Monday, April 30, 2012

The Ripple Effect: 3 Ways Bullies Harm Observers

How to Stop Bullies

By Jared Heath

When student see bullying in action,
do they feel like they are on the witness stand?
Bullying is an extremely complex issue--though we never condone actions meant to intimidate, threaten, or cause fear in another student, bullies themselves are often suffering some sort of difficulty. Because they lack control in one essential area of their life, bullies will try to take control elsewhere, such as at school.

But bullying is not a two-way system between perpetrators and victims. Onlookers and observers also come under pressure from what they are observing. Three ways that bullies affect observers are 1) fear of being the next target, 2) guilt for not reporting or intervening, and 3) distraction from school work.

Fear of Being the Next Target

"Don't mess with him/her. You're next if you do."

"Did you hear what [name] did to [name] last week?"

"So there was this fight out in the parking lot Friday after school, and the school cop didn't get there in time . . . "

If you haven't heard any of these recently, then I applaud you for having such a safe school. But inherent in each of these quotations (and explicit in the first quotation) is the idea that you are in danger. Though I won't discuss students' four needs in detail ( love, freedom, fun, and power, as discussed by Diane Gossen), I would make an appeal to each person's fight-or-flight instinct: when in danger, some either lash out to protect him or herself, or he or she will feel an immense urge to run. Both urges are accompanied by a wave of hormones that take over a significant portion of brain function in what comes down to survival instincts.

I know many highly intelligent youth, and I can't think of a single one who can effectively learn why the War of 1812 is important, understand how to properly use the quadratic formula, or care about Ernest Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea when their survival instincts are kicking in.

No, the majority of students do not sit in class with their fight-or-flight in full force. But after the third fight in a week, tension runs high amongst students and teachers. And you know full well how that tension affects everyone--especially you as an educator.

Guilt for not Reporting or Intervening

Unfortunately, fear of being the next target is an effective way to keep many students silent. That silence then becomes costly as the guilt says, "How can I protect myself when someone else needs my help?" Educators and students alike all hope that by ignoring the situation, it will go away. But logically, we all understand that such is not the case.

What system do you have in place to help students report bullying without fear of reprisal?

I seem to remember the general sentiment in my East Tennessee schools was that it was better to be silent and tough it out than to be a snitch, a narc, a tattle-tale. However, I was far more likely to report activity as an outsider rather than a victim. I felt ashamed to be a victim, and so I kept my silence.

The silence, from all parties, is oppressing.

Distraction from School Work

I love Hemingway, though at the age of 15, Old Man and the Sea somehow wasn't as compelling a story as others. It was even less compelling one day in class after having seen a fight between two girls--not even the boys in my school fought so viciously.

But besides being a sideshow and a talking point amongst the student body, bullying of any kind erodes the constitution of the school. It breaks down the sense of security. And with no security, there is no learning.

This month, we are focusing on how to stop bullies, how to understand bullying, and how to create a safe environment in our schools. Email me your thoughts and experiences at, and I would love to publish your best practices for helping all students learn.

Bullying: Beyond the Playground

How to Stop Bullies

By Jared Heath, content manager

This post about how to stop bullies describes the ripple effect that bullies have on their community.
Bullying is an ever-present issue that is one of the greatest deterrents to a child's education. If the environment is not a place where a student feels safe, then learning will always be a secondary priority.

As educators, we have each asked ourselves how to stop bullies. But bullying has moved beyond physicality on the playground to sexual harassment (including childish references to LGBT tendencies), cyber-bullying, verbal abuse--and the list goes on. Students are even turning to drastic measures in order to feel safer at school.

This PD 360 video (you can view it completely free here) gives significant information and research regarding bullying. Studies indicate that children with special needs are more prone to being bullied. "Special needs" may refer to any of the follow children:

•    Children with learning disabilities
•    Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
•    Children with medical conditions that affect their appearance, such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, or spina bifida
•    Children with other medical conditions such as diabetes
•    Children who are overweight
•    Children who stutter

According to the U.S. Health and Human Resources Department, children who are bullied are more likely to have depression, anxiety, and loneliness. They are more likely to experience headaches, stomachaches, fatigue, and poor appetites. These students may dislike school and generally have a harder time in the learning environment.

However, we have to be careful not to single out bullies as unmitigated perpetrators--children who bully other children are very often under severe duress, be it psychological, physical, or both.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association approximately thirty percent of sixth to tenth grade students surveyed reported some type of involvement in moderate to frequent bullying, either as a bully, a target, or both.

We must be aware of both groups of students. Those who bully have an increased risk of other violent or antisocial behaviors. These students are more susceptible to:

•    Fighting
•    Vandalizing
•    Stealing
•    Drinking alcohol
•    Smoking
•    Skipping school
•    Dropping out of school
•    Bringing a weapon to school

Though each student differs, many children who bully share some common characteristics, including:

•    Being impulsive, hot-headed, or dominant
•    Being easily frustrated
•    Lacking empathy 
•    Having difficulty following rules
•    Viewing violence in a positive way
•    And in the case of boys who bully, being physically stronger than other children

From teachers to administrators, we all participate in creating a safe atmosphere where students can thrive. As the world rapidly evolves, however,  educators have a difficult time pinpointing all areas, methods, and factors of bullying. Today, cyber-bullying is becoming increasingly prevalent. Students are unable to pursue an education when they feel pursued by their peers.

We have the opportunity--and responsibility--to create a safe atmosphere for all students. What are the complexities of bullying? How can we identify victims? Who is the true victim of bullying--the target, or the perpetrator?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Teaching to Learn and Learning to Teach

Students Achievement Best Practices in Small Group Setting

 By Elena Leonido, Special Education Teacher

student achievement best practices include teaching to learn, setting expectations, and providing consistent and ongoing reinforcement.
image courtesy of
Teaching to Learn:

“I don’t want to do work!!!” and a loud ohhhh!!!! filled the whole fourth grade room, after one kid dropped his book on the  floor, threw his chair and stood still. The general education teacher was furious and sent that kid to the principal’s office. Shocked and tongue tied, I wanted to cry in disappointment. I believe I was sad both for the teacher and for the child. It was my first year teaching in America but definitely not my first in teaching profession. After a whole day of teaching, a big question was circling in my mind: “How can I help these kids?”

At first , I looked back at my 15 years of teaching, back in the country where poverty is high and but the regard for education is high too .I remembered my students from the Home Study Program who walked and swim to cross the river and walk again to get to a simple school building. These kids still want to do school work after a long hours of walking and drying their clothes and walk again everyday to get to a teacher and learn something.

I convinced myself that kids are the same everywhere. That these kids are in school because they want to learn too. After several days I found myself teaching in small group and “Johhny” was one of them sitting and waiting for whatever I have to say.

Expectations :

“Do you know that you are so lucky to be American students?”I asked and all of them looked at me with a question on their faces. Then I described how are they different from other kids of their age in some other countries. I explained how  lucky they are to have all the resources provided for their education. The school buses, materials, hard bound books, materials and not to mention their teachers. That taking all of these for granted does not make any sense at all.That I expect them to believe that they can help not only themselves but other kids in some other time, if they get a good education. That they need to give their  best shot in whatever we do in that small group to learn.

Consistent and ongoing reinforcement:

Since then, I challenged my group of students including Johnny to look for their awesomeness. To empower themselves by believing they are too blessed to be upset, too smart to be left behind and too good to be ugly. Before I start my lesson I ask this question.” What made your day today?” “What can you do to improve yourself?”I prepare  interesting activities that can move their cognitive, and psychomotor domain and most importantly at the end of each lesson I touch their affective domain by letting them feel that they can do it. We usually sing the lines of the song that says ‘Give me all best shot !!! “ Yes, yes, yes, yes “when they encounter challenging question from me.

Learning To Teach:

“When I grow up, I will be a teacher and I will help kids in your country, Ms. Leonid.o” A voice from a child beside me echoing in my ear, while I was getting all the assignments that my kids completed in that small group .I was certain that was the most sincere remarks that I have ever heard from a kid in my teaching years. Yes, it came from Johnny’s mouth and believe it or not I had goose bump all over me.

I praised Johnny immediately and reassured him that he will make  a good teacher and teach students like him.

Reality check ? Yes, kids are the same everywhere. Reassurance, motivation and support and empowerment still work with them. Adults should give them chance to discover themselves and blossom. Like an ugly caterpillar to a beautiful butterfly.


Still the hope of the future!!!

Ma. Elena Leonido
Special Education Teacher
Norfolk Public Schools
Virginia ,USA
(After grading, planning and teaching, I continue to learn by taking up professional courses and trainings and continue to teach students no matter what their circumstances are)

Effective Discourse on Productive Persistence

Student Achievement Best Practices

 By Jerry Cradduck, principal at Adelanto High School

student achievement best practices require product persistence
image courtesy of
Each day I read or research a topic, it's hard NOT to want to communicate this information to our teaching corps. We have an opportunity, today, to reach ALL teachers, hear from them, learn from them, honor and praise them. All we hope to do, here, is communicate a vision for sharing and learning together.

I have come across terms, better yet, phrases that piqued my interest to pursue their meaning, their underpinnings and to ask myself (and you) how to integrate this language into VVUHSD's teacher culture and classroom instructional development. The phrases are "improvement science" and "productive persistence."
1.    What it comes down to, in simplistic terms, is, do YOU believe their is a science to improving student learning?
2.    What about persistence - do YOU believe that students need to persist at solving a problem or finding the correct answer before looking for help or before YOU provide support?
3.    And "if" you agree with this concept of productive persistence - qualified scientific research, at the community college ENTRY-level, has begun to validate that teams of math teachers, who believe -"in the struggle to solve math problems, there is PRODUCTIVITY" - if we (teachers) require, support and facilitate student persistence to solve problem(s) - BEFORE providing support – will there be math problem solving growth?
4.    Moreover, it is a student's productive persistence that can lead MORE students to grow in math development and lead these same students toward completing higher levels of math - which could extend their confidence and perseverance toward college completion.
Think about this for a moment, please. From YOUR frame of reference, your learning, your teacher training, your education and your current teaching practice - do you believe that their IS improved learning when students or you persist at solving a problem? If we begin discussions on what's driving the problem of low success rates in mathematics - we "may" be able to determine how to influence those drivers. Productive persistence is NOT the answer, it is just one strategy, a way forward toward success. . .

From the above discussions and concepts - the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching - has begun to develop pathways for improved community college math learning and on January 24, 2012, Carnegie hosted a webinar to address the low success rate of students in developmental mathematics -
It’s Not Just the Curriculum: Developing Pathways for Student Success in Community Colleges

There is a growing belief that there should be alternatives to the current community college mathematical sequence and content. The Statway™ Network -, which went live in fall 2011, is designed to take developmental math students to and through transferable college statistics in one year.

The Quantway™ Network -, which began in January 2012, provides an alternate and accelerated pathway with an innovative quantitative literacy focus in which students use mathematical skills and quantitative and algebraic reasoning to make sense of the world around them.

We are asking you, all of you, VVUHSD's teacher corps, to please take time to view the below video. We know it is over an hour long, and we are not asking you to view the whole video. We are asking you to consider, for a moment, PRODUCTIVE PERSISTENCE and if this concept interests you, the video will be of interest.

Please remember that our children are going to be expected to do more when completing an assessment – research, infer and provide evidence for their answers to test questions with the upcoming "Next Generation Assessments" - should we, the VVUHSD teacher corps, begin, now, with courageous conversations about how we teach and when students learn?


To download the slide presentation pdf go to:

"if we BUILD it, they will COME and LEARN" -  "click and learn" another component of Adelanto High School of Dreams WOW! marketing program. (Window of Wonders)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Student Achievement Best Practices in Unlikely Places

Tupac in April

 By Lori Lustig, Special Education Teacher

Student achievement best practices can be gleaned from almost anyone and from anywhere.
image courtesy of
The poetry unit got off to a bad start. The tenth grade English class didn't respond any better to the poetry in the English text book, than they did to Romeo and Juliet. And they didn't like Romeo and Juliet at all.  Tough crowd.

Onto April and poetry. Pablo Neruda told us how poetry changed his life as a teenager.  I had them read poems that should have grabbed the attention of an adolescent: "Nikki Rosa" by Nicholas Giovanni, and "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks.  I  thought they would love these pieces.  They were short, I thought they could relate to the content.

No dice.

Kenya had his head down, Elma told me repeatedly it was the most boring thing we ever did.(Hard to get under the bar that the Romeo and Juliet unit set). The dean was making frequent visits to the room.

It didn't help.

And then I rode the bus home with the math teacher. In his sonorous deep Jamaican voice he suggested I look at a poem by Tupac Shakur, "The Rose that Grew in Concrete."

I am a middle-age woman why would I look at a rapper's words?  Weren't they misogynists? Aren't rappers lyrics filled with obscenities?

But I looked at the poem. No obscenities. I found a YouTube clip of Tupac reading it aloud.  I played it in class the next day and Kenya picked up his head.  Elma asked me to play it again.

Like the rose that grew in concrete, I found the “crack” not in an expensive poetry anthology, but on a city bus seat shared with a colleague.  I read more poetry by Tupac and found myself questioning my preconceived notions about rappers and popular culture.                        

Tupac, he did change everything. I was the cause of much mirth throughout the unit since I never did figure out how to say his name quite the right way.

The dean still needed to make frequent visits.

The room still looked like a war zone when the period was over.

But Elma and Kenya and the other tenth graders read and wrote poetry that April. And talked about it. Sometimes even in the cafeteria.

Maybe April really isn't the cruelest month.

Student Achievement Best Practices: How to Get Creative

And the Moral of the Story Is...

By Portia Scott, 9th and 10th grade inclusion teacher

Here is a poem, or short story if you will, about getting school work done. As far as best practices are concerned, it is something that I have used with students to teach a variety of literary elements. Additionally, teachers with whom I have shared this find it worth a smile. And the moral of the story is, with the hectic schedules of educators that include instructing, grading, meetings, parent contacts, standardized tests, scaffolding, differentiated instruction, and a plethora of other necessary requirements, sometimes we have to remember to take a break and have a little laugh.

"Please Let Summer End"

By Portia Scott copyright 2012

I’m on the inside, yes on the inside the facts are hard to take.
For the last nine months, nine very long months, I’ve craved my summer break.

Where I sit, it’s nice and cool, not one drop of sweat on me.
But outside, where freedom reigns, other children enjoy liberty.

How did I get here, one might ask, I can now calmly speak.
But when I was first given my fate, I felt like a busted boat headed up a stinky creek.

Things begin as they usually do with all the fuss and drama.
We study math, history, science, English and how to use the comma.

My parents scream. My teachers nag. They are all overreacting.
I wish they could just chill-out and give me a break. I know what I am doing.

Assignments come, assignments go; I get most of them done.
Life really is one big bowl of cherries and I just want to have fun.

The bell has rung. The doors spring open. The students now spew out.
On the street there is a mass exodus as we embrace our familiar routes.

There’s smiling and laughing, clapping and shouting, and even the stamping of feet.
“It’s over! We made it!” someone cried. “Leave those teachers in the agony of defeat.”

Left behind is the path of studying; the streets are all ablaze.
“Cheers to us!” We toast in celebration as our juice pouches are raised.

So long, adios, sayonara, arrivederci--parting comes with no sorrow to leave 4th grade.
It is time to relax and get started with fun; our best-laid plans have been made.

Forging ahead I set my sights on the game store and the local swimming pool.
In celebration of the day’s release, friends “tweet” each other terms like, “righteous,” “gnarly” and “way cool.”

Today is a day for transition. I am reborn, revived, renewed.
I am the sultan of summertime and will now get to do what I want to do.

My morning breakfast has given me great strength. I left not one single Cheerio.
Far behind me are the books, paper, and pencils. I am ready to let the good times roll.

I am covered in sunscreen. I have my hat, my toy, and my towel.
In just a few minutes, I will be out the door. Ooooo I could really howl.

On the fresh horizon, what a beautiful sight, I see sweet shimmering bliss.
When you are 9 ½ in Texas, it doesn’t get any better than this.

All of a sudden my plans are halted; I think I might just pass out.
My eyes well up and my knees buckle. This is more than a little bad, without a doubt.

On the kitchen counter with all the mail, I see a letter from the school I attend.
The envelope is open. No one is around. So, I decide to peek in.

One B, three Cs, a D and two Fs, I thought I was too big to cry.
But as my tears splashed on the words “Summer School,” I knew I could kiss my sweet summer fun good-bye.

I’m in distress. My life is over. I’m head toward the pearly gates.
I beg and plead for just one more chance, but alas, it is too late.

Now here I sit for the next six weeks, six very long weeks as a matter of fact.
Today’s events have been horrific and traumatic. I must straighten up my act.

Believe you me, this won’t happen again. I promise I have learned my lesson.
I do not want spend an eternity in 4th grade, again with Mrs. Wesson.

Books are important; school is too. I’ve got to give it my all.
I’ve changed. I’m new. You’ll see a better me. Just you wait until next fall.

Can you find:
-foreign words
-plot (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution-also called The Witch’s Hat)

Portia Scott is a 9th and 10th grade inclusion teacher at Longview High School in Longview, Texas. She has taught high school for 2 years, elementary for 1 year and taught in higher education for 4 years.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Scaffolding that Works...And Scaffolding that Doesn't

Student Achievement Best Practices

By Deia Sanders, Master Teacher & Instructional Coach

student achievement best practices scaffolding tips
image courtesy of
For several years when I would teach math I knew I constantly needed to be checking for understanding.  The easiest way to do that was to work a problem with the students, then start a problem for the students and work all but the last step, then work all but the last 2 steps, etc…and continue this process through the number of steps until they were working them on their own.   As soon as the work was handed over to the students it was vital that I “work the room” and check each step for understanding, clearing up each misconception before moving on.  By the time they were “turned loose” to practice, I was certain each student had completed an entire problem on their own and any confusion had been addressed.

To me this was logical. I’m a mom and this is how we taught our kids to walk, feed themselves, and potty train.  We were right there to hold them and help them and eventually were able to turn loose, give a spoon, and turn the light on, for them to complete these tasks individually.

It was a couple of years before I figured out this process had a fancy student achievement best practices name, and it was the “scaffolding” method I’d heard mentioned so many times.  I always assumed scaffolding was a difficult process. Did they really have a name and training for something that should have been common sense?  Maybe if they called it the “Baby Step” method people would be more willing to try it.

This year I was able to witness a great scaffolding method for teaching writing.  The teacher gave the opening sentence, as well as the first sentence for each of the three body paragraphs and conclusion.  Some people thought this might be helping them too much, but our writing scores soared after this process. By the second writing, which was completed on their own, they were much more successful than previously.  The “hand holding” and guiding in the beginning made the writing process “click” much faster in the end.

After seeing scaffolding be so successful across disciplines you would think everyone would try it. But I’ve found that many teachers will work step by step every question with a student with no opportunity for the student to think or process their way through a problem.  When the student begins working on their own they don’t know where to begin because there was no need to follow along when the teacher was going to give the answer each time.  This leads to hands popping up like popcorn and more questions than a teacher can address individually, so they return back to the front to work more problems and the cycle continues.

Scaffolding or front-loading the instruction and assistance with a gradual release helps with classroom management because of the time on task, the confidence of students because the gradual letting go never feels overwhelming, and faster learning because of the full understanding when practice begins. Although they may be big kids in junior high and high school, they are still someone’s children, and if we will guide them and slowly allow independence as if we would our own children, we would see their confidence and success grow.

Student Achievement through Writing

Writing as an Essential Part of Education

By Melanie Mayer, English Teacher

Melanie Mayer's book communicates student achievement best practices for English teachers.
It occurred to me after twenty years in the high school English classroom, that there was a disconnect between what we were asking our students to read, and what we were asking them to write.  For example, we read primarily fiction: short stories, poetry, novels, drama.  But we ask students to write personal narratives, documented arguments, compare/contrast essays.  I believe for students to really become accomplished writers, and lose their fear and dread of writing, we need to provide them access, motivation, and empowerment through professional and mentor models. 

I devoted a chapter to this in my book (July 2010), Two Roads Diverged and I Took Both: Meaningful Writing Instruction in an Age of Testing, and have since made it one of the subjects of my workshops and presentations I give regularly to teacher groups.  I ask my students to write a personal narrative, a story of a chapter from their own lives.  Then, before they turn it in, we read narratives, such as excerpts from Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (they love “Champion of the World”), and discuss what makes these narratives so good.  Students will acknowledge the use of dialogue, of description that “shows instead of tells” the story, the pace, diction, point of view.  We’ll read a couple of really good student-written narratives as well.  Invariably, students will ask if they can have more time to rewrite theirs.  Yes!  Since I have started teaching narratives this way, the work my students have produced has been so much higher quality.

For teaching argument, we might read Ward Churchill’s “Crimes Against Humanity” and talk about his invective tone, his examples, allusions, proof (or lack of).  Then we’ll read the humorous “Cruelty, Civility, and Other Weighty Matters,” by Ann Marie Paulin, to show that argument writing can take many forms and tones.  I’ll show them Public Service Announcements, professional and student created, and we’ll talk about writing arguments for media.  We’ll read student essays.  Asking a group of students to write a documented argument paper, even with instruction, if they are not used to reading this type of writing, complete with in-text citations and works cited lists, isn’t fair.  It causes anxiety, fear, and dread.  It can be overwhelming.  But empowering them first through access, and motivating them by discussions of causes that are close to their hearts, allows them to confidently – and eagerly - approach the assignment. 

We read a lot of non-fiction now: causal analysis, comparison/contrast, memoirs, blogs, editorials.  Kids should learn to read and write in school the things they will be reading and writing outside of school, for their life’s purposes.  Education is to enhance quality of life.  Connecting reading and writing instruction, and providing access and motivation, empowers students to write confidently, passionately, and thus, have a voice in their world.

Melanie Mayer has been teaching high school English in Port Aransas, Texas for 23 years, and has been an adjunct instructor at Del Mar College for 10 years.  She is the winner of the Texas Exes Outstanding Teacher Award, Humanities Texas Outstanding Teaching Award, and is a state finalist for HEB Excellence in Education Lifetime Achievement Award.  She has published several articles and a book on the subject of teaching English. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

How to Create a Great Lesson Plan

Student Achievement Best Practices

By David Wiseman

A lesson plan is a necessary element of teaching at any level. From K-12 the same principles have to remain consistent. Whether teachers are working in Texas colleges or are providing instruction at the elementary level, the purpose of the lesson plan remains the same. It provides an outline of what the instructor needs to teach to the class of students. Knowing how to create a lesson plan is a key part of ensuring the goals are met despite the unpredictable behavior of students.
Student achievement best practices in lesson plans

Determine the Objective:

Identifying what the lesson plan is intended to teach is the first element of creating a plan. Teachers must first determine the objective of the lesson before it is possible to create a plan that works for the student’s needs.

After determining the objective, teachers should then restate it according to the age group and language understanding of the students. College professors might leave the objective as it is while an elementary teacher will need to restate the goal of the lesson based on the language development of their students.

Create a Framework:

Teachers who are striving to create a great lesson plan need to set it up according to a set framework. The best framework is identifying what is already known as an introduction, putting in the objective with a particular activity and then summarizing the lesson.

For younger age groups, the lesson should include an activity that allows movement or interaction, such as worksheets and coloring. Older students who are often subjected to lectures should also have an opportunity for class discussions or debates on the topics to improve learning and get the most out of the lesson. The summary of the lesson is the review of the objective so that students are reminded of what they learned.

Get Creative:

While creativity in the classroom is often somewhat limited based on the particular subject, teachers who add elements of creativity to the plan will see improved success. Creativity is easier in classrooms related to literature, where teachers can work on a wide range of potential activities, but it is not always simple when working around computer classes or similar technological lessons.

The key is finding something that will help engage students in the lesson, even if it means doing something that is a little out of the box.

A great lesson plan should always consider the students and the goal of the lesson. By keeping these two ideas in mind, it is easier to create a plan that engages students of all ages.

Formative Assessment: The Key to Maximizing Student Potential

A Post on Student Achievement Best Practices

By Elizabeth Williams, Math Teacher

Save your seat today for Conscious Teaching's FREE Webinar on April 25!  

Useful feed is essential to student achievement best practices. Students must be able to use it to improve.When I started teaching fresh out of college four years ago, I thought that I would be able to teach my students math using the same methods my teachers used. We were taught the material, did homework every night for practice, and then took a test at the end of every chapter.  My first year of teaching I covered nearly the whole Algebra curriculum using this method. The students did not do well on tests and never did their homework. This method was not working. I thought my goal was to TEACH everything, now I realize that my goal is for the students to LEARN as much as they can. The key to this change in mentality is to use formative assessments, not summative assessments. Formative assessments should give students feedback to reflect on and make goals to improve their knowledge and understanding.

Feedback is a critical component of assessment. I use responders in my lessons so that students get immediate individual feedback whether they are right or wrong. We also have discussions about how someone could have reached an incorrect answer. Personal interaction between the teacher and student is also important for students to understand where they need to improve. Another type of feedback is the teacher’s comments on a test. Questions should not just be right or wrong, students should know where they make a mistake.

Once feedback is given, students need to be taught how to use that feedback to improve. Students should look at each question that was incorrect and assess whether it was a careless error or they didn’t understand. If they didn’t understand they need to ask the teacher or another student to help. Then they should redo the problem. The teacher should give them credit for redoing the problem correctly. Once they have reflected on the reasons for their errors, students need to make specific goals to improve.

Finally, the teacher needs to ask the question:  “Are students ready to move on?” Sometimes the students should be retested after the topics have been taught using different methods. The teacher should make specific goals regarding what to do differently and where the students need to be before the class goes to the next topic.

I don’t cover nearly as much material as I used to, but I feel like my students actually LEARN more.  Both teachers and students need to make reflect on their work and make specific goals to reach their full potential.

Useful feed is essential to student achievement best practices. Students must be able to use it to improve.
Elizabeth Williams, Math Teacher, Midland Trail High School, WV

About the Author: I am in my fourth year teaching math in WV.  I graduated with a B.S. in Mathematics from Davidson College and a M.A. in Teaching from Marshall University.  I love trying new teaching strategies and using technology in the classroom.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Think Big, Focus Small, Demand More

Student Achievement Best Practices

By Kristin Crowley

Save your seat today for Conscious Teaching's FREE Webinar on April 25! 

Thinking Big – Assessing Student Achievement

student achievement best practices--sometimes you have to think big in order to focus small
Assessment - the cornerstone of any good teaching.  Right?  It tells us what our students learned?  What they still need to learn?  And provides us the insight as to whether we as teachers have an impact on our students learning.

However, assessments themselves can be altered, adjusted or manipulated to allow for measurable gains or losses altering outcomes and skewing data.  Lets face it, from the school level to the state level to the national level we decide exactly what we want to assess ahead of time, teach it until we can’t possible teach it anymore, give the students a test on it, then pat ourselves on the back for doing a great job.  Did the kids learn something – sure.  But did their said “learning” become something intrinsic; something that can be transferred from unit to unit, year to year?  That in itself is really the essence of student achievement, not just some number on some test.

How then do we as teachers truly measure student achievement?  Do we focus on the skills? Content? Both?  Reality is we need to assess everything but if we present our students with broad formative and summative assessments we lose valuable data and overwhelm the students to the point where they will lose interest and become lost in the process.

So how can that realistically be done so that it not only allows for a true measure of student achievement but also allows for engagement and interest on both the students and the teachers? By thinking big but focusing on the small.

Focusing Small – Measuring Achievement One Skill or Concept at a Time

However, before you can even develop a process like this you have to think about exactly what you want to assess.  One of the reasons why assessments seem to fail is because we as teachers try to test t0o many things.  Of course we want our students to be able to do everything but if we are really considering ways increase student achievement then we have to think big but focus on the small.

Consider a literacy unit in which you want your students to write an argumentative essay, which is the very essence of Writing Standard 1 in the Common Core (CCLS W1) and an part of the future PARCC assessment.  Within the unit there are several overarching goals on the fundamentals of writing an argumentative essay but of course there is more to the skill of essay writing that needs to be taught for this unit to be successful.  One must also teach background information on the topics for the focus of the essay and research skills.  You can also incorporate reading strategies like comparing and contrasting, fact and opinion, and inferencing.  All of content knowledge and skills are very important to the success of the unit but not necessarily what the ultimate assessment of the unit will be because the units goal is Argumentative Writing therefore the assessments only focus on that and just that.  The question ultimately being – “Can my students write an argumentative essay?” It doesn’t matter much what the content is, or the grammar and conventions, or even their ability to research, revise or edit.  What matters is what the unit intended to teach the students – the skills needed to write an argumentative unit.  Therefore, to determine if your students have achievement mastery of said skill an assessment plan needs to be created and should include various forms of assessment.

A Plan that Values Student Achievement

In my small school in Bronx, NY, we have developed an assessment process (beyond the standardized testing) that blends not only projects and traditional testing but also our own formative and summative assessments to measure student’s growth and achievement overtime.

While on the surface the process seems complicated, the truth is we have instituted a series of smart assessments rather just develop tests for the sake of testing.  Students become more engaged in the learning and testing process and see assessment as a way to showcase what they have learned rather then take a test because their teacher told them to.  Therefore we have developed the following assessment cycle which allows us a picture of what our students know before, during and after a unit.  It also incorporates a variety of assessment strategies and structures to allow or students to showcase their learning in different ways.

Our Assessment Cycle

A table showing student achievement best practices assessment cycle
click to enlarge
While some may argue that this type of unit planning is assessment heavy, the reality is that we as teachers are constantly assessing.  Further doesn’t good instruction mean teachers should assess student comprehension and then create plans to adjust as needed to meet student needs?

By having an assessment plan that everyone can follow, unit development becomes more streamlined and in turn student learning and achievement becomes richer.  Teachers can actually see data that shows true growth and not just scores from multiple-choice tests.  We are able to see not only what our students have learned but what is also being transferred from unit to unit and then adjust future units as needed.  Our student achievement has grown and we have a deeper intrinsic value of learning with our students – which is every teachers goal.

As the Common Core continues to infiltrate school districts around the country and more and more states are faced with a redevelopment of teacher evaluations, assessment is becoming more and important but at the same time seems to be losing its purpose – to truly gauge what the students achievement.  Therefore having a true assessment plan really is the cornerstone to student achievement.

Student Achievement Best Practices in the Music Classroom

by Richard Pearson, Principal

Save your seat today for Conscious Teaching's FREE Webinar on April 25! 

Being creative, giving extra time and attention and focused feedback must be considered to raise the potential of our performance classes.
image courtesy of
As I looked at this question, I thought back to those days teaching in the music/band classroom.  Although I have been out of the classroom for a few years, ideas that support students reaching their potential in the music classroom are always on my mind.  The music classroom and the arts are critical components of our schools and important to the foundation educational needs for our students.  I offer here three quick “blog” thoughts.  Maybe others can offer more.

How best to have students reach their potential in the music performance class?  One of the first needs that should be addressed is the opportunity to perform.  When I first took over small band program as a young director, I recall planning for two concerts each year.  One in December and the other in May.  Two performance assessments in a year!!! Does that make any sense?  To help students reach their potential in the music ensemble class, they must perform.  Music teachers should seek out opportunities to have their students perform:  small ensembles at nursing homes; recitals every few months for those students taking private lesson; art shows needing a little background music; performances at a local library.  I am sure others can come up with creative alternatives but the preparation for performance is critical to student growth.  In the music performance classroom, students need to experience the nervousness that comes with performing in front of people.  They need to experience the consistent practice regime that makes their final performance outstanding.  They need to practice the professional presentation that goes along with playing in public.  Practicing for four months to play three or four pieces, twice a year, does not effectively increase the potential of students.

Feedback from all members of an ensemble is paramount in developing music performance potential.  In an ensemble class, the director gives feedback consistently throughout the rehearsal.  When stopping and starting an ensemble, the director critiques passages, offers suggestions, breaks down the larger whole into smaller groups and individuals and simply offers instant, evaluative feedback minute-by-minute, second-by-second.  But, sometimes, feedback from the players or students is a missed opportunity.  Allowing for student feedback must be an important part of ensemble development.  I might suggest having section leaders throughout the ensemble.  The section leaders can the more experienced musicians with the strongest skills.  When the expectations are set for “all students to help all performers for the benefit of the entire ensemble”, internal feedback and support can thrive.  Placing strong leaders next to other less experienced performers helps the individual and the entire ensemble.  Giving section leaders specific assignments to “develop a practice plan” with weaker musicians builds responsibility in the leader and the skills in the follower.  Feedback must be throughout the ensemble, from the musicians, through the leaders and with the guidance of the teacher/conductor.

What other extra rehearsal is necessary?  Performance ensembles being scheduled during the school day are important.  The music performance class should be a consistent and vibrant program with high level expectations like all other courses.  But, the daily classroom routine is not enough to support music performance at its highest level.  Some form of “sectional” structure must also be a key component.  During the daily routine of class, teachers will breakdown ensembles into smaller sections.  This is frequent and standard practice.  But, I have not found a thriving and successful program that has failed to offer more rehearsal outside of the “normal” school day. Nothing can replace an hour of work with 12 trumpets once per week.  Nothing can replace practicing with the tenor section of a chorus learning pitches, practicing blend and developing clear and specific vocal technique.  This extra time needs to be created as a methodical and organized plan helping student’s increase individual skill but also group/section cohesiveness.  Time talking directly to the trumpet section about trumpet technique is far more efficient outside of the full rehearsal setting.

Education in the arts is a critical part of educating our children.  Thoughtful ideas about how to increase those performance opportunities for students is a necessary component of music instruction.  Being creative, giving extra time and attention and focused feedback must be considered to raise the potential of our performance classes.

Richard Pearson is principal of Medway High School in Medway, MA.  Before becoming an administrator, he was a high school band director and director of music.

Monday, April 23, 2012

How to Use Effective Manipulatives for Student Achievement

Student Achievement Best Practices

By Tanya Villacis, 3rd Grade Teacher

Save your seat today for Conscious Teaching's FREE Webinar on April 25! 

This teacher's student achievement best practices includes effective manipulatives.It’s so easy to get caught up in grades and standardized testing when you’re a teacher. They are detrimental to development in the classroom for they serve as baselines and checkpoints; however, that’s not what makes a classroom a truly enjoyable place to be. Those data stipulations and necessities are my responsibility to burden and bear; not my students’. I maintain focus on student achievement by ensuring that my lessons and daily activities are engaging and relatable to my 3rd graders. I aim to keep learning fun, hands on, and intriguing. My personal goal is to never teach a lesson the same exact way as I did the years prior. My student development correlates to how connected my students are to the lesson being taught.

The core of my teaching is centered on technology. 80% of the activities we do in class require the use of my interactive whiteboard. With my Mimio I can involve my students in the development of the lesson. Rather than being strictly observers of the lesson, they are applying and enhancing the information being presented with personal input and student application.

Hands on lessons are my favorite approach to teaching, especially in math. Recently, my students and I were working on perimeter. Perimeter is a fairly simple concept for students to understand, but when you give them a polygon on grid paper and ask them to count the units, things often get perplexing. As an educator I’m always looking for ways to better student understanding and ensure mastery. I turned to the trusty contributors of Pinterest and found a great idea! Someone pinned a picture which showed students using Cheeze-Its for counting perimeter. What a novel idea! I was only disappointed in the notion that I didn’t think of this before.

This teacher's student achievement best practices includes effective manipulatives.The following day, I put the idea to the test and my students are tough critics. My students and I used the edible manipulatives to practice the skill. They were so enthralled and committed to the lesson from start to finish! At the end, one of my little darlings came to me and said, “Oh, Ms. V. I won’t be afraid to take the perimeter test or if I see a question on the FCAT (A standardized test we take in Florida), I will know exactly what to do!” She was so sincere in her statement, which gave me goose bumps. To know that I relieved some of her fears and apprehensions on a specific skill reminded me why I selected this profession. There is no better reminder to focus on student development than watching the “AH HA, light bulb” moments of your little kiddos.

I have been teaching 3rd grade for 2 ½ years. When I’m not planning, cutting out center activities, and grading papers, I enjoy going to the theater, reading, and spending time with family and friends.

How a Trouble Child Became an A-Student in 1 Week

A Post on Student Achievement Best Practices

By Rhonda Rountree, Reading Specialist

Save your seat today for Conscious Teaching's FREE Webinar on April 25!  

Student achievement best practices can be as simple as giving a student a second chance.
image courtesy of
One thing that I learned by accident a few years ago was give students a chance.  One day while teaching 3rd grade many years ago, I received a call from the office that I had a new student.  I sent down one of my current students to get “Johnny” and escort him to my room.  His parents had to leave and weren’t able to come and meet me that day. 

When Johnny came in my room, I showed him his seat and told him what we were working on.  I wasn’t able to get any information except his name, address, phone number, and what bus he was to ride home.

 A few days later, his parents showed up at my door wanting to know how Johnny was doing.  I told them he was doing fine, making friends, and seemed to be adjusting well.  The parents looked at me dumbfounded.  They even asked me, “Are you talking about our son?”  I reaffirmed that he was very bright, and was getting along with everyone in class.

Now it was my turn to be confused… why was this information so shocking?  His parents informed me that at his previous school, he was in the office just about every day for some type of infraction and it had been this way for a few years.  So when I told him that he was getting along with everyone, it was a shock to them.  Johnny was on the AB honor roll in my class and was well liked by his peers.

When Johnny came into my room, I didn’t have the knowledge of his past behaviors so I didn’t look for bad behavior.  I expected him to behave like a third grader ( inquisitive, impulsive, and wanting to please).  I treated him like I treated the rest of the class.  To encourage friendships and cooperation, my class was set up in groups of 3 and 4 at the time so I introduced him to a group that had just lost a member. The group knew what was expected on cooperation and just started showing Johnny the ropes. 

I saw Johnny this year. He will be graduating from high school and his parents told me that he is getting straight A’s.  They want to give me credit for the change in Johnny but really all I did was give him a chance.

Too often we as teachers see the name of a challenging student on our roster and think “Oh, no! Not them!” Johnny is an example of this mentality.  I think that when the teachers saw Johnny’s name on their roster they started off with the perception of this student is going to be trouble and I need to make sure he doesn’t disrupt my class.

Before Johnny, I was guilty of going to the teacher from the previous year and asking, “What do I need to be on the lookout for?” meaning what "bad behavior do I need to watch for?"  With Johnny I didn’t have a teacher from the previous year to fill me in on all the bad stuff so I couldn’t look for it in him. When I looked for good behavior, that’s what I got.  Johnny didn’t look like a kid with trouble, he looked “normal” so that was the way I treated him.  Johnny finished his elementary career at our school, and he did end up in the office a couple of times.  But he wasn’t in the office everyday like he was at his old school. I don’t think the schools are different in the way they treat students, but I do think the perceptions were very different.  I didn’t see Johnny as a “bad kid”; I saw him as a student that just moved.  I think that perception is what allowed Johnny to reach his full potential.

Now, when I look at my roster and I see the student that is challenging, I think of Johnny and wipe the slate clean.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

How I Found Student Achievement Best Practices

 By Anya Leavy, Pre-kindergarten Teacher

Student achievement best practices include differentiating instruction, focusing on multiple intelligences, and narrowing the gap between home and school.
I’ll admit it. I'm a rookie. After 12 years of teaching on the Kindergarten and Pre-Kindergarten grade level, I still feel that way. On a daily basis, I am learning and researching ways to improve my approach, delivery, and ultimately, help my students to the next level of their educational career--in other words, I'm always on the lookout for student achievement best practices. And somewhere along the way, I've narrowed down some "tried and true" best practices that have helped me on my teaching journey to becoming a Master Teacher.  They are differentiating instruction, focusing on the multiple intelligences, and narrowing the gap between home and school.

Differentiating Instruction


Differentiating instruction is not a new concept. Great teachers have always known how to meet students where they are to increase their achievement level. However, this approach to a new lesson is important because the school population has become more transient in recent years. It is important to assess students where they are and then mold lessons to meet the students' needs. I've learned that a lesson that is "personalized" for each student increases the amount of information retained, as well as boost active participation.

Focusing on Multiple Intelligences


Howard Gardner’s description of the multiple intelligences is almost aligned with using the differentiated instruction approach.  Using one or more of the multiple intelligences, on a daily basis, appeals to each child, thereby meeting the student where they are academically and socially.  Each child in my classroom has an intelligence that is more predominant than the other intelligences. Joslyn is kinetically inclined, so I teach her the alphabet through an Alphabet Flashcard Relay Race.

Another child, Carlton, is a logic-mathematical learner, so as he’s building a tower, we’re counting the number of blocks using one-to-one correspondence, as well as measuring the length and width of his building. I also have a child, LaToya, who has a strong interpersonal intelligence. To extend the story of the Three Little Pigs, I have her be the director of what would happen next in the story, using her classmates as actors. All of these are examples that appeal to that child’s multiple intelligence, so that it becomes a memorable educational experience that they can place in their “prior knowledge suitcase” and reference it when they “travel” to the next grade level.

Narrowing the Gap


The most important practice that I have always used to increase student achievement is creating a partnership between the child, the person(s) at home with that child, and me. I am a firm believer that if the child, and their family, knows that you want them to succeed, the educational options are limitless. Parents and the child’s family entrust their child’s education to a teacher hoping that their child will excel beyond their initial goals. In this day and age, where the child may not have a traditional family structure composing of a Mom and Dad, it is imperative that you reach out to all caregivers of that child. My motto is the more on the “team”, the better. The more family members that are vested in their child’s education displays to that child that there is a special “cheering section” especially for them.

Children tend to do better educationally and socially if they know that are positively supported. It also helps the family stay abreast of the goals for that particular grade level. This provides possible opportunities for lessons at home that relate to the goals that you plan to reach this year for that child in school.  Having an open door policy in the classroom, for a child to see their parent, aunt, or big cousin smile at them while they are on task, goes a long way. Asking for family support on a special project or having a family member volunteer, to participate in a daily activity, helps the family, child, and teacher strengthen the sense of team. In the end, the team formed will help that child excel academically and socially.

And the Moral of the Story Is...


A teacher who had been teaching 30 plus years told me once that as a teacher “you are constantly evolving; there is never a point where you feel like you have arrived.” This coming from a teacher, that I had observed, that had her classroom running like a well-oiled machine, still continued to research ways to increase student achievement.  As teachers, we want nothing more than to have our student’s achieve and reach educational heights beyond our aspirations. I still have far to go on my educational journey, but I know that the above practices/approaches are ones that I will continue to carry in my “suitcase” from year to year. I hope that I’ve added a little to your “teacher suitcase” while we travel on the road of teaching.

Pre-K Student Achievement Best Practices

A Post on Student Achievement Best Practices

By Jane Papenberg, Pre-K Teacher

Save your seat today for Conscious Teaching's FREE Webinar on April 25!  

A pre-K teacher discusses student achievement best practices in her Title I school.
image courtesy of
I am a pre-k teacher in a Title I school.  The school is Westport Academy Elementary, Baltimore, MD I have learned that even at this tender age many children feel beaten down and not smart. To overcome this I work hard to build a climate for these children to feel safe, risk-taking is welcome and "I can do anything," attitude.  We practice, and practice until we get it. We cannot say the words, "I can't" in our classroom.

To accomplish the "I can"  feeling, during the first month of school,  I bake cookies and my para and I write the word can't, on the cookie in icing, for each child.  We read a motivating book about accomplishment, we discuss and practice, I can activities and then we eat the cookie that says "I can't." If the child chooses to eat the cookie the child cannot say the words: I can't,  ever again.  It is reinforced every time someone says the words.

The thing I learned by this activity is that the children take it literally and seriously.  If a new child joins the class, if  another student hears the words, "I can't," the new student is quickly reprimanded by his or her peers.  The student will be told, "You have to try to get help and you have to practice to get it right." I have done this activity 2 years in a row and will continue to, every year.  Never too old to eat a cookie and remember practice is how we get better at whatever is worth accomplishing.

The children leave my classroom confident in their own ability no matter what happens outside of the classroom. The child has a life long skill and knowledge about how to achieve their own dreams and goals.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Necessity of an Environment Conducive to Learning in the Classroom

Student Achievement Best Practices

By Rebecca Lee Curry, English Teacher

Save your seat today for Conscious Teaching's FREE Webinar on April 25!  

Student achievement best practices mean that students are in an environment for learning
Student achievement has always been considered the ultimate objective in the classroom, and rightly so.  It would make sense then to seek guidance from teachers who have had great success with their students.  I am a firm believer that no matter how much you “learn” about teaching, there is wisdom that cannot be gained but through experience.  Seeking guidance from the right source is always beneficial and has certainly been the case for me.  When I first began teaching full-time, I was blessed to learn from my dad, who is an amazing teacher.  He has been teaching for 39 years and has helped me more than he will ever know.  He has answered countless (literally, countless!) questions and has given me advice when I desperately needed words of wisdom. 

Casting together the advice I have received that has proven true again and again with my own experience, I believe that as a teacher, you must be able to manage your classroom.  Students are unable to learn in a haphazard environment, thus students will not be able to achieve their full potential.  Knowing this and making classroom management a priority has saved me and my students (though they are unaware of it) several times while going about day-to-day activities in the classroom.  Students simply cannot learn to the best of their ability in a chaotic environment.  I set high expectations for my students from the first day, both behaviorally and academically because classroom management is crucial to giving students a firm-founded learning environment.  If students know what is expected of them, they are then capable of helping create a positive classroom environment. 

Further, promoting motivation through good teacher/student relationships is important to be able to create a positive learning environment.  My expectations never change over the course of the year, but as each day passes, I learn a little more about my students and gain insight into what motivates them.  Motivation is key to student achievement, and we as teachers can easily facilitate motivation in our classrooms.  Classroom management is an integral part of student achievement even being possible, but forming good teacher/student relationships is also essential to motivating your students to be successful in their educational endeavors.

Though I’m sure it sounds cliché, I do always try to be exceptionally encouraging to my students because motivation stems from encouragement.  Before I left one of my student teaching placements, my mentor teachers asked the students I had taught for the past six weeks to write me a letter.  The overwhelming majority of my students thanked me for being patient with them.  I thought they would be appreciative of all the complex lesson plans I had created and stressed over.  I assume it is needless to say that patience was certainly not what I had expected to stand out to them.  Having taught for a few years now, I can see that it is easy to become frustrated in general, as is the case with any job (if we’re all honest).  Even if frustration isn’t directed at students, they are perceptive enough to pick up on this emotion.  I’ll be the first to admit that there are plenty of days when I struggle with keeping a consistently positive attitude and a pleasant sense of patience.  However, I have learned that my encouraging words and attitude put great vibes in my students.  Consequently, great vibes motivate students to seek success.  As Mr. Fred A. Manske wrote in his book Core Strategy for Success, “I’m convinced that there is considerable power in such positive ‘vibes.’  The more you do it, the more sensitive you’ll become to the needs of others.”  The more positive we are with our students, the more we will realize how much of an impact it has on them. 

Learning from other teachers and being willing to seek advice leads to continual self-improvement, and our students, in turn, are the ones who benefit.  Student success is hard to achieve if the students’ environment is not conducive to learning, but if a teacher has great classroom management skills and an encouraging and motivating spirit, student success is much easier to achieve.  Achievement is what every teacher strives for his or her students to experience, and having a heart to teach makes student success possible.

Rebecca Lee Curry teaches ninth-grade English at Columbia Central High School in Columbia, Tennessee.  She currently teaches both honors and standard classes and is certified to teach Advanced Placement Literature and Composition.  Rebecca is a member of the National, Tennessee, and Maury County Education Association(s).

A First Year Teacher's Struggle with Student Achievement

A Post on Student Achievement Best Practices

 by Tracy West, 4th Grade Teacher, Carver Elementary, GA

Save your seat today for Conscious Teaching's FREE Webinar on April 25!  

Student achievement best practices are hard to recognize as a first year teacher, but you can still believe in your students.
image courtesy of
As an educator, each year I am introduced to new students, new attitudes, new beliefs, and new goals.  However, it is my job and responsibility to help each of them reach their goals.  In order to do that, I try to instill in every student that they can succeed. 

All I require them to do is start at their level, and work to make a gain.  No, not all children are at the same level, but every child can obtain a goal.  It is my hope that by the end of the year, they have learned enough to meet or exceed the standards. 

My first year, as a teacher, I didn't understand how Bobby could be reading on a second grade level, however, be in the fourth grade.  It took a lot for me to look past his weaknesses, and focus on his strengths.  By the end of the year, Bobby was reading on his grade level.  I owe his accomplishments to him believing that he could succeed if he put his mind to it.  I allowed him and the other students an opportunity to learn through hands-on, the use of technology, peer tutoring, and other teaching strategies. 

In the end, whatever it took to help them reach their goals, I used it.  That is what change is all about.  From then on, I entered the classroom the first day, looking for strengths. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Advance Warning: How to Increase Classroom Participation

Student Achievement Best Practices Webinar

By Rick Smith, Conscious Teaching

Save your seat today for Conscious Teaching's free Webinar on Wednesday, April 25th!

Student achievement best practices provide students with direction and clarity.
We’re going to be sharing dozens of strategies in our free Webinar on Wednesday, April 25th,. Including seven strategies for increasing participation.  One of these strategies appears below.

Advance Warning:

Imagine you have a reluctant participant named “Sally.”  If you call on Sally in class, she may likely feel humiliated.  If you don’t call on her, she will most likely fall through the cracks.  What to do?  One strategy is “Advance Warning.”

How it Works: Give Sally some advance warning that you are going to call on her to share a response. There are many variations of this strategy. Here are three.

•    Several minutes warning- Catch Sally entering class (at the beginning of the period or after recess) and tell her you will be calling on her to share answer number #5 from last night’s homework. Even if she didn’t complete last night’s homework she has several minutes to work it out before you get there in the review.

•    One day’s warning- As class ends, let Sally know that you’ll be calling on her the next day to answer question number five.  She now has 23 hours to prepare!  Some teachers get concerned that if they do this, Sally won’t show up to class the next day.  In that case, when you give her the advanced notice, let her know that the next day, when class begins, if she doesn’t want to answer the question, she can let you know, either by telling you privately or by a private hand signal from her desk (five fingers spread wide and flat, for example). 

    Variation:  let Sally know that tomorrow you will be calling on three students, including her, to share what they thought was most important, interesting, or memorable about the content in today’s class. To reduce any potential anxiety she might feel, let her know that she doesn’t have to write it down, it won’t be graded, there is no wrong answer, and she can share her response privately with you if she isn’t feeling comfortable sharing out to the class the next day.

Why it Works: This strategy gives Sally some time to emotionally and physically prepare to share out, which in turn lowers her anxiety and puts you on the same side.

Tip from the Trenches:  Don’t use this strategy with just Sally and other reluctant students. The rest of the class will notice and Sally will feel singled out. But make sure you include Sally regularly in strategies like this so she remains safely “on the hook” for paying attention and participating.

Student Achievement Best Practices: How to Help Your Students Reach Their Potential in Mathematics

By Dr. Renu Ahuja, Math Teacher

Save your seat today for Conscious Teaching's FREE Webinar on April 25!  

student achievement best practices in math

I teach mathematics courses to a very diverse group of students in terms of age, grade level, ethnicity, mathematical and reading abilities in an urban high school. Most of the classes are heterogeneous with students from grades 9-12 in the same class. Knowing my students well and gaining their trust is a good way to start. One of my student achievement best practices is to give them diagnostic test in the beginning of the year that assesses the minimum they need to understand the concepts to be taught in the course.

Many of the students are initially diagnosed to be in need of remediation. I plan my curriculum materials and lessons based on students' developmental needs. Making connections, differentiation, presenting the content in logical steps and giving clear directions is the key. I try to involve all students in class participation by giving them equitable opportunity to present their solutions on the board, explain their reasoning to each other and to the class. Thus, mathematical talk is an important part of classroom procedures and instruction in my classes.

Giving mixed review study packets and assessments based on mixed review improves concepts retention and scores on standardized, formal and informal assessments. Designing problems that connect topics from different chapters prepares them for problem solving and recalling previously learned concepts. Preparing lessons that tap students' potentials keeps them engaged with the mathematical tasks. Using a combination of directive and supportive scaffolds during the delivery of lessons keeps the students on track and helps in developing reasoning skills.

Presenting the content in a logical sequence and rearranging the curriculum sequence that takes into account their prior misconceptions helps in building conceptual understanding and procedural fluency in mathematics. Even, the lecture method combined with technology, visuals, and differentiation strategies such as flexible grouping, tiered assignments, adjusted work load helps in improving students' achievement. I try to give my students a broader picture by connecting the topics with their real life and other disciplines.

I have adjusted my instruction from year to year based on the students' needs. In addition to teaching the mathematical content, we have to teach them organization skills, how to use their time effectively, how to use the textbook, how to organize their study space, how to review for exams. All these skills add to the students' achievement. I talk to the students about importance of these skills during coach class and homeroom period.

So, there is no single recipe for students’ success in mathematics, you have to use a combination of student centered and teacher centered pedagogies. I have a passion for teaching and learning of mathematics. I communicate the passion for mathematics to my students every day by being enthusiastic and cheerful. The goal is to help them become better problem solvers and appreciate the beauty of mathematics.

Dr. Renu Ahuja is a mathematics teacher in the Baltimore City Public School System, Maryland.

Hands On, Minds On: Student Achievement and Successful Best Practices

A Post on Student Achievement Best Practices

By Linda Kelleher, Math Teacher

Save your seat today for Conscious Teaching's FREE Webinar on April 25! 

Student achievement best practices can focus on hands-on activities in almost any class.
image courtesy of
When I first started teaching math, my primary focus was planning lessons.  My reasoning was that with so many unknowns in the classroom, I would at least know what I would be teaching.  And, so I thought, after the first year, my plans would be complete and I could focus on other elements of teaching such as classroom management.  Now, nine years later, I’m still making lesson plans.  I’ve changed and grown a great deal as a teacher since then, but one thing that never varied for me was the importance of the plan.  A lot of classroom management issues are avoided with an engaging lesson, and when participation is high, retention of the material is also high. 

Five years ago, I started teaching a large number of English Language Learner students.  One of the things that enhanced my teaching for all, but especially for the ELL’s, is the incorporation of visuals.  Pictures enliven any text, but like my four-year old daughter’s emergent reading, pictures also give children clues to the text.  But beyond this, pictures facilitate hands-on activities.  We use fraction pieces to disprove fraction misconceptions, such as ½ + 1/3 = 2/5.  I also have the students develop a feel for customary capacity by pouring water into a cup, pint, quart and gallon containers.  My students cut out shapes and manipulate them into rectangles or parallelograms in order to show them how the formulas are derived, use snap cubes to help them visualize volume, and they can toss dice and spin spinners when they are learning probability. 

A hands-on classroom is an active classroom.  Far too many children are passive in school and at home, not participating or interacting the way kids did before cable and computers and texting provided constant distractions.  An engaging classroom helps students disprove their misconceptions.  For instance, many students will tell you that the probability of rolling a 2 on a die is 2/6.  In order to dispel their mistaken beliefs, you need to replace it with the correct idea.  So, rather than telling them that there is only one two (favorable outcome) on a die, I let them run the experiment 60 times, and compare the results to their theoretical probability.  On the topic of circles, in order to reinforce the formula for the circumference of a circle, I have students measure the circumference and diameter of various circles and then have them compare the circumference to diameter of each circle with a ratio.

So, now class, who can tell me the rule for adding fractions?  Who can tell me how to improve classroom outcomes?

Linda Kelleher Schirling is a ninth year math teacher.  She is a career-changing Teaching Fellow.  She teaches in IS61, Leonardo Da Vinci, in Corona, Queens, New York.  She was rated as “Above Average” on the Teacher Data Reports and has consistently produced gains with her at-needs students.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Student Achievement Best Practices Thanks to Collaboration

When Children Help Others, Everyone Benefits

 by Renee Heiss, Retired Teacher

Save your seat today for Conscious Teaching's FREE Webinar on April 25! 

Student achievement best practices are sometimes not educators' practices at all--when students collaborate, students learn.
image courtesy of
So often, teachers focus on the student and the learning, but forget about the value of helping others to change student behavior.  The mind set for today’s youth appears to be one of guided egoism. I say “guided,” because most teachers, counselors, and parents help children to achieve high grades through a rewards system.  Honor roll certificates, stickers, National Honor Society membership, and other grade-based rewards force the child to focus on the grade.  While there’s nothing wrong with this system, it’s not the total package.  When children learn that there are others who are less fortunate, and that they can help those people, the children become more responsible with everything they do.

When children think of others first, everyone benefits. There will be fewer fights in schools and fewer bullies in the hallways. A child's boosted self-esteem usually carries over to better class work and regular attendance. Philanthropy empowers children to be positive members of the community. According to Dorothy A. Johnson, President of the Council of Michigan Foundations, “The earlier we introduce the concept of giving and public service, the more successfully we incorporate it into a child’s daily behavior, and the greater the impact on society as a whole.”

Whatever children learn when they are young generally carries through to their adult years. If they learn that you need to get all that you can to become successful, they will probably become greedy adults. If they learn that in helping others, they help themselves, these children are more likely to grow up to be responsible members of the greater community.

When children are responsible for the welfare of others, they also learn the value of commitment. Teens learn punctuality, for example, when a senior citizen waits patiently for a visit and then is disappointed when the youth is late.

Sacrificing time or money for a charitable cause shows the young person that personal needs may not be as critical as they once thought. It is gratifying to the child and his parents when he spends a Saturday morning volunteering at a soup kitchen instead of playing video games. Again, everyone benefits.

Volunteering also teaches the child to budget her time wisely so that she can find time for her own activities and the charitable project. When young people have less free time, they are less likely to cause problems for teachers, parents, and the community. Surprisingly, they also manage to get their homework done in record time with more accuracy when they know that their “cause” waits for their help.

Teens who volunteer regularly become more self-assured in their ability to make a difference in other people’s lives. This same mentality carries over into their own lives. They may find ways to help family members. They should be able to present oral reports with confidence. They will probably become proactive about their future. They contribute positively wherever they go.

When kids work in the community, they see people of many different ages and ethnicity. They learn that senior citizens have unique personalities just like their friends. They learn that people with a foreign heritage have amazing life stories to share. They learn that everyone is different and should be respected for those differences.

So how do you help your students reach their potential?  By showing them how to help others reach theirs.  Organize a buddy system with younger grades.  Arrange for a planned field trip to a nursing home.  Create books for children in hospitals while using the vocabulary words for the week.  Have a fund raiser that incorporates concepts in your science or social studies classroom (imagine a toga car wash, for example!) The possibilities are endless if you have some creativity and a dedication to helping others while you help your students to help themselves.  Try it - I think you’ll like the change in your classroom!

 Renee Heiss is the author of several books for teachers (Feng Shui for the Classroom, Helping Kids Help, and The Kinetic Classroom), and three books for children (Somebody Cares!, Woody's World, and Ducklings in a Row).  Although retired from public school teaching, she keeps active in education as an instructor for the Institute of Children's Literature.  Visit her website to see all her activities: and her blog for tips for teachers and parents from her experience and research: