Lessons and assignments can be integrated or coordinated across classes.
  • Planning routines: The Center for Research on Learning at the University of Kansas website (go to has developed the Learning Strategies Curriculum, systematic routines that include graphic organizers to help teachers plan a course, unit, or lesson around the essentials or big ideas. Teachers guide students to use the organizer to monitor their learning.

Make linkages obvious and explicit

Actively help students understand how key concepts across the curriculum relate to each other as you are teaching.


  • Give clear verbal explanations and use visual displays (such as flow charts, diagrams, or graphic organizers) to portray key concepts and relationships.
  • Help students use techniques like outlining or mind mapping to show connections among concepts.

Prime background knowledge

Connect new information or skills to what students have already learned. Provide additional instruction or support to students who lack necessary background knowledge.


  • Ask questions to prompt student recall of relevant prior knowledge.
  • Make comparisons between the new concept and things students already know.
  • Relate the topic to current or past events that are familiar to students.
  • Relate the concept to a fictional story or scenario known to the students.
  • Use instructional materials that provide easy access to critical background knowledge.

Provide temporary support for learning

Provide support (scaffolding) while students are learning new knowledge and skills, gradually reducing the level of support as students move toward independence.


  • Provide verbal or written prompts to remind students of key information or processes.
  • Physically assist and guide a student when learning a new motor skill, such as cutting.
  • Provide study or note taking guides to support learning from text or lectures.
  • Use commercial materials that have been specifically designed to incorporate supports for learning.
  • Use mnemonics to help students remember multiple steps in a procedure.

Use conspicuous steps and strategies

Teach students to follow a specific set of procedures to solve problems or use a process.


  • Model the steps in the strategy, using a think-aloud process.
  • Name the strategy and give students prompts for using it such as posting steps on the board, providing an example of a problem with the strategy steps labeled, or using memory strategies, such as mnemonics to help student recall the steps.
  • Prompt students to use the strategy in practice situations.
  • Reduce prompting as students become proficient in applying the strategy.
  • Explicitly teach students the organizational structure of text and prompt its use.

Review for fluency and generalization

Give students many opportunities to practice what they have learned and receive feedback on their performance to ensure knowledge is retained over time and can be applied in different situations.


  • Use multiple reviews of concepts and skills.
  • Give students specific feedback about what they are doing well or need to change.
  • Give students enough practice to master skills.
  • Distribute reviews over time to insure proficiency is maintained.
  • Provide review in different contexts to enhance generalization of learning.
  • Provide cumulative review that addresses content learned throughout the year.

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Connecting New Knowledge to Prior Knowledge

September 27, 2007 at 6:38 pm (all, blogging, children, classroom management, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, ESOL, Gifted, High School, Middle School, Pedagogy, principals, school, school administration, teachers, Thornebrooke, Uncategorized)


In order for learning to occur, students need to connect to their own prior knowledge. Connections are like building bridges between the old and new. This building bridge can be brief or in-depth as long as it serves the needs of all learners. Pre-assessment determines prior knowledge whereas connections provides the link between old knowledge and new knowledge. This step is critical to applying constructivist theory in a classroom.


How do I build community?

  • create trust between teacher and student and among the students
  • build self-confidence so students will take risks, engage in dialogue
  • move from competition to collaboration
  • form ‘community clusters’
  • create learning circles of like-minded teachers to provide support and share ideas

  • practice working in collaborative groups and assign specific roles and tasks

  • encourage partner or peer tutoring situations

  • begin using reflective journals and/or learning logs

  • be open with the students that you are trying a different way of teaching and explain why – allow them time to express thoughts & feelings throughout the process

How do I group my students?

  • students need to be taught how to work in a collaborative group
  • keep groups “fluid” where students move in and out as needed
  • use a variety of groupings based on ability or readiness, instructional needs and interests
  • heterogeneous – a group of students with varying ability where each student takes a role in an area of strength that adds to the knowledge of the whole group
  • homogeneous – ‘cluster’ grouping of a group of students with similar abilities or interest area can be effective for certain areas of study
  • a group of 3 or 4 students works well in most settings
  • teacher may choose and at other times, students may choose group members
  • establish home-based teams and work teams to blend a heterogeneous group with a homogeneous group
  • multiage groupings allow students of similar interests to learn from each other and work together

What strategies or instructional approaches can help students make connections?

