The Value of Elaborative Rehearsal

jpg_4289-Owl-Teacher-Cartoon-Character-With-A-Pointer-2You’ve taught the core curriculum so your students have got it, right?

Well…maybe. Students may understand the concepts, but you also need to factor in their long term memory.

Rehearsal refers to the repetition of material, and elaborative rehearsal involves deep thinking about the material presented and associating it with information that already exists in long-term memory.

Because memory is improved with meaningful repetition, revisit the material you have taught throughout the year to help your students make connections to prior learning. This works as learning and memory occur best when various cognitive processes are repeated and overlapped. Remember, even if students have mastered a concept revisit it at a later date for optimal learning.

Taking at Look at Brain Targeted Teaching

gif_anatomy_02Lately, I have been reading about Brain Targeted Teaching.

Brain Target Teaching is a teaching style that utilizes and focuses on what we know about how the brain learns best.

Dr. Mariale Hardiman, out of John Hopkin’s University, identifies six key elements in brain targeted teaching.The six elements are:

  • The Emotional Climate
  • Physical Environment
  • Learning Design
  • Teaching for Mastery
  • Teaching for Application
  • Evaluating Learning

Here is a link to Dr. Hardiman’s site I will be going into more detail in upcoming posts, as well as sharing some classroom experiences.

Happy Friday and have a wonderful weekend!

Free Planning Page for Teaching Beginning Writing!

I work a lot on writing with my students. There are many great graphic organizers and writing programs out there, but here is a planning page that I have found really works. I call it the “Stars and Bars Planning Page.” They are actually more like bullets or dashes, but “stars” rhymes with “bars,” and rhyming is a memory aid. (Thanks to my boss for sharing this idea!)

Download:   Stars and Bars Free Planning Page

Stars and Bars Free Planning Page-1

The reason I like this planning page is because it can be used on any piece of paper. Once the students know the format, they can make their own stars and bars, and fill in the planner. Here are a few important rules:

  • The planning page is for ideas, not sentences.
  • Limit ideas to five words or less.
  • Students start with the topic sentence and work their way down.
  • Students put a check mark on the planning page after they use an idea and have written the sentence.

The sample below is from the writing prompt: We just had our winter break. Write a paragraph in which you describe your break. Be sure to include a topic sentence, supporting details, and a conclusion.

Below is a sample planning page and then first draft paragraph.

Stars and Bars Sample














Writing Sample

Here are some common mistakes I see students make as I work with them:

  • Students try to write out sentences on their planning page; that is why I limit the ideas to five words or less. This is where they plan!
  • Students omit the topic sentence and go straight for the big ideas. I frequently emphasize the importance of introducing the topic–this is also the reason I make students start at the top of the planning page.
  • Students write all their big ideas into one long sentence. This is why we work through each sentence one at a time, and check off each idea on our planning page after we use it.
  • Students write about something totally different then what is on their planning page. Again, making the students put a check by each part of the planning page helps.

Students need a lot of guidance, and for the teacher/parent to work through the process with them. The more they practice, the better they get!

Finally, once students are familiar with the planning page, they can just draw the stars and bars on any sheet of paper, and plan for writing.

Simplified planning page:

Stars and Bars Simplified







Stars and Bars Basic









I hope this helps! I will discuss editing and revising in a separate post. 

Fixed versus Growth Mindset

What is the difference between a fixed versus a growth mindset?

A fixed mindset is one that believes intelligence and talent are things we are born with and they do not change.

A growth mindset is one that believes you can increase your intelligence and develop talents.

Your mindset about how you view intelligence will have an impact on your teaching. Of the two views, a growth mindset is the more accurate way to view intelligence.

There is no denying that some students and people have natural abilities (in music, language, math, athletics, etc.). Still, research shows people can increase their IQs. Alfred Binet, the inventor of the IQ test, created the test to identify which students needed extra help–not to classify them with a fixed intellect!

Here are a couple differences that can affect your teaching (and personal thought life!):

You think your students are good or not good at a subject (fixed mindset).

You encourage your students to grow at each subject and emphasize the process of learning (growth mindset). The focus is on growth, and we all have the capability to grow!

Text Dependent Questions

jpg_5034-Clipart-Illustration-of-Question-Mark-Cartoon-Character-With-Speech-Bubble-2What are text dependent questions?

Text dependent question are questions that can only be answered by looking at/understanding the text.

For example, think of the story Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.

A text dependent question would be: What were the reasons Fern gave to her father for not killing Wilbur?

A non-text dependent question would be: Have you ever stood up for something you believed in and why?

Both questions are good, but only one requires the text in order to answer the question.

Think about the questions you ask. Be sure to include text dependent questions, as they require students to show a good understanding/comprehension of what they have read.

The Importance of Using Wait Time

jpg_watch800I have found in teaching, it really does make a difference to use wait time.

