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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Motivating Students

September 6, 2007 at 6:53 pm (all, blogging, children, classroom management, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, ESOL, friends, High School, kids, life, Middle School, Parents, principals, school, school administration, teachers, Thornebrooke)

The Groundwork for Motivating Students

It’s the beginning of another school year, and students are excited to find out who is in their classes, what their teachers are like, and what they will learn. Many teachers find themselves overwhelmed with the heavy curriculum requirements and a sea of new faces. You may already be wondering how you can effectively motivate your students and engage them in the learning process all year long.

One of the first things we can do to motivate learners is to make sure that they become and remain comfortable in their learning environments. One way to establish comfort is by providing opportunities for classmates and teachers to get to know one another. Learners tend to work harder and take more risks when they feel they have a strong, positive relationship with their teacher and their classmates. Because there are so many learners in a classroom, it is essential that good relationships be established early. Fostering positive relationships promotes high levels of motivation between:

  • Each and every learner.
  • Each learner and the teacher.
  • Each learner and the content.

Remember that motivated learners are comfortable in their learning environments. You will be getting to know your students and they will be getting to know you and one another all year long. Establishing a comfort level is an important foundation for the process.

Read on for tips to establish and maintain a motivating learning environment.

“If you put a plant in a jar, it will take the shape of the jar. But if you allow the plant to grow freely, twenty jars might not be able to hold it”
— Duke University Coach Mike Krzyzewski

Research shows that teachers who successfully engage students incorporate activities that address students’ basic psychological and intellectual needs (Brewster & Fager, 2000).

In conducting an extensive review of research on students’ need for belonging, Osterman (2000) concluded that students’ experiences of acceptance shaped many aspects of their behavior, but that schools tend to neglect and often thwart students’ attempts to establish social interconnections.

Students’ social relationships appear to influence their academic engagement and success at school (Patrick, Anderman, & Ryan, 2002). An important part of that social environment is the degree of teacher support.

An investigation of teachers considered to be exemplary in helping students develop independence and attain high levels of academic achievement stresses the development of strong positive classroom relationships (Ayres, Sawyer, & Dinham, 2001).

 TIPS: Establish and Maintain a Motivating Learning Environment

Now that the new school year is underway, it’s a perfect time to create a motivational learning environment. The first step is making sure everyone is comfortable in the classroom. Since most classrooms and budgets are limited in terms of what furniture and surroundings we can provide, comfort for our students comes in the form of something much more important: positive relationships between all learners, learners and the teacher, and learners and the content.

Give your learners an opportunity to get to know one another. Make it creative. Skip the dull introductions where each person gives his or her name and a hobby. Instead, use one of the activities below to create connections that are memorable.

  • Ask the Teacher (elementary grades and up):
    Have students form groups of 3 or 4, and then have them write one question per group on index cards. In order to establish connections and comfort between you and your students, each group will ask you its question. Questions may include: If you could change the world, what would you change? If you had a million dollars, what would you do? You can modify the same activity and have students ask one another the same questions, or do a combination where you answer some and the students answer others. Doing so builds teacher/student as well as student/student connections and comfort levels.
  • What Do You Like? (middle school and up):
    Have students share one thing they like and one thing they don’t like. This activity makes quick connections and provides an opportunity for everyone to share. You may learn some important information about your students. Be sure that you participate as well. Remember that the connections students make with you as well as one another are part of a comfortable and motivating environment.
  • Telephone (junior high and up):
    This activity can improve listening skills. Share a story stem, such as “I read a story about a scientist named Ivan Ivanovich Vetakovski, who created a drug that makes people immortal.” Whisper the stem to one student, and have that student whisper the story to another. Each student whispers to the next student until everyone has had a chance to whisper and hear. The final student shares the story aloud. Share the original story stem, then ask different students what they heard when the stem was whispered to them. You can find out what different students think is important by what they heard from those who went before them. You can even make the sentence stem content specific, so students start making comfortable and fun connections to what they will learn.
  • Coat of Arms (high school):
    Have learners create a wordless symbol of something that is significant to them and explain the significance. To promote comfort levels and team building, small groups can even design their own coats of arms to share with the class. This activity can also be modified so students create coats of arms that relate to course content.

These introductory getting-to-know-you activities are fun and provide initial connections and comfort levels. If you stop promoting connection and comfort, motivation will wane. It’s important to keep providing opportunities for students to get to know each other. Once the beginning-of-the-year administrative chores are taken care of, continue building connections between students and the content. Here are some examples and suggestions.

  • Language Arts (elementary)
    Have students print or write their names on a piece of construction paper and then think of one trait they have that begins with each letter. For instance, a student named Ben might write “baseball lover,” “milkshake fan,” and “night owl” for each of the letters in his first name. Have students share in small groups, or post their creations for everyone to see. Be sure you do one too! Another idea is to have students create acrostics of weekly vocabulary words, where each letter contains information related to the definition. For example, the vocabulary word “mammal” might have “mothers nursing their young” and “animal like a cat” for the first two letters (“m” and “a”). Working together, students will get to know one another and contribute to the group effort.
  • Language Arts (middle)
    In groups of 3 or 4, have students write poems about themselves. Each stanza must be about a different member of the group. All stanzas must make sense follow a certain rhyme scheme (ABAB, for instance). The final stanza may have to be something related to the group as a whole. You can modify this activity so it is content specific, where each group writes a poem about a topic you assign: constellations, space travel, NASA, and so on.
  • Language Arts (junior high)
    When students read a work of fiction, ask them to share aloud how they are similar to and different from characters in the work. They can share how they personally would handle different situations and why, whether they agree with reactions of certain characters, and with which character(s) they most (or least) identify. Remember that connecting to and feeling comfortable with the content make students feel more motivated to learn.
  • Language Arts (high school)
    After each unit of study, have students share (individually or in groups) which activities they enjoyed most and which they enjoyed least. Their comments may give you some direction for improving the assignments related to consecutive units and gives them a chance to share who they are as learners.
  • Math (elementary)
    Students can complete this assignment in class or at home. Have them look around for or think of 5 to 10 of their favorite things and list them. They may choose to find blue things (favorite color), books, food, videos, etc. Then they share their number one favorite thing with the class or in small groups, why it is their favorite, and rank the others. Students enjoy discovering what they have in common with and how they differ from their classmates.
  • Math (middle)
    Have individual students add up the number of letters in their first names, middle names, and last names. Put students in a group of four and give them a worksheet asking them to add up the total sum of two people’s numbers, and subtract the total sum of another two people’s numbers. Have them multiply those two results, then divide the product by the number of people in their group. You can think of many combinations to put on the worksheet. Add an element of competition by giving a prize to the team with the highest, lowest, closest to a prime, or otherwise-designated number(s). Students will have fun practicing their math skills through this activity, which has roots in each person’s identity.
  • Math (junior high)
    Ask groups of students to come up with quiz questions. For instance, if you are studying a unit on integer addition, one group could come up with 5 questions such as (-7) + 2, (-10) + (-8), and so on. They would also create an answer key. After 5 minutes, groups pass their quizzes to another group, and each group takes the quiz. The group who created the quiz scores it, and prizes are awarded for the team with the most correct answers in the shortest time. Rather than being just a product-oriented activity (taking the quiz), this allows process-oriented students (those who enjoyed creating the quiz) to play a strong role as well.
  • Math (high school)
    Put students in groups to play hangman. Instead of using letters, use numbers that students have to convert to letters (where A=1, B=2, and so on). Give them calculus problems to solve where the result is a number/letter for hangman. For instance, if y equals the square root of (x-3), and students determine that y=2, then 2 corresponds to the letter B. Then students have to decide if B is a letter in the hangman puzzle. Groups can create their own puzzles or you can provide handouts.

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How To Appreciate Your Student’s Diversity

August 30, 2007 at 6:57 pm (all, blogging, children, classroom management, culture, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, ESOL, friends, High School, humor, kids, life, Middle School, Parents, personal, poetry, politics, principals, reading, school, school administration, teachers, Thornebrooke, thoughts, Uncategorized, writing)

This is a powerful reminder of the challenges – and joys that we face – in dealing with our diverse student population.

Welcome to Holland
By Emily Perl KingsleyI am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability-to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip-to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas of Venice. You learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?” you say. “What do you mean Holland? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I have dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would have never met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…and you begin to notice Holland has windmills…and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy…and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say, “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away…because the loss of that dream is a very, very significant loss.

But…if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you might never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things…about Holland.

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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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Survival in the Classroom (and Home) – Part II

March 17, 2007 at 3:55 pm (all, blogging, children, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, friends, High School, kids, life, Middle School, Parents, principals, school, school administration, teachers)

Last week, we looked at several ideas on how to meet your students’ need for survival. In order to meet this need, teachers need to provide students with a sense of safety, security, and order. One way to do this is to have an environment in which discipline problems do not become an issue.

Guidelines for Behavior

Each classroom should have clearly established guidelines for student behavior. Most importantly, teachers should be consistent in addressing behaviors. Traditionally, teachers rely on positive and negative reinforcement in the classroom. There are 2 problems with this:

Negative reinforcement
Remember – students watch every move that teachers make, and they assume that the way the teacher treats one student is the way that same teacher will treat them. If a teacher criticizes, punishes, or uses sarcasm with one student in the class, the assumption is that no student is safe from such treatment.
Positive reinforcement
The use of “rewards” or other tangible incentives can also have drawbacks. The use of these external motivators can destroy students’ ability to develop self-control and also devalue relationships.
Alternatives to punishing and rewarding

Proximity – Sometimes just walking within arm’s length of a student will help the student readjust his or her behavior.

General reminders – Ask students to evaluate themselves by asking a general question such as “How well are we doing right now in following the class rules that we established?” This often will help one student be aware of his behavior without disrupting the class.

What are you doing? – Sometimes students are not aware of disruptive behavior (think of the student tapping on the desk) and will stop when made aware of it.

Gentle reminders – Sometimes, calmly asking a student “Do you remember what we agreed upon when we set up our class rules?” or “Would you please stop _____ or start ____ now?” can be effective.

The teacher look and personal directive – The effective teacher look involves the following steps: stare at the student (not angrily); move into the student’s personal space, bend down, and quietly call the student’s name; tell the student what you want her to do or stop doing (quietly so others can’t hear); thank the student – repeating his or her name; and move out of the student’s personal space.

Impose consequences – once you have tried some or all of the above strategies, you might discuss and impose consequences for unacceptable behavior. As you impose consequences, keep in mind the differences between consequences and punishments.

Consequences Punishments

Are known ahead of time Are imposed after the fact
Are fair and reasonable Are excessive
Are best when they are natural / relate to the offense Are usually unrelated to the offense
May be developed with the help of students Are imposed by the teacher
Are imposed without emotion Are imposed with anger

Example: A student comes in tardy

Consequence: The student misses the learning and must get notes from another student or the teacher on his own time.
Punishment: The student is sent to the office.

Example: A student does not bring a pen or pencil to class.

Consequence: The student borrows a pen from the teacher and leaves appropriate collateral.
Punishment: The student is given a detention for insubordination.

Individual counseling – If a student repeatedly behaves in ways that disrupt the learning environment or that put his own academic success at risk, individual counseling may be necessary. In these circumstances, the teacher may involve others such as a counselor or dean. However, such counseling is much more effective if it is done by the teacher with whom the student is experiencing difficulty. One-on-one counseling can improve the teacher / student relationship. The following questions can be used during counseling to help students make better choices:

What do you want in regard to ______ (the class, relationship with peers,…)?
What are you currently doing regarding ____?
Is what you are doing getting you want you want?
Are you willing to try something different?
What is something that might work better for you?

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Enjoying Spring Break

March 8, 2007 at 7:02 pm (blogging, children, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, friends, High School, humor, kids, life, Middle School, news, Parents, personal, principals, reading, school, school administration, teachers, Uncategorized)

Looking for ideas as to how to enjoy spring break? If so, check out these sites. The first one offers strange, quirky ideas. The second one has the more “traditional” offerings. No matter your choice, take time to relax and enjoy the vacation!

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