Blogs – Blogs, short for weblogs, are online journals or diaries that have become popular since the mid 1990’s. Bloggers post personal opinions, random thoughts, connections and real life stories in order to interact with others via the Web! Weblinks and photos can also be added to the blog. A learner may choose to have their own blog to record their learning on a specific topic. A group of learners could choose to share a blog and read, write, challenge, debate, validate and build shared knowledge as a group. Check out to set up your own personal or professional blog – develop your digital voice and model for your students.

Graphic Organizers or Mind Maps – instructional tools used to illustrate prior knowledge. Student sample page
See Best Practice Graphic Organizers for more information and examples.

KWL Charts – K-what do the students already know? W-what do the students need and want to know? L-what did the students learn? An effective pre-assessment tool but also an effective tool to evaluate the level of understanding. Many teachers use the L part as an open-ended question on an exam allowing the students to share the depth of knowledge that was gained in the unit of study.

Questioning Techniques – Questions are a key element in each of the building blocks of constructivism. Categories of questions are guiding, anticipated, clarifying and integrating.

Reflective Journals or Learning Logs – Journals can be used to assess for process of learning and student growth. They can be open-ended or the teacher can provide guiding, reflective questions for the students to respond to. These often provide insight on how the students are synthesizing their learning.

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Pre-Assessment Strategies

September 27, 2007 at 6:30 pm (all, blogging, children, classroom management, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, ESOL, Gifted, High School, Middle School, principals, reading, school, school administration, teachers, Thornebrooke, thoughts, Uncategorized)

Are you tired of using a pre-test or KWL chart as your pre-assessment tool?  If so, read on and get more ideas on how to figure out what your students already know (or think that they know) prior to teaching a unit or lesson.


“Assessment is today’s means of modifying tomorrow’s instruction.” Carol Ann Tomlinson

Pre-assessment allows the teacher and student to discover what is already known in a specific topic or subject. It is critical to recognize prior knowledge so students can engage in questioning, formulating, thinking and theorizing in order to construct new knowledge appropriate to their level. Ongoing assessment throughout the learning process is also critical as it directs the teacher and student as to where to go next. Several assessment techniques are described in this section.


Pre-Assessment Techniques

Boxing – On a large piece of paper, students draw a box in the centre and a smaller box inside the first box. In the outside box, answer ‘what do I know?’, in the inside box, answer ‘what do I want to learn?’. Now in the outside box, write ‘what else do I know?’ and ‘how does it fit?’ In the inside box, draw a visual representation to explain the topic. Finally, in the middle of the box, look at all the information and summarize ‘what does that say?’

Graffiti Wall – with colorful markers and large poster paper, have all students creatively design a Graffiti Wall of things they know about a specific topic of study. Students are then encouraged to add to the wall throughout the unit as they gain new knowledge. A colorful way to display what they know and what they have learned.

KWL Charts K-what do the students already know? W-what do the students need and want to know? L-what did the students learn? An effective pre-assessment tool and summative evaluation tool to measure the level of understanding at the end of unit. Many teachers use the L part as an open-ended question on an exam allowing the students to share the depth of knowledge that was gained in the unit of study.

Yes/No Cards – Students make a card with Yes (or Got It) on one side, No (No clue) on the opposite side. Teachers ask an introductory or review question. Students who know the answer hold up the Yes card, if they don’t know the answer they hold the No card. This is very effective to use when introducing vocabulary words that students need as a knowledge base for a specific unit of study.

SA/A/D/SDStudents are given to opportunity to formulate their own views and opinions along a continuum rather than dialectically. Given an issue (similar to those outlined above) students are asked to consider the topic and determine whether they strongly agree (SA), agree (A), disagree (d), or strongly disagree (SD) with the statement. They are then asked to move to the appropriate station in the classroom identified with one of the options. A class discussion follows as students are given the opportunity to outline and defend their positions, refute the arguments of others as well as re-evaluate their own ideas. 

Squaring Off – Place a card in each corner of the room with the following phrases: Dirt Road, Paved Road, Highway and Yellow Brick Road. Instruct the students to go to the corner of the room that matches where they are in the new unit of study. Students go to the corner of the room and as a group, discuss what they know about the topic.

