Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Computer program of choice for older non-readers

I wanted to share a computer program that works for getting older students to read. Every year I get a few students who are basic non-readers. They maybe can read at a first grade level. Maybe. And yet they are in 4th, 5th etc.

What do I do with them?

Sometimes they are on an IEP, other times they are in the process of being evaluated. No matter what, while I'm teaching reading, I need to have them engaged in tasks that are going to help them become better readers. After some searching, I've found something that works well.

It is called Headsprout Reading. ( When I have a student who is a non-reader or almost a non-reader in 4th grade or above, this is my program of choice. The program is designed for younger students, but with some modification it works well for older students too.

I have been lucky to be able to get a grant, an administrator, or myself (on occasion) to buy the program for the student. What I like is that the program begins at the sound level, and quickly accelerates up to the second grade level over 80 lessons. The lessons are fun, and cartoon like. From the teachers point of view, I get great feedback on how the student is doing each lesson. The program is researched like you wouldn't believe.

I'll admit, the first times I used the program it didn't work too well with older children. They didn't want to read out loud. They felt silly doing a remedial program. One student eventually refused to do the program.

Then one day, one of my boys (a stronger reader who sometimes can be a bit behaviorally challenging) begged me to do the beginning reading program with my non-reader. I honestly said yes just to get a little peace of mind.

What do you know . . . both boys were engaged. I went over a few times to remind my stronger reader that his student needed to "say the words out loud." I now think that you need to pair students up!

If you pair another student with the struggling reader, it turns into a win / win situation. The stronger student gets to be the tutor, can ensure that the struggling student is saying the words out loud and has fun at the same time. This seems to increase the "cool" factor of going the remedial reading program and has eliminated the motivation issues of using a beginning reading program. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

One skill that helps you manage your time

People are not born being good time managers. It is a learned skill.

There is one small strategy that can really help your time management. Time Estimates

What is a Time Estimate? It is really simple. It is writing the amount of time that you think an activity will take, and then figuring out how much time it really took. You will notice that over time you get more and more accurate with estimating time.

How do you use a time estimate? You take your to do list, or even your stack of papers that need to be graded, and write the amount of time you think each task will take. Your to do list might look like this:

  • Call back parent x (5 min.)
  • Lesson plan for observation (30 min.)
  • Make HW packet for the week (10 min.)
  • Make copies for the week (20 min.)
  • Fill out IEP form (15 min.)
How do those time estimates help you out? If you have a 30 minute planning period, you now know what you can get done. You are no longer going to expect yourself to plan the lesson, call back the parent and finish the IEP form. . . and then feel disappointed that you did not accomplish "anything" during that time.

You can make better choices about how to spend your time and when you are going to do things. You also might find that you need to delegate or delete items. It might not be possible to get everything done that you want to get done. That is ok!

You might also find out that some tasks do not take nearly as long as you think they take. You might not like calling back parents, and so in your mind that task takes longer. Realizing that the average phone call is really only 3 minutes, it might be easier to complete the task.

The time estimate is one skill that can really make a big difference. Try it out and let me know how it works for you!

Online classes I offer for teachers through

FIRST DAYS OF SCHOOL: From Stress to Success
SAVE TIME: Time Management for Your Teaching & Your Life

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Do objectives really make a difference?

My daughter has been learning to ride a bike this summer. We got her a balance bike and have been going outside to take lots of summer rides. 

In the beginning she would walk standing next to the bike and then walk riding on the bike. There was the moment when she picked up her foot a little bit and started to coast for a mini second. Then she was back to walking. A few weeks later, she did this again. Then, at some point, she got it. She was able to take longer strides, and then she was balancing! She was so excited, smiling from ear to ear.

This last year my school has been very focused on objectives. We are supposed to have language objectives posted for every lesson. We are supposed to have learning objectives for every lesson. They are supposed to be specific enough so that 80% of our students can master the objective in each lesson.

Now, what if her learning to ride a bike was based on objectives? Day one, what would my objective be? When my daughter sees the bike, she will know to put one leg over the pedal? She will walk forward? She will take strides that are 2 inches longer than her normal walking stride? Is this really how we learn?

It took my daughter a few months to learn to ride the bike, while it took her brother 2 or 3 days. If I were to actually use objectives that 80% of kids could reach, I would be using the lowest common denominator?

I do think there is a place for learning goals. It does make sense to say that we want our students to do X, and here are the specific skills that need to happen for the student to be able to do X. But, in my opinion, daily learning objectives do not differentiate enough for each learner. I would say that the more complex and interesting the task, the more variability there is going to be among your students. In that case, the less a daily learning objective is going to make a difference.

And, what does the research say? Do objectives really make a difference? If they do, why are so many schools using them, and yet so many students are still not meeting grade level? Maybe they are not as important as we have been lead to believe. After reading Visible Learning: A Synthesis of over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement, I learned what I've been suspecting for some time. Objectives make very little difference in achievement.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Helping parents help their children

Feel free to copy and use this with the parents of your students if it would be helpful.

Often parents ask for help with their children. What do I do if my child won't do his chores around the house or his homework? Do you suggest grounding children? How do I get my child to stop arguing with me? Here are three short videos (each under 5 minutes) that address these issues in a practical way by Dr. Charles Fey. I've included a bio about him at the end of this page.


Click here to see the video on how to get your child to do his or her chores. Did you know that research has shown the real chores does more to build self-esteem and responsibility than HW? Now is a great time to make sure your children have some real chores around the house.

This video will help you have some ideas on how to get your children to actually do those chores, without any nagging from you!

How to stop whining and arguing

I am sorry to say that all of us have dealt with our children whining or begging for something. "But all of my friends have . . ." Ever wonder how to get the begging and whining to stop? Click here to see a 2 minute web clip that will teach you just that.

The nice thing about this technique is that it works just as well on a two year old as on a ten year old.

Does grounding work? What actually works?

All too often I hear parents say, "You are grounded for a week."

What do you do if the child does another thing? Ground them for two weeks? Three weeks? As a consequence, I think it punishes you as much as the child and is not very flexible. If it works, great. But there are more effective alternatives you might want to consider.

If you want an alternative to grounding, you might like the energy drain technique. Take a look at the technique by clicking here.

Dr. Charles Fey
Charles Fay, Ph.D. is a parent, author and consultant to schools, parent groups and mental health professionals around the world. His expertise in developing and teaching practical discipline strategies has been refined through work with severely disturbed youth in school, hospital and community settings. Charles has developed an acute understanding of the most challenging students. Having grown up with Love and Logic, he also provides a unique…and often humorous…perspective." Read more. . .

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What went well

This year I am starting to do an activity called, "What went well" with my students. Or the WWW of the day! They ask themselves two questions:

  1. What went well?
  2. How could you have more of that in your life or why did that happen?

So here is my first entry for myself:

What went well today was that even though I had a 100 degree fever yesterday and was still a bit sick, I had a great first day of school. The students were all very calm. I was able to get a sub I knew to come and cover me for the second half of the day. I was able to get some good rest in the afternoon and had support from my administrators about taking care of myself, even though it was the first day of school.

