Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Math Word Problem Strategies

Helping a student be prepared to solve a math word problem is an area that a lot of teachers worry about while they teach. Solving a word problem requires the coordination of a number of math skills. The student needs to be able to analyze the problem, choose the correct strategy to implement, and follow through with the correct procedure. I would like to share some tips that teachers can teach students for solving word problems.

  1. Read the problem: The student will read the problem and reread it if they don't understand the problem.
  2. Paraphrase the problem: They can highlight the key words/phrases.
  3. Draw the problem: The student will create a drawing of the problem or use a graphic organizer.
  4. Create a plan to solve the problem. The student will make a plan outlining the steps to solving the problem.
  5. Predict: the student will use estimation to predict the answer.
  6. Compute the answer: The student will compute the answer to the problem. They then check the answer against their estimate of the answer for comparison.
  7. Check the answer: The student checks the steps of the answer. They check to see that they went through the steps in the plan were followed and that the operations were done in the correct orders.
Hopefully this framework will help the student go through a word problem with success!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Learning styles for ADHD students from ADDitude Magazine

I have had several teachers ask for more information on learning styles of students and how that can help students with ADHD. I found the following article at ADDitude Magazine's website. I hope this information is helpful.

Helping Visual, Auditory, and Tactile ADHD Learners

Know your child's learning style? Help your ADHD student achieve school success by focusing on study methods that play to his visual, auditory, or tactile ways of learning.

by ADDitude Editors

Each child has his or her own learning style — a unique way of taking in and processing information. Most kids – especially ADHD students – use all of their five senses for learning, but often favor one sense over the others.

"Visual learners" prefer reading or observing. "Auditory learners" do best with talking and listening. "Tactile/kinesthetic learners" benefit most from a hands-on approach.

Tune into how your attention deficit child learns best to creatively help her succeed in school.

If your child is a visual learner

  • Have her type up class notes or homework in typefaces of varying style, color, and size.
  • Use flash cards, drawings, and diagrams to help him study for a test.
  • Ask the teacher to provide homework assignments in writing. At home, make a written list of instructions, schedules, and routines.
  • Introduce Scrabble, crossword puzzles, anagrams, and other word games.

Next: If your child is an auditory learner...

If your child is an auditory learner

-- Have him read notes and study materials into a cassette recorder as if he were a disc jockey or sports announcer. This will hold his interest when he reviews them for a test.

-- Help her recite multiplication tables and other facts to the rhythm of a favorite song.

-- Allow him to study with a partner or a few classmates.

-- Look for the audio versions of books she's reading in class or for pleasure. Your child may be eligible to borrow recorded textbooks from Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic for a modest annual membership fee — or to get non-textbook recordings from the National Library Service at no cost.

Next: If your child is a tactile/kinesthetic learner...

If your child is a tactile/kinesthetic learner

-- Provide blocks, jelly beans, or playing cards to use to compute math problems; give Scrabble pieces or alphabet cereal to spell words.

-- Create hands-on learning experiences — nature hikes, science experiments, and so on.

-- Have her act out scenes from history or literature.

-- Explore various materials and techniques for assignments — a collage, diorama, or clay construction.

More ADHD School Help

Determining Your Child's Learning Style

Homework Help for ADHD Children

Memory Tips for ADHD Students

More ADHD School Help

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

What can you do to encourage a reader?

Many times parents want to help their child to become a reader but are
unsure where to start. There are many activities that can be done at
home to support a child as they begin the experience of becoming a
reader. It can begin as easily as a parent talking with their child.
Parents can talk as you eat dinner, talk in the car about what you
each see along the road, or simply talk about the food you are buying
at the grocery store. Parents can ask questions that will encourage
their child to talk and not just give yes or no answers.

Start your own family book club. Time is precious for many families.
I have my children take turns reading to us in the car on the way to
and from school. We ask questions about what we have heard and
discuss the storyline and the characters. My children are excited
that I am interested in their favorite characters and can't wait to
read as a result.

When you are reading with your child take the time to point out and
discuss the front or back of the book, the title, and the author.
Discuss what the author does for a book. Have your child show you
where to begin reading.

As you read aloud, stop from time to time to ask your child about the
meaning of the book. Help them make a connection between the book and
their own life. Encourage your child to ask questions and retell the
story in their own words.

Parents need to remember that reading is not limited to books. Share
with your child magazines, newspapers, brochures, and other
materials. Including non-fiction materials is important.

There are many different activities a parent can do with their child
to encourage reading. The one's suggested in this article are just
the tip of the iceberg. What is your favorite activity? Add it to
our comments section.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Using websites to open up instructional worlds....

As a teacher who grew up during the time that computers moved from writing the simplest program line by line yourself on an Apple IIe to using a MacBook Pro and talking to teachers across the United States, I have watched and participated in the evolution of online learning. More teachers today expand their classrooms beyond the four walls of their school building than ever before in order to provide more tools to their students. I would like to share some of the sites that I have used and encourage you to share your favorites in the comments section.

I have enjoyed looking at the many ideas offered on Teacher Tube. It is the educator's version of YouTube that allows teachers to upload and share video clips of lessons. I have watched teachers share songs about math standards to motivational speeches by students that remind me why I do what I do every day.

Another site that I often visit is the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives. This website offers a wealth of java applets that allow students to see math in many different ways. It was a website recommended by our state trainers for math standards training.

For teachers looking for more information on differentiated instruction, please visit Verna Eaton's website Differentiated Instruction. She gives several ideas on how it can look and how to go about providing such instruction.

