Monthly Archives: June 2009

Arranging a Classroom to Appeal to Every Learner

teacher at craft table with studentsPart II in the Current Series: “Building a Differentiated Classroom”

Consider the physical arrangement of your classroom. Are students in rows? Groups? Tables? Is there a space where groups of students can meet during the day? How are your walls decorated? Is the décor generic (i.e. do you put up the same things year after year), or is it specific to individual students’ interests and identities?

Where Should I Sit?
Ideally, to promote optimal learning, student seating would be in clusters. However, if you are new to collaborative, student-centered learning, or are not yet ready to give up the traditional “desks-in rows” model, you might consider having an arrangement where rows can be easily moved into clusters for part of the day or for specific activities.

Attention, Traffic Control
Even students who move around to several workstations during the day need to have a home base. Think about how your students will move around the room. Set up a smooth traffic flow for students to get to materials, learning centers, and group work areas. Designate areas for finished projects, or work in progress.

Their Name in Lights (or at least die-cut letters)
Now look at the walls. Does your décor invite students to take ownership in the classroom? Seeing their name and the names of their new classmates on a Name Wall when they arrive on the first day gives young students an immediate sense of belonging and serves as an ongoing resource for writing names of new friends. For older students, invite them to create an “About Us” wall, where they can post a family photo, favorite book title or hobby, or other personal information.

The Writing on the Wall
Students also benefit from seeing illustrations or posters describing units that will be covered—a great way for them to begin to collect and process information, since the visual pathways send the brain more than 80 percent of all information we absorb (Jensen, 1998).

Be sure to have alphabet charts, number lines, color words, calendars, and handwriting prompts posted. Put up cards showing the names of special classes and their scheduled times in both analog and digital form. (Including a photo of the specialist teacher with his or her name below provides additional visual reinforcement, as well as a sense of community.)

By attending to these details, your classroom will be ready for every learner that walks through your doors come fall.

This is part two in a four-part series on differentiated classrooms. The next segment will cover tips on differentiated assessment.

Post Author: This post was submitted by Scholastic and adapted from The Scholastic Differentiated Instruction Plan Book.

How do you set up your classroom to optimize learning? Leave a comment to share your ideas! One comment from this four-part series on differentiation will be selected to win a School Box gift card, and another comment will earn a Scholastic book of your choice…so comment away!

Comments Off on Arranging a Classroom to Appeal to Every Learner

Filed under Classroom Community

Behind the Scenes: Before Students Arrive

3207552_medPart I in the Current Series: “Building a Differentiated Classroom”

“Differentiated classroom” is the new buzz term in education, but the concept is as old as the one-room schoolhouse. Chances are, you’re already incorporating some differentiation, even if you’ve never heard of it!

In a differentiated classroom, teachers plan lessons that accommodate different  styles of learning, acknowledging that one student’s road map is not necessarily another’s and that page one of the curriculum guide may not always be the best place to start. The goal is to reach every learner effectively.

Like any classroom, a differentiated classroom requires careful planning long before the first eager student arrives. Whether you are new to differentiation or have been differentiating for a while, the weeks before school begins are the best time to set the groundwork.

Examining Your Philosophy
The first step towards differentiating is to self-assess your philosophy of teaching and learning. Teachers who successfully differentiate instruction are committed to these basic principles:

  • All children can learn.
  • Every child deserves teachers who will discover and nurture his or her strengths.
  • Active, engaged learning means that students are moving often, talking with one another, and not all working on the same thing at the same time.
  • Students must accept responsibility for their learning.
  • Understanding multiple intelligences and modalities of learning is an important piece of assessing and planning instruction.

Getting Started
As you incorporate these philosophies, be patient with yourself. Rome wasn’t built in a day. No one can differentiate every lesson for every student every day, nor is it necessary. Choose one learning center, one unit, or even a single lesson for the first month that you will consciously differentiate. Prepare two or three tiered activities for that center, unit, or lesson. Start small, see what works, and modify your structure and approach as you go.

Recognizing Past Successes
Whether your last teaching assignment was student teaching or your twentieth year in the classroom, reflect carefully upon what you accomplished. All engaged, motivated teachers have, at some point, instinctively differentiated. Did you discover a hidden talent in a shy student? Light a spark that inspired a student to independently learn more about something? Use music, art, or physical movement to introduce, reinforce, or extend instruction? Offer learners choices in assignments or materials?

You are already differentiating! Build on your strengths to add more opportunities for differentiation.

This is part one in a four-part series on differentiated classrooms. The next segment will cover tips on physically setting up a classroom for individualized learning.

Post Author: This post was submitted by Scholastic and adapted from The Scholastic Differentiated Instruction Plan Book.

How do you differentiate instruction? Leave a comment to share your ideas! One comment from this four-part series on differentiation will be selected to win a School Box gift card, and another comment will earn a Scholastic book of your choice…so comment away!

Comments Off on Behind the Scenes: Before Students Arrive

Filed under Classroom Community

Preparing for Standardized Tests…All Year Long

Teacher helping students writeWritten by Kathleen Bukowski

CRCT, ITBS, SAT, ACT….acronyms that all parents and students dread. No matter your stance on the benefits or drawbacks of standardized testing, these evaluative tools have become the heart of our education system. The good news, however, is that parents and teachers can provide students with strategies and hints to help ameliorate the anxiety that accompanies standardized testing.

As a teacher and parent, I have found that being familiar with test language and protocol tends to reassure even the most reticent test taker.

Tip One: Critically Read the Directions
Teach children to be critical readers of more than just the test question; teach children to spend time reading directions. As teachers, practice this daily with homework and class work activities. Highlighters can be a student’s best friend for understanding the language of tests: teach students to highlight or underline the key words in directions and questions.

Tip Two: Learn the Structure and Language
Teachers and parents can preview tests online or in practice books to help familiarize themselves with question and direction text structure. Once you know the words and phrases that are commonly used, you can teach these skills discretely and in the context of your everyday lessons.

Tip Three: Practice Time Constraints
All too often students are unfamiliar with the pressure of completing tasks within a structured time frame. In the classroom, begin practicing this process early. This can be done once or twice a week with timed fact tests or writing assignments. Be sure to then discuss with students how to budget their time as this is not an innate skill for many; students will need your guidance and modeling. Parents, you can tackle this at home with homework and your kitchen timer. Take time to know your child and how effectively he or she works.

Tip Four: Practice the “Bubble” Format
Finally, teach students how to track their answers in a test by having them complete “bubble” answer activities long before test day. Teaching young children to keep track of the answer sheet and question simultaneously is imperative, as this can be one of the most difficult tasks for young test takers. Give them strategies for how to scan the test prior to working and how to go back and check to make sure that they have answered all the questions.

As a professional, I do believe that there seems to be a propensity toward spending too much time on test preparation, but it can be done seamlessly throughout the year so that children do not feel overwhelmed at the prospect of taking these often-tedious tests. With early practice, students can become test savvy and comfortable with the process.

About the Author: Kathleen Bukowski is the Learning Lab Coordinator for St. Francis High School in Alpharetta, Georgia.  She has worked closely with students in the area of study skills for 17 years both in Connecticut and in the Atlanta area.  She holds a bachelor’s degree in learning disabilities education and an master’s degree in remedial reading and language arts.  She has also presented information regarding study skills, technology and writing at the National Conference for the Learning Disabilities Association of America.

We want to thank Kathleen 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.

Comments Off on Preparing for Standardized Tests…All Year Long

Filed under Academic Success, Test Prep

“Aw, Mom, do I have to?” (Why Reading at Home Matters)


Do you know that the best thing you can do for your child each day is also the easiest? Get them to read.1 It’s free, it’s fast, and it’s been found to better prepare students for academic success than any other known practice.

Two research studies prove that academic success is directly tied to the amount of time students spend reading outside of school each day.2 These studies investigated how 155 fifth-grade students spent their after-school time. Sadly, these results probably won’t surprise anyone: 90 percent of the students devoted only one percent of their free time to reading and 30 percent to watching television. Fifty percent read for an average of four minutes or less a day, 30 percent read for two minutes a day, and 10 percent read nothing at all.

Now let’s examine how these students scored on reading achievement tests. Those who scored in the 90th percentile read an average of 37 minutes daily outside of school. Students in the 50th percentile read 11 minutes at home, and students scoring in the 10th percentile read an average of one minute daily. What made the difference? The 90th percentile students read 219 hours a year, or 2.25 million more words than their non-reading peers! This creates a huge learning gap between readers and non-readers.

The good news is that reading can easily bridge this gap. So that brings us to the next logical question: Should we force our children to read at home? What if they HATE it? The answer to that hesitation is fairly simple. While it is better to coax and entice children to read before requiring it, required reading is simply more beneficial than no reading at all. When we require children to read, we are sending them the message that reading is an important and meaningful task.

Reading doesn’t have to be a huge chore, though. Here are some tips for making daily reading enjoyable:

1) Read aloud to your child on a regular basis to encourage positive associations with reading.

2) Make sure that you—the adult role model—are seen reading on a daily basis. Even better, read at the same time as your child!

3) Allow your child to select his own material for required reading, even if it doesn’t meet your high standards. The vocabulary in newspapers, magazines and comic books is often as sophisticated as books.

4) Set time parameters, starting short and growing longer with time and age.

5) If your child enjoys television in moderation, let him watch it…but set the television to closed captioning. Of course, T.V. will never be an equal substitute for reading, but research indicates that watching T.V. with closed captions can improve reading skills!3

Do your child a huge favor today. Start a new routine that includes daily time for reading.

Contribute your two cents!  Post a comment and you will be entered to win a School Box gift card.

Post author: Elizabeth Cossick, M.Ed.

Foot Notes:
1 Trelease, J. (2002). Reading more and loving it: Resource handbook. Bellevue, WA: Bureau of Education and  Research.
2 Anderson, R., Fielding, L., & Wilson, P. (1988, Summer). Growth in reading and how children spend their time outside of school. Reading Research Quarterly, 12, 285-303, as cited by Jim Trelease in “Reading More and Loving It.”
3 Rickelman, R. J., Henk, W. A., & Layton, K. (1991, April). Closed-captioned television: A viable technology for the reading teacher. The Reading Teacher 44(8), 598-599. Retrieved December 15, 2004, from Academic Search Premier database.


Filed under Academic Success, Parenting, Reading

Atta Boy! Discipline Tips Part III

student and teacher at computerWe all like rewards and praise! A good ol’ atta-boy can brighten even the worst of days.

In the classroom, rewards fall into three major categories: recognition, privileges and tangible rewards. No single kind of reward works better than another. Select rewards based on grade level and student preferences.

Here are some reward ideas from our classroom to yours:


* Lunch with the teacher
* Library pass
* Computer time
* Homework pass


* Call the parents
* Display work
* Student of the day, week or month
* Announcement to the class
* Class cheer or chant

Tangible Rewards:
* Stickers
* Popcorn
* Bonus points or extra credit
* Grab bag or treasure box
* Tokens for recess, no homework, etc.

For more ideas, see the attached list of Awards and Rewards.

Do you have another great reward or award idea? If so, please comment below and share it with us. We’d love to hear what works for you!  For this three part series we will be randomly selecting someone from the comments to receive a Teacher Created Resources book of their choice.

This is part three of a three-part series: Discipline Tips for Teachers.

Adapted from: Teacher Created Resources


Filed under Behavior Management, Discipline, Motivation

Student Signals: Discipline Tips Part II

What do you use to get the attention of your students when they are working?

class raising handsMost teachers know how to administer it: just one glance, and a student gets the message. It’s called “the teacher look” (or TTL), and depending on the thinness of the lips or the arch of the brow, it can be a teacher’s best tool and a student’s greatest dread.

But it’s hard for TTL to work when students are happily engaged in a group activity or chatting in a noisy cafeteria. Enter: the student signal. This is an often-nonverbal cue that quickly grabs the attention of the class without requiring the teacher to raise her voice (or her eyebrow).

Here are some possible signals:
1. Raised Hand.
The teacher raises her hand, and the students stop talking, look at the teacher and raise their hands until the class is ready.

2. Turned-off Lights.
Students stop working and talking and put their heads down when the lights go off.

3. Bell, Whistle or Musical Tone.
When they hear the signal, everyone looks at the teacher and gets ready to pay attention.

4. Clapped Rhythm.
Teacher claps a rhythm, and the students clap either a responding rhythm or repeat what the teacher clapped and then look at the teacher.

Once you pick a signal, you need to teach the signal just as you would a math problem or a vocabulary word. Teach it and then give the students time and opportunities to practice it. If their practice is great, tell them so. If it is not, tell them they will need to practice the signal again until they can do it just right and mean it. If you accept less than complete attention, that is just what they will learn to give you. You may need to practice occasionally if they slip.

Once your class learns the signal, it will be one of your best management tools. It may even cause you to retire your TTL altogether. Maybe.

Do you have another signal that you use to engage your class? If so, please comment below and share it with us! We’d love to hear your great ideas. For this three part series we will be randomly selecting someone from the comments to receive a Teacher Created Resources book of their choice.

This is part two of a three-part series: Discipline Tips for Teachers. Coming next: Using rewards and recognition to motivate good behavior.

Adapted from: Teacher Created Resources


Filed under Behavior Management, Discipline

Reflecting on Discipline: Discipline Tips Part I

teacher at front of desksIt happens to the best of us. Whether a seasoned veteran in the classroom or still a bit green behind the ears, every teacher experiences discipline glitches. Summer provides a great opportunity to reflect on your classroom management plan and make it even better for the next school year.

Here are some quick tips that will help any classroom run more smoothly:

1. Discipline with Dignity
All students need to be treated with dignity, even when being disciplined. Disciplining a child privately is often the best course of action; try to issue quiet reminders, nonverbal cues or one-on-one conferences.

One of the best things to remember is that misbehaving students win whenever they get you to lose your cool. Take your time when students push your buttons and decide carefully on your response. There’s no need to rush into a response that you may regret later.

2. Take an Exercise Break
One of the best favors you can do for yourself and your students is to take an exercise break. Exercise eliminates the wiggles and helps students regain focus. Exercise doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. It could involve five minutes of teacher-directed activities, such as walking in place, stretching to the ceiling, touching your toes, drawing figure eights in the air with your arms, etc. Once the students know the activities, you can pick a student to lead the exercise time. Or take your students outside for 5–7 minutes. This is not to replace physical education, but it is a quick chance to do some specific physical activity when students need it most.

3. Use Positive Reinforcement
Give students a goal or reward that they can work toward as a class. Let parents know what the reward is, and publish their success when students reach the goal. A quick and inexpensive reward is popcorn. Set aside a time for students to read books or play games of their choice while enjoying their popcorn.  If you do not wish to pop the corn, buy a large bag of pre-popped popcorn and a package of inexpensive paper cups to use as scoops and dishes.

4. Prepare a Plan
Knowing that you have a clear-cut discipline plan in place will make your classroom a secure, peaceful environment for your students. Consider the attached checklist when creating your plan. Make sure you communicate the plan with your parents and students–or, better yet, involve students in creating the discipline plan during the first week of school. This will give them a sense of ownership, resulting in a positive year of learning for all!

Do you have your own classroom discipline tips you would like to share? If so, please comment below and share it with us! We’d love to hear your great ideas. For this three part series we will be randomly selecting someone from the comments to receive a Teacher Created Resources book of their choice.

This is part one of a three-part series: Discipline Tips for Teachers. Coming next: Using nonverbal signals to redirect students.

Contributed by: Teacher Created Resources

1 Comment

Filed under Behavior Management, Discipline, Teaching

Avoid Summer Brain Drain!


Keep Skills Sharp All Summer…While Still Having Fun.

Afternoons at the pool, bike rides to the creek, fireflies in glass jars. Summer, by rights, should be fun. On the other hand, however, research links a lack of summer academics to a loss of around 30 percent (or 3 months’ worth) of the previous year’s learning. Ouch.

So what’s a parent to do? Here are some suggestions for keeping skills sharp and kids happy:

1. Keep it real. Provide real-world activities to introduce and reinforce skills. “Balance paper-and-pencil practice with real-world experiences,” advises Christine Persson, former Cobb County teacher and co-owner of The School Box, along with husband Dave. “Cook together and talk about fractions. Count money and talk about decimals. Then, follow up with a practice workbook.”
Practice pages designed for summertime: Summer Bridge Activities, $13.95. Daily reading, writing, math and language arts activities hone skills all summer. Ages pre-k to eighth grade.

2. Engage the whole family. Get the whole family involved in playing a critical-thinking game. Everyone loves a game, and getting mom, dad and big brother on board sends the message that learning is important, even during the summer.
These games are tried-and-true crowd pleasers: Bananagrams, $14.99. This addictive, award-winning word game develops spelling and vocabulary skills. Ages 7 and up.BG01
Roll n’ Multiply, $24.99. This best-selling game challenges multiplication novices and experts alike. Ages 7 and up.
Double Shutter, $19.99. This fast-paced game of tactical choices and math skills is a family—and teacher—favorite. Ages 6 and up.

3. Read! Reading for pleasure is one of the simplest yet most effective ways to keep skills sharp. Explore the local library (for free!), or give your child a $10 bill and let them loose in a bookstore. While you may want to steer them toward age-appropriate materials, be sure to let them ultimately select their own summer reading material. They’ll take more ownership over reading if they are given a choice.
If you need a recommendation to get you going, check out: Carole Marsh Mysteries, $5.95 each. These popular, educational mysteries incorporate history, geography and suspenseful cliff hangers! Ages 7 and up.

Comments Off on Avoid Summer Brain Drain!

Filed under Academic Success, Games, Math, Multiplication, Parenting, Reading, Summer Learning