Wait time refers to the time you give your students for processing before they are expected to answer a question or do a task.

Years ago, I tested myself on this concept, and found that I only gave a few seconds for students to answer a question or comply to directions–not nearly enough wait time! (Studies show most teachers give about a second.)

Teaching Tip: After you ask a student a question or give directions, in your head, count to ten. This forces you to slow down, and allows more processing time for your students. I just smile at the students while waiting.

The Results: Time and time again, students come up with an answer or comply! They just needed more time to process. For students/children on the autism spectrum and/or with language processing disorders, the wait time may be even longer. Adjust accordingly.

Beginning of the School Year “To Do’s”

jpg_circle-blue-check-1Some of you have already been teaching for a few weeks(like me), and/or your kids are back in school. Others have just started after Labor Day.

The first few weeks of school are very time consuming, and set the pace for the rest of the year.

Here are some priorities:

  • Review classroom rules (daily).
  • Get to know your students (I love doing an “All About Me” paper with each of my students. Here is a free All About Me worksheet!)
  • Get baselines for your students levels. Each district has different criteria for testing. (For a really simple way to get your students’ or child’s reading ability, try the San Diego Quick.)
  • For students on IEPs (Individualized Education Program), review: student levels, goals, accommodations, modifications, and any other pertinent information. Even if you are not the student’s special education teacher, you should know this!
  • Set up small groups for instruction, based on student needs.

This is  how I spend my first few weeks of school. Once I have this organized, the rest of the year runs much smoother. I hope you are all off to a great start!

Using Rubrics

jpg_4289-Owl-Teacher-Cartoon-Character-With-A-Pointer-2Recently, I had a someone ask, “What is a rubric?” As she had never heard of one, I assume there are others out there who need to know as well.

Here was my reply:

A rubric is a scoring guide that helps teachers grade an assignment; it also helps the student know the criteria for an assignment.
For example, in writing a paragraph, the rubric may give points for: grammar/conventions, topic sentence, supporting details, word choice, etc. Add all the points up, and that is the grade.

My take on rubrics:

I think rubrics are helpful, but I am not totally attached to them. Rubrics are beneficial in that as a student or teacher, you know what is expected out of an assignment; it is clearly laid out.

Where I am not the biggest fan of rubrics is–sometimes I find that they take away from holistically looking at an assignment. For instance, a student can turn in a paper that really shines, but miss on certain points and still get a “B.”

My suggestion is…use them as a guideline, but occasionally allow some flexibility in grading. If it is an “A” paper, give it an “A.” (I wouldn’t grade down, but definitely grade up when you feel the assignment has earned it!) This may seem a little subjective, but we really should reward quality work when we see it. Call it bonus points!

Using Exit Tickets in Teaching

Do you use “exit tickets” in teaching? More and more, I see the benefits of using them.

gif_exitWhat are exit tickets?

Exit tickets are a question(s) you ask at the end of a lesson. It is the student’s “exit” out of the lesson or concept being taught. They are a great way to close your lesson!

Benefits of using exit tickets include:

  • They are a great tool to help you quickly assess student learning.
  • They help give you a target.
  • They help to reinforce the concept one more time.
  • They give students’ ownership of assessing their learning.

Example: You have just taught a lesson on nouns. The exit ticket may be for your student to give an example of a noun.

There are many ways to format this. You could: have a multiple choice question with one answer being the noun, have the students verbally tell you, do a fill in the blank (like a Mad Lib), have each student answer a question as s/he lines up to go out to recess, etc..

Have fun with them, and give it a try! They are a great way to get instant feedback to assess if your lesson was a success.

Test Taking Strategies for Reading and Writing

gif_Education-031-bwState testing has arrived. Students have worked hard all year, and now it’s time for them to show what they know!

Students will be expected to:

  • Answer multiple choice questions
  • Write short constructed responses to reading
  • Write a paragraph(s) (younger students)
  • Write an extended piece (older students)
  • Edit

The tests vary slightly from state to state, but general test-taking principles apply across the board. Ideally, these skills should be taught all year long. Still, it is always good idea to do a refresher of test taking tips and strategies with your students/children before they test:

  • Read all the answers before you mark one. Often all of the answers have some relationship to the text.  Pick the one that is most related to the text.
  • Look back at the passage to locate answers. Think about where in the passage the answer might be found and read that part.
  • When writing, make sure you write to the prompt and use the language of the prompt in your paragraph or essay.
  • Make a plan to keep the writing organized. Include a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Be sure to include interesting details.
  • Reread your writing prompt to check for capitalization, punctuation, and any errors.

Keep in mind, state testing is only once a year, and offers just a “snap shot” of students’ capabilities.

These test taking strategies and skills are good for all year long. They may seem a little obvious, but I see students make these type of mistakes (e.g. not reading all the choices, etc.) all the time! I hope this helps.