A large website with a wealth of information is the Center of Instruction. They describe themselves as "your gateway to a cutting-edge collection of scientifically based research and information on K-12 instruction in reading, math, science, special education, and English language learning. Part of the Comprehensive Center network, the Center on Instruction is one of five content centers serving as resources for the 16 regional U.S. Department of Education Comprehensive Centers. Explore the links to the left for topic-based materials, syntheses of recent research, and exemplars of best practices."

What websites have you found to be particularly helpful? Would you like to see them added to our running list of websites on our site? Add your favorites to our comments section.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Long term literature projects

I am frequently asked by teachers for ideas on long term literature projects that they can do with their students; projects that require higher order thinking, peer cooperation, and involve reading and writing. I would like to share my two most favorite projects.

1. Mrs. __________'s Book Clubs
Just like Oprah, I like to form book clubs with my students. I pick out three titles that meet the standards that I wish to cover but also allow the students to have some input about titles. Since students are grouped by reading level, that reading level must also be taken into consideration. Some teachers may be able to group a higher group with a lower reading group of students. Each group can learn from each other. The higher reading students can help support the lower reading students. I provide a brief summary of each book and lead a discussion of the pro's and con's of each book. After the group decides which book to read, the fun begins! At times the students can be paired up in teams of two, letting them take turns reading. At other times each student can read in the round. Sometimes I would read to the students. There are many different reading strategies to use.

2. The Travel Guide
Once the students read the book, I have them work in pairs on creating a travel guide for the world created in the book just read. The students are given a rubric outlining the requirements for the travel guide: table of contents, places to stay, places to eat, local attractions, and publishing credits. The students are encouraged to be creative and research other travel guides. I will typically bring in travel guides I have collected to show students when the assignment is given. The students are given two weeks to complete the project, allowing time during class to work in the library, work as pairs, and prepare a presentation. At the end of the assignment the students present the travel guide in the form of a commercial to the class.

What is your favorite long term assignment to have students complete?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Beating Stress

This article was found on the website Scholastic for Instructors.  You can find it at  

12 Ways to Beat New-School-Year Stress

Tips for staying calm and taking pleasure in your work as the school year ramps up

Fill in the blank: The new school year has started and I feel ___________________. 

If you wrote "excited," "happy," or "inspired," congratulations—you're off to a fantastic start! If you wrote "stressed," "anxious," or "a migraine coming on," you are not alone. As wonderful as teaching can be, it can also be stressful and demanding, requiring you to put in long hours, sometimes without the resources or assistance you need. But don't worry—if you're feeling the pressure, there are plenty of things you can do about it.

Exercise, socializing, and sleep are three great things that help people manage stress. Unfortunately, they are usually the first three things to go when people get stressed out. "We eliminate our stress relievers and then we get doubly hit," says Steven M. Sultanoff, an adjunct professor in psychology at Pepperdine University in Long Beach, California. The lesson? When you feel stress closing in on you, it is essential to take time for yourself, whether you go to a 60-minute yoga class after work or take one minute between classes to do some deep breathing. Yes, even one minute makes a difference when you need to de-stress!

Don't know where to start? We've got some stress busters here that will help you get a handle on your feelings so that you can meet the needs of your students, your principal, and your family—and meet your own needs, too—without losing your mind.

1: Laugh often.
"Humor is an easy stress reducer that you can call on anywhere, at any time," says Sultanoff. When you laugh, your muscles relax and the stress hormones in your body go down. Anxiety, anger, and depression are wiped out because they can't occupy the same space in your brain as mirth, says Sultanoff. "Humor changes the way we look at the world and gives perspective," he says. So surround yourself with things—and people—that make you laugh, and keep a stash of amusing toys and trinkets in your desk. You'll be surprised how effective windup toys and clown noses can be.

2: Sidestep stress.
Monitor how stressed out you are feeling and when you are feeling it. If you are short-tempered and easily frustrated before lunch, don't plan demanding activities in your classroom at that time. Instead, have kids do something on their own, like individual reading. "Take a time out," says Jerry Deffenbacher, a psychology professor at Colorado State University. "You can lower your stress by postponing dealing with its source until you have better resources to cope." This is also good advice if you're upset with a colleague or parent and are having trouble being rational about it. Put off the encounter until you have thought about the situation without letting your emotions get the best of you.

3 : Keep perspective.
Change the way you react to stress and defuse the situation. "People who are highly stressed often think in ways that make things worse," Deffenbacher says. "If you have a negative situation, label it for what is—disappointing, annoying, a hassle. Don't label it in dire ways, like saying, 'That's horrible,' 'I can't stand it,' or 'This always happens.' When you do that, you end up reacting with more intensity." Stay in the situation, work through your reaction, and don't lose perspective.

4: Ask for help.
If you're in a stressful situation, consider the problem. "Think about what you need in order to solve the problem with less stress," says Deffenbacher. Ask yourself, "How can I handle this? Can I get help?" For instance, if you have a new computer system that you can't figure out, find out how to get technical assistance or training. If you have a difficult student, seek out other teachers for ideas about classroom-management strategies and create a network of resources. Sometimes another person will have just the solution you are looking for, and your stress will begin to melt away.

5: Take a deep breath.
In the midst of a busy day, take a few minutes—even five—to find a quiet place to be alone. Focus on your breathing, slowing down your inhaling and exhaling to just six times a minute. "You'll come out feeling more refreshed and balanced," says Brent Bauer, M.D., director of the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program at the Mayo Clinic. You can also practice what's called "transition breathing" as you go from one activity to the next, suggests Penny Donnenfeld, a clinical psychologist in New York City. Take three breaths to focus attention away from your stress, repeating a word or phrase ("inhale and exhale," "stretch and release") in your mind as you breathe. Over time, this type of meditation can help slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure.

