New Look Coming Soon!

Hey everyone,

I am finally moving Minds in Bloom from Blogger to WordPress and will be getting a much needed redesign at the same time. The end result will be awesome, but the blog may look a little wonky for a few days and may not behave quite as it should. All the kinks should be worked out in a week or two and it will be fabulous!

I would love to know what you think of the new look once we are up and running!

Thanks for your patience,

9 Ways to Use Task Cards

9 Ways to Use Task Cards
Our guest blogger today is Mary, who comes to us from M Moore Educational Resources. She's sharing nine ways to use task cards, which have been highly successful in her classroom.
Task cards are so versatile, even in middle and high school! They are great because students feel they have a choice in which task they do first, and in middle school this is a great way to engage students. Another benefit of task cards is that students do not feel overwhelmed by worksheet after worksheet of problems to do. It breaks up the day, week, or month. Read below about nine ways you may use task cards.

1. Centers or Stations

Set up multiple stations with task cards you wish the students to complete. Students work and rotate through the stations and the respective tasks you set up. Stations or centers may be set up with 4-5 specific stations on the tasks you wish students to complete with white boards, recording sheets, or notebooks. The number of stations may be determined by the time students are in your class. Students may record their answers and rotate through the stations for a specific amount of time that you designate. Students may also work on a station you specify if you do not wish for them to rotate through stations. For example, one group may need to improve their skills on "Number Sense" tasks, so they work in the "Numbers" station. Another group may need to improve their skills on "Pythagorean Theorem;" therefore, they work in the "Pythagorean" station. This could be done weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly for middle school or high school students. Stations may also be set up as "self-checking" stations where an answer key is available for students to check their work. However you set up stations or centers, task cards are fantastic for this purpose.
The above photo shows how you may set up tasks or challenges in a small album to keep directions, task challenges, and cards together. 

2. Game Day

Hold a game day once a month and allow students to choose which activity they wish to do. Have the task cards in small photo albums (as demonstrated in the above photo) with the answers in the back, dry erase markers, and small white boards. Let students work on the tasks they wish to complete. For example, one year I had students choose from the topics I had set up, which had been taught the past several weeks and on which they were going to be tested (for example: factoring tasks, 2-step equation tasks, order of operation tasks, and percent-decimal-fraction tasks). I would lay the tasks, white boards, bins of markers, and erasers on a table and let students know which tasks were available. Students then could work in small groups or individually and work through the tasks they chose. This was a great way to review and reinforce their learning. If a student or students needed to complete work or needed more review in a certain area, I’d suggest they use that time to complete work (I had extra copies of the work they needed to complete during this time), and/or I’d suggest a specific task I wanted them to work on and with which group. This is a great way to build on students' knowledge and skills and encourage them to complete assignments, especially in middle school.

3. Starters

Use task cards as "starters." Choose one or two tasks for students to do at the beginning of each class. Check for understanding after they have had time to complete the starter. Another option for starters or classwork is for all students to get one task card/one problem at the beginning of class, solve the problem, and then have 1-2 students per day (rotate around the room over the course of a month) share the problem and how they solved it. Another option when teaching units with starters is for students to write their problem and solution on a large poster paper that is posted in the room. Later, during the teaching of a particular unit, have a day or time frame you select where they review everyone’s problem and solution and make any revisions they feel necessary to their own work and/or others' work. The starter tasks coincide with the unit being taught or focus on skills students need to be successful in the unit being taught at the time. The work is also reviewed by the teacher and discussed.

4. Exit Tickets or Spiral Review

Cut the tasks apart and have students complete a problem a day at the end of class. This could even be done every day, with exit tickets, by students solving one task card a day. Students write their names on the task card and answer on the back of the task card or on a recording sheet for the week. As with starters, the tasks used for exit tickets relate to the unit being taught or on skills students need to master in your class. Another option for spiral review is to have students complete a card or a half sheet of task cards when you are teaching a unit. For example, students may need to review exponents when you are teaching Pythagorean Theorem; therefore, you may review exponents with a few task cards or a sheet of tasks to refresh students' skills as a mini-lesson. It’s a way of mini-reviewing every week or every day so students retain what they’ve learned.

