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!

How long does it take to turn a routine into a habit?

Have you heard it takes 21 days to create a habit? Tons of books state that it takes 21 days to create a new habit, but is that really true? It turns out to be a bit of an urban myth. It actually takes on average 66 days to form a new habit. The range, though, is 18 to 254 days Lally et al. (2009).

What does this mean for you as a teacher?

What routines would you like to have for yourself? Would you like to take a daily walk during lunch time? Would you like to correct all of your papers every day before you go home? Do you want to start a new program with your students?

One simple thing I wanted to do this year was drink more water when I was at work. I realized that many days the bell would ring, the kids would go home and I had not drunk any water all day! Somehow, I just didn't think about it.

To help me change this habit (a very easy habit to change, you will see looking at the graph), I made sure that my environment would support me. I bought a beautiful green water bottle. Then I enlisted the help of other people. I had a few students be my water monitors. (These were kids that needed a few stretch breaks during the day). They could go and fill up my water bottle whenever it was halfway full. They were happy to remind me to drink water, because it meant that they would get to walk and fill up the water bottle! I was able to successfully create this as a new habit over the course of a few months.

Here is a picture from PsyBlog that shows how long it takes for habits to form.

If you know that it is going to take you about three months to form a habit (3 months x 20 work days), you are going to have more realistic expectations of yourself. What supports do you need to put in place to help you do something for those three months, till the activity becomes automatic? Would it help you to make a chart to track your progress, have a fellow teacher who you work with etc.?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Should we pay kids for grades?

Should be pay kids to do well in school?

There was this interesting article in Times magazine that talked about paying kids to do well in school. They looked at the impact of paying kids for effort (doing homework, reading books outside of school, showing up to school on time, not getting in trouble) vs. paying kids for results (getting good grades, passing the state test.)

The results: paying for effort works. In terms of reading, it works phenomenally well (better than reducing the class size to 16, having a Teach For America Teacher or a great teacher)  and in particular for the hardest to reach children.

How well does it work to pay for results and test scores at the end of the year?
It had no impact or the students test scores slightly decreased.

What do you think? Do you think students should be paid for doing well? Do you think students should receive an incentive for effort?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A New Way of Colaborating

Do you feel like meetings are frequently a waste of time? It is hard to really get work done during your PLC times? Would you like to take online classes, but really don't want to take them by yourself? Or, are you working on a planning document with a group of teachers? I read this amazing post about how to use google documents that you have to check out. I can't wait to try this with my team next year.

Here is a quote from the article:

The Solution...

Schools must stop simply meeting and start connecting and sharing, and encourage transparent learning. One way to rethink the faculty meeting is to use a Google Doc for planned or impromptu collaborations. 

Click here to read the rest of the article.


If you want to try this out with any of my online classes, you are welcome to do so. Up to 8 people can take a class, and this would be such an engaging easy way to get 3 credits while collaborating with other people. It is also a way you could collaborate with people that lived in another state or even other part of the world. (Some people have taken my classes from China, Malaysia, New Guinea and other countries!)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Rafael Stories

I started using a technique called "Annie stories" with my son when he was having severe anxiety. I changed the name to Rafael stories so the main character is a bilingual, biracial boy, like my son. I now use the same technique in my classroom when I don't want to lecture, but I want to teach an important self-control skill or behavior.

What I know from research, is that it is very important to teach self-control and persistence. I have noticed that in particular, many of my Black boys and refugee boys have very low levels of persistence and problem solving skills. When they start working on a problem, many of them give up when it starts to get hard. The students who can overcome this problem, tend to go on and do very well in school. (One of my Somali boys who struggled with this at the beginning of the year improved his reading skills by over 2 years in one year.)

Originally, "Annie stories" were designed to help kids overcome fears, like testing anxiety. These have been modified into "Rafael, Ali, Sophia and Daisy" stories in my classroom. Basically, the story is modified to deal with whatever worry or poor behavior choice that the student or class is dealing with. I also use the stories to model good choices students are making to encourage those actions to occur more frequently.

I started using these stories with my son when he was 3. He was having severe anxiety and refused to come out of his room after a windstorm for a matter of days. We worked with a social worker and Dr. with little improvement. Here is something I wrote from the first week I used the stories.

Today's story was about listening to the wind chime (we have one outside and it seems to remind him of the storm) and going out the front door - two things that currently cause massive anxiety, hysterical shaking and screaming. The story goes something like this:

Rafael is a boy who lives in a yellow house. He has a little sister named Sophia. In Rafael's house there is a bathroom, a playroom, a kitchen. He lives with his Mommy and his Mama. . . so you get the idea. Basically I describe our own family.

Rafael was going to go to the farmers market, and so he went to the front room to get on his shoes. He started to feel his heart beating and he started shaking. (Two symptoms he has been having.) So, he took some magical breaths. Rafael breathed in really slowly and breathed out really slowly. Can you show Rafael how to take magical breaths? Rafael was still feeling anxious, and so he asked for some cuddles from his Mommy or Mama. Then, he put on his shoes and walked out of the front door.

When he stood on the porch (another difficult area for Mateo), he looked at the tree and started to get scared. Then, he took another magical breath and looked at the strawberry plants. He wondered if there were any ripe strawberries to eat and looked at all of the plants and found a red, ripe strawberry.

He then walked all the way down the stairs by himself and was so proud of himself. He had been scared, but he walked down the stairs all by himself and he was ok.

Anyway, this is the general format for the stories, only they change for whatever seems to be the biggest issues of the moment. The first few times, the stories were so scary for Mateo that he would try to climb back into his crib when I told them and start shaking hysterically.  Now he asks for Rafael stories, and will even listen to them in the play room. He has also been taking Rafael's magical breaths!

We are noticing gradual improvement every day, but this has really been a tough thing for our little guy. I guess we're all learning something - Mateo's learning about being brave after a storm and we're learning a lot about having patience.

I'll talk more in another post about how I started using this technique in the classroom.

Here is how I use Rafael stories to encourage summer reading:

Here is more about Rafael stories and the research behind them:

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Strong Finish, Part III

Learn To the Last Minute!

Even though the school year is almost over, there is still time to have fun while learning. Here are some ideas on how to keep students engaged and learning in the last weeks of school.

  1. End of the Year Jeopardy -- To help students review what they have learned, have them create an end of the year Jeopardy game. You can either divide the class into groups and assign them subjects. On the other hand, you could choose one subject, and then assign units. Each group is responsible for coming up with questions and answers for each of the different categories. They will enjoy making up the questions. Remind students to not make them so easy that other teams get all the points, but not so hard that they can't earn the point for their own team! Have fun, while reviewing important material.
  2. Super Subject Time -- Instead of keeping your regular routine, have a full day for a single subject. For reading, students could dress up as a favorite character, do buddy reading with a younger or older class, do a read-a-thon to raise money for a charity or a special literature project. For writing, students could write their own children's alphabet book about a subject you studied this year, illustrate it and share it with another class. You could also have a science day, art day, math day etc.
  3. Summer Reading Preview -- For the last week of school, you can do a twist on the traditional book report. Have each students bring in a favorite book that they have enjoyed during the year. Then, have the students give a preview of the book to encourage other students to read over the summer. You could even do a book exchange after the last preview, for some extra fun.    

What are your favorite activities to keep students learning and engaged up to the very last day?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Getting Organized: Taking stock of what worked this year

It is the end of the year. This is the perfect time (when you are packing up anyway) to take stock in your situation. What is working for you and what is not working for you in terms of organizatio?. Here is a little exercise you can do:

Copy and paste these sentences and take some time to write your answers. It would be wonderful if you wanted to share some of your answers in the comments section. This would help out other teachers!

  1. I (or my students) can never find my (their) __________. 
  2. I (or my students) have no place to put________. 
  3. There's no room for __________. 
  4. I (or my students) are tired of ___________.
  5. I (or my students) can't _________ because of the clutter.
  6. I (or my students) am losing time or money because of ____________. 
  7. The disorganization makes me (or my students) feel ____________.
  8. What is and is not working for you in your classroom organization? 
  9. Which items are most essential for you for teaching, grading and planning?
  10. Why do you want to get organized?
Now, if you have finished writing your answers, and you are interested in getting clock hours. . . this is actually assignment #3 out of 7 for the class. (If you want university credit, there are 4 more assignments that are just as practical and include actually organizing a part of your home or classroom.)

Click here to learn more about the class or sign up: 

Here are some answers of one of my students. She is a mother of two young children. She let me share her thoughts with you from assignment #3.

