Parent Conferences Tip – Listen to Parents About Their Child

Here are a few ways to encourage parents to talk about their child. Once they start talking, be sure and take note and/or just listen.


Every year about Thanksgiving time, the parent conference occurs. I’ve been scheduling and hosting them for 14 years. These can be fluid and helpful to both parent and teacher but without this tip, they can be useless. You can offer positive parenting tips You may think you know the student very well because you have seen them every day in class since August.

Face the reality however that the parent knows them much better than you. In most cases, they were there with the child at birth. If you have kids of your own, you know the significance of the parent/child relationship. Even if you don’t have kids you can recall your relationship with your own parents. Should a teacher assume to know as much about one of their 25-35 students? I say no. It can be tempting to want to give educational tips for parents but remember a balance. Continue reading “Parent Conferences Tip – Listen to Parents About Their Child”

Value Criticism as Much as Praise

tumblr_nhul7x1xor1u06rnxo1_500Teaching is a job that requites intrinsic motivation. Like an artist will get many varied criticisms of her/his work, so it goes with a teacher. So how do you keep it all together and improve? I say you need to keep an open mind, have a thick skin, and learn to separate the helpful from the useless remarks and criticisms that come your way. Those who offer valid criticism should be appreciated. They point our your weakness so you can fix them. Keeping a humble attitude will take you far, especially when you start with one. As you teach and learn and grow, people will be drawn to your humble attitude like moths to a light bulb. It’s very rare to find in fact. It makes you more approachable. Continue reading “Value Criticism as Much as Praise”

Making Tasks Easier with Due Dates

IMG_2434Putting up eight content walls can be overwhelming. How do you get them up with all the bells and whistles when you have limited time? I asked myself that question this year and came up with a time spaced solution. I don’t have an “after” photo currently but I can tell you after just over a week, everything is up as was the expectation of my district and principal. AND I didn’t have to suffer a stress attack along the way. Almost any large demanding job can be effectively done in the classroom when it is broken down into bite sized chunks. For me, hanging the colored butcher paper was the initial challenge. I did that and then put a post it note on each wall with a realistic “due date.” Continue reading “Making Tasks Easier with Due Dates”

Educational Opportunities for Students in Low-Resource Schools

Although free K12 public education is available to all students in America, the fact is that not all public schools have the resources to fully educate students. Many schools, particularly those in low-income rural and urban areas, lack fundamental educational tools like computers, microscopes or even current textbooks. Other schools have eliminated programs like art and music entirely.

If your school district only offers limited resources, what can you do to help your students get the educational opportunities they deserve? Whether you’re a teacher or a parent, consider implementing one or more of these options to give kids a chance to improve their education even in a low-resource school district.

Online tutoring

Not every school has a dedicated music teacher, Spanish teacher or physics teacher. Fill the gap with online courses. If your school doesn’t have a functioning music program, encourage interested students to take online piano lessons during lunch, study hall or after school. Invite students to join teams and sign up for online language lessons, math tutoring or book clubs. If your school doesn’t have the resources to teach a particular subject in-house, chances are there’s a great way to learn it online.

Donated Computers

Not every classroom has enough computers for all its students. This is becoming a critical literacy gap, as computers are now a fundamental part of life and students who graduate high school unable to type, navigate an Internet browser or handle fundamental programs like Microsoft Excel are at a huge disadvantage for both college and the workforce.

Meanwhile, plenty of companies and individuals find themselves upgrading their computer systems every few years, meaning there are many functional machines that are no longer being used. Talk to your school district about setting up a computer donation request; a few states, such as Delaware, actually require companies to offer old computers to schools before sending them to be destroyed. Look for sources of donated computers in your area and use them to teach your students computer literacy – it’s an essential skill for today’s connected world.

Summer Camp Scholarships

Summer camp is a great way for kids to pick up skills they might otherwise miss in a low-resource classroom. There are camps for kids interested in science, math, art or drama; in fact, there’s a camp for nearly every subject! The best part is that these camps nearly always offer scholarships to low-income students. If you’ve got a student in your classroom who can benefit from an educational summer camp experience, take the time to help the student apply for a scholarship and make sure to write a glowing letter of recommendation.

Problem-solving Opportunities

Many schools focus their curriculum on “teaching to the test,” and this is especially true in low-resource schools which require high test scores to receive much-needed funding. However, this kind of education means fewer classroom hours are spent giving students problems that require innovation or invention to solve. The working world – not to mention life – is about solving problems, and students need these skills to perform successfully as adults. (For more information on why innovation and invention are key skills for students to learn, read the Suggested 3 I’s of Education Reform.)