6: Go on a virtual vacation.
If you're sitting in the teacher's lounge eating lunch and thinking about how relaxed you were on vacation this summer, go there mentally. Take a few minutes, sit in a chair, close your eyes, and slow down your breathing. Think of your favorite vacation spot, a place where you feel relaxed and happy, and recreate the experience of being there. Remember the sights, sounds, and smells until you feel you are there. Research shows that as you imagine the scene, your brain reacts as if you are actually experiencing it.

7: Make smart food choices.
The foods you choose affect your mood, and your mood affects the foods you select, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. If you choose a sugary beverage or candy, your blood sugar rises and you may feel good initially. But then you crash and feel irritable and tired. "The best kinds of foods combine protein and carbohydrates at the same time," she says. "Then you have a smooth blood-sugar level and you're not on a roller coaster." Bring your own portable, healthy snacks—like lowfat cheese and crackers, or peanut butter on whole grain bread—so you aren't tempted by goodies in the teacher's lounge or cafeteria.

8: Drink H20.
When you are dehydrated, you may feel tired and weak without realizing why, says Taub-Dix. Pay attention to how much you drink throughout the day to fend off exhaustion and stress. Although 64 ounces of fluids a day is a good rule of thumb, it varies by size and activity level. If you are running around with kids all day, you may need more. Keep a bottle of water on your desk and drink up—and then refill and repeat.

9: Kick-start your day with a workout.
"When you begin your day with exercise, you are starting your day with stress relief," says Sabrena Merrill, a spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise. "It sets the tone for a day." And exercise beats stress by releasing endorphins—the body's pain reliever and feel-good chemical. Working out can also take your mind off your worries for a period of time by distracting you.

10: Move—all day long
Even short bursts of activity can help you feel better. Every hour, get up and move around to reduce the stress on your lower back. "Walking the perimeter of your classroom will get your blood flowing and put nutrients and oxygen into the spinal system," says Merrill. It doesn't have to be intense exercise to pay off—even 10-minute walks can help with stress relief, says Merrill.

11: Squeeze out the stress.
Grab a ball to squeeze when you feel stressed, suggests Donnenfeld. Take a body scan in your mind to figure out where you feel tense. If you feel tight in your neck, for instance, squeeze the ball and imagine sending all the tension from your neck to your hand, and then release. You'll find your muscles release, too.

12: Rethink your perfectionism.
"If you set yourself up by thinking, 'It's no good if it's not perfect,' you are bound to have disappointments and frustration," says Donnenfeld. This is particularly true in a classroom, where there is only so much you can control. If things aren't going smoothly, remind yourself that you won't be stuck in that moment forever. Work through the issue to move on. Each day and each moment will be different, she says. "Choose to take care of yourself."  

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Emotional Outburst: how to defuse

The beginning of the school year can be an emotional time. Younger
students will often express themselves through their actions rather
than words. This is typical of elementary-aged children. So how do
you handle it when your kindergardener begins crying and melting down
because they don't want to share during center time? Check out the
following suggestions:

1. Imagine there is a candle on your palm. Hold the hand with palm
facing toward their face and ask child to blow out the imaginary
flame. Deep breathing will help settle down the child.

2. Hand the child a balloon. Ask them to blow it up.

3. Ask the child to punch a pillow, cushion, or other soft object.
Squeezing a ball or ripping up unimportant paper can also help.

4. Have child pretend that they are holding a remote control in their
hand. As them to press the button that turns down the emotions.

5. Ask child to put hands on a solid wall and push the anger out from
their body into the wall. Keep pushing until the anger has emptied
out of them into the wall.

6. With younger children hand them a drawing of a blank face and ask
them to show how they feel in that moment. They may not have the
words to express their feelings and that can lead to additional
frustration and anger.

What have you used that has been helpful in these emotional
situations? Remember to always follow these actions with a debriefing
time so you can help your student learn to put words to their
feelings. This helps to teacher them another skill to put in their

Monday, August 10, 2009

Response to Intervention

Well, the school year has begun for some students! Our district has several schools operating on what we call a "year-round" schedule. Those students have already been in class for 3 weeks and have had a chance to settle in. Teachers have been giving our first benchmark universal screenings for the school year during this time period. It is important to see where your students are beginning with their knowledge in order to effectively plan instruction to take them where you would like them to be. Every year we have new teachers and even established teachers who need a little refresher on Response to Intervention. So below is a brief outline of our district's approved RTI plan for the area of reading:

I. Tier 1
  • All students participate in Tier 1
  • 80-90% of students should respond to effective literacy instruction. Our district has 120 minutes of literacy instruction daily, of which 90 of those minutes is uninterrupted.
  • Benchmark universal screenings occur 3 times a year.
  • Schools have school teams that meet an average of every 4 weeks to review students who are struggling, brainstorm interventions, and document information.
  • Progress monitoring will occur weekly using a CBM probe.
  • Moving students to Tier 2 requires a data-based decision. The student must be at or below the 10th percentile for both the performance and growth rate of progress monitoring.
II. Tier 2
  • 5-15% of students participate in Tier 2.
  • Documentation is vital of interventions. This should include the data of how the decision was made if it was effective or not.
  • Progress monitoring will occur weekly.
  • Interventions can occur in small group or individually depending on the course of action chosen by the RTI Team. Student will receive a minimum of three, 3o minute sessions per week to address areas determined by the RTI Team.
  • Parents are strongly encouraged to participate in the process. They will receive a progress note every 4 1/2 weeks.
  • After 9 weeks of interventions a data-based decision is made by the RTI Team:
a. Student is making progress and just needs another round of Tier 2
b. Student has accomplished goals and returns to Tier 1
c. Student has performance scores at or below the 10th percentile and a growth rate of progress monitoring at or below the 25th percentile. Student would then be eligible to move forward towards Tier 3.

III. Tier 3
  • Student will continue to receive Tier 2 interventions during the evaluation process.
  • School psychologist will review all data and perform any additional testing considered necessary to determine eligibility for special education.
  • An IEP Team will determine eligibility.
  • All special education procedures will apply at this time.
  • Progress monitoring will occur weekly.
Please remember that this is just the "cliff notes" version of our plan. You can contact either one of our RTI Coordinators for further information.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tips for Parents and Teachers

Quick Tips for Parents and Teachers:

Along for the Ride
When traveling with youngsters in your car, keep them engaged and active by playing the "Alphabet Game" - Starting with the letter "A", the first person to find all the letters of the alphabet is the winner.  You can use license plates, street signs or buildings.
Also, have children see how many street signs they can read aloud.  

Mix it up!
If your children review information in several ways, they are more likely to remember it.  Have them use colored pencils to write definitions, create a song to remember the parts of a cell, or create their own flash cards to memorize the multiplications.

Practice Makes Perfect
Behavior management is important both at school and at home.  Remember to create procedures for getting things accomplished.  Teach these procedures like you would teach a lesson to your children, then have them PRACTICE it.  The more often the practice a good procedure, the more likely it is to become a good habit!  

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Responsive Classroom

Murfreesboro City Schools uses Responsive Classroom for many reasons; classroom management, building community within the classroom, and introducing and practicing academic skills.  I was lucky enough to attend a Responsive Classroom 1 training this month led by trainer Edie Palomba.  We spent a very intense week learning how to frame a Morning Message and incorporate academic skills as we built community among the children.  You can find further information at  I will be posting examples of Morning Messages that we developed during the training.

As you can see in today's training, the letter M was emphasized with a different color.  The linking verb "is" can be seen in a different color also.  This Morning Message is meant for a younger grade level, such as first grade.  It is in a simple format that repeats through the year.  

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Working with At-Risk ELL Students

Many teachers are starting the year with students who are English Language Learners.  Those students are often in many different places in their journey to acquire English as their second language.  So they certainly do not fit a cookie-cutter idea of a program.  The following article was found on  Please take a moment to read it and see the valuable information it has to offer.  You may read the original article at  

Effective Instruction for LD or At-Risk English-Language Learners
By Russell Gersten, Scott Baker, Susan Unok Marks, Sylvia B. Smith
Published: March 03 2009

Executive Summary

Background and Purpose

The last 25 years have seen the largest wave of immigration in the history of the United States. Projections indicate that one student in four will be Latino in 2020, compared to only one in ten in 1982.


What is the best way to teach English-language learners? As the number of non-English speaking students in schools rises rapidly, this question presents a major concern to educators. Educators need a professional knowledge base on effective instructional practices for English-language learners. The urgency of this need is highlighted by NCES data indicating that the dropout rate for Hispanics is double that of African Americans and whites. Furthermore, an estimated one million students learning English in schools also have a learning disability. These students are at risk of receiving inappropriate special services or no such services at all.


We therefore conducted a synthesis of all relevant research on effective instruction for English-language learners. The guiding question for the synthesis was:


What do we know about effective teaching practices for English-language learners with disabilities or those at risk for school failure in the elementary and middle school grades (K-8)?


Goals of Research

Our primary goal was to conduct a rigorous examination of existing research to identify and understand those practices and instructional principles that produced a positive impact on student learning. Unfortunately, we found only a small number of empirical studies (nine) that assessed the impact of specific instructional interventions or learning outcomes. Therefore, we supplemented our synthesis of existing research with additional research of our own (including analyses of discussions from five professional work groups made up of educators working with this population and researchers). Our second goal was to help educators better understand why some practices are more likely to be effective than others. For this purpose, we used a wide range of data sources (including the professional work groups). A third goal was to draw inferences from an examination of nine studies that met our criteria.



Instructional approaches that expanded upon the current research base of effective teaching yielded stronger results than some of the seemingly innovative methods. This is especially true in reading and math. For example, quality and quantity of feedback provided was a critical determinant of achievement growth.

The meetings and discussions with educators generated some promising instructional practices that are useful for defining best practices for teaching English-language learners. Among these are:
  • Using visuals to reinforce concepts and vocabulary;
  • Utilizing cooperative learning and peer tutoring;
  • Use of students' native language strategically when students are floundering;
  • Providing opportunities for students to practice speaking English in both formal and informal contexts throughout the day; and
  • Focusing on rich and evocative vocabulary words during lessons so students remain engaged and challenged. The words can serve as vehicles for teaching literary concepts.


Current Challenges

Extensive discussions with practitioners revealed that many current attempts to merge content area instruction with English-language development instruction are not well implemented. Current classroom practice typically fails to provide sufficient time for teaching English or sufficient opportunities for students to use oral language or to develop English writing skills. There also appears to be a tendency to over-emphasize conversational language use and to devote insufficient effort into building students' command of the abstract language required by many academic content areas. 

It is important to distinguish between the separate goals of language development and academic improvement. Our research indicates that increased language use in the classroom does not lead to increased academic improvement. In some studies, greater use of sophisticated language constructions in content-area classes was found to limit students' cognitive and academic growth. Because of limited and inconclusive research, we do not yet know which form of student engagement (e.g., speaking, listening, reading, writing, content activities, or a combination of these) provides more overall benefit for English-language learners. Further research needs to help clarify the link between academic growth and language learning.

How is research being used to guide practice?


We found only nine valid experimental studies for all academic areas in grades K-8. Currently, there is a limited empirical research base to guide practice. Although many articles and reports claim to describe effective practice, few provide the type of data necessary for firm conclusions.


Recommendations For Practitioners

We conclude that an effective English- language development program must include a balance of three components: (1) development of proficiency in "natural" language or conversation, (2) traditional emphasis on grammar and syntax, and (3) development of academic or decontextualized language. 

Teachers should use instructional approaches identified in the effective teaching research (e.g., Brophy & Good, 1986) and modulate them for English-language learners. 

Educators need to improve the way they merge content area instruction with English-language development instruction and provide both sufficient time for teaching English and sufficient opportunities for students to use oral language and writing. Key instructional practices for English-language development include introducing sets of no more than four to seven new vocabulary words per lesson, using visuals for reinforcement, using cooperative learning and peer tutoring, and making strategic use of the native language by allowing students to organize their thoughts in their native language before risking an English response.


For Researchers


The greatest need in future research of English-language learners (particularly in the area of special education) is for well-designed and valid intervention research. Existing studies are vague or unclear regarding how teaching methods were implemented, the level of implementation achieved, the language of instruction, and many other "context" variables that provide a rich picture of intervention research.


This document was prepared for the Keys to Successful Learning Summit held in May 1999 in Washington, D.C. Keys to Successful Learning is an ongoing collaboration sponsored by the National Center for Learning Disabilities in partnership with the Office of Special Education Programs (US Department of Education) and the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (National Institutes of Health). 

Authors: Russell Gersten, Scott Baker, Susan Unok Marks, Sylvia B. Smith, Eugene Research Institute, University of Oregon

The purpose of this initiative is to translate research and policy on learning disabilities into high standards for learning and achievement in the classroom, and to take action at the local, state and federal levels to ensure that all students, including those with learning disabilities, are afforded the highest quality education.

Keys to Successful Learning is supported by a coalition of national and regional funders as well as a broad range of participating education organizations.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Do You Believe In Me?

Some school systems are gearing up to go back on alternative schedules in the next few weeks. It is hard to believe that it is July already! How are we to get inspired? A friend suggested this video of 5th grader Dalton Sherman from Dallas. He was an inspirational speaker in 2008 for the Dallas ISD Teacher inservice. It is so amazing how our students can offer such a message of hope and inspiration. Please take a look at his message, "Do You Believe In Me?". Do you believe in your students?

Do You Believe In Me?

Shared via AddThis

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

9 Benefits of Asking Questions instead of Giving Answers by Jane Bluestein, Ph.D.

The following article is from the website of Dr. Jane Bluestein. It discusses the benefits of asking questions of children instead of giving answers. If you click on the article title above, it will take you to Dr. Bluestein's website. Please enjoy.

9 Benefits of Asking Questions instead of Giving Answers
  • Questions help children explore dimensions of a problem.
  • Questions help children explore their available options.
  • Questions help children identify their goals and intentions.
  • Questions draw solutions from the child.
  • Questions communicate your trust in the child's ability to solve a problem.
  • Questions place the responsibility for finding a solution on the child.
  • Questions allow you to help the child anticipate probable outcomes of various choices, helping her evaluate the choices she has.
  • Questions build confidence and independence in problem solving.
  • The process of asking instead of telling puts you in the role of facilitator or guide, rather than rescuer. It helps build skills and confidence kids can rely on when an adult isn't around to tell them what to do.
Imagine the learning your child can experience when you ask questions like, "How would you like your friend to treat you?" "What have you already tried?" "What else can you do?" "What might happen if you do that?" "How will you feel if that happens?" or when you simply say, "Well, just ignore her," or "Go play with somebody else." Even though a solution might be quite evident to you, there is great value in your child exploring the problem and possible solutions with you as her guide!

Excerpt from The Parent's Little Book of Lists: Do's and Don't of Effective Parenting, by Jane Bluestein, Ph.D., copyright 1997, Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, FL.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Interventions for students you suspect may have a language impairment.

There will be many different students in your classroom throughout the year. One type of student who may struggle academically may be language impaired. This does not mean the student speaks a different language and is having difficulty with English; this student will have typically spoken English all of their life and lived in an English-only speaking home. This student will have difficulty with vocabulary, possibly following directions, understanding meaning of words, and/or verbalizing their thoughts and ideas. Here are some interventions to attempt:

  1. Explicit and systematic small group instruction within the general education classroom.
  2. Break instruction down into manageable steps.
  3. Emphasize important points with color by using highlighters, colored transparency strips, or colored reusable transparent tape.
  4. Provide concrete, hands-on activities and manipulative so the student could actually experience the concept being taught.
  5. Provide an outline or organizer so that the student need only fill in key words and phrases.
  6. Don't let the child struggle for too long to find or recall a word. Give the child the word they are looking for after a few seconds. Then after the child finishes their thought, provide an additional verbal cue to help the child remember or practice the word again.
  7. Read books that contain rhymes, predictable text, opposites, classifications, and repetitions.
  8. Play category naming games: apples, oranges, grapes are all (fruits).
What are some interventions you have used in your classroom?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Phonological Awareness Activities

Phonological awareness activities are an essential part of literacy instruction. It has several learning outcomes in regards to teaching children the connection of speech to print. One important skill is that a student can listen appropriately as stories are read. There are several teaching strategies and activities that can be done with a student to teach and practice this skill.
  • Encourage reading buddies with older students reading to younger students.
  • Reading stories previously created by the students.
  • Guide students to talk about the content of stories.
  • Reading pattern stories and have the students speak up on the repetitive parts (common patterns) of a story.
  • Teach the students to dramatize parts of a story after listening to them.
What are some the teaching strategies and activities you have used with success?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Cross-Checking & Self Correction Strategies

As a teacher, I was always looking for additional ways to frame questions to students so I wouldn't keep repeating myself over and over. By keeping it fresh, the students tended to pay a tad bit more attention to what I was saying to them. Check out the list below of responses/questions that can be used when working with a student.

  1. How did you know it was that word?
  2. You stopped for a moment just before you fixed that. What were you thinking?
  3. Is there any other way you could know?
  4. Can you find two ways to check that word?
  5. I noticed that you looked at the picture and used the first sound to read that word. Did you do anything else?
  6. That makes sense and sounds right. Now check the letter.
  7. What are some of your choices now? Which one, do you think, would work best here?
  8. Check to find out if what you read makes sense, sounds right, and looks right to you.
  9. Why did you stop there? What did you do to fix that part?
  10. You decided to reread that part to get a running start to check that word. Did it work?
  11. I noticed that you were looking at the pictures to help you change the word that didn't make sense there.
  12. Did I need to help you with that? No, you thought about it and corrected yourself.
These are just a few examples. What are some that you use with your students?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Responses and Question Strategies During Reading

The following are suggestions for responses/questions that teachers can use with students to cue them to use appropriate reading stratagies.  

1.  I noticed that you were thinking about the story as you were reading.  Good thinking!
2.  Does that (the word) make sense?
3.  Hmmm....Could that happen?
4.  Is there such a word as ______?  It sounded a little funny to me.
5.  You read "_____".  Is that right?
6.  Think about the story.  What would make sense? or What might happen next?
7.  Take a look at the picture.

Language Structure and Grammar
1.  I noticed that you were listening to yourself read to decide if it sounded right.  Great!
2.  Would that word fit there?
3.  Does that sound like talking in books?
4.  Try reading ahead for more clues.
5.  Let's read it again together.

Letter-Sound Correspondences
1.  You are looking carefully at the words while you are pointing to make sure it matches.  Great reading!
2.  What letters do you think you would see in _____? (beginning, middle, end)
3.  You read ____.  How does ____ begin (end)?
4.  Let's sound that one together.
5.  It could be ___, but look at the letters.  

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Things Good Readers Do

Teaching students what a good reader does is important. These are items they are good strategies to teach to students.

*Look at the cover and title.
*Look at the pictures and read some of the text.

*Ask who, what, when, where, why, and how.
*Decide if what you've read makes sense.

*Wonder about what will happen next.
*Make guesses and read ahead to see if your predictions are correct.

*Imagine the details.
*Use what you've read to understand what the author means.

*Relate what you've read to what you know, and to your thoughts and feelings.
*Compare what you've read to other texts and to the world around you.

*Organize and connect the details.
*Draw your own conclusions.

*Think about what you've read.
*What did you learn?
*Was it important to you? Why or why not?
*Did you like it? Why or why not?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Behavior: I'm Right and You're Wrong

As a parent and a teacher I have run in to that one child who wants to argue EVERYTHING. What do you do so it doesn't become a power struggle? I came across the following article and wanted to share it.

"I'm Right and You're Wrong!"
Is Your Child a Know-it-all?
by James Lehman, MSW

Does your child always insist that they're right and everyone else is wrong? Some kids have a bad habit of asserting their opinions by drowning out everyone else in the room—regardless of whether or not they know what they're talking about. Understandably, this overbearing behavior can be very annoying and frustrating for both parents and family members alike.

"If you want a child to be a real pain in the neck—if you want to strengthen some behavior or characteristic—just argue with them. It will serve to exercise that muscle and make your child feel more powerful."

Before I give you ideas for dealing with this behavior, I want to make one thing clear: As kids grow, they need to develop their interests and ideas, and they need to learn how to express them. They also have to learn where they end emotionally and where their parents begin—what we call "emotional boundaries." At different developmental periods, kids go through a process called separation and individuation. Sometimes this process is not very noticeable at all, and sometimes it occurs very intensively. As an older child or teen, they continue that process by learning how to form their own opinions. So realize that some of the behavior you're experiencing with your teen or pre-teen is very normal for this stage in life.

I also can't stress enough the importance of listening to your child once. I know they can be obnoxious and irritating—but just remember that sometimes they might be stating an opinion about something you really need to know about. It might be something the teacher is doing that may be inappropriate, a dangerous thing the bus driver is doing, or a risky behavior on the part of your child's friends. It's important that you listen to your kids with an open mind, because when something important does come along, you want to make sure they feel free to bring it to you.

Saying that, if your child's need to assert their opinions crosses the line and becomes obnoxious, there are things you can do to help curtail that behavior and teach them more socially appropriate ways of behaving, both inside and outside of the family.

* Don't Be Frightened by Your Child's Opinions

Do not be frightened by kids' opinions—just respond to them honestly. I think it's much more effective to judge your child by their behavior rather than by their opinions, thoughts or ideas. Often their ideas are based on peer conversations at school, rumors, cultural events, or something they've seen or heard in the media. When your child or teen is talking to you, they're often trying to shape their own opinions. It's better to hear your child out, state your opinion honestly, let them respond, and then respectfully disengage from the conversation. That way, nobody gets their feelings hurt and you've avoided an argument.

So don't be threatened by your child's opinions and assertions, even if they're wrong. The more you ignore these kinds of statements, the sooner they will go away. In fact, if you want a child to be a real pain in the neck—if you want to strengthen some behavior or characteristic—just argue with them. It will serve to exercise that muscle and make your child feel more powerful.

* Don't Keep the Argument Going

If your child is trying to start an argument with you, don't keep it going. Parents often feel like they have to get the last word in to be in control, which in reality only serves to further the child's urge to argue with you. If you disagree with your adolescent child, they often think it's because you don't understand what they're saying, so they'll keep trying to put it another way. This is because people who are immature in their communication styles aren't always able to see that you don't agree with their position. They think that if they could just explain it a little better, you'd understand and accept it. This is another reason why arguments with kids can keep going even after you've explained your point of view.

If your child tends to be argumentative and you stay in the argument with them, it makes them feel more powerful and in control. Don't forget: kids only have the power you give them. Some of the power they need to have is very important; it helps them develop their personal and social lives. In fact, it's very important that they gain increasing access to power as they grow older and individuate more. On the other hand, when it comes to discussing house rules or consequences or privileges, I think that after they state their opinion, you say, "I understand, but this is the way it is," and then leave. If you stand there, they think it's OK to keep talking. When you get out of the situation, it takes the power out of the room.

One of the most powerful things you can do with kids who are know-it- alls is not respond to them when they try to drag you into an argument. Be respectful but disengage, because each time you respond, they feel compelled to answer back—and as you know, the discussion will just keep going and going.

When your child has come up with some erroneous statement in an attempt to prove their point, the best thing you can do is state your opinion honestly. When they state their counter opinion, you can say, "That's really interesting. I have to go downstairs now." If what they are saying has to do with health or safety: then you should correct it and walk away.

* Don't Let One Child Ruin It for Everybody

If family members are having dinner, watching TV or a movie together at home, don't let one child dominate the conversation in such a way that it blocks everyone else from expressing their opinions. It's very important to understand that while everyone's opinion is valued, it's usually valued once. After that, it becomes harassment. If one of your children doesn't like what you're having for dinner or doesn't care for the movie choice, give them their options and don't let them sit there and continue to annoy everyone with their negativity. Always have a back-up plan. This usually includes having them go to their room until they can let go of the topic or complaint they're stuck on. This does not have to be a punishment or consequence. It's just a time out for your child in his or her room, until they can get off the subject. Often, when kids are over-stimulated, anxious or frustrated, it's hard for them to switch thoughts on their own. A change of scenery and a few minutes away from the stimulation can be very helpful.

* Use Cues

Many parents of children who act in an overbearing way find it effective to come up with a cuing system with their child to signal that they're "doing it again." You and your child should agree on a signal, just like a cue in a movie or play. The gesture means, "Really stop it now. You've stated your opinion and you need to let it go. If you go further, there are going to be consequences." Many parents find this a very effective, non-verbal tool for helping their child curtail inappropriate behavior without embarrassing them in front of others.

* My Child Won't Let His Siblings Express Themselves

If your child won't let his siblings express themselves, or will not listen to their opinions, what I would recommend is that you say "Jack, you aren't listening to others. How can you keep arguing your position when you won't even listen to your sister's answer? Why don't you give her a second and hear what she's saying?" That way, you provide an example to your other kids so they can learn to say, "You're not listening."

If your kids won't stop arguing back and forth, you can also say, "I'm tired of this bickering. This conversation has 60 more seconds, and if you don't stop, you're going to your rooms." At first, the child who's the know-it-all might get more obnoxious, but just follow through with the consequences so he learns how to stop. Give them the responsibility that the argument has to stop in 60 seconds and when it doesn't, you hold them accountable. In this way they learn to meet the responsibility of stopping the argument, as well as a more socially appropriate way of behaving.

Remember, as a parent, you don't have to attend every argument you're invited to; you can make choices. Although it is very important that kids feel like they're being heard and responded to, it does not mean they get to go on endlessly. We can all debate about a lot of things, but we're responsible to a structure in our home. The truth is, we all have varied opinions about our jobs, our supervisors, or our teachers, but as we mature, we have to learn to deal with our thoughts and feelings independently and keep our opinions separate from our functioning at school or work, as well.

This is very important for kids to understand: There's a difference between his or her opinion about things and the way the family structure—and the world—operates.

Empowering Parents is a weekly newsletter, online magazine and blog published by the Legacy Publishing Company. Our goal is to empower people to empower people who parent by providing useful problem- solving techniques to parents and children. For more information,

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Strategies for Multiplication Facts

Learning multiplication facts can be a frustrating experience for some students.  It can be related to a lack of developmental readiness for skip counting, repeated addition, and making arrays.  If students practice these prerequisite skills before trying to memorize multiplication facts, they will have a strong foundation for this area of math.  There are several strategies that can be used to teach multiplication.

1.  Organize the facts into small systematic steps
2.  Provide each student with a coy of a blank multiplication table and have them practice filling it in.
3.  For doubles facts, teach students how to add doubles to their multiplication table.  This is usually easy and fun for students (2x2, 4x4, etc.).  Point out to students that all of the doubles facts are on a diagonal line from the top left to the bottom right.
4.  The mirror facts:  highlight the facts on one side of the doubles line and show the students how the items are mirrored on the opposite side (5x6 and 6x5 both will equal 30).
5.  Counting by 2's, 5's, and 10's:  Students should be able to skip count by 2's, 5's, and 10's and fill in the spaces on a 100 chart.
6. Nine's Facts:  Use your fingers to find the 9's
   a.  Place your hands on the desk.  Your fingers will stand for 1 to 10
   b.  Fold over the finger that is the number you will multiply by 9.
   c.  Count the number of fingers before the folded finger.  That number is the first digit in the product.
   d.  Count the number of fingers after the folded finger.  That number is the last digit in the product.

What other strategies/tricks can you suggest? 

Friday, May 8, 2009

Test Question Strategies

Many districts across the nation are in the process of taking their yearly state-mandated annual progress tests.  Teachers have been preparing students all year long and it is crunch time now!  Today we will be sharing some test question strategies.  Let us know what you think.

Vocabulary Questions
*Teach students to read the entire sentence to figure out the meaning of the word in context.  Remind them to look back to previous sentences or read ahead to help infer the meaning of the word.

*Sometimes the definition of a word appears right in the sentence along with the test word.  Teach students to look and see if the definition is nearby.

*Teach suffixes and prefixes.  

*Remind students to cross off definitions that they know do not fit the meaning of the unfamiliar word and choose the closest match.

Summarizing and Synthesizing Questions
*Remind students that the questions  that are mostly about the reading require them to read for the gist.

*Identifying the main idea:  students need to ask themselves what the passage is mainly about.  Look through the passage to see how many times a word is repeated as a clue.

*Teach students to screen out their own personal opinion and keep to the information in the passage.

*The most important information is often revealed in the first or last paragraph of a passage.  The most important information in a paragraph is usually placed in the first or last sentence of the paragraph.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Need some humor?

Our district has been administering it's state mandated testing this week.  So we have been in need of some humor around here!  So I got out one of my favorite books and thought I would share a few comments from it.  I have the 1,003 Great Things About Teachers by Lisa Birnbach, Patricia Marx, and Ann Hodgman.  

Things Teachers Know That Ordinary People Don't (pages 97-102)
1.  Facts about the Industrial Revolution besides the fact that industry got started then.
2.  When the Bill of Rights was written (and exactly what it is).
3.  What "factors" are.
4.  How to make necklaces out of gilded macaroni.
5.  How to make paper mache.
6.  The multiplication table past the sixes.
7.  When a haircut crosses that crutial line of being "over the collar".
8.  When a hemline crosses that crucial line of being too short.
9.  Who's already been line leader this week.
10. How to run a projector.
11. Whether 2.2 pounds equals 1 kilo or vice versa.
12. How to find the star in an apple.

I hope these made you smile.  Feel free to share any of your own "facts"!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Working with Different Sensory/Modality Strengths and Limitations

by Jane Bluestein, Ph.D.

Found at

Verbal Ability

Strong Verbal

Red Square Left-brain, right-hand dominant
Red Square Strong Verbal Skills
Red Square Can communicate even under stress
Red Square Like to talk about what they're learning
Red Square May be overreactive to noise, touch, visual input (difficulty paying attention)

Verbal/Communications Limited

Red Square Right-brain, left-hand dominant (stronger kinesthetically)
Red Square Left-brain, left-hand or right-brain, right-hand dominant
(may also be kinesthetically limited)
Red Square May need more time to think, respond
Red Square May be able to demonstrate understanding in other ways
Red Square May do better in conversation than in front of the class or "on the spot"

Visual Ability

Strong Visual

Red Square Left-brain, right-eye dominant
Red Square Can take in and understand visual input, even under stress
Red Square May notice visual dimensions of an experience (ex: scenery, lighting)
Red Square Receive info by looking, watching, reading or being shown
Red Square Need eye contact, need to see speaker
Red Square Do well with maps, charts, diagrams

Visually Limited

Red Square Right-brain, right-eye dominant or left-brain, left-eye dominant
Red Square Can overload in a "busy" environment
Red Square May look away from teacher or close eyes to concentrate
Red Square Keep maps, charts and diagrams simple
Red Square Provide verbal directions

Auditory Ability

Strong Auditory

Red Square Left-brain, right-ear dominant
Red Square Can take in and understand auditory input, even under stress
Red Square May notice auditory dimensions of an experience (ex: dialogue)
Red Square Receive info by listening or being told
Red Square Process with self-talk, inner voice
Red Square May need to look away (shut out visual distractions) or not look at speaker

Visually Limited

Red Square Right-brain, right-ear dominant or left-brain, left-ear dominant
Red Square May tune out speaker
Red Square May close eyes to concentrate, turn dominant ear toward speaker
Red Square Put directions in writing, make visual info avail, allow to create mental image

Kinesthetic Ability

Strong Kinesthetic

Red Square Often right-brain, left-hand dominant
Red Square Would rather touch than look
Red Square May notice kinesthetic dimensions of an experience (ex: action scenes)
Red Square Receive info by touch, movement
Red Square Often described as hyperactive
Red Square May have difficulty with visual or auditory input if kinesthetic needs are not met (especially if movement is restricted for a long time)
Red Square Provide kinesthetic outlets (ex: playing with string, clay, beanbag; chewing gum) during non-kinesthetic activities

Kinesthetically Limited

Red Square Fewer kinesthetic demands in traditional classroom,
so will generally do OK(may have trouble in classes that demand fine- or gross-motor skills)
Red Square Work from their strengths


Keeping Modality
Channels Open

Red Square Minimize stress in environment (weaker channels shut down under threat)

Red Square Do integration activities to "wake up" different parts of the brain

Red Square Accommodate more than one modality whenever possible (ex: saying and writing directions)

Red Square Teach kids to self-regulate (without disturbing anyone else)

Red Square Provide outlets, various ways of paying attention
(options you can live with, options that will not disturb other learners)

Excerpted from Creating Emotionally Safe Schools, by Jane Bluestein, Ph.D. © 2001, Health Communications, Inc, Deerfield Beach, FL.