Teacher Appreciation Care Package Giveaway!

Image from Creating, Teaching and Sharing with Joey
Teacher appreciation week should really be teacher appreciation year. Seriously. ALL YEAR LONG! The vast majority of you:
  • Work many more hours than the ones you are contracted for: Teacher prep days at the start of the year aren't near enough to get your room ready for students and their are no classroom fairies to do it for you, so you spend some of your summertime getting ready for the school year. Then there are the long days at school, the work you take home, the after school and evening school activities, the endless meetings, professional development, and even when you are sick, you have to prep for a sub!

  • Spend your own hard-earned money on your students: Many of you buy school supplies for your students - basics like pencils and glue sticks. You purchase teaching resources to enhance your curriculum, or sometimes even as your curriculum because your district either does not supply what you need or what it does supply is inadequate. You pay to go to conferences so that you can become an even better teacher. Some of you even buy food for your students who would not have breakfast without you. 

  • Care deeply about your students: You love your kiddoes. You do your best to make learning fun and engaging. What you teach them goes far beyond academics - you teach kindness, perseverance, common sense, anger management, social skills, and so, so much more. You worry about your as-risk students, pray for them, and do what you can to compensate for what is often missing at home. 

  • Work in challenging, sometimes hostile environments: I started to make a list of these, but it is just too depressing, and this is supposed to be a celebratory post. Know you are appreciated. 

  • Are amazing teachers! You nurture young lives. You create the future. Amazing. 
All this and more is why I am so excited to be participating in this Teacher Appreciation Care Package Giveaway with 18 of my blogging friends. Each of us is giving away a teacher care package that includes fun stuff for you, a $25 TpT gift certificate, and possibly a teaching product or two. Enter the Minds in Bloom giveaway below, then use the link up to enter the other giveaways! 

The care package I am giving away includes:
  • A pretty bookmark because baubles are fun
  • Colorful clips to help you keep organized
  • A really yummy smelling bar of soap 
  • A giant water cup to keep you well hydrated
  • A picture frame with some encouraging words (or replace it with your own picture)
  • A chocolate bar because I can't imagine a care package without one
  • 60 laminated Brain Break cards on a ring to keep your kiddoes happy and you sane - I'll email you the product download too.
  • A $25 Teachers Pay Teachers gift card to spend as you wish - I'll email you the code so you can spend it on the TpT Teacher Appreciation Sale (May 5-6) if you wish.
  • Your choice of any one product from my Teachers Pay Teachers Store, which will be sent through email (not pictured).
  • This giveaway is open to all currently teaching classroom teachers living in the US or Canada.
  • Giveaway runs May 3-5. Winner will be randomly selected at midnight Eastern time on May 5. Winner will be announced on this post and emailed. 
  • Winner has one week to reply with address so the the package can be mailed. If the winner does not respond within a week, a new winner will be selected and notified. 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Make sure to visit these other awesome bloggers for more chances to win! And don't forget that the Teacher Appreciation Sale on TpT is Tuesday and Wednesday of this week! Use promo code THANKYOU to get up to 28% off!

Write to Explain: Your New Favorite Math Routine

Hello everyone! I’m Laura Santos, from Core Inspiration by Laura Santos, and I’m honored to have this opportunity to reach out and share my favorite math routine with you.
One of the best (and most challenging) things about teaching math is guiding students in the creation of clear math models and helping them develop the ability to communicate the reasoning behind their solution.
The widely-adopted Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice call for students to make sense of problems and persevere in solving them, reason abstractly and quantitatively, construct viable arguments, model solutions, and attend to precision; among other math skills.

Unfortunately, most district-adopted curriculum does require students to exercise these skills frequently enough to achieve a level of mastery. Yes, they may be able to solve several problems that require subtraction with regrouping but can they truly articulate the reason why their solutions are correct? 

If the answer is no, I have a tool your students can start using tomorrow that will immediately challenge them to develop these essential math skills. I call this tool Write To Explain.

Write To Explain Recording Sheet 

This Write To Explain recording sheet can be used with virtually any math problem, but is especially handy when it comes to solving hefty word problems that require multiple computational strategies and steps. The format is simple: four boxes that guide students through four steps.

Step 1: Record the Question
The reasoning and analysis process begins. Students are required to attend to precision as they record the math question word-for-word and highlight the most important key words, numbers and ideas.

Step 2: Model and Solve
Students use abstract and quantitative models to work through the problem solving process. Those who are experts at mental math are trained to attend to precision when modeling their thinking.

Step 3: Solution
Students record their solution in a complete sentence and routinely double-check that their solution accurately answers the question. 

Step 4: Explain
Students justify their conclusions and communicate them clearly in written form, further reinforcing their reasoning skills.   

Of course, most students will give you a “you are crazy” look when you hand them this recording sheet and tell them their solution should fill the whole page (they are used to squeezing answers on a tiny one inch line after all). Fortunately, with a little guidance and modeling from their favorite mathematician, they will be knocking your socks off with beautiful math models and explanations in no time. 

Tips To Get You Started

Sift through a review math unit and pull out a few word problems you know you class will feel successful with (when introducing a new routine, you want those brain cells focused on the process, not getting hung up on math skills they aren’t familiar with).  

On the first two days, have students observe as you solve a problem using the recording sheet and ask them to listen to your think-alouds as you solve.  

On day three, have students complete a problem with you. Although some of your high achievers may want to hurry off and complete the recording sheet their way, it’s important to work step by step together so the process is deeply solidified. Continue to share your think-alouds as you record and they copy your example onto their own paper. Depending on your class, you may repeat this process for one additional day or for several additional days.
When you feel your students truly understand the process, begin to release some of the responsibility. Have them Record The Question and then share with a partner what they recorded and what key words they highlighted. Then, have them Model and Solve and meet up with a partner again to share out. Continue this “work and share” routine until all four steps are complete.  

As you see your students become more confident and independent, gradually require them to complete more steps before sharing with their partner. As students share, pick exemplars to read and display to the class so students build a strong understanding of what a thorough model and articulate solution and explanation look like.  

Up And Running 

Once this training process is complete, you can introduce Write To Explain as independent work or partner work that students complete as part of their daily math routine.

Although Write To Explain can be used for any math problem, I have created several sets of task cards with questions specifically designed with Write To Explain in mind. My second grade and third grade sets are available in my TPT store along with a Write To Explain Task Card FREEBIE that includes the recording sheet featured in this post.

Laura Santos from Core Inspiration by Laura Santos, is a teacher creator with six years of experience teaching grades 2-4. She is currently a second grade teacher and enjoys creating enrichment resources that challenge her active learners. For more inspiration, visit her blog and TPT Store, or swing by her Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram.

How to Deal With Class Wiggle Worms

Ever have one of those years days where your classroom feels like an endless game of whack-a-mole with kids popping off of the carpet during whole group, bouncing from desk to desk during assignments, and springing out of line during each and every transition?? Well believe me, I certainly have! I have taught first grade for the past 7 years and my current group seems to be the wiggliest bunch I have ever worked with. Early in the year I had to accept that my typical class management systems and strategies would not be enough if I wanted to survive help all children learn. I must add that over half have now been diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, ODD, or Sensory Processing disabilities.

If you are tired of the constant battles to keep the focus and cooperation of your wiggle worms, this post is for you. Today I am here from K's Classroom Kreations to share some easy classroom management strategies and inexpensive resources that will hopefully help both you and your students be successful. Below are 4 simple steps that can be implemented in any order (with a wide variety of ages), depending on classroom needs.
Step 1: Classroom Seating
If you walk into my classroom you will first notice children scattered all around the room. Some kids sit on yoga balls, others lay on the floor, and a few even stand near desks. Of course there are times when all children are expected to sit at desks to complete assignments, but typically, independent work in my classroom can be completed wherever needed. I also purchased several "wiggle cushions" online. You can find them at stores like the Therapy Shoppe but I also suggest just browsing Amazon. These seats help students move around while allowing their brains to focus on other tasks. Often times children with ADHD and sensory processing disabilities do not realize their place in the space around them; these seats help center them.

Step 2: Sensory Input (Fidgets)
You might also notice a few children using tools from my "Fidget Box" which is usually full of twists, stress balls, and other sensory items. One of my favorite items are Tangles which can be twisted and turned. I teach my kiddos to act like "ninjas" while using them. If I see them playing or tools become distracting, they need to put them away.

The majority of my tools came from the Dollar Tree. I simply walked up and down the aisles to find different items that would provide a variety of feelings. Some students who are constantly picking (noses, fingers, tape, etc) like the foam beads that can be picked apart and put back together. Others liked squeezing stress balls, rubbing a scruby sponge against their skin, or feeling the soft fabric of a washcloth. I do allow my students time to explore different options and talk to them about what helps them focus and what seems to distract them more. Another idea for fidgeters is to place a small strip of velcro under their desk for them to feel like sitting.

Step 3: Brain Breaks & Movement
The framework of my day alternates between brief mini lessons and independent/guided practice in other locations in my classroom. I have found that by using a timer to limit my whole group instruction I am more purposeful in what I say and present. This also prevents my students from getting too antsy- remember the attention span of your students and stick to it. Did you know you can even find timers at the Dollar Tree?? I also picked up a set of these magnetic clips- perfect for hanging schedules and picture cards right on the white board, filing cabinet, or frame of some student desks.

I try to include many hands on activities that include movement into each day. One suggestion is to be purposeful in your movement activities. If you notice that students are starting to drift and need to refocus I suggest a quicker paced activity. We love to use Go Noodle or Just Dance For Kids (on YouTube) for these brain breaks.

When I notice that some of my kids seem all over the place (extra wiggly/chatty) I have them complete different movement activities to help calm them down. For example, stomping, carrying a heavy backpack, or feeling their own weight while on the monkey bars will help slow them down and regain control of their body.
Step 4: Hands on Behavior System
When I first began teaching I used the typical color chart by having my students move their clips or flip their cards through the system based on behavior. The visual was helpful for many students but honestly it just didn't work for my teaching style. The last few years I have used Class Dojo (and swear by it!). If you have not heard of it you need to check it out- it takes behavior management to the 21st Century. The online tool allows me to add many positive points by using my phone, iPad, or computer and also take away points as needed. This tool usually works for about 90% of my class.

I then supplemented with behavior contracts, sticker charts, and anything else I could think of for my few remaining students. Nothing worked this year! Finally, I attended a conference with strategies for working with students who have Autism and ADHD. I was reminded of the sensory issues that many of my students are dealing with and how I needed to break things down into a more hands on and visual way.
First I thought about the specific children I was having trouble with and what interested them most. I printed small tokens with images (from google). In this case I printed and laminated some small tokens with Angry Birds, Ninja Turtles, and Spiderman. I then conferenced with each child to see which classroom rewards would most motivate them. I took pictures of these ideas and laminated them as well. I learned that my kids loved iPad time, reading in the library, playing with math centers, and having time to color. I again went to my favorite dollar stores and craft stores and stocked up on every special coloring book I could find- and the best part is they last forever when students only earn one page at a time. (Actually coloring pages were such a huge motivator I allowed all students in my classroom to work towards a page in place of Prize Box on Fridays.)
Once the system was ready to go I simply velcro'd a small cup to each of their desks (to prevent spilling) and put all pieces in a zip-up pencil bag.
I picked one behavior to focus on first with each child. For example, one child was constantly interrupting and another was constantly wandering the room (among many other disruptive behaviors of course). With these starting places in mind I rewarded each child with a special token every time I saw the correct behavior displayed. I also made sure to use specific praise like " I love that you raised your hand to answer." OR " I love the way __ is sitting in his seat. Who else can model great choices like him?" to reinforce positive choices.

In the beginning I gave tokens very frequently. As soon as a child earned 5 tokens, they could have 5 minutes spent with the reward they were working towards. After their reward time was up (using a timer), they would select a new reward card to work towards and would start back at zero. When initially implementing the program some kids could earn reward time a few times a day. These kiddos are typically the ones who need immediate attention (favorite characters on tokens) and could not wait until the end of the day/week for rewards like other children (they lack impulse control).

When I shared this plan with a few other teachers one initial concern was the amount of time they would be spending with rewards and not working. I understand this concern. Believe me. But like I told them, how much time is your targeted student actually on task, engaged, and not disrupting learning for others right now? Probably not very much. The way I saw it was if I could get the student to buy in to this system, then the 5 minutes spent earning a reward was well worth their cooperation and learning throughout the remainder of the lesson. Also, as students learn to self-manage their behaviors, slowly wean them off of the reward system. This can be done in two different ways: 1) increase the amount of tokens needed before a reward can be earned, or 2) rather than giving tokens every few minutes like at first, give them after the completion of a whole task, lesson, or day. The goal is to eventually help children realize they are in control of their bodies and choices and have the tokens not be necessary. Once my other teammates tried this system they were loving it also and saw great changes in behaviors.

**TIP: Keep the one focus behavior your actual focus. This means if you are working on having a child stop wandering, don't get caught up with other issues like them not sitting correctly on the carpet or feeling the need to stand at their desk. If they are where they are supposed to be, and on task working, reward them. The time will come to further modify behavior to have them sitting criss-cross or correctly in their seats.

I hope this post gave you lots of new ideas about ways to help your wiggle worms gain better control of their bodies, and hopefully their learning. If you have any questions feel free to pop on over to my blog, check out my classroom on Instagram, or visit my Teachers Pay Teachers Store. Thank you!
K's Kreations

Using the Ladder Method in Math

Happy spring! I'm Ellie from Middle School Math Moments, and I'm so happy to have the opportunity to share my ideas with you!

Using the Ladder Method
I am always excited to learn something new, and I've learned quite a bit in the last few years about how the ladder method can help students with different math concepts (I didn't learn this method when I was in school)! To be completely honest, I have to say that I LOVE the ladder method, and I'd like to share how I came upon our newest (and probably my favorite) use of the ladder method.

Up until a few weeks ago, we used the ladder method to find prime factorizations, GCF, and LCM. But THEN, we started discussing factoring, mostly with numerical expressions. It's 6th grade, it's the first time my students were exposed to factoring, and it was the first time I had taught factoring. I know how to factor, but I wasn't really sure how to best explain it so it would be easy for the students to understand. When I learned to factor something like 18x + 24, we "thought of" the GCF and divided both numbers by it. Not having taught factoring before, I thought that something more in-depth was needed.

So, not knowing what to expect from the students, I started with a video clip from our math series, as well as a PowerPoint from the series. The PowerPoint explanation/examples connected to the Distributive Property, but not well enough for the students to really understand the connection. When they tried a few problems on their own, some students were still confused. So, I showed them what I remember being taught (find the GCF and divide the terms by it). They thought this was much simpler, but it was close to the end of class and we only had time for one or two additional examples before the period was over. I knew we'd need to continue the next day, but this was good, because it gave me more time to evaluate the lesson and consider which way to go next. The video and PowerPoint weren't great, but the dividing idea seemed to make sense to them.
Even though the resources I used didn't work well for my students, I'm so glad I used them, because that lesson, that day, led me to something new! During the instruction, many of the students were using the ladder method to find the GCF (without me telling them to:).  Looking at their papers as I circulated, I noticed that the numbers at the bottom of the ladder end up being the numbers that go in the parentheses when the GCF is "removed" from the expression. I hadn't seen the idea of the ladder method being used for factoring, so after school, I searched online to see if I could find it...I couldn't. I spoke to a few teachers and they hadn't seen it before either, but they really liked it and thought it was a great visual! 
Here's how it works, if we want to factor the expression 18 + 24:
The 18 and 24 are placed side by side on the ladder, and we see that they can both be divided by 3. So, we divide them both by 3 to get 6 and 8; 6 and 8 can both be divided by 2, so we do that and end up with 3 and 4 on the bottom of the ladder. Since 3 and 4 have no common factors to divide by, we are done dividing.
To write the factored form of 18 + 24, we take the 3 and 2 from the left and multiply them to get 6 (GCF). This GCF goes on the outside of the parentheses in the factored form. The 3 and 4 on the bottom of the ladder are the factors that remain when the GCF is removed from 18 and 24, and these go inside the parentheses, giving us the factored form of 6(3 + 4).

When I presented this method to my students the next day (being sure to make the Distributive Property connection), they thought it made so much sense, and that it was SO easy! It seems to be particularly helpful for students who don't know all their facts that well (ladder helps them to find the GCF more easily), or for when a GCF might not be as easy to think of (for example, GCF of 42 and 56 is 14 - most students automatically think it's 7, but the ladder method helps them to determine that it's 14). It adds a structure that makes the placement of the numbers more clear, and adds a kind of automatic "checking" component to ensure that they have actually found the GCF (if the numbers at the bottom of the ladder still have a common factor that they can be divided by, then the process is not finished - they haven't found the GCF, and the expression isn't completely factored).
Click to download!

Shortly after I started using this method with my students, my daughter's homework was to factor the GCF out of longer algebraic expressions; we used the ladder method - it worked really well for her! 
I created a notes page for my students, with steps and several examples, some of which include variables. Feel free to download it and use it! 

I also created a Fold It Up for the ladder method, which includes the steps for factoring and for finding GCF and LCM. 

I am so excited to have discovered this use for the ladder method, and I find it so interesting to once again realize that even when our lesson plans don't go exactly as expected, or when they "fail" to teach things as clearly as we want, they can still allow us to "stumble" upon fantastic new ways to help our students.

Bio: I am a 6th grade math teacher, and have been teaching for 23 years:) Running, reading, and learning are my favorite things (besides being a mom to three fabulous children.) I write about math and education on my blog, Middle School Math Moments

** Font in the images is created by 

6 Tips for Fighting Test Anxiety

Spring sends a refreshing new lilt into some students’ steps. Daylight stretches into late evening, outdoor events replace closed-in classes, and young friendships tend to blossom into new life for many students. Have you seen it? Why then, does winter’s melt into spring shoot text anxiety to cripple many other students, as tests trigger stress?
1. STUCK as a Pack-rat? Students come to tests weighted down by fear and panic linked to even tiny trip-ups from their past. When their brain’s basal ganglia storehouse overflows with past failures, anxieties and unmet expectations, they resemble pack-rats whose excess rubbish slows down their progress.

SHAKE UP RUTS with cool test taking approaches in the following ways:
  • Store lively new study approaches and your brain will begin to default to these new experiences. For instance add classical music in the background to increase focus. 
  • Sketch your main ideas from the text – then draw the same sketch in the margin of your exam page as a guide to writing from facts your sketch represents.
  • Go for a walk and ask yourself key questions about what you studied – to see how well you can answer. 
  • Teach a few main facts to your dog as a way to help you remember.
2. LAUGH Get Lost? Tests tend to rob the sheer adventure of learning for some students. When serotonin (the brain’s well being chemical) gets depleted learners lose their zest for test taking. Serotonin regulates learning so that you can apply clear thinking in tests.

ROMANCE THE JOY of Learning Alfred Lloyd Whitehead said. How so? Choices you make about contentment can amp up joy for test taking in the following ways:
  • Laugh at yourself and laugh whenever you make a mistake – in order to fuel contentment and raise learning takeaways. Serotonin will do the rest!
  • Surround yourself with people who enjoy taking tests and then copy or mimic what they do to make a difference.
  • Get enough sleep and stay calm before the test by doing something you enjoy. 
  • Wherever you see a problem – jot down a possibility – since serotonin can be depleted by facing problems without sleep to help you reach for solutions.
  • Choose to enjoy the journey and then list five ways you plan to make that happen. 
  • Check off each adventurous choice that helps you laugh and play with facts before the test.
3. REBOOT Needed? Every time a student acts on test anxiety, the brain rewires itself for more anxiety that night in REM sleep. A learner’s actions (such as panicked preparations for a test) literally reshape the brain mentally and physically, for more of the same. Your brain’s plasticity reshapes your brain after each test preparation you do – good or bad.

ACT ON PLASTICITY (which is your brain’s ability to change itself) and improved results will come to test taking in the following ways:
  • Play your way into understanding new facts that will change your brain! 
  • Apply content in fun new ways for the best results, since that activates your brain’s plasticity. 
  • Compete with teams to see who can come up with answers faster, draw the answers without using words, teach others as you learn yourself, rap the facts, create a collage to engage parents.
  • Laugh to relax and boost enzymes, log your progress in an interactive journal.
  • Tweet your answers to peers, build a mock-up to represent your ideas, pose two footed questions to engage others in class, link to a list serve to build a community of ideas, use good tone skills to engage opposing views.
4. BRAIN too small? Too many facts with too few applications leaves you frustrated and overwhelmed. Your brain comes with a working memory – which is like a mental sticky note that holds a few ideas at a time until you apply them, play with them, use them to create a new innovation, and practice them.Working memory’s thimble sized capacity holds few facts and lets these go when other facts arrive.

OUTSOURCE WORKING MEMORY with simply crafted cheat sheets to keep multiple intelligences fluid (See MI Chart below) and advance your test taking skills in the following ways:
  • Create recipe sized cards (with few keys words only) to practice and apply significant facts. 
  • Accept the discomfort in working memory, to attain the thrill of inventors and innovators who learn to use mistakes as stepping stones to creative solutions. 
  • Glance over key facts in your working memory just before taking a test. 
  • Imagine you are the apple, or leader in your lesson and act as you would in that situation.
  • Create a story or sketch to help you outsource new facts by hooking them to what you already know so they stick. 
  • Use working memory facts to help you integrate into bigger ideas. 
5. FUELING for Stress? Students fall into disadvantages daily whenever their brains fuel with cortisol, a stress chemical. Cortisol comes with and is exacerbated through fear, regret, stress, anxiety, or disappointment. The results? Learning shuts down, anxiety increases, and negative reactions replace risk and adventure that progresses learning.

CHASE AWAY CORTISOL that can literally shrink your brain, lead to illness or shave years off your life, by running from a desire to be perfect.
  • Avoid last minute anything and plan ahead for the success you crave. 
  • Surround yourself with people who focus on possibilities more and vent about problems less.
  • Laugh, laugh, laugh! Smile at flaws to chase away cortisol – and refuel with chemicals for well being. 
  • Thank people, forgive missteps and refuse to blame for mistakes or shortcomings. 
  • Brainstorm for others’ ideas that help you to learn, practice body language for good tone that decreases cortisol, welcome others’ talents and offer yours in any group, choose to capitalize on all talents, and hook new facts to what you already know by creating charts and visual possibilities.
6. EMOTIONAL IQ Problems? Students who enter class with an untamed amygdala (the seat of their emotions) will enter tests without the tools to succeed.The amygdala stores all past responses such as bullying, cheating, worrying, or rejecting help that would help you enjoy tests.This tiny sac of neurons acts like a lightning rod for some students who have met many test-taking failures.

RAISE EMOTIONAL IQ by altering what you store in your amygdala. Hang out with friends with good moods, and try tone skills such as thanking others, disagreeing respectfully, listening to and learning from others who differ. Act in opposite directions of anger, moodiness, displeasure, and your amygdala learns to relax and tackle problems with positive moods.
To act on moods that create possibilities for all, is to tame amygdala reactions that create emotional panic, anxiety, or discouragement. The key to a tamed amygdala is to act on good moods. Observe and copy those you respect to learn how they store healthy emotions. Play with healthy responses and ignore mistakes to reach for confidence that embraces risk.
Try one or two of these test preparation approaches with MI tasks listed below.

Think it's possible to Go for Gold – and yet Run from Gloom? A related brain based product is at Test My Brain - Don't Test Me! Namungo Brain Game to Reduce Test Anxiety

This post is written by Ellen Weber from Brain Leaders and Learners!

Unshakeable: Incorporate Playfulness and Have Fun with Learning

Teaching is serious business, now more than ever. With Common Core standards, less and less recess time, an overwhelming number of high-stakes tests, and of course the many challenges students bring to the classroom on a daily basis, it really can't be anything else.....or can it?

I would argue that even in today's challenging environment playfulness and fun should still be a priority in the classroom for three important reasons:
  • While the goal of education is to shape young people into productive members of society (or something like that), right at this moment, they are still children and children thrive on fun and actually need to play for healthy development.

  • When children enjoy what they are doing they are more engaged. They actually learn and remember more. 

  • Your own mental health - Taking everything seriously can make for a stressful and possibly somewhat unpleasant day. When your students are having fun, you probably are too! 
In her book, Unshakable, Angela Watson admits that incorporating fun into her lessons did not come naturally to her. However, she saw the potential benefits of taking a more playful approach and challenged herself to add more fun into her teaching. Fortunately for her students, and for us, Angela is not the kind of person to do something halfway. She found a plethora of ways to make learning fun, and she has shared all of them in chapter 12 of her book:  Incorporate Playfulness and Have Fun with Learning. 
I actually am the kind of teacher that naturally looks for ways to make learning fun. My voice is usually animated and jokes and silly accents are common in my classroom. When I am speaking, my goal is to keep my kiddoes engaged, and humor can really help. So, it's not surprising that I resonated with a lot of what Angela wrote in this chapter. As a bonus, I also picked up a few new strategies (love the part about props for various roles. Never would have thought of that). If playfulness is a little harder for you, Angela suggests, "choosing one that fits your personality and let it evolve from there." It's like anything else in life, the more you do it, the more natural it becomes.
In this chapter, Angela discusses using many different approaches including:
  • Creatively integrating music into your classroom
  • Incorporating movement
  • Adding a little drama to your classroom (the fun kind, not the scary kind!)
  • Using props to make learning more fun
  • And of course turning tasks into games. 
I don't want to tell you too much because Angela's got it covered in Unshakable (which you can purchase from Amazon here), but I will close this post with the final paragraph from this chapter.
"A passionate teacher with a great sense of humor truly makes learning fun. the more you care about the curriculum and give yourself and the kids permission to laugh, the easier it will be to find the fun in teaching. Your classroom can be a place full of rigor AND  students can laugh the entire day. Playfulness is often a mark of serious learning."
This post is just one small part of the amazing book study being hosted on Angela's blog, The Cornerstone for Teachers. Be sure and click through to read about the next chapter!

If you have a moment, please share how YOU incorporate fun into your classroom.

What Your Struggling Students Need You to Know

Do you ever feel like some students in class are unreachable? Even though you believe all children can learn, sometimes they arrive at your classroom door not knowing how to read at the most basic level. Despite their learning challenges, these kids are too bright to qualify for special education, yet none of your tried and true intervention efforts stick. Is there anything more you can do?     
As a former educational therapist, these are my favorite kids to work with. (Yes folks, I said it. Apparently I choose favorites.) You might not think I would choose the sometimes loud or overly chatty or disruptive kids, the sometimes off in la-la land, not paying attention kinds of kids as my favorites. Humor me for a moment. Students with learning challenges, the ones who are falling through the cracks, moving from grade to grade without learning how to read, whose confidence in themselves tumbles lower and lower with each passing year, are the very students we can have the greatest impact on.   
Sometimes all it takes is a targeted approach to strengthening processing skills and we can change the trajectory of their educational careers for the better. Sound like magic? It sure feels that way sometimes.  Using strategies to remediate dyslexia and other learning challenges, I witnessed “miracles” first hand. The miracles weren’t only in students’ amplified ability to learn. I saw entire personalities change. Students transformed from dejected wallflowers or so-called “troublemakers” to outgoing, active hand-raisers. Confident. Capable. Happy. That’s what we want for ALL of our kids, right?  

So How Do We Get There?

While I will always recommend that parents seek out private educational therapy for their consistently struggling learners, I know this isn’t always an option. That’s where you come in.   First, let’s recognize that processing skills and academic skills are not the same. Processing skill development sets the foundation for academic learning.    Trained educational therapists do not focus on a child’s area of academic weakness, then practice the same activities over and over again. When the trouble lies in weak, underdeveloped processing skills, repetition only increases a child’s frustration level. Students fail, again and again, reaffirming their deep feelings of inadequacy. Instead, educational therapists dig deeper to uncover the specific processing deficits at the root of the problem. Through strategic cognitive strength training, educational therapists maximize students’ ability to learn. Even without academic intervention, cognitive intervention naturally translates to better performance in the classroom. The process, if targeted and consistent, can take anywhere from a few short months to approximately two years.    

What Can Teachers Do?

If one-on-one educational therapy is off the table (and even if it isn’t) I believe one of the best things we can do for ALL students is to learn everything we can about processing skills - what they are, signs of trouble, and how to intervene.   After training educators how to identify and strengthen processing skill deficits, I was a little surprised by how grateful the teaching credential students were for the knowledge. No one was covering this in their credential programs.   The classroom teachers, even the initial skeptics, saw the profound impact of simple cognitive strength training activities on their previously difficult-to-reach students. Some even said that their new understanding completely changed the way they teach.  

Understanding Processing Skills

In a nutshell, processing skills involve the way we take in information through our senses, then interpret the information received. Typically by the time children enter kindergarten they have developed strong enough processing skills to learn their ABCs and beyond with ease and confidence. Without a strong foundation in place, however, students may learn to develop compensating skills in an effort to hide any weaknesses. This strategy tends to work for a little while. Then, right around the third grade or so, learning gaps grow larger and larger, becoming much more difficult to hide.
Below is a short list of visual and auditory processing skills. I’ve included only a handful of ways these particular processing deficits may reveal themselves. Perhaps you recognize them?    
  • Visual Tracking
Does your student skip lines while reading or read words out of order, perhaps words that are pulled randomly from different lines on the page? Does he reverse words, reading “saw” instead of “was,” for example? This could point to a potential visual tracking issue.  
  • Visual Memory
This challenge shows up in all sorts of ways, from copying work from the board only one letter at a time to spelling trouble to difficulty learning sight words, poor reading comprehension and more.  
  • Auditory Memory
Is your student looking to her classmates to learn which page she should turn to? Does she have trouble following spoken directions? Don’t assume she’s being defiant. She may only be able to remember two instructions at a time, such as “Take out your pencils and math workbooks.” She may have met her threshold when you also instructed her to “turn to page 17.”  
  • Visual Discrimination
Challenges with visual discrimination may show up as common letter reversals and letter identification confusion. Distinguishing the differences between letters b, p, q, and d, for instance, may be difficult for students who struggle with this skill.  
  • Spatial Awareness
This pertains not only to our physical body in space, understanding left from right and being able to read a map, but it also can impact writing. Rather than writing in a straight line, do any of your students write in a slant that seems to trail dramatically down the page? Do they make errors in math equations because they don’t line the numbers up correctly? Strengthening spatial awareness may help.

Please recognize that students may demonstrate the tendencies described above for multiple reasons. As you learn more about what those reasons might be, and how to help (don’t worry, I’ll get to that part), focusing on underlying processing skills puts you in a strong position to help your struggling (and non-struggling) learners. Doing so helps you provide your students with more than a temporary fix. You’ll go beyond merely helping them understand one academic concept at a time. With your help and understanding, your students will develop learning skills that last a lifetime.   Want even better news?
Activities that build processing skills are actually deceptively simple, and fun! Enlist the help of your teacher’s aide, your volunteers, your parents, your early intervention specialists. Share with them my free Intervention Sampler, a printable resource providing more information about some of the processing skills I mentioned above. You’ll learn what the skills are, what signs of weakness to look out for, and even be able to take a few targeted interventions for a test drive. Then head over to my website (link below) to find more strategy tips and tricks. They’re designed to help YOU help your struggling students become confident, capable learners. 
Cherice designs Learning Ability Boosters for students in K-6. Her educational therapy experience specializing in dyslexia remediation techniques informs all of her designs, which are just as useful for gifted students as they are for struggling learners. Find her specialty materials at Teachers Pay Teachers plus plenty of tips and fun freebies at InnerPiecesGallery.com.

Teaching Resources

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