5. Key or Flip Book

As seen in the photo above, print task cards, laminate them if you like, punch holes in one corner, and secure task cards with a metal key ring or a string to create "key" or "flip" books. Students can flip through the problems and solve them on key skills they need to master. They may solve on a recording sheet, on notebook paper, in interactive journals, or on small white boards. One option is to set up a self-checking area where students check their answers after they solve the problem. Another way to keep students working is for students who finish their work early to then select a flip book to work on. The key is to have a flip book area already set up with task cards you wish for them to work on. Students may even keep a "log" on which "key" or "flip" books they have completed. As you teach new units, add more flip books so there are always tasks ready for students.

6. Musical Tasks

This option is very similar to Musical Chairs, yet no one loses a seat, and it is integrated with rotating stations. Set cards out, one on each desk. Have students solve the problem while playing music on low. Time the students as they work on the problem (2-3 minutes, depending on the task and your students); when the music stops, they move to the next desk and start the next task when the music starts again. This process continues while students rotate through all the tasks. One way students may record their answers is to have a recording sheet like with the "Let's Play 24 Challenge Game" they take with them from desk to desk that is numbered matching the task card number, or they could write answers in their notebooks. Students later compare their solutions and how they solved the problems. Or, if you don’t want to play music, call out "Scoot," "Switch," or another catchy phrase when students switch stations. You may also have tables set up and 4-5 task cards at each table for students to work in teams to solve; then they switch tables. Allow enough time for students to solve the problems.


This option is a way to integrate students' input with stations or centers. With CLUE stations, have tasks laid out on tables at 3-4 stations. At the stations are two sheets: recording sheets and a CLUE sheet. The CLUE sheet may be a piece of notebook paper with the word CLUES written at the top for students to fill out. Students write in clues or tips to solve the problems; then, the next student looks over the previous students' or groups' clues, solves the tasks, and records their answer on their own recording sheet, along with leaving more clues. The CLUES sheet stays at the respective station. Some example of clues may be (on a volume task), "With this formula you do not cube anything," or "Remember that Pi is infinite; Pi is not..." or another useful tip to help students solve the task while not giving them the answer.

8. As Homework, Classwork, Quizzes

As seen in the above photo, print a page (or cut a page in half) of the task cards and let students complete them as homework, as classwork, or as a quiz. Or print the cards front and back on a sheet of paper and let students turn in the paper at the end of the week as their homework assignment. Many of my task card products have a set solely for "test prep," along with some word problems to prepare students and allow them to practice for testing. They are very useful as quizzes, classwork, homework, in stations, and more.

9. Let's Play 24 Challenge

The "Let’s Play 24 Challenge" is a great way for students to use task cards and a recording sheet. With this challenge the task cards are placed in a pile on a table. Students get up, select a task, go to their seat, solve a problem, record their answer on the "Let's Play Recording Sheet." Then, they put it back on the table, select another problem, go back to their seat, solve the next task, record their answer, etc, until they’ve solved all 24 challenges. I set it up where students work in small groups on the task challenges. This is a great way to incorporate movement in the class and for students to feel they have a choice in which problems they do first. Another option, if you do not wish for students to get up and down, is to group students in small groups, give each group a set of task cards, and allow them to work together on the "24 Challenges"--not one solving and another copying but working together and solve the problems. You may get numerous "Let's Play 24 Challenges" for middle school and for pre-math 1 students by clicking here. Please note: More Task Cards will be added as I continue to create more "Let's Play 24 Challenges."
One option with all uses of the task card activities discussed above is to have the answer key handy (unless it’s a quiz, homework, or graded classwork) so that students can check their work. Most of the activities above may be set up as self-checking stations/activities if you want them to check their answers. Students have an answer key to check their work at the end of the task card flip books, back of an album of tasks, or check their work at a "task challenge checking station." You may also have an answer key handy so when you walk around the room, you can quickly check their work and/or answer questions students may have. As with all of these tasks, I suggest explaining your expectations to students on how you wish for them to utilize task challenges within your classroom.

I hope you enjoy the article and the many ways you may use task cards, especially in middle school and high school.

Best Wishes, Ms. Moore
Certified K-6, 6-9 math, and 6-9 science

TpT Store ~ Pinterest

© 2015 M Moore, M Moore Educational Resources. All rights reserved. "Let's Play 24 Challenge" & "Let's Play 24" are © 2015 MMoore intellectual property. All rights reserved. You may share, pin/repin, and like, just not copy and/or use the "Let's Play 24 Challenge" intellectual property or resell it. For numerous educational resources feel free to visit my TpT store; I am continuously adding products, so visit often. Thank you for stopping by my blog today.

Thinking Deep with Inferencing

Thinking Deep with Inferences
Hi y'all! It's Katie "Texas" from Rock and Teach. I'm a fourth grade teacher in the great state of Texas. I'm so excited to be guest blogging for the amazing Rachel Lynette!

The topic I'll be blogging about today is inferences. Sometimes I wonder why forming an inference is so hard for students. Evidence + Schema = Inference… That should be clear as day to our students, right??


To form an inference or draw a conclusion, students have to think DEEP. They need to be able to call on previous knowledge (schema). Unfortunately, sometimes our students don’t have a lot of related background knowledge or life experiences, which is where their schema comes from.

To help build strong inferences and deep thinking in my classroom, every Thursday is "Think Deep Thursday." When my students enter the classroom, a message is waiting for them on the board. The message includes a scenario, some "evidence," and a sentence stem to help them write an inference. After weeks of practice, I have seen SO much improvement in my students’ ability to think DEEP.

Today, I want share with you how I started “Think Deep Thursday” in my classroom and provide some tips and tricks so you can start it in your classroom!


All you need to start “Think Deep Thursday” is a scenario (text), a plastic baggie (for evidence), and sticky notes (optional) on which students can write their inferences. I write my scenarios on my white board, but you could easily type it up and display it on a projector or SMART board!

Thinking Deep with Inferencing
My first Think Deep Thursday was a disaster. I had my situation on the board: “Yesterday, I went to my BFF's house. What can you INFER about my friend based on these items from her house?” The items included Vitamin C, mucus medicine, and dirty tissues. I KNEW my kids were about to rock out with a thoughtful inference. Out of 23 students, THREE correctly inferred that my friend was sick. Other students wrote things about my friend being nice and telling jokes… I was speechless. I could not understand what happened!
Thinking Deep with Inferencing
After some wise feedback from my husband, I realized I had started with too abstract of an inference for my kids. I needed to build up to that rather than start with that. That’s why my first tip for this is to START SLOW. Make the first couple inference scenarios incredibly obvious. This builds confidence!
Thinking Deep with Inferencing
As I said, If you go too abstract with an inference, then you’re not going to get the deep thinking you’re looking for. After my first disaster inference, I knew I needed to find items ALL of my students were familiar with. I decided to have my students infer what holiday I had decorated for at my house (Halloween). To do this, I put in every orange and black item I could find, as well as pictures of ghosts and pumpkins, into my “evidence bag”. That day was an inferencing success as all my students recognized the familiar colors and items as Halloween décor.
Thinking Deep with Inferencing
Another successful Think Deep Thursday occurred when I had students infer about the errand I had run the previous afternoon. I included a Walmart receipt and a few coins in my “evidence bag.” Students were able to read the items on the list, see that I had been to Walmart, and notice I had money in the bag. The entire class inferred I had been grocery shopping. I was one proud teacher!
Thinking Deep with Inferencing
After several successful Think Deep Thursdays with inference evidence bags, I had my students start inferring about characters. Their first inference about characters, or in this case, a real person, was made during Dia De Los Muertos. To celebrate the Mexican holiday, I made an altar to my dad, who passed away the previous year.
In my altar, I included pictures of my dad and his brothers as children (wearing cowboy hats), a few pictures of my family at our family ranch (my dad was holding a cowboy hat in one hand and a baby longhorn in the other), and a recent photo of the whole family. My food offering included Oreos, M&Ms, and all the leftover chocolate Halloween candy I could find in my house! I decorated the altar with battery-operated candles, sugar skulls, mini paper picadors, and yellow daisies. The finished product was gorgeous.
Thinking Deep with Inferencing
I took the altar to school on Monday and let my students know they'd be making inferences about my dad based on what I included on the alter. I gave my students a graphic organizer and had them write down three observations from which they would draw one inference. We focused on the photos and the food.
For the photos, I asked them to write down who they saw in the photographs (family), the setting (outside, on a farm, by a barn), and the other items they saw (horses, cowboy hats, fence, cow). Can you guess what their inference was? They inferred my dad was a COWBOY! And gosh, they were right! My dad raised Texas Longhorns. He had a passion for the business and had built up a beautiful herd.

The students were equally successful with making an inference based on the food included in the altar – they inferred that my dad liked chocolate! CORRECT! He might have been the biggest chocoholic in all of Texas… And he definitely passed that on to me!

Thinking Deep with Inferencing
When students are asked to make inferences and form conclusions on tests, they’re probably not going to have a fun “evidence bag” or an altar to observe from which they can form their inference. So my second-to-last tip is take this activity in whatever direction you need to ensure student success. Eventually, my “Think Deep Thursdays” will look more like the questions my students will see on state assessments. I’m confident they will be successful with these because they are coming with a strong foundation with inferencing!
Thinking Deep with Inferencing
If you ignore every other tip above, don’t ignore this one!! Make sure your students are JUSTIFYING their inferences. I never let my students present an inference or conclusion unless there is a "BECAUSE" after it. Having students justify their thinking forces them to actually think DEEP. And that’s the whole point!! 

I truly hope you’ll start "Think Deep Thursday" in your classroom! My students absolutely love this activity, and since it’s waiting on the board when they walk in, it doesn’t take up a lot of class time.

In case you don’t know where to start, I have a few products to help you. I’ve created a Morning Message: Spiral of Essential Skills pack in my TPT store. Mondays review main idea, Tuesdays review character traits, Wednesdays review theme, Thursdays are inferences, and Fridays are context clues. Try out a week for free! I’d love to hear your feedback!
Thinking Deep with Inferencing       Thinking Deep with Inferencing
Thanks for reading! If you'd like to see more about the things I do in my classroom, please visit my blog Rock and Teach or follow me on Instagram! 

Happy Teaching!

Katie Jefferies has been teaching fourth grade for five years in Texas. In 2012 she was voted "Rookie Teacher of the Year" for Texas City ISD, and in 2015 she was voted "Teacher of the Year" at her school in Galveston, Texas. Katie has a passion for creating engaging and rigorous activities to reach all learners. Find her products in her Teachers Pay Teachers Store, Katie Texas - Rock and Teach
Rock and Teach

TpT Cyber Smile Sale - Ends Today!!

Just a little reminder that there are only a few more hours to take advantage of this awesome sale! My store is is 28% off when you use the promo code: SMILE. 
This is a great time to buy off your wish list. If you are looking for more ideas, here are some links to explore:
  • Newest products - Close Reading Bookmarks, Wonder, Math Detectives, plus!
  • Bundles - You can really save with bundles since they are already discounted!
  • No Prep Printables - Just print and go with these ready-to-use activities.
  • Close Reading - Tool kits, question cards, and passages! 
  • Classroom Management - Brain Breaks and more to get your students back on track after the break. 
Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy day to take a peek at this post! I hope you find some resources you can use.

The TpT Mobile App - Updated and Awesome!

So, perhaps, like me, you excitedly downloaded the new TpT App a few years ago...took a look around and promptly deleted it from your phone. Well, I am happy to report that times have changed and so has the TpT app! The app got a major redesign a few months ago and it has had several awesome updates since. In addition to the much more appealing look, you can also now:
  • Search for a specific product type or store
  • Search within a store for a specific type of product
  • Purchase directly from the app
  • View and purchase from your wish list. 
Here is a quick tutorial on how to do all these things. 

The mobile app makes it so much easier to grab what you need WHERE you need it! Even if you can't access TpT from your school's computers, you can always get there from your Smartphone. So easy!

There is no better time than right now to give this puppy a whirl because you can save 28% in my store for Cyber Monday and Tuesday - which is happening right now! Just remember to use the Promo Code SMILE at check out. You can save big on new products, bundles, task cards, close reading, no prep printablesand more!

I'd love to hear how the app is working for you!

How to Land a Teaching Job: The Keys to a Successful Interview

Job interview
Please welcome Devon Ferguson to the blog today. Devon is sharing his tips on how to land a teaching job through a successful interview.

Are you a new teacher looking for your first job or an experienced teacher looking for a new one? The first thing you need to do is nail that interview, and here's how. Now, I’ve done a career’s worth of interviews. When I first started out, I was an LTO, or a long-term occasional teacher. I’d fill in for teachers who were on maternity leave and the like. Because my positions lasted one semester at a time, I was doing interviews at the mid-point of each year (we have two semesters per school year where I teach) and at the end of the year for jobs the following year. No job applicant really likes interviews, but ultimately, everyone has to do them. So, you might as well go in there, kick butt, and afterward, worry about which job you should take, not whether or not you will have one.

Now, how do interviews work? They vary a lot, depending on the skill of the interviewer and on the bureaucratic framework in which the interview takes place. In one of the most challenging interviews I experienced, the principal had a set of his own questions developed over a lengthy career. It was early in my career, and I was floored by a few of his questions, which forced me to think quickly. One question I specifically remember was, “Tell me about a lesson that was a total disaster and what you learned from it.” When faced with an interviewer like this, just be yourself and be honest–you will be found out if you aren’t. Be confident in yourself and in your own skills. A person like this principal has been around the block a few times, and, in the end, simply wants to know how you will help your students succeed. Explain how you will create an environment where anyone can succeed, no matter their background or skill set, and you have a good chance of getting the job.

As I later discovered, after I did more job interviews, this principal, with his well-honed list of questions, was not typical. Let’s now look at how 99.9% of interviews go. Administrations are required to ask a specific set of questions and “score” your answer on what is essentially a set list of expected answers. To get top marks, you need to hit their keywords. Now, what do I mean about keywords? Keywords are specific words that are currently all the rage in the educational community. They are words that describe a certain pedagogy, expectation, or goal within the school or school board. For instance, some keywords that were current when I was applying for jobs were: “Literacy,” “Numeracy,” “Differentiated Instruction and Assessment,” “Applicability,” and “Student Success.” Nail the keywords, and you’ll score well on the scorecard, putting yourself in an excellent position to get the job.

Use trending keywords.

So, how do you know what the current keywords are? Don’t worry; I’ll show you how to find them. Whether during the previous school year or at home getting ready for your interview, make sure that you write down each keyword you come across so that you have them in mind when the interview day arrives. Here are some tips:
  1. Pay attention at staff meetings! Staff meetings are a place where keywords are constantly being used because that’s where administrators inform their teachers about the current educational climate. I know from first-hand experience how vital these staff meetings can be. I got severely burned during one interview because the interviewer was my current vice principal, who had talked extensively about a particular keyword at a staff meeting during which I hadn’t paid full attention. The keyword phrase was, “Restorative Practices,” which is a term derived from a development in the criminal justice field called, “Restorative Justice.” In the education context, it essentially means dealing with a conflict by allowing each side to have its say and then coming to a mutual understanding about how each side feels and about how the parties should have acted in the situation. This is an excellent approach to resolving conflict and one that I did, in fact, use in the classroom. But in the unforgiving environment of the job interview, the meaning of the specific term escaped me, as I was staring down the eyes of someone who had no sympathy for my lack of knowledge (alas, she was the one who had talked to us about it a few months earlier). I couldn’t for the life of me remember what that term meant. Now, many administrators will help you when you are floundering by providing you with alternative wording or something to guide you in the right direction, but, unfortunately for me, I was cooked and no help was coming. I didn’t get the job.
  1. Ask your colleagues (especially your department head) about what keywords they have heard lately. Your peers are a fantastic resource, since they have been exposed to the same words you have. The department head is the best place to start since he/she has to attend additional meetings where they discuss these types of things in more detail (the joys of being a department head). Come right out and say, “I have an interview coming up and I’d really like some pointers regarding keywords that I should use during my interview.” Most are more than happy to list them off for you.
  1. Check out the school board’s website, as it is another excellent source of keywords.

Use keywords strategically.

At your interview, make sure that you use these keywords in your answers to questions. If you aren’t asked directly to talk about a particular keyword, you can introduce it yourself in a relevant context. For example, if asked about how you assess your students, you might say that you use “differentiated assessment” by doing this, that, and the other thing, an approach that you find is most apt to lead to "student success." There we go, that’s two keywords used in one sentence. But don’t simply fling around keywords as empty jargon. You need to do some research on the school itself so that you can apply the keywords to the specific context in which you hope to be working. Examine the school’s official web page to find out what the school is about, what the community is doing, what the school’s goals are, and so on. Before one particular job interview, I looked up the school and the department where I hoped to be hired. There I found a fantastic description of an annual school-wide event that just blew me away. The website included a description of what the event included, videos, and student testimonials. I knew I wanted in, so I dug deeper and was prepared with tons of context, information, and questions when the time came for the interview.

Relate the keywords to concrete examples that demonstrate your teaching strengths.

An excellent way to accomplish this is by bringing in a portfolio with student work. This work should prove how innovative you are as a teacher and how you use a multitude of methods to give your students every possible chance to succeed. For example, I get my kids to create video projects, because I want to give them a chance to show what they know without having a write a test, which can be a struggle for some students. Then, in preparation for a job interview, I had a student-made video installed on my laptop and ready to show at the appropriate moment when I wanted to talk about the keyword “differentiated instruction.” I provided the interviewers with only a few seconds of playback, but the demonstration was effective. Note: Make sure whatever you have is fully ready to go. You don’t want them waiting for you to get your stuff together. Prepare in advance your examples of how you have succeeded in meeting the common challenges of classroom teaching. Don’t count on being able quickly call up relevant examples from memory in the heat of the interview itself. You may be able to, but that’s just lucky. The more prepared you are, the more confident you will be when you are asked to describe the way you maximize student engagement or handle problematic behavior. For example, to prepare in advance for a question on “behavior management,” write down how you handle difficult situations by using a series of escalated steps. Your steps might look something like this:

  1. Talk with the students involved. Often, small disagreements (especially among younger children) can be resolved quickly and easily at this first step by simply talking with those involved.
  2. Get the parents involved. Whether it’s a phone call home or a face-to-face parent conference, it’s very important to keep the parents in the loop. Parents may provide concrete strategies that they feel will help, or they may reinforce the school by providing the necessary kick in the butt that some kids need (losing a cell phone for a week can really make a student cooperate in class).
  3. Ask for advice from colleagues (mostly fellow teachers, especially in your own department, but also guidance counselors) who have knowledge of the student. What worked for them and what didn’t?
  4. If these steps have not resolved the problematic situation, the next thing may be to include the administration in the loop.

Keywords--check. Now what?

So far we have been focusing on learning how to talk about your teaching strengths and skills by relating them to current keywords. But a successful interview involves a lot more, including practicing good communication skills and using plain old common sense. Here are some additional points to consider.
  • Be professional.
  • Teaching is a profession, and, as a professional looking for a job, you need to act and look the part.
  • Arrive early! I once got lost on my way to an interview, but since I had planned to arrive early, I made it just on time.
  • Bring a copy of your résumé and references (then, if they ask, you have them at hand).
  • Dress professionally. It’s much better to overdress than to look too casual.
  • Be courteous to everyone, including any and all staff you meet (especially secretaries, because they wield an awesome power). You never know whom will speak with whom and what will come of it.
When preparing for the interview, don’t sell yourself short. Do some brainstorming on all your specific strengths, and think of specific instances when you used them. Don’t restrict yourself, at this point, to the classroom. Think also of skills acquired in another job or volunteer placement that are translatable to the school setting. School involvement is huge, because schools need people to coach, direct plays, run clubs, help out with events, etc. Willingness to use your particular talent in after-school activities shows that you are passionate about helping your students and assisting your peers. It also demonstrates that you can work well with others.
  • In the interview, listen carefully to the questions asked. If you are not sure that you understood the whole question, you should repeat what you did hear and provide an opportunity for the interviewer to fill in the gaps. For example: “You are interested in hearing about X and Y, and you also wanted . . . what was that again?”
Take notes during the interview itself. This may seem like a strange suggestion, but think about what people do in debate competitions or what lawyers do during a trial: They take notes. Why? It helps them fully understand the question so that they can provide a succinct answer without missing any key points. If you fail to answer the question actually asked, you will lose precious interview points. Taking notes has another benefit: Once the interviewer has asked a question, you can use 5-10 seconds to finish your note. These 10 seconds are an excellent time to compose yourself and figure out exactly what you are going to say. If you jump right into your answer, it’s very easy to become flustered and forget some important things. The note-taking strategy leads to fewer instances of “I should have said this” or “Shoot, I forgot to mention that” on the drive home.
  • Be aware of the timing and pacing of the interview. The interviewer(s) have scheduled a specific amount of time for the interview, about which you should be told. If not, assume it’s not more than an hour. Aim for answers that are detailed, interesting, and succinct. The more you have thought in advance about possible questions and answers, the more likely that your answers will hit the Goldilocks standard of being not too long and boring, not too short and uninformative, but just right.
  • Watch the body language of the interviewers, and shorten your responses if they give signals that they are becoming impatient or bored.
  • Discover, if possible, what the interviewers are really interested in. Once in an interview, I was asked what kind of technology I used in my classroom. My goal was to keep it concise and only hit the high points, but I should also have added that I could provide lots more detail and examples, if desired. After I failed to get the job, I called to ask for some feedback (something that you should always do). The principal told me that I wasn’t a good fit for what they were looking for—hers was a very technical school, and I simply didn’t use enough technology in my teaching. I was kicking myself because I could have gone on at length about all the various ways I have used technology in the classroom.
  • Show how you are improving yourself through the professional development course(s) you’ve taken, online courses you’ve completed, mentorship programs you are involved in, and the like. You should always be trying to improve yourself; tell them about what you have already done and what you plan to do. Interviewers want to hear that you are a life-long learner, especially when you emphasize the benefit it will have for your students (e.g., you are modeling what you want to teach, which is that learning is a way of life; learning new web skills allows you to be more creative with technology, and so on).
  • If the interviewer has not given you a chance to talk about some key strengths, achievements, or ways that you could contribute to the school’s goals, then at the end you can volunteer it. For example, “You might be interested in a team project that I used with my senior students in which teams researched an environmental issue and then built a website to share their findings with the class.”
  • When invited to ask questions about the job, make sure that you ask some. This is your last chance to show your interviewers why you are the person they should hire because you will be an asset to the school. In this situation I like to show my knowledge of the school/school board by asking a question that I can follow up by showing how my package of skills and qualities makes me an excellent fit. Moreover, a question that relates specifically to the school shows that you have initiative and have done your homework. You could say, “I noticed on your website that you’ve done this, that, and the other thing. In your experience, how have you found that this initiative/project helps your school meet its goal?” Depending on the answer, you would show that you share this goal and explain what you have done/would do to advance it. If they say that they are pushing technology integration in their school, you could indicate that technology is such a vital component of your teaching because it allows you to meet your students’ needs by using tools they are familiar with (Wikis, Twitter, website-building, and the like). Other good questions include: What are the main issues that you face at this school? What are your plans to address them going forward? How will the school be spending its funding over the next few years? What are the short-term goals of your school? In each case, you would, of course, explain how you would help them address these issues/meet these goals, using your specific skill set or teaching strategy.
  • Before you face the real interview, rehearse. Go for a dry run. Recruit a knowledgeable person who will role-play the interview with you, asking you questions in a mock interview. In advance, give your interviewer a copy of the job posting and a copy of your résumé. For the interview, choose a quiet setting where you will not be interrupted. At the end of the interview, ask for specific feedback. Did you use appropriate body language, including eye contact? Did you sound knowledgeable and professional? Did you convey your passion for teaching and helping students? Record the interview so that you can replay it yourself and hear which questions you aced and which areas need more work. 
  eBook 1
The author,  Devon Ferguson, has taught for many years in the United States, Canada, and Australia. He has just recently released an e-book, Teach Well and Maintain Your Sanity. If you are interested in learning more about it, please click here.

Making Time for Social-Emotional Learning

Making Time for Social-Emotional Learning
I'm Retta, from Rainbow City Learning, and I am so excited to be invited back as a guest blogger here on Minds in Bloom! I am happy to share with you the ways I've found to make social-emotional learning (SEL) a part of every school day.

I know that your teacher plate is already full with all of the standards that you have to meet, the tests you must prep for, and the giant blocks of time that must be accounted for as you plan for Reading, Writing, and Math. I also hope you know the cautionary tale about the rocks, pebbles, and sand in a glass jar.
Making Time for Social-Emotional Learning
Just in case: A professor shows his class an empty glass jar. He talks about the things we all leave out of our lives too often, such as time with friends, relaxation, and exercise. As he speaks, he dumps some sand into the jar. Then he reminds his students of all the small but necessary parts of each day, such as eating, sleeping, personal hygiene, and travel time to get to school/work. These activities are represented by the pebbles he adds next. Lastly, he adds large rocks to represent the important must-do things in our days: showing up to work, taking care of our families, etc. Of course, the rocks do not fit.

However, when the big rocks are placed in the jar first, followed by the pebbles (gently shaken into place), and then followed by the sand, we find that everything falls into place perfectly. The jar is not overfilled.

If you think of your school day as a glass jar, the large rocks could represent your curriculum, standards, testing, and data gathering that you are expected to cover each day. The pebbles could be the special subjects, recess, lunch, and meeting times. They can all be shaken into place. The sand is how I like to visualize social-emotional learning. It can be easily infused throughout your day, and it fills all the empty spaces. It also supports the larger rocks and pebbles in the mix.

Start with the standards. Map your curriculum. Those are the big rocks. Plan your basic schedule, making space for all the pebbles that fill out your day. Then, as effortlessly as the sand can now drift among the rocks and pebbles in your  teaching jar, add the SEL. Using the graphic below, start at the bottom and make SEL a part of what your classroom community experiences every day!

Making Time for Social-Emotional Learning

Start with a Song!

I'm not the most musically talented person, but I can sure play a boombox or call up a playlist! I have always used music in my classroom and observed first-hand the way it weaves a magic spell. Find a song to start with that has meaningful lyrics--lyrics that will convey a message that you want your students to hear. Start playing that song during transition times: entering and leaving the room, changing activities or subjects, and even as a "listen up" signal. For the past couple of years, I've loved using a tune called "Got Your Back"by Lessia Bonn. The powerful lyrics in this song really help to get that community feeling going with your kids, whether it's the first week of school or whenever you decide that it's time to join together as a learning community. I like to change up the music we use for these transitions every four to six weeks, just to keep things fresh. You'll probably find that your students will start requesting some of the older songs once you get the whole process in motion.

Build the Community!

If you already have a class meeting time, try opening the meeting with your special song. If you don't have a meeting time, finding one time each day or each week to get together as a learning community, as people who care about each other. This will be an important step toward giving your students the social-emotional development they need. Eventually, you will find that the meeting time just uses the same amount of time (or even less!) as the time you have previously spent managing inappropriate behaviors.

Use your song and your meeting time to continually reinforce the idea that "We are a team!", "We are a family!", and "We have each other's backs!" Point out positive examples of students showing care and concern for their classmates, both in and out of class. A true community of learners will be engaged in learning during class time, rather than in chaos, because each has a concern for the learning of others.

Post It!

Use colorful posters strategically placed around the room, which reinforce phrases you'd like to keep buzzing in kids' heads. Example: "I've Got Your Back." It's just as important to keep the reminders of great social behaviors visible as it is to keep the academic standards front and center throughout your day. Writing one positive thought for the day (which reinforces your SEL theme) on the board before students arrive will start them off thinking about that idea as they enter and prepare for the day ahead.

I love using a "Morning Tweets" board in my classroom where students write a thought (140 characters or less) as they enter. Why not try making that a theme-based thought, such as, "Tell how you had your friend's back in some way this week"? You also might try having an entrance slip on which students record their response to the thought you've written on the board.

Infuse It!

This is the step where the sand really fills in and blends beautifully with the pebbles and rocks. ELA is the best place for infusion of your SEL. Start with the curriculum you must cover. Look at the picture books, chapter books, poetry, and essays that you will be using as you address the curriculum. Good literature can have several themes. Can you find a theme within your literature choice that also addresses your SEL topic? If so, it is so natural to mention that SEL topic throughout your discussions of the literature and in your writing assignments. Are the characters you are studying behaving according to the values you are working on? Do they provide a negative example of your topic?

If you feel that infusion of the SEL theme is impossible within the literature choices you have, can you swap the current choice for another that will address your standards but with a different theme?

The themes that you infuse can be inspired by the Seven Habits, Life Skills, Habits of Mind, or your school's/district's approved behavior support system. You also might want to try working on the specific theme that your students seem to need at the time. I developed a list of themes based on the needs of my fourth graders, connected to songs and literature, and it worked so well for us.

My List
September: Loyalty
October: Positivity
November: Gratitude
December: Understanding
January: Emotional Control
February: Courage
March: Kindness
April: Appreciation
May: Optimism
June: Reflection

Notice It!

Keep an awareness of the culture you've built together going by referring to it often. As you are developing the concept of emotional control in January, for example, keep referring to all the daily examples of loyalty, positivity, gratitude, and understanding that you see in action every day. Add to your encouraging posters rather than swapping them out. Kids who are surrounded by positive affirmations will want to be noticed in positive ways. Misbehaviors are very often just a cry to be noticed. Kids who are part of a positive and encouraging environment and who see that as the culture of their classroom community will want to be noticed for positive behaviors.

For a year-long road map of building SEL learning in your classroom, including all of the elements covered in this post, you might be interested in taking a look at this bundle of units from Bullyproof Rainbow Resources. Those kids on the cover are my own fourth graders, just feeling the love in a classroom that found time for SEL!

Making Time for Social-Emotional Learning

Retta London is an award-winning Michigan teacher, curriculum designer, and consultant. Her blog and TpT shop are both named for Rainbow City, the classroom community she shared with her third, fourth, and fifth grade students for many magical years. Retta is currently directing enrichment programs in grades 4, 5, and 6 in her district using Bullyproof Rainbow Resources. You can connect with her at:

Teaching Resources

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