Teaching Fairness

Unfortunately, the only memory I have from being in kindergarten is: I was never called on to be the fairy who got to go around the class and tap on students’ shoulders with a magic wand to wake them up from nap time. I never got to be the fairy!!!

When I was taking classes for my teaching credential, I learned that when students raise their hands in class to answer a question, studies have shown that teachers are more likely to call on a boy than a girl. At that time, I resolved to call on students equally.

When I started teaching, I would use a lot of mental energy trying to remember who I called on as I tried to be fair. I went to a new teacher training where I learned a great idea that  really worked for me: use a deck of cards with the students names on them. There are other ways to do this too (like using popsicle sticks with students names), but the cards worked great!

How it works: take the deck and write a student’s name on each card. After you call on a student, put his or her card at the bottom of the deck or in another pile. This way, everyone eventually gets a turn. You can also rotate calling on students randomly and then using the cards; this way students can still raise their hands to answer every other time.

I had a set of Snoopy cards that the students loved, but there are so many different fun cards–or even just a generic deck of cards. What was really cute was when the students would say, “Use the Snoopy cards so it’s fair!”

I hope this helps. Please share if you have a great way to call on students fairly.


Establishing Baselines when Teaching

General and special educators both use baselines to measure growth.

What is a baseline? A baseline is the current level the student is at before any new teaching or intervention has begun. Baselines can be used for any subject and also to monitor behavior.

It makes sense that in order to show growth and to target areas of need, one would need to know a student’s current levels. For reading, baselines are typically taken in the fall and then again in the spring. For students on an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the baselines are measured before writing new goals, and then measured periodically throughout the year and again at the next year’s IEP.

An example of a baseline for a kindergarten student is: Susie knows 5 of her 26 letters sounds (letters: b, f, h, j, q, and z). That is Susie’s baseline. A typical goal for a kindergarten student would be for Susie to know all 26 letter sounds by the end of the school year.


Monday Mornings: Proverbs, Quotes, and More

“Slow and steady wins the race.”

We are living somewhat in the day and age of instant gratification. This proverb, and teaching Aesop’s fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare,” are great ways to emphasize the value of steady, consistent work and the cumulative effect.

This proverb is especially applicable to students who have difficulty with reading. It is a slow, steady process, but eventually, with direct and consistent reading instruction, students will learn to read.

Monthly Book Recommendation: The Boy in the Moon

Monthly book recommendation:

The Boy in the Moon

Written by Ian Brown

There is something really special about a book that can take a person into the world of another. In his book, author and father Ian Brown, does just that. This book is about Walker, Ian’s son, who was born with a syndrome known as cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome, a rare genetic mutation that affects about 100 people worldwide. It is also a book about the journey of these parents as they care for Walker.

This book is both beautiful and incredibly raw and honest at the same time.  Trying to understand the different realities of different people/parents and what they go through is why it is so important to read this book; the hours of screaming, the perpetual sleepless nights, the financial burden, trips and stays in the hospital, the beauty, the moments, the lessons, the guilt, searching, anger, and mostly the honesty and love…there is so much to this book.

Monday Mornings: Proverbs, Quotes, and More

As we start out this week:

“Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.”    –Benjamin Franklin

Along that line, from The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin:

“Tackle a nagging task.”

This catchy phrase has helped me get certain things done, even when I didn’t feel up to the task; try saying it to yourself (self-coaching) the next time you find yourself in that position!

Free Color Words Worksheets!

I love these color worksheets I’ve designed, and I am giving them away for FREE!

There is a separate worksheet for the colors: red, orange, yellow, blue, purple, pink, brown, grey, black, and white. Each page has an animal associated with the color. I have chosen all the animals’ names to be at a beginning reading level as well (e.g. the “cub” is brown). Your students or child can then make this into a book as I have included a cover sheet.

One parent told me that associating the color word with an animal helped her child to remember it better. That was great positive feedback!

Click to download: Color Words Book Updated (Now including the color green–somehow it didn’t make it in the first time around.)


Meeting Temple Grandin and National Autism Awareness Month

Lucky me! I got to meet and hear one of my favorite nonfiction authors, Temple Grandin. The meeting was at a preview of a new short documentary film called: Temple Grandin: The World Needs All Kinds of Minds. PBS and Colorado State University teamed up to produce and air the film.

For me, the highlight of the evening was hearing Dr. Grandin answer questions from the audience about autism and her career. She is quite an engaging speaker!

If you are unaware of who Temple Grandin is, she is a person on the autism spectrum who earned her Ph.D. in animal sciences, has designed over half the cattle handling facilities in the United States, and has written several books on autism. In 2010, she was named by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. For me, personally, she has given me valuable insight into teaching students on the spectrum, especially in making me aware of sensory issues the students may be having.

Some of the key points/snippets Dr. Grandin emphasized for people on the spectrum are:

  • learn the discipline of work; start your child working around age 12 to develop good work ethics and habits (could be dog walking or mowing a lawn, etc.)–she is seeing way too many kids sitting around playing video games
  • teach manners: by the time she was eight she could: shop, order food, shake hands, and use good manners
  • look at what the person is good at and capitalize on that
  • stretch your kids to try new things (but avoid surprises)–it was after her mother made her go to visit her aunt on her ranch that she learned about cattle, etc. which led to her creating her deep pressure squeeze machine and set her on her future career path
  • we all have to learn to endure boring things sometimes to get us to our goals (not all of work is exciting!)
  • have your child join a club that he or she is interested in (e.g. computer club, chess club, etc.); this will give him or her common interests to discuss

Thank you so much to Dr. Temple Grandin! You are an inspiration!

Monday Mornings: Proverbs, Quotes, and More

“If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” – Zig Ziglar

I think this quote can apply to our lives on many levels.

Back when I was earning my teaching credential, we always had to make formal lesson plans and list our intended outcome. For example, “At the end of this lesson, students will explain what a noun is and identify nouns in a given sentence,” etc.

It is good to know what we are aiming for, as this helps to keep us on track.

What is an area of your life that needs focus or refining? Pinpoint a goal and aim for it!

Teach “Chunking” in Reading

After your child/student has a good phonemic and phonetic awareness, start teaching patterns and “chunking.”

Chunking is when you look at a word and identify letter combinations and patterns in the word. You can teach chunking for: blends, digraphs, vowel-consonant-e patterns, prefixes and suffixes.

The idea is to move your child/students beyond the phase of sounding out each letter into recognizing patterns and sounding out the new pattern as a whole.

For example, you teach the digraphs: ch, ph, sh, th, wh, and the new sound these letter combinations make. When the student sees the letter combination in the word “ship,” he or she sounds it out /sh/i/p/–not /s/h/i/p/.

This is a big step in teaching reading. Have your students look at the whole word before sounding it out to see if they recognize any letter combination patterns.