Why? I asked for help and decided to take care of myself, even though it was the first day. It was really hard for me to admit that I needed a sub on the first day, but it was absolutely the right thing for me to do. I am also so lucky to know some great people that I can lean on in my building and outside. And my family supported me in taking care of myself.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hang gliding and learning overload

This summer the one thing I wanted to do was go hang gliding. I have always dreamed of soaring in the sky and hang gliding. I've never really done anything about the dream. For a while, I thought, that's a silly dream. Then I would think, it must be really expensive to do something like that.

Anyway, I did some research and found out that it is not that expensive to go hang gliding! So, I signed up for a class! I ended up learning a bit in the class about hang gliding. More importantly, I learned about the importance of checking for understanding and creating a positive learning environment.

The night before the class I called to confirm the meeting time. My instructor seemed to have forgotten that I had paid for a lesson. He then said, why don't we meet on the coast? We were planning on meeting in central Oregon, so this was a big change from the sign up. I was able to drive to the other location, so the next morning, out I drove.

I arrived at the school, and no one was there. An hour later the instructor showed up, after a few phone calls from me. If it wasn't that I wanted to learn so badly, and had driven 2 hours to get there, I would have left. The instructor finally got there an hour late. I asked if he had forgotten. He responded with, "Well, you really have control problems don't you. You're not going to be able to fly if you have control issues"

Once the lesson started, the instructor gave me all sorts of theory about how the wings work and how flying works and every few minutes would move onto another topic. There were no questions to check if I understood. After the previous comment about my control issues, I didn't really feel like saying much else. Various times, he got frustrated and angry with how his computer was working, and would start ranting about the computer.

Then, he would move onto another topic. There was no checking for how well I was understanding. If he did ask anything, it would be, "Do you understand?" I would say yes.

Why did I say yes?
  • Because the initial presentation was so over my head, I didn't think that he would explain in a way that made sense. 
  • Because he seemed to get frustrated when I didn't understand something the first few times. 
  • Because I didn't feel comfortable saying I didn't understand. 
  • Later I thought, here I am an adult, not comfortable asking questions. How do I make sure my students are always comfortable asking questions in the classroom?

In the end I was able to do some flying and the instructor was much better once we were on the dune making my first bunny flies. I don't really have much desire to go hang gliding again. Maybe I'll try with a different instructor some day.

While I learned a bit about flying, the most important thing I learned was making sure that my students feel comfortable asking questions and the need to check for understanding in a real way. I try to do these things in my classroom anyway, but this experience just confirmed how important these skills are for student learning.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Savor the summer

What one thing do you want to do before you go back to school? What one thing would give you pleasure or help you savor the summer? If you are not sure what you should do, try something you enjoyed as a kid!

This is my last weekend before I start back in the classroom. For me, the one thing I want to do is spend time with my family and parents and play in the water on the beach. I would also like to pick blackberries and make a blackberry crisp. These are two things I really enjoyed doing as a kid during the summer time.

During August, as a kid, I would pick tons of blackberries and make a fresh pie with my mom. (I'm going for the cobbler because I am eating healthy these days, and that is a good alternative:) I grew up on an island that has a perimeter of about 1.5 miles in Washington state. (My parents still live there). On a hot day, we would walk around the island and find a blackberry patch. Then we'd pick tons of berries. Most of the berries went in my mouth, and just enough to bake a pie went into the bowls!

Then, while the pie was baking, I would wait for the blackberry aroma to fill the house. I would know the pie was ready when I could smell it in the living room! We would top the hot pie with vanilla ice cream and enjoy eat bite.

This weekend, choose something you loved doing as a kid and savor the summer!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Moving rooms

This year I am moving from one room to another room. It was an unexpected move for me, so I was not completely packed up for it. It can be a bit overwhelming to set up your room at the beginning of the year, and even more when it is a new room.

Where am I going to put my desk? How will the students be grouped? Where will they get their supplies? How will my books be set up?

Here are some of the things I thought about in terms of setting up my room:

1. Teacher space and materials
I want to make sure that I am not taking up too much space. I like to put my desk in the back of the room, or behind the students so I can see them while I am sitting at my desk. (Also, I almost never sit at my desk . . . so I want it out of the way.)

Who can touch things on your desk? Do you want your students to hand in their assignments at your desk or at another place? Which is going to help you stay on top of grading and keep your desk as organized as you want it to be? I use boxes at different places in the room for turn in.

Where will you set up your teacher materials for different subjects? I tend to put all of my teachers guides out of the way, except for the units I am using. I put the unused units up high or somewhere so they do not take up valuable real estate at eye level!

2. Meeting spaces
Where are you going to have a whole group meeting space? How are you going to define this space? I like to use a carpet to define my whole group meeting space. I even have 5th and 6th grade students meet at the carpet.

Where are you going to do small group instruction? I want to make sure that the students who are meeting in a small group have their back to their classmates and that I can see them. I define these areas before moving on.

3. Classroom library
The more students have access to books, the more they will read. I like to take a tip from booksellers and have my books facing cover out. I put them in boxes that are labeled by subject. (I will take some pictures of this, once I have everything set up!)

What sort of system will you use? Will it be subject based, or will your library be skill based? How will it be organized so your students can do the upkeep?

4. Student materials
Will students keep their materials at their desks or in common areas. I actually advocate for common areas and clear routines on how to pick up materials. Why? Because, your students need to have good reasons to move. We all get a little brain dead when we have to sit for long periods of time.

I like to have a bookshelf right by the door that has all sorts of equipment - like glue, scissors, paper, reading logs, writing logs etc. This way the supplies are easy to get while walking into the classroom.

For math, I put all of the manipulatives that my students will use into plastic storage boxes. Each pair of two students shares the box. In the bags are base ten blocks, pattern blocks, rulers, calculators, a clock etc. On the lid there is a printed paper that has an inventory list. The students use the same set of boxes for the entire year and they are neatly stored in the front of the room.

If you would like to learn more about organizing, check out the class on Organizing From the Inside Out.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Planning to fail

The first day of school, I actually plan and hope that my students fail. I know that sounds a bit strange.

For example, I hope they fail at lining up correctly the first time. Why would you want that? You have been given the opportunity to teach them where your limits are and what you expect. If they do it perfectly the first time (unlikely anyway), they don't really know where the limits are.

Why should you plan for them to fail? Well, it is much easier for you to come up with your backup plan before the first day of school than it is in the moment. You ask them to line up and someone is talking and what do you do now? You don't want to jump to discipline, this is a prime teaching moment. You also don't want to be stressed for time!

What do I do?
  • We all sit back down. I'm not stressed about them being late for lunch, because I planned for this. If they do it perfectly (unlikely) we can do it again and try to beat our time. (Even fifth and sixth graders will practice this 4 or 5 times if I use a timer and make it into a game!)
  • As a class we review the purpose of lining up quickly and quietly.
  • We review the expectations.
  • I give positive feedback to the students that did it correctly.
  • I have the students who had a hard time demonstrate the incorrect way and the correct way. 
  • We practice till we can do it correctly with lots of positive feedback along the way for the students who are doing the right thing.
 So take a moment and take time to plan for mistakes. It will help your students be successful for the rest of the year!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Which is best - heterogeneous or homogeneous groupings?