Turn & Talk- During a lesson, there may be opportunities to have the students do a turn & talk activity for a few minutes. This allows students to talk about the information presented or shared and to clarify thoughts or questions. This is an effective alternate strategy to asking questions to the whole group and having the same students responding. All students have a chance to talk in a non-threatening situation for a short period of time.


Preassessment Strategies

“Assessment is today’s means of modifying tomorrow’s instruction.” Carole Tomlinson

Preassessment: a way to determine what students know about a topic before it is taught. It should be
used regularly in all curricular areas. Teachers can use the information gained in preassessment to make
instructional decisions about student strengths and needs. Preassessment will help the teacher determine
flexible grouping patterns as well as which students are ready for advance instruction. Here are a few
examples of preassessment strategies:

Teacher prepared pretests
KWL charts and other graphic organizers
Writing prompts/samples
Guess Box
Picture Interpretation
Teacher observation/checklists
Student demonstrations and discussions
Initiating activities
Informational surveys/Questionnaires/Inventories
Student interviews
Student products and work samples
Portfolio analysis
Game activities
Show of hands to determine understanding: Every Pupil Response
Drawing related to topic or content
Standardized test information
ISM data
Anticipation journals

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Classroom Management Ideas

September 24, 2007 at 6:31 pm (all, blogging, Blogroll, children, classroom management, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, ESOL, Gifted, High School, kids, Middle School, Parents, principals, school, school administration, teachers, Thornebrooke, Uncategorized)

C L A S S R O O M     M A N A G E M E N T

Teachers, Start Your Engines:
Management Tips from the Pit Crew

Who said classroom management has to be boring? The editors at Education World offer successful classroom management strategies to get your year off to a great start and keep your classroom running smoothly throughout the entire year. Included:  tips for taking attendance, motivating students, rewarding good behavior, and more!

Every teacher knows that the right strategies can make the difference between a calm classroom and a classroom in constant chaos. Teachers in well-organized classrooms in which students know and follow clearly defined rules and routines spend less time disciplining and more time teaching. To help keep your classroom running like a well-oiled machine in the coming year, we’ve collected some successful — and often fun — classroom management techniques from teachers across the country and around the world.


Words of welcome. Many teachers have found that the best way to start each day is by greeting students at the door. A warm personal welcome sets the tone for the day and gives the teacher a chance to assess each student’s mood and head off problems before they start. One teacher reports that she offers her younger students a choice of three greetings — a handshake, a high five, or a hug. Their responses, she says, tell her a lot about how each student is feeling that day.A sea of calm. Kids who arrive at school wound up or upset often calm down, experienced teachers say, if classical music is playing as they enter the classroom. Some teachers also turn the lights down low and project the morning’s brainteaser or bell ringer activity onto the chalkboard with an overhead projector. That spotlight in the dimly lit room helps focus students’ attention on the day ahead.


For most teachers, there are never enough hours in a day. Saving even a few minutes of your time can make a big difference in what you accomplish this year.Make it up. When distributing work sheets, place copies in folders for absent students. At the end of the day, simply label each folder with the absent students’ names, and missed work is ready for the students’ return.

Would you sign in, please? Avoid time-consuming attendance routines by following the technique used by a Washington teacher. Write each child’s name on a strip of tag board, laminate it, and glue a magnet to the back. Each day, post a question and possible answers on a whiteboard. Students can “sign in” by placing their magnets in the appropriate answer column. Questions might be personal, such as “Do you own a pet?”; trivial, such as “What was the name of the Richie’s mother on Happy Days?”; or curriculum related.

Make attendance count. If you prefer to take attendance individually, make it meaningful. Instead of calling out students’ names and waiting for them to say “Here,” ask each student a quick question related to the previous day’s work.


The average teacher spends $400 a year of his or her own money on classroom supplies. At that price, holding on to the supplies you have can be a priority. But who has time to search every child’s backpack for borrowed pencils? These teacher-tested techniques can save your money and your sanity.Forget-me-nots. A South Dakota teacher uses floral tape to attach large silk flowers to the tops of the pens and pencils she keeps for student use — turning the writing tools into hard-to-forget flowers. The “flowers,” kept in a vase on the teacher’s desk, also serve to brighten up the room.

Do you have a shoe to spare? If you find the flower pens cumbersome, try the technique used by an Iowa teacher. She allows students who forget their pens or pencils to borrow one — if they give her one of their shoes. Students only get the shoe back when they return the pencil. No half-shod student ever forgets to return that borrowed pencil!

