Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Modeling self-control through real stories

My last post was about some different self-control strategies that were effective. Today I'm going to talk about how I share this information with my students.

What do you remember more?
  • Your last staff meeting?
  • The last movie you watched?
I bet you remember the last movie more than your last staff meeting. Of course there are many reasons why. One of those reasons is because it was a story. Our minds are meant to understand stories. So, I teach self-control by telling students stories about myself where I model when my strategies worked and when they did not work. As I tell the story, I model the type of thinking I would like them to use.

I might say something like, "Last January it was New Years, and so I made a resolution. How many of you have made resolutions before? (They chat) Well, mine was that I was going to exercise more. I wanted to work out 5 times a week. So, I decided that I was going to do that. Monday I played soccer with my friends. This is going to be so easy. I can totally do this.

Tuesday came . . . and I was tired after school, and there was this great show on TV that I really wanted to watch and I told myself - I'll do it after the show. Then I had to cook dinner. And suddenly it was bedtime and I hadn't done it. . ."

It is important to think through and model when you are not successful. Students can learn from your mistakes.

"Three weeks later, I realized that I hadn't really been exercising 5 times a week. How many of you have had trouble with doing something you said you would do? Like HW or cleaning your room?"

Model what did work and the strategies you want students to use in their life.

"So, the third time I tried to reach my goal, I set up a system. I wrote down what I was going to do on a piece of paper and I set up some rewards and consequences for myself. I shared with my friends my goal on facebook. . . "

Share more than one time, and then another, and then another.

You probably remember the last movie you saw, but not the one that you saw 5 times ago. Students are hearing stories from all over. If you want your message to stick, say it over and over with different stories.

What do I do when I don't have a real story about me to share?

I use a Rafael Story. Click here to learn more about this powerful technique!

Learn more about the research behind this technique.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Three Self-Control Strategies That Work

You want your students to build up their self-control. You know that self-control is one of the best predictors of being successful in school and outside of school. What strategies actually have a track record of success? Here are three strategies that really work.

To learn more about the strategies, I decided to try them on myself. Recently, I decided that I wanted to lift weights on a regular basis. I thought I could use this change to test how well self-control strategies worked.

The three strategies are:
  1. Use self-imposed rewards Trope and Fishbach (2000)
  2. Use self-imposed consequences Trope and Fishbach (2000)
  3. Reaffirm core values (the study is described here: self-affirmation in self-control)
Here is how I am using these three strategies. My goal is that I want to lift weights 5 times a week, but each day I am only going to do two different exercises. I wrote down which exercise I was going to do each day of the week, so my goal was specific. Then I decided on a reward. I planned on paying myself $2 for each day that I met my goal. The $2 I would spend on more plants for my garden. So, I had followed step 1.

For step 2, I created a consequence. Each day I did not do my workout as planned, I would take $2 out of my jar. And for step 3, I thought about my core values for exercising. My values are that I am healthy and energetic. I wrote my core values on the jar where I am keeping track of my money.

So far, this has been by far the easiest exercise routine for me to stick with! The combination of the three self-control strategies is working well for me. I have tried just rewards before. That would work for a while, and then it would stop working.

How to apply this to the classroom?

Do you have a student who never turns in his HW? Or, do you have a student who is constantly getting into trouble of a specific type? Let's call that student Larry. If you have tried everything with Larry, why not try some self-control strategies?

Maybe you are thinking - I've tried rewards and consequences. They didn't work. If you give a student a sticker, a recess or free time for doing something, and take away something if they don't, that is not a self-imposed reward and consequence. You, the teacher, made a choice and imposed it on the student.

For self-control strategies to work, you need to actually have a conversation with Larry about the problem, and have him come up with the rewards and consequences. Of course, you have the final say in approving them. You might need to say, "That's a great start. . . what else?" You will also want to help the student clarify a value around the goal, and a positive affirmation to help them when the going gets tough.

Won't it take a long time to have that conversation? Hopefully, if Larry is consistently causing problems or not succeeding, the conversation will save you time. Not only that, you will be teaching Larry self-control strategies that he can hopefully use for the rest of his life.

And the research is clear, people with self-control achieve more, have more friends, are happier and more successful. People with low self-control are at risk for underachievement, risky behavior and addiction. This is your chance to help Larry get on the right path!

Learn more about how I teach this to my students through stories.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Video Games and Writers Workshop

I read a very interesting post at Edutopia on what we teachers can learn from video games. The post started with some scenarios like:
  • "You are dropped off at the top of a ski resort's steepest run when you've only had experience on the beginner slopes.
  • You have to spend your day on the bunny hill when you're an expert skier."
Video games, of course, are not like this. You start at an easy level, get lots of positive reinforcement, and things slowly get more difficult. At the end you reach the most difficult level, and feel great that you finally reached that high level.

Unfortunately, our writers workshop is often like one of these scenarios. (Most likely the first scenario where you are on the double black diamond ski run) We ask a student who struggles with English or with writing complete sentences to write an essay, or write a story, or write quietly and independently for 20 minutes.

What happens?

They start with good intentions, and 3 minutes later are talking with a neighbor. They sit staring out the window. They say, "I just don't know what to write about." They ask about the spelling of every other word to avoid making mistakes and avoid writing.

How can we use video games to help our writing time?

One thing I do as a class is create a graph of how long we are able to write. The Stamina Graph (from The Daily Five book) gives students positive, immediate feedback. Yesterday we lasted five minutes, but today we wrote for 7 minutes. Wow - you improved by 2 minutes. Slowly, students move from 3 minutes to 45 minutes of focused writing and conferencing time. Every step along the way, students get positive feedback on how they are doing better.

Here are the three key ideas from video games!
  • Start small
  • Celebrate success
  • Reach challenging levels
What about our ESL students? Here is an interesting post about learning to read in a second language. Remember, learning to read is 100 times easier than learning to write. I think you will find this post a real eye opener for you when you think about your exited and current ESL students.

    Tuesday, May 24, 2011


    I am very excited that my posts have had 1,000 views since I started this blog. Thank you for reading my posts and sharing the site with other people! I hope that you have found my posts informative and helpful.

    Have a wonderful rest of your week!

    Sunday, May 22, 2011

    A Strong Finish, Part II

    The year is almost over. Some days you wish it already was over. Some days you are sad that your students will be going on summer vacation soon. Here are some tips for finishing the year strong and taking care of yourself.

    Three Energizing Ideas for You

    Focus on what really needs to be graded
    It is the end of the year. Do you really need to grade everything that comes across your desk? No. Focus on what really matters, and don't try to do it all. It is ok for you to do less. It is ok to say that something was in-class practice, and not grade it. This is true any time of the year!

    Invite a colleague to take a walk
    Is there someone at your school that is a good teacher, but you don't really know. Ask that person to take a walk with you during lunch or after school. You will both get some great exercise, which will boost your energy levels. At the same time, you will get to know another teacher and might even get some good ideas for ending the year strong.

    Write a Reflection
    Take a timer and set it for 10 minutes. Take 10 minutes to write about what has gone really well this year that you would like to do more of. Now is the perfect time to focus on what has worked this year and reflect on your successes. Do more of those activities for the last weeks of school. You and your students will feel energized.

    Thursday, May 19, 2011

    My 7 Favorite Things

    Katie at Persnickety Pickles is having people share 7 favorite NON-Teaching related things.  What are you favorite non-teacher related things?

    1. My family. I have a new daughter Rosa, who is just 8 weeks and 1 day old, as well as two other children. I love hanging out with them and enjoying the spring.

    2. Gardening. The flowers are just starting to bloom this year and our blueberry bushes are going to be full this year!

    3. My mom. I think I've learned so much about being a kind, caring person who is always learning new things from her. I love how she gets really into new ideas and is always willing to try something out.

    4. Massages. Well, what is there not to love about massages. Every few months I try to treat myself to a massage to help stay relaxed and to enjoy myself.

    5. Whipped cream. I put whipped cream on the homemade waffles that we make every Saturday morning. And on jello. And on pudding. I even eat it straight out of the can and just spray it onto a spoon. Yum!

    6. The Biggest Loser. I admit it, on Tuesday nights we watch this reality show without fail. It is a fun motivational show. And, yes, we normally eat dessert while watching the show!

    7. Books. I just love reading books. It doesn't matter if they are non-fiction, fiction, YA or what. I love books. I just finished reading Carrots and Sticks, Volumetrics and Who - all non-fiction. I also have recently finished the trilogy of The Hunger Games. What an amazing read!

    Wednesday, May 18, 2011

    Learning to read in a second language

    I started studying Spanish in high school. When I read novels in Spanish, even after 15 years of studying the language, there are still words on every single page I don't know! Imagine what it is like for your ESL students who have been in the country for 5 years and "exited" from ESL.

    I took three years of high Spanish. I attended an immersion summer camp, and had intensive one-on-one tutoring in Guatemala for 5 weeks after high school.  I continued to study Spanish in college and studied abroad in Ecuador for a full year. Then, after college, I taught in a bilingual classroom for 5 years. You could say that I am fluent in Spanish. I've passed the Praxis exams, taught full-time in Spanish and passed all of the required interviews to do that in multiple districts. I do not say this to brag, but to point out that I have been given many more opportunities than your average ESL student.

    I still have a vocabulary gap. Even after 15 years of studying, there are thousands of words I do not know. I am reading a great book, El Idioma Es Musica, in Spanish right now. I fully understand what I am reading, and yet on every single page there are words I do not know. Every single page has at least one word. 

    When I stop and think about this, I remember that all of our ESL students need help with developing their vocabulary. Even after they are no longer receiving services, they are going to have gaps in their vocabulary. I must always remember that even though some of my students have exited services and talk fluently, with no accent, that  they are still second language learners. While all students need vocabulary instruction, our ESL and high-poverty students need extra support in expanding their vocabularies.

    Sunday, May 15, 2011

    How to Edit for Capitalization Video

    At the beginning of the year, my students start their editing checklist with capitalization rules. We spend a few days looking at writers and noticing when they capitalize. The students start to generate rules about capitalization. After this, they start to edit their own writing for capitalization. In the beginning, this is the only thing I edit in student writing. I do not comment or mark any other errors.

    I do pay attention to who understands these rules and is ready for more complex structures. I also notice which students still need additional support.

    Another thing that I do during editing, is I let the student do the thinking work. After they have turned in their second draft, I go through and write a letter "T" for capitalization in each line that has an error. (I use the T for capitalization, because later on they will use the C for commas.) Depending on the student, I might just mark a paragraph. I don't want their piece to be covered in red.

    The student then has to do the cognitive work of finding the error and correcting it. When they think their piece is ready, they raise their hand I can quickly tell if they are ready for their final draft. I noticed that my students stopped making the same errors over and over once I switched to this technique.

    Here is the video of the rules and an example of editing for capitalization.

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011

    Over 100 people have watched my SOBA video!

    I am excited to say that over 100 people have now watched my video on writing complex (SOBA) sentences!

    Let me know what you think of the technique! If you would like to learn more about this and other ways of teaching writing, check out my writing and editing class.

    Soba Part II

    A Strong Finish

    The weather is getting warmer. (Hopefully) The flowers are blooming. State testing is almost finished. The year is drawing to a close.

    How do you stay motivated and have a strong close to the school year. You don't slow down at the end of a race, that is when you pick up speed and give it everything you've got. The same should be true of your school year.

    Here are some ideas to help your students stay motivated and finish strong.

    Have the students teach something:
    Students love the opportunity to teach. Have them make a lesson plan or teach something that they are an expert at. Have them create an objective, a hands-on activity and a way to assess if students learned the lesson. At the end you can reflect with the student about what they learned about teaching. You might even learn something too!

    Work on a project:
    Hands on learning is wonderful at this time of the year. Last year my students and I did a unit on solar power for the last month of school. We learned all about electricity and our natural resources. At the end of the unit we build our own solar oven, after watching videos demonstrating how to do this on youtube, and cooked our own nachos.

    Take students outdoors:
    Why not do your reading out doors? The students will go wild? Not if you have them come up with the expectations before hand. Make sure that they model the correct way to read outside. Have your most rambunctious students model the incorrect way, and then have those same students model the correct way. They can get positive attention for clowning around. Then . . . They will show everyone in the class that they can do it the right way.

    Stay tuned to learn about how to stay motivated yourself!

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011

    SOBA sentences, Part II

    Do you have students who write like this?

    "and then  . . . and then . . . and then . . ."

    SOBA's to the rescue! Here is my part II of my SOBA videos. This video helps students who write really long run on sentences. You will see that the video uses an actual piece of writing from one of my 5th grade students. The piece of writing is a rough draft from the beginning of the year.


    Sunday, May 8, 2011

    Help your students turn in more homework!

    Here is another simple idea that was inspired by the book Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be persuasive by Robert Cialdini.

    They did a study that looked at incentive programs. They had a car wash business give out two different loyalty cards. In one card, after 8 car washes, the person received a free car wash. For the other card, the person had to have 10 car washes, but the first two spots were already stamped.

    Both groups had to actually do the same number of car washes to receive the free one. Which group had more car washes? The group that started with two credits.

    How can you use this idea in the classroom? If you have an incentive program for completing homework or something else, start the kids with a credit. You can have them do the same amount of work to earn their reward, but by starting them with a credit, they will want to complete what they have already “started.”

    Saturday, May 7, 2011

    Nail Biting and the Power of Positive Feedback

    Sometimes I forget just how powerful feedback can be. I was reading a book that is applicable to both the home and the classroom, called Parenting Without Punishment. The book is rather technical, but it has all sorts of practical ideas that really work.

    As I was reading the book, I realized that I give my son, Mateo, so much negative feedback for biting his nails. I am constantly saying things like, "Take your hands out of your mouth." And I have even tried encouraging him bite on his nails on purpose to get him to stop. That was a royal disaster. Over the course of the past few months, he has been biting his nails more and more.

    On top of that, his little sister Natalia has also started biting his nails. Clearly, my methods were not working. I was stuck in a cycle. I didn't know what else to do.

    Then I read Parenting Without Punishment and realized how much negative feedback I was giving him. I was never praising him when his hands were out of his mouth. And, realistically, most of the time he was doing the right thing.

    Once I started ignoring the nail biting, and giving him praise for keeping his fingers dry, he started to turn the corner. Sure, he still bites his nails, but the amount has decreased by a good 90%. Once I started praising him, I realized just how much of the time he was doing the right thing. And I was ignoring the right behaviors.

    How often do I do this in the classroom as well? What percentage of the time are my difficult students actually doing the right thing and I just ignore them? Even though I try to catch kids doing the right thing, I am afraid that I don't all too often. This was a good reminder of the power of positive attention.

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011

    Let's get active!

    One thing I've noticed this year is that when I sit at faculty meetings I get really tired. When I'm in the classroom teaching, I am full of energy. Sitting - I feel exhausted. Part of me wondered if this was because our faculty meetings are at the end of the day. No. I get tired in early morning meetings too.

    I am starting to think, though, the problem is sitting. And if I get tired in a two hour staff meeting, how do my students feel by the end of the day?

    My students need to move, especially some of my ADHD students. I do get them up with stand up, hand up, pair up and other active teaching methods, but sometimes they need more.

    This year I've started giving movement breaks. I am using the ideas from interval training, and the whole interval only takes 2 minutes. When it is time to get up and move, we all stand by our desks. The students then run in place as fast as they can for 20 seconds. I prep them up about how it is only 20 seconds and they should really push themselves. Then they just rest for 10 seconds. Then they do high knees for 20 more seconds. Then they rest for the last 10 seconds. We normally then do 5 calming breaths before we sit down.

    I let the students request the interval breaks by using raising the sign language letter B. This way I know that they want a movement break and I can work it in soon. I know they learn more if they are focused, and my most active students need to move.

    From start to finish it takes less than 2 minutes and really it wakes everyone up! Plus, given the amount of obesity with children on the rise, and the fact that we only get PE once a week, it gets them moving!

    Tuesday, May 3, 2011

    Devlop social skills with music

    I found a wonderful resource that I wanted to share - Dr. Mac Music. These songs have been proven in research to help kids overcome fears (volume 1), be kinder, be more encouraging of other kids and be happier. That's what I call powerful music!

    Think about how you can still sing the ABCs easily after all of these years. Dr. Mac uses the same idea, that music is an easy way to learn, and applies that to social skills. Even just playing the music in the background has been shown to make a difference in kids social skills. When kids get upset, or are having a hard time, they are known to say the lyrics to themselves to help themselves cool down, and make good choices.

    You can listen to free samples of the songs on the website. What a great resource!

    Sunday, May 1, 2011

    Most Popular Posts of April

    Here are the most popular posts from the month of April. They are listed in order of popularity!

    • One of the first things I teach my students in writing is how to make SOBA sentences. Here is a video lesson that I made for my students on ...
    • When I registered for the class “Kids Love to Read and Write” I expected and hoped to gain knowledge, ideas, and techniques that I could...
    • Here are some wonderful sentence frames to use with reading and writing from The Positive Engagement Project. I love how the sentence frames...
    • Qlubb - I use this web page to manage all of my parent volunteers. I can even post all of my homework on student pages. When a parent sig...

    Find Not "Too Wordy" Websites

    Here is a great resources for finding readable websites! If you do a search it will let you know how hard or easy the text is. The results are color coded by the age of the student that would be able to read the text!

    Check out a sample search about mars:

    Here is what the website says about the search. 

    "The philosophy

    Everyone has different reading abilities. Some people searching the web are university professors and others are 5 year old children. Twurdy has been created to provide people with access to search results that suit their own readability level.

    What does it do?

    Twurdy uses text analysis software to "read" each page before it is displayed in the results. Then Twurdy gives each page a readability level. Twurdy then shows the readability level of the page along with a color coded system to help users determine how easy the page will be to understand.

    The Goal

    Twurdy's goal is to provide web searchers with information that is most appropriate for them. This will mean that 10 year olds doing school assignments don't have to click through difficult material to find something they can use. It will also mean that phd students do not have to click through websites designed for kids in order to find what they are looking for."