Best for who? It turns out that the best type of group depends on the student.

Robert Marzano, Debra Pickering, and Jane Pollock, in their book work, Classroom Instruction That Works, explain that different groupings have very different outcomes depending on the student.

What is best for the middle of the road student?
For the student who is achieving right in the middle, homogeneous grouping gets dramatically better results. As you have probably noticed, the higher achieving students tend to take leadership roles (or control) of groups when you have mixed abilities. When all of the students in the middle are working together, they have more chances to take on leadership roles and actually end up performing at a higher level.

What is best for low-achieving students?
Heterogeneous grouping works much better for lower achieving students. The group tends to pull up these students. The students get exposed to higher rigor and content with their peers at different skill levels.

What is best for high-achieving students?
If you ask your high-achievers, many of them will say that they just wish they could work along or by themselves. Most of them resent constantly acting as the tutor. Heterogeneous groupings do not increase outcomes for these students.

So, what should you do? 
Well, really that is up to you! But here are some ideas . . .

You might want to use a combination of different grouping styles. Knowing that for 80% of your class, homogeneous groupings gets the best results, and for 20% of your class heterogeneous groupings is the way to go, you probably want to use a mixture. Don't do all heterogeneous groupings. At the same time, don't to all homogeneous groupings.

You might want to combine up cooperative learning with small group direct instruction. One thing I do that has been successful is give my students a mini-quiz (1-2 items) before I assign groups. I then place my top 80% in homogeneous cooperative learning groups.

I do not, though, put my lowest 20% in a cooperative learning group. I instead spend time teaching strategies and reteaching the specific skills that these students are missing. I sometimes let them know that they can join a group when they meet mastery of the skills. This only works, though, if the rest of the cooperative groups really know how to work together and can be fairly independent.

Monday, August 15, 2011

How to create your own videos

It is actually fairly easy to create your own videos!

Why would you want to create them?
  • When you have some videos that you have created, you can use them over multiple years. 
  • Students can watch them if they are home sick. 
  • Students who need extra time and pause you and listen to the presentation again. 
  • My students really enjoy the videos.
  • Your advanced students can work at their own pace and learn more.

Here is one way you can use to create the video:

  1. Create a Power Point presentation of whatever you want to teach. You saw examples of that in my Rules video and Welcome to 4th grade video. 
  2. Make sure you have a microphone that you can plug into your computer. You are going to want to use a plug in mic to get good sound. Here are all sorts of ones that might work with your computer:
  3. You need some sort of screencast software. A free program that you can use is Jing. It will allow you to take up to 5 minutes of a video and you can upload it to their server. If you buy the program, you can also upload to youtube. (It costs around $15). I don't mind that the program limits me to 5 minutes. Really, much longer than that is probably too long for most students!
  4. If you choose Jing, you want to spend 10 minutes going through the tutorial.
  5. You are ready to create and upload your first video! 

I highly recommend that you try it out!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Classroom Rules Video

Here is another one of my beginning of the year videos. This is the video where I explain to my students my rules and how to fill out a think sheet (the behavior system our school uses).

I find that if I am clear about what will happen right from the start, the students are much happier and we are able to do all sorts of cooperative and active learning activities. Hopefully this gives you some ideas you can use in your own classroom.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Feeling anxious about the new year?

I don't know about you, but I start getting anxious around the beginning of August.

What will my students be like this year? How will things go? Will I have enough time to set up my classroom? (Probably not to perfection . . . but then again the classroom doesn't need to be perfect! Just inviting.)

You too probably vacillate between feeling pumped up about the new year and planning all sorts of great welcoming activities and feeling a bit anxious. How to you calm those nerves? Here are a few effective tips from some recent research. (Manzoni et al., 2005)

1. Progressive Relaxation
If you go onto itunes or any other online music site, you can search for progressive relaxation MP3s. I have a few different versions that I use. You can also do the relaxation on your own. You just tense up a muscle, hold it for a few seconds, and then release.

If you get really nervous before the first days of school, you can start out the day by listening to the MP3. You can also end the day doing progressive relaxation. This is what I sometimes do, and it helps me sleep well, so I can be a better teacher and mom.

2. Talking Back to Your Thoughts
Yes, this really works! (It is also called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - CBT). If you are really anxious, you might need to see a professional, but this can be very effective on your own too. Here is a great workbook that shows you the steps to using CBT. There are many other effective workbooks as well.

Some of the common thinking errors you notice and change are: all or nothing, emotional reasoning, and fortune telling.

Here is a small example of how it works.

Your old thought: I'm never going to get everything done before school starts.
Type of thought: All or nothing thinking
New Thought: I might not get everything done, and that is ok. I'll make sure I get the most important things done for day one, and then take it from there.

3. Exercise
While this method was not one of the top 5 according to the study above, I know it works. You might find that taking a walk helps you reduce your stress, or gardening. You might even find that lifting weights helps. (This is my favorite!) If you do some shoulder presses, it almost acts like progressive relaxation. You really stress your shoulders (where I tend to hold my stress) as you lift the weight, and then relax as you put it down.

Just make sure to lift the weight slowly and use proper form! No getting hurt before school starts!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Video: Beginning of the year routines

Now that it is August, I am starting to think about the beginning of the year. In the past I have created a power point presentation of some of my routines, but this year I am actually video taping some of those power points. This way, some of my students can see the presentations before school starts.

This is the first video that I've created. You probably won't be able to use the actual video, but I am happy to share the power point so you could modify it. Just email me at if you would like to receive the power points for this presentation.

 Why create a video?
  • Students who have access can watch before school starts
  • Students who watch before school starts get a feel for my routines (Even just having four or five students who know my routines can make a big difference.)
  • When a get a new student in the middle of the year, they can also watch the video
  • Parents get a clear understanding of my expectations
  • Parents who are not strong readers still have access to some of the routines
Unable to display content. Adobe Flash is required.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

One simple way to improve memory

What if your students had better memories?

They would learn more, and you would have to repeat yourself less? What if their memories were 10% better? That would be like adding 17 days to the school year! (10% of 170 days)

There is a simple way of improving memory that scientists have recently discovered (MacLeod et al., 2010). It is something you can do in the classroom, and takes almost no time!

What is the trick?

Saying things out loud - including mouthing them.

How might you use this in the classroom? Your imagination is the limit, but here are a few ideas:
  • When studying vocabulary words, make sure students mouth the words or whisper them
  • Before doing multi-step problem, have students repeat out loud to a partner the steps
  • Before a complex transition, have the students chorus key elements
  • Have students read out loud the morning routine a few times the first days of school
  • Have students read out loud to a partner, instead of in their heads sometimes
  • Have students say math facts out loud while they are writing them down

Motivation is important in making any change. Giving students a reason they can connect to will help them out. Have students brainstorm what they like to do after school and then ask them if they would like to have more time to play, and still get good grades. 

