Monthly Archives: May 2009

It’s Snack Time!

Build a Sense of Community While Providing Snacks for Every Student

3223706_lowHave you ever sat through a meeting or activity when all you could think about was getting something to eat? If so, then you might wonder how a child’s focus is affected when he or she is hungry.

Many school children come to class with empty stomachs, even if provided with a free or reduced-price breakfast. If they are not receiving adequate food at home, a quick breakfast loaded with carbohydrates may not tide them over until lunch several hours later.

Before I began teaching, I worked as a classroom volunteer for my own daughters, and I saw how the poorer students wistfully watched the other kids eat their cookies, chips, etc. I vowed that when I became a teacher, I would make sure that no one in the classroom went without a small snack. On the first day that I began teaching, I supplied a large Tupperware box with popcorn packs, low fat crackers, and cereal and invited students to help me fill the box with other favorites when it was running low. In my weekly newsletters, I would acknowledge families who had helped fill the container.

For those students who did not have the money to provide a bag or box of something, I positioned a big pink piggy bank at the front cart for students to give a nickel, quarter, or dollar when they were able. “Priscilla,” as we named her, was never empty. When she became a little heavy, two students would count the coins. We would always be amazed at how much money was raised for me to purchase more snacks. This gave these students a sense of pride and ownership in the classroom.

In addition to adding snacks to the daily routine, I have also given students the opportunity to share in the responsibility of serving each other. So as part of their routine, two to three students are assigned as Snack Helpers on a weekly basis to pass out snacks to every student. This has become one of the favored classroom jobs.

In all of the years that I have been doing this, I have never had a child wish they had something to eat. I have ultimately modeled healthy eating while showing care and concern for my students.  When families are given the opportunity to help and are thanked for their kindness, a hunger need is met, and a child is ready to learn.


About the Author: Lou Chafin is a third-grade teacher at Ruffner Elementary, a Title 1 School and West Virginia School of Excellence in Charleston, West Virginia. She holds a bachelor’s degree in K-8 and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in communication from West Virginia University. Chafin is a member of the county cadre for the Positive Behavior Support Program and is also the coordinator of the program in her school. Chafin has been a classroom teacher at the intermediate level for six years, and her other career experience includes teaching preschool students with special needs and serving as a school librarian. Her philosophy in teaching is that “all students show respect and are respected when they are allowed to be an equal contributor to the classroom by serving and being served.”

We want to thank Lou Chafin for her wonderful contribution to A Learning Experience! She was awarded a $35 School Box gift card for being selected for publication on this online newsletter. To find out how to submit your own classroom ideas or insights for review, please click here.
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Keep Students On Task with “Secret Workers”

Ssshhh!Need a new strategy to get your students to stay quiet and focus on their work?  Recruit “secret workers.”  Secretly pick two people and write their names down.  Announce to the class that the teacher has picked two Secret Workers.  If the two Secret Workers are quiet, follow the directions, and stay on task, they will earn a reward for the entire class.  If the two do not behave properly, the class will not receive the reward.  Since no one knows who the Secret Workers are, everyone is forced to behave as the teacher has asked.  This behavior system works well for shorter lengths of time—half-hour to 40-minute time frames.

Rewards can be anything the teacher chooses, such as five extra minutes of recess, free time, stickers, etc.  Extra recess is a logical reward.  The teacher can always say, “Since you used the class time so well and stayed on task, we will have extra time to get in more recess.” Or the teacher might say, “Since you have worked so hard, you have earned an extra five minutes of break time.”

There can be variations to the Secret Workers.  One variation is to tell the class that the teacher will be picking one boy and one girl.  Another variation is to divide the class in half, and tell the class that one person will be picked from the left side of the room and one from the right side.  After using this technique several times, the teacher can then have a competition between the two groups.

TIP 1: If the Secret Workers are successful, be sure to announce their names and have the class thank them. If the Secret Workers are unsuccessful, talk to them personally and do not reveal the names to the class.

TIP 2: It is a good idea to announce aloud how the Secret Workers are doing. For example, a teacher might say, “Wow, the Secret Workers are doing really well” or “Uh-oh, our Secret Workers need to be careful.”

This is part three of a three-part series: Behavior Management Tips for Teachers. A new series will be coming soon!

Contributed by: Teacher Created Resources

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Learning Our Lesson: How to Use Behavior Reflection Effectively

Child with learning difficulties

Life is filled with lessons to learn. Some, like how not to repeat the same mistake twice, are more difficult to swallow than others. A key to “learning our lesson” is reflecting on the behavior that got us into a difficult situation in the first place.

The same is true for the classroom, where behavior reflection is a crucial part of effective classroom management.

If a student forgets his or her homework, a teacher may have the student stay in at recess or during study hall and do the missing work. However, if the child is never asked to reflect on his or her behavior, the behavior is more likely to resurface. An easy way to encourage behavior reflection is to use a reflection form, like the one FOUND HERE.

This form is designed to have students think about what they did, why it was inappropriate, and how to avoid this behavior next time.  Students need to answer in complete sentences and thoughtfully.  The form is then taken home that evening, signed by the student’s parents, and brought back to school the next day.  It is a great way to keep parents informed of late work and a great way to keep the students on track with their responsibilities.

This form is only effective for those students who forget occasionally.  For the repeat offender, other measures will have to be taken.  Also, the reflection form is general enough that it can be used for other situations, such as a social problem that occurred that day in school. Filling out a sample reflection form together, as a whole class, would be a good way to model what is expected of the students.

If the teacher does not have a study hall time during which students can complete the form, consider getting some teachers in the same grade level to give up one lunch period to sit for study hall. Study hall duty would be on a rotating basis. The more teachers involved, the fewer lunches missed per teacher.  If this is not possible, the student should stay in from recess to fill out the reflection form and do the missing work.

TIP: The teacher may want to have a spot on the chalkboard or a small dry erase board for those students who are to go to study hall that day.  This will also serve as a reminder to the teacher and the students that they have a reflection form needing to be signed.  It is suggested to use their student numbers, rather than names, on this board to avoid embarrassment.

This is part two of a three-part series: Behavior Management Tips for Teachers. NEXT:  Part Three, Secret Workers

Contributed by: Teacher Created Resources

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Reflection: An Important Part of Learning

Classroom Series

When children spend time doing a project either alone or with a group, one important element of learning is often left out: reflection.  Reflecting on what has been done is key to learning and retaining new concepts. And it doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming.

The reflection sheet [FOUND HERE] contains open-ended questions (no “correct” answer necessary), which are designed to help students retain what they learned and understand the relevance of the experience.

Keep in mind that if the reflection is done in the same manner– or for every single project or assignment– it may become monotonous. So, decide if reflection is important for a given task, and then switch up the ways in which you ask students to reflect. The attached sheet, for example, could be used in a variety of ways to keep it fresh: children can write their answers, whisper their thoughts to a partner, draw or illustrate their answers, or share their thoughts with the class by going around in a circle.

However you choose to incorporate reflection, follow Nike’s advice: Just do it! Reflection solidifies new topics and equips students to become critical thinkers and lifelong learners.

TIP: Hang up a poster with the questions from the worksheet for easy referral.  Students can then use the questions to foster a quick discussion.

This is part one of a three-part series: Behavior Management Tips for TeachersNEXT:  Part Two: Behavior Reflection

Contributed by: Teacher Created Resources

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How can I boost my child’s motivation??

Mom and Son ReadQuestion from Parent: “I know my child is bright (as evidenced by test scores), but he seems lazy and reluctant when it comes to schoolwork. What can I do to motivate him?”

Answer: When a student’s potential does not align with his school performance, there is cause for concern. The key is to identify the root cause and do something about it. These tips will get you started:

1. Talk to your child. Ask him why he isn’t working to his full potential. If he says, “I dunno,” ask him to name an emotion he feels most often at school, such as boredom, fatigue, anxiety or excitement. These emotions are a clue to your child’s perception of school and can help uncover the root of his behavior.

2. Talk to the teacher. Communicate your concern. Teachers are often with your children for more waking hours than you are. Do they see any issues, such as social problems or inattention?

3. Identify learning issues. A lack of motivation in a bright student could be the warning sign for a perception weakness or other issue that’s getting in the way of the child’s learning. Talk to the teacher and decide if this is a possibility. If so, get your child tested so his needs can be met.

4. Focus on your child’s strengths. Howard Gardner, a Harvard professor and renowned researcher, has found that people can be “smart” in many different ways. Gardner has identified at least seven “intelligences,” including linguistic, mathematical, musical and bodily-kinesthetic (movement). Traditional school settings primarily target linguistic and mathematical intelligences, which may not showcase your child’s strengths. Involve your child in extra-curricular activities like sports, music, dance or drama, where he or she can shine. Teamwork, responsibility and a good work ethic can be learned on a field as easily as in a classroom.

5. Make learning fun. Okay, so the causes of the Civil War aren’t icing your child’s cake. Carve out time from your hectic schedule to make school subjects interesting. Plan a trip to a local Civil War battle site or reenact Gettysburg with squirt guns in the backyard. Even high-achievers need a motivation boost from Mom or Dad sometimes. Your involvement sends the message that learning is important….and fun!

6. Be a positive role model. Face it. Sometimes school will be hard or just plain boring. Encourage your child to persevere through the good, the bad, and the ugly. And keep in mind that you are the model for persevering through mundane tasks. Whether preparing a presentation for your own job or helping with your child’s geometry homework, stay positive. Show your child that doing one’s best is a worthy goal, regardless of the task. They may not seem to listen, but they are watching you. You, after all, are your child’s primary educator.

Author: Elizabeth Cossick, M.Ed.

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A True Story

I see you. You who think you are invisible. You who did not want to follow your father to a strange new world so far from the hiss of tortillas in the iron skillet. You who walk to school trailing a tangled kite string of too many brothers: Jose, Luca, Esdras, Rogelio. You who slink into my classroom every morning and sit, gray and still, like a chameleon hiding against the cinder block wall. But I see you.

You resent this harsh new language that sounds to your ears like clinking marbles in a rusty metal pan. You tighten your jaw when I speak to you and reluctantly get out pencil and paper. You never turn in homework or finish an assignment, and you ask in your new tongue (now the marbles are rolling around in your mouth) what age in America allows you to quit school. You begin to count down two years.

Months fade, one season melts into the next. You despise the cold of winter but love your hoody sweatshirt, a personal retreat of fleece where two worlds colliding can’t reach you.

You stare out the window as your classmates diagram sentences. You pick your nails as those around you read Voigt’s Homecoming. World history is an oxymoron; this is not the history of your world, the one that is fading from you too fast, like your warm breath on the frosted window as you turn away. Because you are sharp, though, you begin to learn. Syllables crack open to reveal the flesh of meaning. But still, your hard shell remains.

And then it is spring. I stand before the class and write poetry on the board. I ask for a definition. “Boring,” “babyish,” and “boot-legged” echo back to me from groaning students, a few of whom you’re suddenly beginning to like.

But as we read Angelou and cummings, Pablo Neruda and Langston Hughes, something in you zings like heat lightening. Poetry gives you a chance to experiment with this new language, to roll the marbles around in a velvet-lined box, if you want. You put pen to paper and a poet is born. Your colliding worlds cease their banging and begin to intertwine like fingers folded in prayer. Words, old and new, flow from you. As a final chunk of stubborn ice slides down the classroom’s window, something in you–the part that has been silent and silenced for too long–finds its voice.

One day you bring me a stack of poems you have written. You apologize that they do not rhyme but explain that you like them better when they don’t. So do I. I read and try to mask my unbelief at the beauty of your words, the shiver up my spine at the depth of your thoughts.

At my suggestion, you sit on a stool at the front of the class and read your poems. The chameleon takes center stage. The hoody sweatshirt is replaced by a jaunty black beret (a beret!), the sullen eyes replaced by soulful ones. You read and your classmates are not as good at hiding their shock. They gape and exchange glances. And then they begin to applaud. Their applause mirrors your voice: hesitant at first, then growing stronger. You duck your head, but not before I see the grin cracking your shell in two.

Mario, welcome home.

And welcome to what you would later call a milestone moment in your life, and what has surely become one in mine. One that has guided me as a teacher for almost a decade. Every year, as I write poetry on the board, I look around at my small sea of groaners and wonder: which of these chameleons has a poet lurking inside? At least one always does.

Post Author: Elizabeth Cossick, M.Ed.

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