  1. I (or  my students) can never find my (their) __________. 
    • We study flashcards every morning as the warm up of the day. Some of my students have a hard time finding their flashcards and losing their flashcards after we have made them. I don't often have extra flash cards that are made up of the topic, or time for them to make up the ones they missed if they were missing that day.I like this because it takes no time for me to plan, the routine is the same every day, and it builds in review every day. 
  2. I (or my students) have no place to put________. 
    • Some of my students have no place to put their binders in their desks, along with their books. I specified that they should bring a 1 inch binder at the beginning of the year, but not everyone did. I didn't really follow through with students about getting the 1 inch binder, and so some of them had really thick binders. They didn't fit in the desk. Then the students would end up putting them on the floor, or store them in their lockers at the end of the day (and then forget to bring them back in the classroom.)
  3. There's no room for __________. 
    • I have no cabinets in my room and so there is no room for all of my math manipulatives. I need to find a better way of storing the manipulatives for my students when we are in different units.
  4. I (or my students) are tired of ___________.
    • I am tired of getting behind in filing my papers.
  5. I (or my students) can't _________ because of the clutter.
    • Some of my students can't find their homework because of the clutter. They end up losing things, not turning it in, not getting credit, turning in papers late. They also tend to blame their parents for the problem.
  6. I (or my students) am losing time or money because of ____________. 
    • I am tired of losing money by eating take out once or twice a week. After staff meetings, I am so tired when I get home that I really don't want to cook. I end up eating out and buying food for me, my spouse and my two children. That is easily $40 a week for one or two meals. Or, for the 40 weeks of school, I'm spending $1600. Wow. I didn't realize it was that much. If I could change that, I would save so much money. 
    • (That would make this class more than worth it! It would be like getting a raise.) Actually, I am so glad that I'm taking this. My school district (PPS in Oregon) pays for 6 credits a year - so I won't have ended up paying anything for the class. They will give me back the $285 I put on my credit card as soon as I finish it . . . and if I just eat out 7 fewer times this year, I'll be ahead by quite a bit . . . 7 x 40 = 280 dollars saved!)
  7. The disorganization makes me (or my students) feel ____________.
    • I don't think I'm that disorganized. But, I do feel frustrated with not being able to find papers on my desk sometimes and frustrated with my filing system. I hate to file, and so I don't put stuff in the files. And when I actually do put stuff in the files, I almost never look at it again.
  8. What is and is not working for you in your classroom organization? 
    • What is working is that I have tubs for all of my books. I took the Daily 5 class and watched the video on organizing the classroom library. My classroom library is great now. My students can put away all of the books and it takes no time at all. It is also working that I teach my students to use their binders. This works for 80% of my students. It is also working that I have turn in boxes for different subject. Another thing is that each student has a number that they write on their papers, and that is the same number I use for the grade  book and for filing. That saves me a lot of time. 
  9. Which items are most essential for you for teaching, grading and planning?
    • My most essential items for planning are my computer, my teachers guides of my current unit, the standards. For grading - my grade book, and  the computer and the papers I'm grading. For teaching - sticky notes, talking sticks (for calling on students), grade book, lesson plans.
  10. Why do you want to get organized?
    • Have more time for my family. Spend less money on eating help. Help my students be more successful in school

Click here to learn more about the class or sign up:

Friday, June 3, 2011

It it's easy to learn, is it easy to forget?

It turns out that what we think is easy to learn, is also easy to forget. According to a fascinating article in Education Week, people tend to overestimate what they will remember. We especially overestimate "easy" information.

What does this mean for you as a teacher?

For me the article reinforced how important it is to go over routines, review concepts throughout the year, and take the time to really teach easy, but important ideas. The article said that when people review easy information 5 times, they are much more likely to remember the information later.

One way I review concepts and ideas we learn in the classroom is my weekly Friday game. For the game, I put the class into small groups and ask questions that cover everything we have learned over the course of the year. Any flashcard that we have created, anytime over the year, is fair game. This way, ideas and concepts get reviewed multiple times.  The students love the game, which we play like Jeopardy, and it is a rewarding, fun way to build review into our week.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Free, Amazing Pre-K - 2nd grade Math Program

There is a brand new math program, funnix, that is just amazing (and free for anyone who downloads it before June 26th). It goes from Pre-K through the end of first or second grade. Each lesson takes 20 minutes tops and the program was created by the top performing method used in Project Follow Through. On top of that, it's aligned to the new common core math standards that most states are in the process of adopting.

If you are curious about the research, here is a link to a summary of Project Follow Through. If you have never heard of this study, you should. It is the single most expensive study the US government has ever done of education. (The study cost over $1 billion and included 20,000 children and followed them from pre-K through adulthood.)

Do you want to buy other programs for older kids?
I actually have a bunch of different DI programs that I am currently selling on ebay. Most of the programs can not normally be bought by parents (except through ebay) and are very expensive. I'm starting the bidding at $10 for almost all of the programs.

Here are the ones I'm selling till around June 15th:

My review and details of the free Funnix Program 
The program runs on a PC or a Mac and is really easy to use. The computer does the majority of the teaching and it is simple enough that an older student, an aide or a parent volunteer could use the program with a group of students. The program even lets you know when to give individual turns to each child.

I tried it out today with my 4 and a half year old son. My daughter was watching along, and she wanted to join in. (She is turning 3 the end of this month.) They both were able to do the first lesson and begged to do another lesson. It lasted about 20 minutes total.

The program comes with a workbook, which you can buy for $10, or download for free and make your own copies of. I looked through the workbook, and it goes from basic counting skills all the way up to drawing improper fractions!

Check out the program - and let the parents of your students know about it too if you teach young children!

Here is a picture of my children!
Mateo (4 1/2 years) Natalia (almost 3) and Rosa (8 weeks)

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what's a video worth - Daily 5 Videos!

Did you know that YouTube has tons of videos for Daily 5 that are free to watch. All sorts of teachers have generously taken videos, including their classes in action, and shared them. Check out some of these videos!

Watching a practice session in action for partner reading:

After you look at this video there will be links on the side to all sorts of other videos you might also like!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Tips and Techniques to Save Time with Grading

Does your desk look like a mountain full of papers to be graded? It can be hard to not get overwhelmed by all of the papers that students turn in. As class sizes increase, the number of papers you need to grade increases. If you have 30 students in your class and they turn in three assignments for four different subject areas, you are suddenly talking about over 300 pieces of paper to grade.

Here are some tips to help you regain grading sanity.

Don't grade it

Was the work practice? Is it going to change the way you teach? If the paper was practice or the results are not really going to change the way you teach the students, then maybe it doesn't need to be graded at all. It is ok to not grade a piece of paper.

Have students grade the work

Sometimes I get out the pens and have students grade their own work. If you give them a rubric, they can pre-grade their work. If students help set up the rubric, they normally give themselves honest feedback.

Other times, I turn the whole grading idea into a game. "Ok everyone, the next problem is _____. You have 3 minutes to work on it. Ok, the timer went off. Switch with your partner." I then explain or better yet, have a student explain the correct answer. "Hand back your papers. Raise your hand if you are on team A and got the correct answer. Raise you hand if you are on team B and got the correct answer."

Students won't let students on the other teach cheat. You get immediate feedback on how students are doing. You have nothing to grade. Suddenly, that worksheet is a fun game.

Only grade one part or one skill at a time

You do not need to grade every part of an essay. Let students know that you are going to focus on their lead, or their conclusion, or how they support their ideas with specific details. You can't learn ten different things at one time, so there is no need to grade ten different things at one time. Too much information can mean that nothing sticks.

Use rubrics

Students really enjoy rubrics. They make it clear to the student about why s/he received a particular grade. If you get students involved in creating the rubric, there is even more buy in. On top of that, rubrics cut down your grading time.

Teach students to give each other feedback

You do not need to be the only person that gives students feedback. Teach students how to have meaningful conversations about their writing. Let students give each other feedback.

Stagger Dates

Every student does not need to turn in everything at the same time. Or you can have different classes turn in assignments on different days. Or make sure that projects for math are turned in on a different day than projects for writing etc.

What is your favorite time saving tip for grading?

Speech Planner and Technology to Spice Up Speeches

At the end of the year, I plan expert speeches with my students. This is the last speech they give of the year and is a chance for them to share with other students about a passion. Students all love these expert speeches. We space out 2-3 speeches each day for the last few weeks of school and give plenty of time for Q and A!

Here is the Expert Speech Planner I use with my students. You could copy and modify it for your use in your own classroom.


Introduction: How will you get everyone interested in your topic? What will you say to capture people's attention? Remember you can paint a scene with your words, start with action or ask a question.

Three Important Details of Facts:
  1. Idea:
  2. Idea:
  3. Idea:

What object(s) will you show us to make your speech more interesting?

What will you say about your object. (Make sure your statement is thoughtful. Do you think "I brought this to show you because I like it is thoughtful?)

I brought this to show you because ___________________________________________.

Tell the class how they could learn more if they are now really interested in your topic.
You can learn more about ______ by _____________________________________________.

How will you end your speech with a conclusion that is as interesting as your introduction? Remember, you could paint a scene from the future, describe something related to your topic or ask a question. You may also have a different idea for your conclusion.

Produce the Speeches
I just read a wonderful idea from another blog on how to use technology to make speeches come to light. You should check out the article. Here it is: 

The article explains how to use green screens and technology to help your students record their own speeches like they are movies. I can't wait to use this with my own class next year!

More Sentence Frame Guides
While I would say that this speech guide only loosely uses sentence frames, I have a few other posts that use them more extensively. Here are some other posts you might be interested in: