Sunday, March 25, 2012

Video on reviewing rules - what I do after spring break

Your students had a great spring break. You are back in the classroom. Who remembers the rules?

It is amazing how a week away from school can cause some of your students to go back to ground zero.  Here is what I do after spring break.

We start the day by reviewing the rules. Thanks to Whole Brain Teaching, all of my rules now have hand motions. If I say rule #1, the students say, "Follow directions quickly" and at the same time move a hand forward (sort of like a swimming fish.)

To make the rule review more interesting, we might add funny voices. (Cartoon voices, low pitched, high pitched, talking like a robot etc.) I also switch the order of the rules. I sometimes also have a student come to the front of the room to lead the rule review. You can see some great videos of students reviewing the rules at Here is one that I like from a kindergarten classroom.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Preparing for state test - Week 3

This week we focus on preparing emotionally for the test. Many students get anxious about tests of all types. These tests are no exception. Here is what I share with parents during this time.

Again, feel free to copy and use any of this material yourself!

Reducing Anxiety
Understandably, some students get anxious when taking the state test. Here are some tips and strategies to help your child feel less anxious and do better with the test.
  • Get plenty of exercise. If your child is feeling anxious, going out and playing basketball, soccer, taking a walk or getting moving will help.
  • Take a calming bath right before bed time. Not too hot, because our bodies decrease in body temperature as we fall asleep.
  • Let your child talk with you about his or her fears for 10 - 15 min. After you finish talking, do something active and stop talking about the fears. You don't want them to grow by giving them tons of attention all day long, but it can help to talk about them for a limited amount of time.
  • Use calming thoughts to decrease worries: Your child can say things like. . .
    • I have two times to take this test.
    • It’s ok if I don’t understand every question. I just need to do the best I can.
    • If I don’t pass the first time, my teacher will help me and my family come up with a plan to learn the material.
    • If I didn’t pass the test last year, my goal is just to improve by 10 points this year. I have been working hard. I can do this as long as I take my time.
    • My family will still love me no matter what.
    • My teacher will be happy with me if I try my hardest. She will help me learn what I need if I need to take the test over.
    • If I follow the test strategies, I will get the best score I can.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Perfect Homework - 4th grade and up

The research is actually pretty clear. Students gain very little when they do homework. Actually, according to a meta study by Hattie (1992) that reviewed 110 experiments on homework, it only raised achievement by 1%.  What a lot of trouble for little gain.

How much time do you spend grading homework? How much time do you spend putting together homework packets and planning out your homework for the week? I imagine that you would prefer to spend your teaching time doing something that will raise achievement by more than 1%. Is there a better way?

What does raise achievement? 
  • Taking notes raises achievement by about 35%. 
  • Teaching students summarizing strategies and having them write summaries also raises achievement by 35%. 
  • Reinforcing effort raises achievement by 20%. 
  • (All of the statistics were taken from Classroom Instruction that Works.)

Here is one idea for combining all three strategies. Teach students to take Cornell Notes.   Click here for instructions on how to take Cornell Notes. I would highly recommend that you let students know what they should write. The more guided your instruction - saying things like, "Make sure you write down . . ." the better the achievement will be.

Then, for homework, have your students write the summary part of their Cornell Notes. By writing the summary for homework, you will be assigning one of the most effective learning strategies. You will also be giving students an opportunity to review what they learned in class, helping them retain that information into long term memory.

You might want to use sentence frames for writing the summary. At the very least, you would want to write a few summaries together as a class and model how to write the summaries.

In class the next day, start your lesson by calling on 1 - 2 students to share their summaries. After sharing, give the student specific feedback reinforcing their effort. Also have 2 peers give the students feedback. You should be able to walk around during this time to see that everyone has completed their homework. You are giving positive recognition for effort, having peers also give positive affirmations and finally, reviewing what students have learned one more time.

  • Papers for you to copy? None
  • HW packets for you to prepare? None
  • Time to grade? You will not be grading them beyond completed or not completed. It is not worth your time to grade the homework. (Remember that 1% increase in achievement.) You will be giving positive feedback to students on their effort and specific feedback verbally during class. Students will never know when you are going to call on them.
  • Research? Instead of assigning homework that has a small chance of increasing achievement, you are asking students to spend time doing what is effective in learning new concepts and ideas.
HOL online classes I offer:

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

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Classroom Management Tips: Getting and Keeping Attention

I've made many mistakes over the years. When I look back at how I taught 5 or 10 years ago, I sometimes shake my head. I think we can say that what I've learned in management has been a case of begging, stealing and borrowing other people's ideas. 

Here are 3 things that have really helped me in terms of getting and keeping student attention. I think as a teacher, this can be the biggest first challenge. If students are not engaged or at least listening, no matter how great your lesson, they are not learning.

1: Class - Yes
I've tried holding up my hands, I've tried flicking the lights, a chime and many other techniques. I now have one that works like a charm, and works every time. When I say "class," my students say "yes."  What I like about this is that the technique is fast, everyone can hear, and we can have fun with it. If I say Class in a silly voice, they say class in a silly voice. If I whisper class, they whisper class.
Here is more information on starting with Class - Yes.

2: Mirror
When I talk, I sometimes hold up my hands and say, "Mirror." When I do this, my students also hold up their hands and say, "Mirror." What this means is that the students have to pretend they are a mirror. Whatever I do with my hands and body, they have to copy. My students love this, I can see who is engaged and it keeps my active students moving and on task. Here is more information on how to use Mirror in the classroom.

3: High, Pause, Low
When I want students attention, I start by getting their attention, pause, and then lower my voice. High, pause, low. You would be amazed by the difference this makes. It takes a few seconds, but really gets people's attention. It is counter-intuitive to talk quieter when you want students to listen, but it works. Try it out!

Online classes I offer for teachers through

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

Preparing for state test - Week 2

Here is my second week blurb for the families on preparing for testing. Again, feel free to copy anything that you might find helpful.

Preparing Skills for Testing

  • Make sure your child has learned the math vocabulary for next week. Almost all of those words will be included in the test.
  • Talk with your child about going through the test slowly. This is not a race. Double check answers.
  • For MATH: Have your child talk with you about the 6 types of word problems
    • combining (+)
    • comparing (-)
    • you know the whole and are missing a part (-)
    • counting equal groups (x)
    • making smaller groups (/)
    • complex (read one phrase at a time and draw each phrase)
  • For READING: Have your child describe the 3 types of reading problems and how to solve each problem:
    • Vocabulary - Reread the sentence 4 times with all of the possible answer choices. Choose the one that makes the most sense.
    • Main Idea - Look back and count how many times each of the options is talked about in the passage.
    • Clue/Fact - Look back and find the words in the passage or things that make

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Preparing for state test

I send home weekly notices prior to the state test to help families and students get prepared. Feel free to copy and use anything that you find helpful.

Each week we focus on a different theme around getting prepared.

Week 1:

Here are some recommendations for testing:

  • Please make sure your child gets a full 9 to 10 hours of sleep each night. This is the best amount of sleep for getting good test scores. This could mean going to bed at 9pm and waking up at 7pm or going to bed at 8:30pm and waking up at 6:30pm. (My kids have a 7pm bedtime, but they are a few years younger.)
  • Limit TV. Please make sure that your child is not getting more than 1 hour a day of screen time. This means computers, TV shows and video games. The recommended total is 2 hours a day, but most students do get a full hour of computer time in the classroom most days between reading, vocabulary and math.
  • No caffeine in the afternoon. Students already sometimes feel anxious about the test and having a coke or a drink with caffeine will make it harder for them to sleep on testing nights.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Simple change, big increase in HW completion

I normally have students turn in HW when they walk into the classroom. There is a bucket by the door, and students turn their homework into the basket. I would then quickly check over that it was turned in at the back of the room later that day.

This year, though, I was having a lot of students forgetting their work.

I tried a Friday Fun Day solution, but it was still the same few students who were forgetting their homework.

Then I thought about making HW collection more visible.

Instead of checking the HW during the course of the day, I check it as soon as the bell rings in the front of the classroom. As I am checking it, I will hold up a folder and say the student name of anyone who has not turned in their work.

Now, the majority of students who did not bring in their homework, (which is down to 1 or 2 per day) tend to come up to me before the bell even rings to let me know there was a problem or why they do not have their work. It takes me a total of 2 minutes to check the HW because students write their number (which is their line in the grade book) next to their name! While I am checking their HW, students are eating their breakfast and silently reading in their seats.

Small change, big results.