If you have students come up with their own reason why they want them to vocalize, they will be much more likely to buy in! 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Conversation Skills for monosyllable responders

Do you have any monosyllable responders in your class? If you get 3 words out of them it's cause for celebration!

I have found it is hard to build a relationship with a student who won't talk!

Well, this summer I have finally found a technique for overcoming the monosyllable response. I am participating in an intercambio with a 19 year old university student. (An intercambio is where you have a conversation partner in another language. For the first half of the time you talk in language 1, then for the second half of the time you talk in language 2.)

This is what our first conversations were like:

Me: What sports do you like?
Him: Soccer
Me: Tell me more
Him: lots of silence . . . I like to play it with my friends.

At first I wasn't sure if his English level was really low, and he needed more help with sentence frames. That was not the case. This was just his conversational style. Then I thought - maybe he just doesn't like me as his conversational partner? Maybe he would prefer someone more his age, into sports etc.  No, he preferred to stay with me as his teacher.

Finally I stopped and tried something totally different. I explained to him about how to have a conversation.

                         Conversation Frame
  • I ask a question.
  • You answer in 2 - 3 sentences.
  • You ask me a question related to the topic.
  • I answer in 2-3 sentences.

It was like a light was turned on, and suddenly the conversation was flowing. We had an amazing conversation about soccer, going to the gym, what he is studying in school etc. While I thought he was uninterested, it turned out he just lacked some basic conversation skills.

Maybe you have students like this? Somehow they have gone through life and not picked up on the unspoken rules of conversations. Sometimes what appears to be a lack of motivation is really a skills deficit.

See what happens if you make those unspoken rules clear!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Guest blogger: Slow summer

It's crazy how early one can start to feel competitive with other parents or families, because so and so is already a soccer whiz or someone else is already a junior black belt or whatever.  Even before we had kids, we didn't want to over-schedule them, but we didn't realize how difficult a line that would be to walk.

We've arrived at having them take one class at a time and having the rest of their activities be with us or playdates with their little friends.  But, especially in the summer, it's hard to know when to sign up for stuff and when to hold off.

There are about a million camps and classes and experiences that they could have, and that many of their friends are having, and part of me thinks that maybe we should enroll them in a bunch of camps and classes and whatever else....but a larger part of me craves just slowing down this summer.

I won't lie - Mateo is taking a little gymnastics class this coming week, is enrolled in a weeklong morning nature camp in August, and both kids are taking three days of morning summer camp at their preschool right before school starts - but other than those things and our upcoming family reunion, we are wide open to whatever comes our way.

It is lovely to just have a summer and no plans to speak of except for travel.  We can wake up in the morning and do whatever we decide to do.  The type-A part of me is a bit freaked out by so much unplanned time and what will we do with it all, but the rest of me is reveling in it.  These days are a rare and special time, while Rosa is still a baby and Sacha has yet to return to work. We are so lucky to be in the middle of five months of Sacha being at home and being a family of five together. 

We'll be busy again soon enough, with everyone running around and doing this and that, but not quite yet.   For now, we are busy with things like picking berries in our neighborhood, making marble mazes, playing outside when the sun actually comes out, making impromptu trips to our local cupcake and ice cream stores (yes, we have both within walking distance, plus a frozen yogurt place and about a zillion restaurants.  It's an embarassment of riches!), going to the farmer's market, checking out a new church, and spending time as a family.  (And agonizing over the short sale from hell, but that's another story.)

And, sometimes, being bored.  After all, what's summer without a little boredom and not knowing what to do with yourself?  Sacha told me that it actually has been shown to increase creativity or something like that.  See, a scientific basis for our low-key summer days!  I say, bring on the open calendar and I'm sure we'll have fun with whatever we end up doing with it.

Guest Blogger: Alayna Luria

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Imagine this . . .

Imagine this . . . you finish teaching your day at school. The students have left. You've talked with some colleagues, spend some time planning. You're about to leave school at the time your contract says you should leave school, when you go over to the copy machine. (What? The copy machine? I'll explain. . .)

Before you stop and think that this is a crazy tale of what could happen in the future, it is not

This blog post describes things I do in real life.

Here we are back at the copy machine. You have a bunch of papers. Here is your thought process:

  • Ok, these are the papers I need graded for tomorrow. You make a note on the top of the papers and include the scoring guide. "Please grade these by tomorrow at 8 am."
  • This is a letter I need typed up. I need it by this Friday. You write that on a page that has an outline.
  • Here are some vocabulary words my students are going to be learning in the next unit. You write a note on that paper, "Would you find an image for each of these words and then make a visual dictionary that has the image, a sentence, the definition and the word. I need that by next Monday please."

You feed all of the papers in the top of the copy machine. You scan and email them to your virtual assistant in another country. She is an education major in her country. While you go home and you sleep, it is her day. She is working on your assignments. They will be ready when you arrive at school tomorrow.

You are actually helping her out. She is a small business owner. Because of the exchange rate, and the economy, you are able to pay her $3 an hour. She sets the price. (Some people charge less, some people a bit more . . .)

You go home early and have lots of energy to hang out with your family. You spend your working time making more engaging lesson plans, really analyzing student papers to improve your teaching, and taking classes after school (which the district pays for . . . and now that you've freed up 5 hours a week, you have time to take). You are less stressed, and are a better teacher at the same time.

Here is an example of some science vocabulary words I wanted her to create visuals for. I used academic language words, because we know that makes such a big difference in long term achievement for ELL students.

You actually earn more money, while being less stressed!

How can that be?

Virtual assistant - 5 hours of grading a week (@$3 and hour) x 4 weeks a month = $60 a month

Additional Classes - 1 day a month, you attend some extra PD offered by your school district for a few hours. You need 2 hours to break even - but you are saving 20 hours! (2 hr @ $30 an hour x 1 time per month = $60)

It is time you started working smarter, not harder!

Would you like more details on how to set up your own Virtual Assistant? I am happy to share the details to anyone who is interested in learning more. Please give me your email and I will send you some more information about having your own personal assistant.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What to do when the kids are doing well . . .

When is "good" fabulous?

So often, I focus on what I can improve.

Are you always thinking about what could be done a little bit differently? how you could be doing better?

Your students are sitting quietly and working with a partner. They are engaged. They are smiling and learning with a partner. They are using a whisper voice, they are on task, they are doing very well working cooperatively.

Do you have this voice that says, "Have you thought about trying ____?" 

I notice that I focus on what I can improve with my own children too. I have three lovely children - Rosa, who just turned 13 weeks old, Natalia, who just turned 3 years old, and Mateo, who is 4 1/2. Summer time is wonderful. I get to spend all of my time with my favorite children. (Of course I love my students too!)

Yesterday I was hanging out with them at a local children's museum. They were playing grocery and having a blast counting different fruits. They were weighing them on a pretend scale. Everything was going so smoothly. Then I had this great idea. They could pretend to bag the groceries and deliver them to people. . .

And then I remembered, when the kids are doing well, sometimes the worst thing you can do is make it "better."

I let them play and just relaxed. We ended up having a lovely time at the museum. We played with blocks, played groceries, made a fort and just played. Sometimes I joined in their games, sometimes I just observed with interest, sometimes I read a book.

There are plenty of times when good is fabulous!

Where in your home, or in your life are things good enough? 

How about summer work.

Do you plan on spending much of August getting read for the school year? If you are like most teachers, you do spend some time in August making plans. Hopefully you find much of this time enjoyable. You are excited about the year to come.

  • How perfect do you make those plans? 
  • Do you spend a ton of time making bulletin boards that must a step above "good enough?" 
  • Where could you let yourself be "good enough?"

What about your children
  • If you have children and a partner, do you let your spouse take care of them? 
  • Do you feel the need to correct his or her performance? 
  • Do the dishes have to be unloaded in the perfect way? 
  • The bed story read in the "right" way. 
  • Where should you let things just be "good" in your life?

Your Do Now (I'm sure you use these. Don't skip this!)
  1. Say in your head or out loud what you are doing. 
  2. After that, make a small change. One that you can do in 5 minutes or less. (If it will take more than 5 min., break it down. Now do that 5 min. step.)
  3. Make that change now and  and then . . .
  4. Let us know how it went!

Go from stress to success!

Share with other people one change you are willing to make or something you noticed about yourself. You will help out other people while helping yourself. When you write things down, you are more likely to make lasting change.  Please leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

I want to be a basketball player!

Do you have students that want to be a basketball player or a football player. They say things like, "Why do I have to learn this?" 

  • You have a hard time engaging them in learning to read and write.
  • You've tried the lecture. You've tried telling them about how unlikely it is that they will succeed. 
  • How do you get them interested in school and learning?

Here is a "Rafael story" just for those students. Feel free to change and make it your own story!

Many years ago there were two athletic, strong boys. They wanted to be basketball players. Their names were Abdi and DeShawn. They were both got ok grades. Sometimes Abdi and DeShawn met, sometimes they were close to meeting.

Abdi and DeShawn were starting 4th grade. Both of them had dreams. They both wanted to become basketball players one day. Both of them loved basketball. They both wanted to become professional players on a team.

Every recess they played basketball together. After school, they stayed at the courts and played some more. This, though, is where the similarity ends.

You see, Abdi wanted to be a basketball player. He decided that he needed a plan. All successful people have plans.

He went to his teacher and asked her, “What can I do to become a basketball player?”

He asked the gym teacher, “What can I do to become a basketball player?”

He asked the librarian, “What can I do to become a basketball player?”

They all said, most likely you will not become a professional player. Almost no one becomes a basketball player. Maybe you want to think about something else.

Abdi said, “I know, but what can I do to try anyway? Basketball is my love.”

His teacher said, “Well, you need to make sure you get good grades and ask for help when you don't understand. Stay after school if you need more help. Make sure you can get a basketball scholarship for college.”

Abdi's gym teacher said, “You need to practice 10,000 hours by the time you are 20. I know that's a big number. Just remember, this means you need to practice 2 to 3 hours every single day from now on.”

Abdi's librarian said, “You should read about basketball and famous players every single day. Do it for your reading homework and for fun. Make sure you read 30 minutes a day, so you learn how to become a great player, and have the reading skills to get a college scholarship.”

DeShawn did not have a plan. He just played at recess and after school. He sometimes did his homework. He sometimes didn't get to go to recess because he didn't turn in his homework. He sometimes missed playing at recess because he got in trouble in class. He didn't really like to read that much. Playing basketball was more fun. So he didn't do much reading outside of class.

Abdi worked his plan. Every day he asked his teacher for help if he didn't understand something. If she didn't have time in class, he would ask her after school. He read about famous basketball players for 30 minutes every day. He did his homework, so he could practice during recess. He didn't get in trouble, so he could practice during recess. He practiced after school and asked the gym teacher to give him pointers.

DeShawn didn't have a plan. By high school his grades were so low that he couldn't joining the basketball team. He eventually dropped out of high school. He doesn't have a job, but he likes watching basketball on TV. He just wishes he could find a job.

Abdi worked his plan. He kept his grades up and joined the high school team. He kept on practicing 2-3 hours a day and asked for help. He got a scholarship to go to college, where he practiced more each day. He kept his grades up so he did not have to pay for college.
When it came the day of the draft, Abdi was not chosen for any team. He didn't let that get him down. You see, he had a plan for if that happened. After reading so many books about basketball, he knew that teams need all kinds of professionals.

Abdi always had a back up plan. If he couldn't become a star, he would work with the star players. He became a physical trainer, and now works with professional basketball players that have injuries. He gets to talk with them every day. He gets to play basketball with the star players to help them get better. He earns a lot of money because of all of his hard work.

Abdi gets to play basketball every day and do what he loves. He helps hurt basketball players get back on the court and back into the game!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Results with special education students

I find that one area my special ed. students really struggle is in the area of writing. It can be very difficult to teach special needs students to write clear, organized stories and essays.

  • You have a large classroom
  • You have more special education students than just one person can really help
  • Plus, you have the rest of your students

It can be really overwhelming, but your special education students can become great writers! It does take work on your part, but it is possible for you to really help your students.

I have started using general patterns to teach sentence and paragraph writing. I didn't start here. I started following the curriculum and using the worksheets. (It kept them quiet, but they weren't learning anything.)

Have you tried worksheets? You have probably figured out what researchers have learned. Worksheets do almost nothing to increase writing skills. Worksheets and Daily Oral Language actually increase errors!

  • So, how do you teach writing?
  • By showing students examples of mistakes, or models of writing that works?

You should show students models of what works. You don't teach your students to read by showing them the letter A and then saying, that is not "B." Make sure you don't say "b" when you see this letter!

  • If this doesn't work, what does work? 
  • How do you really model good writing?

I have also started using more recorded lessons (I video tape myself) with my special ed students, so they can listen to the assignment more than one time, or pause me when they need more time to process.

I am then freed to walk around the classroom and offer personalized assistance as "I" am teaching the class with the pre-recorded video.

Here is an example of one of the intermediate videos I use with my students:

Would you like to learn more?

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The videos are not perfect, nor are they professionally created. If you are looking for something really polished, this is not it. 

On the other hand the videos will give you ideas that you can use in your classroom.

Organizing your classroom library

Is your classroom library difficult for your students to organize? If they are not able to keep it organized, it needs to be simplified. You have too much work to also be organizing the classroom library! Your time is much better spent creating engaging lessons for your students.

So, how to make a system that is easy enough for your students to organize?

It will take about an hour on your part. And that hour will be the last time your organize your books! Find a time when you have some students who want to help you. It might be lunch or after school one day.

Take all of your books and start putting them in piles. Sort non-fiction and fiction. Then, start taking the groups and sorting them into smaller and smaller groups. If you have a bunch of titles from an author, make that a group.

Once you finish with your groups, you should have about 5 to 15 books in most piles. You are now ready to use your student helpers.

Take some of the colored dots and hand them out to each student helper. They are to write the same number on the dot 20 times. (20 #1's, 20 #2's etc.) You then assign a number to each pile. The number does not matter!

Show the students exactly where you want the number placed on each book. They then place the number on the books for each pile. Place each completed pile in its own basket. Label the basket with the number and the topic.

You also should have the students share their basket with the class. Why? Because they are not very invested that those books stay organized!

I have the students place them cover facing forward in book bins. I use book bins so the cover of the books are facing out. I do this for the same reason cereals face out in the grocery store- it sells the book!

Now the bins each have the number and the topic. It is now easy for the books to stay organized!

This is just one simple thing that you learn in my class on The Daily 5 and Cafe! If you want to learn more, I would love to have you as a student. You will earn 3 graduate credits through the course.

If you just want to earn some credits without doing any thinking, then you might want to look elsewhere. The classes are not busywork, but applying what you learn to your own classroom.

Click here to learn more about these classes: The Daily 5 and Cafe.

Friday, July 8, 2011

If it has a dependent clause, it needs a comma!

I have noticed that many of my students have a difficult time with putting commas in their complex sentences. They just don't seem to know when a sentence needs a comma. It doesn't do them much good to read the sentence out loud. If English is your second language, or you talk non-standard English at home, reading and listening for the pause just doesn't work.

Here is my solution from the book Everyday Editing, and a short video you can use with your students. As I've said before, I don't use the video to teach the concept the first time. The videos are used as a review for those students who need to hear me an extra time, but in a different way.

What do students say about the videos?
  • I love that you can pause Ms. L and have her repeat herself.
  • I don't feel embarrassed if I have to listen to a video 2 or 3 times.
  • The video doesn't mind if I forgot something that Ms. L taught a few days ago.
  • When I'm sick I don't fall behind in school.
  • I can listen to Ms. L when I am doing my homework and out of school.

My story

My name is Sacha Luria, and my biggest pleasure is helping teachers, like you, really make a difference in students' lives! Ten years ago, though, I felt like a total failure. I had graduated from college. I had been selected by Teach For America to work in a low-income school.

After two weeks of training, I had my first day of full-time teaching. 

It was a disaster. 

You have had days like this too! You feel overworked. Your class sizes are too large. Too many students are disengaged. Your students are not on task. You wonder why they don't get it. You feel frustrated. You have too many students to teach. You work hard, and don't hear anything positive about all of the work you put into teaching.

My class was large. I had no aide or parent volunteers. These were students who had failed the year before, and they were all in the same class. They were not engaged. A few students ran around the room like it was gym class (not reading class). They talked about everything except the lesson. It was pure chaos.

My supervising teacher took me aside at the end of the day and said, “We have to talk.”

Uh-oh!” Those are words you never want to hear.

It was all bad enough that in the talk my supervisor let me know that I really might not be cut out to be a teacher. Maybe I should consider a different career. I couldn't get the students to sit down, much less learn how to read and write! 

Have you had days where you wonder if this is the right job? You know that you love children, but you have so much to do. You love teaching, but you feel overworked and under appreciated. You have so many things to try and do. Why can't it be easy? You went into teaching to make a difference, not to just keep your students busy! 

I did not listen to my supervisor. I decided to would be successful. I would learn everything about being a great teacher.

Two years later, three of my students were interviewed on Disney Radio about what it was like to learn to read as teenagers. I was also interviewed on NPR and featured in the newspaper for my successes in teaching at-risk students.

  • My supervisor thought that teachers are born. 
  • Everyone with the passion can become an amazing teacher.
  • You can make a difference in your students' lives every day.

You see, after her frank conversation with me, I decided that I would learn everything.

  • How to manage the classroom. 
  • How to teach reading and writing. 
  • How to engage at-risk students in learning? 

I took classes online. I observed in master teachers' classrooms. I learned figured out what really works.

I want to share what works with you. 

You do not need to listen to more theories. You do not need to hear about the research in a dry way. You need to know about techniques that really work. Techniques that you can take into your classroom. You need to know how to make a difference the next time you walk in the door. 

It does take work to become a fantastic teacher, but you knew that. You didn't choose this job because of the pay! You chose this job because you wanted to make a difference in lives. If you are willing to put in the work, you can become the teacher you've dreamed of being.

The classes are not busywork. 

If you just want to get some credits without doing any thinking, these are not the classes for you. If you just want to move up the pay scale, there are other classes you can take. If you are interested in reading theory, but not really applying it, this is not for you.

If you want to see what really works, and have techniques to take into your classroom, then this is for you.

If you want to take your teaching to the next level, I can't wait to have you as a student!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Serial Sentence

Along with SOBA sentences, this is one of the first sentence patterns I teach. In this 3 minute video, I demonstrate to students how to write a sentence that involves a list. Most all students above third grade can master this technique.

If you would like to learn more about how to teach writing, editing and grammar, please take a look at my online graduate courses for teachers.

Friday, July 1, 2011

How I use the videos during writing workshop

Quite a few teachers have asked me how I use the videos during my writers workshop. Do I show all of the videos to the class at one time? How do I decide when to show each video?

Actually, I do not use the videos to introduce a new writing skill. Instead of using the video, I start with a mini-lesson. I will share an interesting sentence that uses the technique I want my students to use. Then I have students share what they like and notice about the sentence. We then, as a class, try finding other sentences that follow the pattern and attempt to imitate the sentence with partners and individually.

I know, though, that not every student is ready for the skill when I teach the lesson. Writing is such an individualized process. It is possible that one student is ready to try the Zooming in on Sentences technique, while another student is still working with capitalization.

This is where the videos become very useful. After a writers conference I assign a video. I used to try to reteach the technique to the student, but I would feel rushed and like I didn't do a good job. Now, instead of trying to take 5 minutes to individually tutor a student (what is the rest of the class doing during that time? how focused am I?), I assign the video.

Now the student gets a short presentation that is consistent with what I've previously taught in class. After the video, we take two minutes to talk about the technique, which is where the most interesting conversation happens. I now spend less time talking about technique and more time looking at writing and helping my students push themselves.

One important thing to remember, is that you have to teach the students how to watch these videos. They are not an entertainment video that you passively watch. I model with the students pausing the video, rewinding the video and taking notes.

Here is one of my videos on using dialogue in writing. It is the first video to introduce this skill, and so I only focus on one pattern.

Monday, June 27, 2011

What's wrong with the 5 finger rule

Have you heard of the 5 finger rule?

I have taught this rule to my students in the past. To find a good fit book, one test is to choose a few different pages and read the page. For each work that you can't understand, you put up one finger. If you go past 5 on a page, the book is too difficult.

On the surface, this sounds like a great rule. Obviously, you don't want too many difficult words on a page. The question is, how many unknown words are too many?

I decided to apply the 5 finger rule to a book. It was difficult to do this in English, because it is my first language, I'm a college educated adult etc. So how was I going to apply this rule to my life? In Spanish.

I found a book that looked interesting to me. In English, it is called 10-10-10 A Life Transforming Idea. Before ordering the book, I tested a few pages to see how many words I did not understand. I averaged 5 words a page, with some pages having as few as 2 words, and others having up to 8 words. It would seem like this was a "good fit" book for me.

How well could I understand what I was reading? Well, I could understand most of what was happening on each page. I had to read a few sentences more than one time, but overall I was able to understand the book and its concepts.

How much effort did it take to read? There was a big difference between the pages with 2 unknown words, 5 and 8. At 2, I felt confident and like it was easy to read. Above 3, the page started to feel more challenging and take more effort. I have to remember, though, that I am highly motivated to read, have skills to deal with unknown words, and a strong foundation. The students who are having the most trouble with reading might have less tolerance for unknown words.

How many unknown words were in the book? Well, the book averaged 5 unknown words per page, and was over 250 pages. . . so there were more than 1,250 words in the book that I did not understand. If the book had been 100 pages, it would have been 500 words that I did not understand. There was not that much repetition. So . . . there were a ton of unknown words in this one book.

How many words was I able to determine the meaning by context? About 2-5%. Not that many. I could get the gist, from some sentences, but I would not say that I learned the meaning of the words just by reading and being exposed to an unknown word.

How many new words did I learn without any further studying? If I mean by learn that I would be able to use the word in a conversation after reading the word and figuring out the meaning by context, but not studying it - 0 words in the book.

This might be that I am a poor learner of words. I did learn quite a few of the words after I made flashcards and studied them. I needed to study each word on average 5 times before I felt comfortable using it in a conversation.

What are my new thoughts on the 5 finger rule? For readers that are low in confidence, having 1 unknown word a page is probably sufficient. The 5 finger rule makes for a frustrating reading experience. For readers with a higher level of confidence, about 2 words per page is probably the perfect challenge level.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Want a better teaching position? Stop saying "It's fine"

Do you feel like you have too much on your plate? Do you not have enough time to do everything you need to do at school? Do you feel like your school is not really serving your students? Are you not happy with communication between you and your colleagues or your principal?

This summer is a good time to reflect, and to commit to stop saying, "It's ok."

If you are not fulfilled at your school, you are not doing the best job you can be doing for your students. If many teachers at your school are unhappy, you are doing your students a disfavor. If you are afraid to share how you feel, you need to learn to stand up for yourself.

What would you do if a student was having a hard time in math class? Would you say it's ok and ignore the problem? No. You would admit that you are stuck. You would get advice from other teachers and administrators. And then, you would make some changes to address the situation.

You might be thinking, but I can't do that with my job. The economy, my principal never listens, nothing will every change, there are not that many teaching positions etc.

Think back to your student. What would you say when he or she said, "I just can't learn math. It's hopeless." I hope you would challenge that student's thinking!

It's time you challenged your own thinking. Maybe what is bothering you can be changed for the better!

Back to the student. If the child was convinced that he or she couldn't learn math, you wouldn't start with calculus. You would start with the basics. You might start with addition. You might have a peer tutor the student. You would set up support for the student. You would not encourage the student to talk with other students about how he or she will just never learn to do math and how hopeless the situation is!

Back to you! If you feel frustrated, try not to hang out with other people who are talking about how the school will never change. Can you see how that doesn't make any sense? Find teachers who are happy at the school. Ask them about what they are doing. Observe them in the classroom. Find teachers who are comfortable talking with your principal and have gotten things changed in the school. What are they doing.

It is time to stop saying "it's fine," if everything is not ok! When you take a stand for yourself, you end up empowering students and making a difference in not only your life, but their lives too. Take a stand for yourself and for your students.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Building student leadership with HW review

Building Student Leadership through Homework Video

Homework review is a wonderful chance for you to build leadership skills. Click here to watch a video on how this teacher uses homework to create student leaders, give positive feedback and reinforce the previous days lesson!

I like how the teacher is freed up to walk around the room, interact and give positive feedback to students.

What else could students do for you in the classroom? How else can you help them develop leadership skills, while you decrease your stress and work? Do you notice how engaged all of the students are when another student is the acting teacher? Find a way this week to use peer leadership to increase student engagement while decreasing your stress.

Learn more about Saving Time through my time management class.

Please don't raise your hand!

Which students always raise their hand? The students that know the answer. Do you ever ask yourself, "Why am I calling on students who think they know the answer? Are these the students who need the most help."

I've started using a lot more cold calling this year. Instead of asking a question and then have students raise their hands, I just call on a student to answer the question. If too many of my cold call students are getting the questions wrong, obviously I need to adjust my lesson.

Before I used cold calling, my highest performers were giving me the perspective that the class had a greater level of understanding than was true.They were getting the questions right, so we must be ready to move on.


I use Popsicle sticks for the cold calling. I know many teachers use the Popsicle sticks to decide on who to call. Here is a little twist on the traditional routine. Instead of putting in one stick for each student, some students have more sticks. Which students have extra sticks? The students who need the most support.

I break my class into three groups -benchmark, strategic and intervention. My benchmark students each have their name on one stick. My strategic students each have their names on two sticks. My intervention students have their name on three sticks. This way, the students who need to most help tend to be called on more frequently.

I don't always use cold calling, but it is one strategy to keep students on their toes and make sure that everyone is engaged in the lesson.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Till June 30th: Writing Class $30 off!

3 Quarter Credits = $285    $255

 EDITING MADE EASY: Strategies For All Writers (Course Number: ED443T)

Do students groan when you say it is time to edit and revise? Are you intimidated by grammar and writing conventions, perhaps never having been explicitly taught them in a way that made sense?  Is there never enough time for editing in your writers' workshop? 

Does it seem that your editing lessons are not really connected to what students are writing? Do some students still struggle to write complete sentences, while others have mastered that but struggle with other conventions? How do you take all students to the next level?   

This class teaches you to focus and build on what your students are doing right. Instead of targeting student errors, learn how to build on their writing strengths. Use literature and well-written sentences to show students how their sentences can be crafted. Find ways to make editing a daily part of your writing time.

It IS possible to have fun while teaching editing, grammar and conventions to all of your students! Each chapter provides you with ideas you can use immediately.

Appropriate for teachers of grades 3-12.
This class is also ideal for teachers who work with ESL students.

The text is
Everyday Editing by Jeff Anderson, available at for $15.  
My class has some ESL students and some English as a first language students. Will this class help the ESL students too?
Many ESL students struggle with the conventions of the English language. Even students who are nearing the advanced level still may have a difficult time with writing complex sentences. This class gives you the tools to be able to help ESL students write complex sentences with ease. While it will help you take all students to the next level, it also gives you the explicit instruction that ESL and Special Education students will benefit from!

Can I take this class if I am not currently teaching in a classroom or am subbing?
Yes! These classes are designed for teachers both in the classroom and also those that need to keep their teaching certificates current.
TO REGISTER: CALL THE HERITAGE INSTITUTE AT 1-800-445-1305 (credit card, purchase orders, or checks are accepted) or online at
THREE CREDIT CLASSES (2 semester credits):

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Stopping Run On Senteces in their Tracks

Do you have students whose writing runs and runs and runs? It is wonderful that they have so much to say! I am excited that my run on writers have so much to write that they can barely stop to put a period on their paper. At the same time, I would like them to be able to edit their ideas.

I've tried a lot of techniques. I've tried the, "Read your paper out loud and listen to where you pause" technique. This works poorly with students who are ESL, or speak non-standard English at home, or talk a million words a minute.

So what does work? I would love to hear any ideas you have!

This is what I have come up with so far. I teach students that every sentence has a subject and a verb. In a simple sentence the subject always comes first, and then the verb. You might have more than one subject or more than one verb, but the subject always comes first. If it does not come first, the sentence needs a comma or is a run on sentence.

Here is my video on run on sentences and editing for run on sentences.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Encouraging Summer Reading with Rafael Stories

Here is one of the Rafael stories that I use to encourage summer reading. Remember, "Rafael" is any student, a combination of students, a future student etc. You can use any name you want and change the story any way you want. If you teach 3rd grade, the students are in third grade etc.

Stories work to change behavior. Telling a story  is way more effective than saying, "I want you to read this summer." 

It was the last day of 5th grade. Sophia and Rafael were so excited to be starting summer vacation. "I'm going to the park to play soccer every day," said Rafael.
"I'm going to play with my friends at the park too!" said Sophia.
"No homework." said Rafael.

So school got out and summer started. They went to the park. They played soccer and basketball. The played on the swings. They helped their mom with making dinner most days. They watched their younger brothers while their moms did the shopping and laundry or went to work.  Honestly, they started to get a bit bored.

One day, they were swinging at the park, and Rafael said, "Do you remember what Ms. L told us about the 2 million dollars?"
"Two million dollars? I would like 2 million. I'd be rich! But, no, I don't remember."
"Well, she told us that people who go to college earn 2 million more dollars that people who don't."
"Yah! I'm going to get those 2 million and go to college."
"Me too."

Sophia stopped swinging for a few minutes and looked out at the park. She remembered the conversation about the 2 million dollars. She had said that it's great to say that you want to go to college, but you have to have a plan if you really want it to happen. And the one thing that kids who go to college do is read 30 minutes every single day, including Sundays and summer vacations.

"You know, Rafael, I totally want those 2 million. I could help my mom buy a house and live in a nicer place with more rooms."
"Yah, and I could help my dad buy a new car."
"You know, I really haven't been doing what Ms. L said we had to do to earn that money. I totally haven't been reading anything."
"Me neither."

Rafael got off of the swings and started to kick the bark chips under the swing. He was thinking hard about reading. He had just barely passed the reading test this year. He knew that meant that he was actually not ready for 6th grade. Passing the reading test by 1 point meant that he was reading like a 5th grader should read in December. And not reading over the summer meant that he would loose two whole months. He would start 6th grade reading like a 5th grader in December, November, no October.

"We really need to come up with a plan," said Rafael. "How about a bet or something like that."
"Sure," said Sophia.

Just then the ice cream truck pulled up next to the playground. "You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream," said Sophia running to the truck. I'm totally buying something.
"Ah, I didn't bring any money to the park," said Rafael.
"Well, I did," said Sophia. "I'm getting a Popsicle."
"I know," said Rafael, "Let's make a deal. Every time I read and finish a book, you buy me something from the ice cream truck. And every time you finish a book and tell me all about it, I'll buy you an ice cream."
"Ok, but you really have to tell me what the book was about so I trust you."
"Of course."

Rafael won the first ice cream. He read a Magic Tree House book and told Sophia all about the book. Over the rest of that summer, they read and bought each other ice cream.

So I want to tell you about where Rafael and Sophia are today. They are now both Doctors. Every summer and every year they made bets with each other about helped each other with school. Not only did they go to college together, they both went to medical school. They now earn a half a million dollars every single year. Sophia has bought her mom a nice house, like she said she would. Rafael bought his dad a car, and then later went on to buy his dad a house. Both Sophia and Rafael continue to be friends to this day.

Online classes I offer for teachers through

FIRST DAYS OF SCHOOL: From Stress to Success
SAVE TIME: Time Management for Your Teaching & Your Life

Monday, June 13, 2011

Packing and Cleaning up Your Room

It's the end of the school year! Congratulations. You have hopefully had a successful year and are ready to relax and enjoy the summer.

But, you have a few last things to finish. It's time to pack up your room. (Now, if you register for the organizing class and actually follow these steps, you can get college level credit for organizing your room . . . something you have to do anyway.)

Here are the 5 steps - from Organizing from the Inside Out.
1. Sort
2. Purge
3. Assign a home
4. Containerize
5. Equalize


Before you do any putting away, it is time to sort all of the stuff in the classroom. Who can you delegate this to? Your students. Have them put all of the scissors in one place, all of the markers in one place, all of the dictionaries in one place etc. Over the course of the year supplies and other things tend to get spread out. You can also assign a student to test the markers or any other supplies that run out.

Now is not the time to get sidetracked into DOING things. You find phone messages that you need to answer . . . you sort them into the action pile. You are just sorting, not completing any tasks.


Now that you have sorted the items, it's time to purge. Most things are obvious. If you won't use it, you don't need it.

What else should you purge? Some student work is worth saving. Is this an example of something you might use next year to model a lesson? If the answer is yes, keep it. (You might consider scanning it if you copy machine lets you do this. Scan, save and scrap!)

Keep on asking the questions, Do I or my students use this? Is this a resource that I actually used this year? If the answer is no, pass it along, toss it out, or let the students take it!


Because it is the end of the school year, the home might be a box that you are going to unpack at the beginning of next year. I think it is worth the time to actually buy some moving boxes. They are not expensive, and can be used year after year. Make sure that you pack similar things together and label those boxes.

One box should have things that you absolutely must have access to on the first days of school. Make sure you don't pack that box at the bottom of your pile!

Delegate - your students can help you pack into the boxes. They will love the chance to do that and can be very helpful if they are over 2nd or 3rd grade. Also, call a parent or two and ask for help. People want to help, if they are asked.


As you are packing, make a list of all of the containers you want for your classroom for next year. Then, over the summer, you can see if you can find them. I have had good luck at dollar tree for reading baskets and boxes. If you know what you need and want, it will be easier to start next year organized!

Containers make it easy to keep organized. They make it so only so much stuff gets accumulated. They make it easy to pack and move classrooms. When you find out 3 days before school starts that you got placed in a different classroom, moving will be a breeze :)    (Or in the middle of the year, which happened to me when I was 8 months pregnant a few years ago.)


You don't cook your food one time, and then never need to cook or eat again. Organizing is sort of like that. You do a bit, see how it works and then do some more. Set up a time in your appointment book for September when you are going to evaluate how your system is going for you. Write it down. This  appointment is going to save you so much time over the course of the year!


  • Music - listen to music while you work.
  • Friends - share with a friend at school. Offer to do 1 hour in your room and then 1 hour in his or her room. You'll both get more done, have two eyes on the project, and have much more fun.
  • Photos - Take before and after photos. Those will help you stay motivated after you finish the job.
  • Sign up for a commitment. Offer to give money to an anti-charity if you don't do x number of hours on organizing the next few days.
  • Reward yourself - Think, "When I finish organizing my desk, I'm going to buy a plant for my garden, take a walk, read a book, go out to coffee with a friend etc." You don't need to wait to the end to reward yourself. Plan rewards along the way!
  • Sign up to get graduate credit or clock hours. That will give you the extra motivation to get things done!