Neither a borrower nor a lender be. This tip comes from one of Education World’s regular contributors. It developed, says Brenda Dyck, a teacher at Masters Academy and College, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, because she grew tired of dealing with students who came to class without pencils, texts, or homework. In Dyck’s classroom, each student starts the term with 100 points toward a “Preparedness Grade.” If they come to class with a pen or pencil, textbook, and completed homework, they get to keep the 100 points. Every time they show up without any one of those things, however, one point is subtracted from their grade. The students’ report cards include a category called “preparedness,” which counts toward their final grade. “For some reason, keeping their 100 points is quite motivational for my middle school students,” Dyck says. “Unprepared students have become almost nonexistent in my classes. I’ve been amazed!”


Discipline problems, experienced teachers say, can be greatly reduced if students are properly motivated — to come to school, to arrive on time, and to work diligently while they’re there. Some simple techniques can make doing the right thing even more fun than misbehaving.Round ’em up. First you have to get them there. Discourage absenteeism by randomly choosing one student’s desk or chair each day and placing a sticker beneath it. The student who arrives to find the sticker under his or her seat gets to choose a small prize. If the student is absent, of course, the prize is forfeited. (And the other students are always happy to pass along that news!)

Can you spell homework? A simple group motivation technique can be helpful in encouraging students to complete their homework. Every day all students in the class complete their homework assignments, write one letter of the word homework on the chalkboard. When the word is completed, treat the entire class to a special reward.

Not a minute to waste. Do you find yourself losing precious minutes as you attempt to change activities, line up for specials, or return from recess? Tell students that they are going to be rewarded for the time they don’t waste during the day. Explain that you will give them 3 minutes a day of wasted time. They can use up that time each day or save it up and use it for something special. Agree on something students could do with the “wasted” time and decide how much time they will need to save for that special event. Tell students that as soon as they’ve saved the required amount of time, they will be able to hold their special event. Each day, give students three minutes. When they waste time during the day, start a stopwatch, time the amount of time wasted, and subtract it from the three minutes. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your students learn the value of a minute!


Many new teachers make the mistake of thinking that discipline is all about dealing with poor behavior. In reality, the best discipline is the kind that encourages good behavior. Try one of these strategies for encouraging students to do the right thing.The victory dance. At the beginning of the year, help students create a classroom victory dance. When you want to reward them, either individually or as a group, allow them a minute or two to perform the dance.

Cheers. Reward students for good work and good behavior with a silent cheer.

And the winner is … Throughout the week, “catch” students in the act of doing something good — whether it’s good work or a good deed. Write down each student’s name and good behavior on a slip of paper, and place it in a jar. At the end of the week, draw a few names from the jar and hand out small prizes to the winners of the drawing.

I spy. Create character “tickets” by writing the words I Spy, along with a list of positive character traits, on slips of paper. When you see a student demonstrating one of those traits, circle the trait and write the student’s name on the paper. At the end of each month, count the papers and name the student with the most tickets “student of the month.” Display his or her picture on a classroom bulletin board, and at the end of the year, reward all students of the month with a pizza party or another special treat.

Poppin’ good. Each time the entire class receives a compliment from another teacher, completes their homework, or behaves particularly well, place a small scoop of un-popped popcorn in a jar. When the jar is full, have a popcorn party.


What are you going to do with all those great tips to make sure you don’t forget them? Print this article and cut it up into individual suggestions. Paste each idea to an index card and file them under an appropriate category in a recipe box. It’s a sure-fire “recipe” for a successful year!

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A Puzzle in the Classroom

September 22, 2007 at 3:41 pm (all, blogging, Blogroll, children, classroom management, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, Gifted, High School, Middle School, principals, school, school administration, Thornebrooke, Uncategorized)

Weekly Tip – Creating Puzzling Classroom

See if you can figure this one out:

“George, Helen, and Steve are drinking coffee. Bert, Karen, and Dave are drinking soda. Is Elizabeth drinking soda or coffee? (It is possible to reason this out using logic.)

Most of us love a good puzzle. Some are more drawn to spatial puzzles, others enjoy a good logic puzzle, still others math or situation puzzles. In fact, you may even be distracted from this article right now because you are trying to figure out that puzzle I posted above. Mazes, jig-saw puzzles, brain-teasers, and short mysteries pose challenges that capture our imagination and our thoughts. Puzzles are also an excellent way to capture the attention of our students and encourage them to think on higher levels.

Below are some ideas for incorporating puzzles into your classroom, no matter what you teach:

1.   Pose a “puzzle of the week” every Monday. Students have all week to try to answer it. Have students place possible answers in a folder or large envelope to be opened on Friday. With younger students you might let them try throughout the week and then tell them whether they are “cold” or “hot”. Students who are “cold” might go back and rethink their answer. Students who are “hot” know they have it.

2.   Add an object to your room that has to do with the topic or skill you are teaching. Challenge students to find the new object. (Original idea by Frederick Briehl)

3.   Have a jig-saw puzzle “station” in the back of your classroom that students can work on during free time or when they finish their work early. A jig-saw puzzle is fun, but it also requires students to think logically and use spatial relationships to determine where pieces fit. If you can find a puzzle that relates to your novel, author, setting or location, art, music, math, science, or historical event – all the better. Use the internet to find topic related puzzles for students to solve. When working with pre-school and Kindergarten students, have a permanent puzzle station where students can put together different jig-saw puzzles.

4.   Copy and paste logic puzzles and brain-teasers on the inside of a manila folder. Laminate the folder to last. This makes a portable “Thinking Center” that students can take to their seats and work on when finished with a class assignment or test.

5.   Have students create their own jig-saw puzzles. Students could draw the setting or character in a story, create a timeline, draw a historical figure or event, or even create a mind-map or semantic web. If you have them do this on cardstock, turn the page over and have students draw different shapes and figures that interlock on the back. Cut along the lines and voila! You have a jig-saw puzzle. Craft stores such as Hobby Lobby and Michaels also sell jig-saw puzzle paper that is already shaped and pierced. Students simply draw on the sheet and then punch out the pieces.

6.   Use a situation puzzle for a transition or time filler. Pose the statement or question to students and give them 20 questions to solve it. Two sources of situation puzzles are Jed’s List – and Nathan Levy’s book series – “Stories with Holes” – You can also use a search engine to find situation puzzles. Just keep in mind that many are mini-mysteries and can include someone dying or being killed. Always check the puzzles for appropriateness before using in school and with certain ages.

7.   Bring a wrapped present to class and situate it where everyone can see it. Don’t mention it or talk about it. When students ask, wave it off as nothing for them to worry about. This will drive them crazy. You might then pose a challenging question and tell students that the first to answer will get to open the present. Inside would be an object that relates to the topic of study. Ask your students at that point to identify why this particular object was chosen. This makes a great way to introduce a new topic.

8.   A variation on the idea above is to put the objects in a box with an opening large enough for only a hand. Students feel the objects and try to guess at each. What do these objects have in common? How are they different? How does each object relate to the topic currently studied?

9.   Have a Sudoku challenge on Fridays. The older students are, the more complicated the puzzle should be.

10.  Use Crosswords and Word Searches when practicing definitions and vocabulary words. Cryptograms are also great for vocabulary and sentence practice. Students must use their knowledge of how sentences are formed to determine the “key” words that will help them decipher the puzzle. You can offer certain vocabulary words as clues to help determine the “key”. (Cryptograms are puzzles that substitute one letter for another. For example: a is really s, p is really a, and o is really t. The word might be “sat”, but in the puzzle it will show as “apo”. Once a word is deciphered, you use the “key” letters from that word to determine other words. Cryptograms are usually sentences and phrases.)

 Puzzles are fun, challenging, and require us to think critically in order to solve them. We must use our knowledge of spatial relationships, numbers, number relationships, words, and our experiences in the world to solve different puzzles. This makes them not only enjoyable, but also a great learning tool. The next time you have a boring worksheet or activity, take some time to think about how you can turn it into a puzzle or mystery for students to solve. Look for different ways to incorporate puzzles into your classroom for students to solve as part of your class and outside of class. Before you know it, you too will have a puzzling classroom!

Still wondering about that puzzle above? Thought I’d leave you hanging, did you? Well, here’s the answer:  Elizabeth is drinking coffee. She has two E’s in her name, just like everyone else in the puzzle drinking coffee (as well as coffee itself).

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