Create problem-solving opportunities by setting up a science fair, asking students to write and stage a play or pulling out one of the tried-and-true problem-solving games like the toothpick bridge project. If your curriculum is already too jam-packed to include these items, start an after-school club or announce that an upcoming Saturday will be “Science Day.” The more opportunities you give your students to solve their own problems through innovation and invention, the better they’ll function in our complex, problem-filled world.

Local Libraries

No discussion of educational opportunities would be complete without mentioning the importance of your local library. Many libraries offer tutoring, after-school clubs and other opportunities, and even the smallest libraries have that most magical of inventions, inter-library loan. Take your students on a tour of your library and show them how it can be used to help with homework, college applications or independent study on a favorite subject.

Use these ideas as ways to augment your low-resource school and give your students a better chance to compete in today’s world. Do you have other ideas for boosting a school’s resources? Start a discussion in the comments. The more we share ideas, the more opportunities we’ll be able to offer our students.

Problem of the Day as Routine

teaching kidsI was so glad to hear that Common Core had less standards that the 1997 set in California. When you look at the pages of standards you have to teach in a year, it can produce anxiety. A reasonable response to that anxiety can be to schedule too much each day. It’s been said it’s better to aim at something and miss than to aim at nothing and hit your target. A problem of the day for math and language arts can seem miniscule but if done every day, you can get a lot done over a year. 185 standards covered in both ELA and math, that sounds good to me! I can feel anxiety lifting as I type it. If you go through them as a class, you have a different approach that isn’t possible all day long. Plus, the mind likes routines and chunks of information. All these things are the pros of doing a problem of the day. Continue reading “Problem of the Day as Routine”

One Question Tests

I thought it would be great to give a 1-2 question test each morning on the challenge standards, or the ones the whole class scores below 70% accuracy on. That in and of itself is not the great idea. Grading them is!

48095_10151460458076117_1282058836_nI was driving back from Del Taco tonight and had an epiphany about my class and how I can help them all achieve standards mastery. It would be really helpful to see if they can actually work through math problems I have been teaching. I mostly do two kinds of assessments currently, whiteboard “on the spot” picking random-non-volunteers with playing cards and formal multiple choice paper tests. I find that there are usually a few who somehow get through these assessments and don’t really master the material. I thought it would be great to give a 1-2 question test each morning on the challenge standards, or the ones the whole class scores below 70% accuracy on. That in and of itself is not the great idea. Grading them is!

In class or at home I can see almost instantly if a kid is getting say long division or place value standards. I can make 2 piles: Those that “got it” and those who didn’t. In minutes, I have valuable assessment information that I can make a plan to address. I can work in a small group with those kids in the “did not get it” pile. I can also pair students who did get it with those who didn’t. I have found numerous times that some students respond better when taught by their proficient peers. It’s an especially great idea for middle to end of the year because in that time segment you have a pretty good idea which standards need extra work. The best part of these “piles” of tests is that you can put a post-it with the standard and save them for anytime you have the time to reteach and address these deficiencies. It’s very simple and very helpful I think. In theory, you could even avoid the copier by simply putting the 1-2 problems up on the overhead. If you have a Mobi or other writing device for your overhead that can be a great way to correct the test and reteach as well. In theory, you will have a stack of several standards paperclipped together that will help you work toward entire class mastery of the standards.

Revising Your Teaching Strategy

It’s very complicated and different for each classroom. Having said that, I would divide a complete overhaul into three areas and apply strategies as needed

clip1Try as we might as teachers, sometimes we don’t get classroom management right. To adapt and fix it, we must be open to change. This often requires tweaking little things here and there and sometimes it means a complete overhaul of your lesson plan and classroom management approach. Even when you’ve been at it many years, you are never immune to change. Ours is a career where change is always happening so we must adapt. Revising your strategy is the solution to the challenge we call change.

It’s very complicated and different for each classroom. Having said that, I would divide a complete overhaul into three areas and apply strategies as needed:

  1. PLAN. Identify focus standards. Most schools in California are focused on the California content standards. Gone are the days when teachers’ differed in their opinion on what should be taught. While shades of that remain, teachers know the biggest recognition comees from high standardized test scores. Even though I know that is the best target, I will be flexible and say a teacher should identify what they want to teach. You’d do well to simply identify standards but the point here is that you are focused on something. It has been said, and it is true, that if you aim at nothing you will surely hit it. Get a yellow pad and write down 2-3 focus standards a day. These become the measuring rod of whether you did you job.
  2. TEACH. For each standard use a teaching method such as edi or the Madeline Hunter lesson plan and write lesson plans. Teach them, check for understanding throughout and finally, assess that 80% or more of the class has achieved mastery.
  3. PLAN CONSEQUENCES. Plan how you will control classroom discipline. Some classes will not require much of this and others will demand hours of planning in a trimester. Read up on the subject and be open to trying things other teachers do that are working for them.


I hope as you are revising teaching strategies you don’t feel like a failure. It can feel like that sometimes as a teacher in a challenging environment. Make sure you take the quiet time to reflect, research and converse with positive colleagues. In time, the hardest challenges will become your greatest strengths. The reason I am qualified to tell you this is because I have revised my teaching several key times in my career and the end product is seeing myself as an accomplished teacher. You can have that assurance as well if you always stay open to revising your teaching strategy.

Dont Over Stuff Your Brain

When it comes to our brains, less is more and quality is better than quantity. Slow down and take more breaks, you’ll be amazed how much more you retain for life!

Whether you are learning or teaching, it’s important to not over stuff your brain. Studies have shown that the mind cannot absorb more than three things at a time. So, if you are writing, don’t make more than 3 main points or they will be wasted on over-fed minds. If you are looking to read and understand something, break it down into three or less main categories. Yellow pads are great for this. You’d do well to “space out” the time you have to study as well. The theory of time spaced learning got me through College Algebra at the junior college. I have always struggled with math and a teacher shared with the class about it. My life has been improved ever since!

The theory goes like this: instead of studying to absorb new material over the course of an hour, break up your time into 15 minute increments. The data shows that memory is strongest when you start and stop a study time. Therefore, instead of having strong memories only twice in an hour, you will have them at the start and stop of each mini session. This equals more knowledge retained! Now this was great news to me, because I loved taking breaks from math!

When it comes to our brains, less is more and quality is better than quantity. Slow down and take more breaks, you’ll be amazed how much more you retain for life!

10 Tips to Teach Kids with Repetition

Repetition is a powerful teaching tool. Here’s 10 ways I use it effectively as a teacher.

  1. Enunciate new vocabulary clearly and slowly and repeat it in the lesson
  2. Have them write concepts verbatim.
  3. Have them respond to you verbally their own synthesized answers.
  4. Have them do the same in writing.
  5. Have them share verbally in pairs.
  6. Have them share on white boards and hold up (an instant assessment tool)
  7. Give them a short written test.
  8. Pick a random non-volunteer.
  9. Do the similar lessons after complete after 24 hour period pass.

Result?  Proficent kids!

Assess the Entire Class in an Instant

White dry-erase boards are an excellent way to check for understanding (CFU) during and after a lesson. They are also a great way to avoid wasting paper in your lesson plans. Of course, they are also very useful when stating the learning objective. Instead of printing up a class set of the material I am covering in a lesson, I print up one for each class I teach and project it on the screen. The students interact with me through dry-erase markers and white boards and it makes for an almost sport of a lesson.

This can be used in any subject. I teach the concept, use CFU throughout the teaching, then I model the concept in guided practice, asking students to gradually join me. Eventually I “release” them to do questions on their own and once again I CFU through the use of the white boards. I use the term “1 … 2 … 3 … show it to me” and then I can instantly assess a class of 33 kids. I can see if 80% or more are getting it.  If they are, I usually move on. 100% mastery is always the true goal though it isn’t always achieved. As I share anecdotes about my teaching, my goal is to help my readers achieve that goal. If we can get closer through teacher tips like this, we will be more effective in the classroom.

There are challenges getting the kids to leave the caps on the markers and not “doodle” on the white boards. It needs to be stressed to them that they are not doing “art” but rather they are answering questions to show me they “get it.” They get a kick out of it when I say 80% accuracy or better yet 100% accuracy. Sometimes they even cheer. While exuberant, they are focused. This is what makes white boards a great tool for classroom management.

I’ve written here before about how I am moving away from the use of copies and paper in my classroom. I think these changes have only benefited my students. It might be true to say that too much paper improves the presentation but widens the disconnect between the teacher and learner. Then again, this is just my personal experience. I know not everyone is ready for what I am calling “The paperless classroom.” I encourage the use of white boards for CFU. They are simple, always on hand, and you can assess the entire class in an instant.