7 Tips to Stay Motivated Until the End

Dear Teachers,

I know you are feeling the stress, the pressure of the end of year assessments, and the heaviness of the school atmosphere. But, there are students out there who need us to continue the structure, the patience, and the stamina to help them stay focused until the end.

Remember your why.end of year

How will your students remember you over the summer? (The refreshed, enthusiastic teacher from the beginning of the year or the washed out, sluggish teacher at the end of the year)  I understand, this is not an easy time of the year.  So, I thought I would list a few tips on how to survive the end of the year to help you renew your energy and enthusiasm.

  1. Build Upon the Relationships

Stop and talk with your students for brief moments in your class. When the going gets tough, stop and talk. Talk about their lives. Stop and talk about your life.  I’ve been in a classroom this week where a teacher has been doing a quick 1-5 emotional check every morning. ‘How are you all feeling today? 1 = horrible and 5= Amazing!!!”  What a wonderful way to set the mindset and discover the emotions you are working with.

2. Put First Things First

This is the time of year where the To Do List gets LLLLOOOONNNNGGGG. Take it one day at a time, Complete the most important tasks first and the earliest deadlines first,

Thank you, Steven Covey.  His book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, was something I actually focused on in an earlier blog and one I used in my classroom. I can tell you right now, the most important thing right now, The First thing to focus on is the students. Do what is best for them.  If your mood, your energy, or you stress is not good for the students- leave it at the door or go back to #1 (talk to them about it).

3. Enjoy those last days

Enjoy your job, enjoy the students, and enjoy your colleagues because come late July- youmindfulness will be ready to get back into your classroom and change lives again. Remember why you wanted to be a teacher and try your darndest to me mindful and intentional in your practice.

4. Are you Tired and Struggling? Yes! …….So are they

Remember, these kids that have been around you all year have learned to feed off of 001your energy.  If you are tired and struggling, they are too.  Try to shake things up, add in a brain break, a boot camp or Challenge of some kind to whip your classroom back into shape. If you are having fun, they will too.  This excitement can liven things back up for all of you.

5. Communicate with Parents

Award ceremonies are a stressful time, but don’t let this opportunity slip by.  Remember and try to send a quick note home with the child, call home or send an email expressing all the progress the student has made throughout the year.  Talk with them about some exciting things their student accomplished or some wonderful character choices they made throughout the year.  A little ‘You’ve done a great job, Charlie is such a great kid.  I’ve really enjoyed having him in class this year!” – goes a long way.

They may not take your advice, but it is important to discuss with them how to prevent that summer slide.  They made such great gains over the year, you don’t want them to start the year too far behind.

6. Don’t finish teaching too early

Hunt for some fun activities in your subject area to jazz things up. If the students FEEL like the year is over, then structure and expectations go out the window. Trust me, this makes everything so much harder.

last year, around this time, I wrote a post about a Survival Guide– hear are some fun ideas to get through these last few weeks


7. Spend some ‘Quality Time’ with your colleagues

They may have gotten on your nerves at some point during the year, but they  understand your mindset better than anybody.  Get together, share your funny stories, and enjoy the company of people who get your job better than anyone.

Have a wonderful end of the year.



Finding Your “Why” (through all the mess)

I have been recently inspired by a YouTube video by Michael Jr. at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZe5y2D60YU&t=39s 


In this video, Michael Jr. explains how “knowing your why” can change the outcome of your ‘what’.  Without knowing your ‘why’, each of your ‘what’s’ are not as meaningful, impactful, or even worth it.  This struck home with me because my ‘why’ for being a teacher has never been to get students to pass a test.  My WHY has always been connected to …

  • changing student lives (making an impact)
  • Making a difference in the world through my students and their parents by building relationships and partnerships
  • Inspire change, innovation, and individuality in teaching pedagogy

Coming to work to teach the assigned curriculum, to get a paycheck or to have something to do every day was never on my list.  At times, it was difficult to remember my Why because of all of the extras that get in the way…end of year

  • testing
  • discipline
  • grading papers
  • To Do lists from other ‘duties’
  • district paperwork

Everyday counts when you are a teacher.  You are always making an impact; either a positive one or a negative one.

As a new instructional coach, I have found it very difficult to figure out my WHAT.  The job description covers many things that I have never experienced before (all new expectations) and it is an umbrella that just keeps getting bigger and bigger. My WHY has never changed.  I still want to …

  • change student lives (making an impact)
  • Make a difference in the world through my students (staff) and the parents by building relationships and partnerships
  • Inspire change, innovation, and individuality in teaching pedagogy
    • my charge is just on a much larger scale.  Which, at times, seems very overwhelming, out of control, and out of reach. But, it is why I went for this job.
    • I am no longer trying to do this in the four walls of my classrooms, I’m trying to do these things for an entire school.

After watching Michael Jr.’s video, I had to sit down and figure out my Why statement to keep me on track.  Without my WHY, my WHAT is OUT OF REACH.

Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk  references Dr. King and the Wright Brothers. These men knew untitledtheir WHY and because of it 250,000 came to hear Dr. King speak- not for Dr. King because he was such a great leader, but because they believed in his WHY. It was their WHY too.  The Wright Brothers didn’t have the $, the following, or the news coverage that their fellow flight seeking colleagues, like Langley, had.  They knew their WHY, believed. Their pursuit bled into their employees because their beliefs and feelings connected to and inspired others.  These are examples of leaders who inspire not leaders who led.  These men had a growth mindset in their endeavor because of their WHY. Their “heart” was in their work. 150601_EM_WrightBrothers

When we focus on our feelings, our beliefs, our WHY – the decisions that we make are done in the limbic part of our brains. This part of the brain guides all of our decisions, inspires others to step up (not follow) to be a part of the passion and keeps our mindset from quitting because it gets too hard.

Benefits: A purpose:

  • Keeps you motivated
  • Keeps you focused on the “how” (When we have a “why” , we can put up with any “how”)
  • Enables you to make daily progress toward long-term goals
  • Provides a compelling reason why you are a leader or are in business
  • Inspires others to want to follow you
  • Sets boundaries for decision-making
  • Clarifies what is really important to you


I encourage you to find your WHY.  Remember WHY you became a teacher, WHY this job matters to you.  The WHAT will be there (curriculum, TEKS, objectives). The HOW is motivated by your WHY- if you believe in students, in teaching, in making a difference, HOW you do that is more meaningful, more fun, and leads to a much more exciting life.


You can find your Why with these 6 STEPS at my TpT store. @ Jule Huck

Beginners Guide to The CAFE Wall- Resources and How To (3 of 5)

Yesterday I posted a blog by Simply Skilled in Second by a 2nd grade teacher named Anna. Her 3 Easy Steps to Streamline Your Guided Reading Instruction had me thinking. (This is a 5 part blog that will help teachers implement the Answers to the following questions. A, sort of, step-by-step guide on creating a student-centered […]

via Why Create a Student-Centered Classroom That Gets Results (1of 5) — mrssteinbrink6

The CAFE wall seems to be one of the most difficult tasks to take on for a classroom teacher.  It is a juggling act; strategy collection, student differentiation, student autonomy, flexible group guided reading, and goal setting all in one. These ideas are difficult by themselves, but when a teacher is asked to put them all together it can seem daunting.  It is SO worth it because it gives your guided reading purpose, focus, differentiation, and allows every student to become goal-oriented and mindful reader.  Without this, it may feel like you are turning your wheels, working harder than the students, and working mindlessly.

craft2 cafe-pic

Decide if you want a CAFE or CRAFT wall. 

Take a second and think about who is in your classroom.

Are you a  k-3 grade teacher or a special education teacher ? If so, then go with the tried and true CAFE Menu. To become a proficient reader, student must be able to Comprehend the text, read the words accurately, read fluently, and understand the strategies to understand new vocabulary.

Are you a  4-6 grade teacher or a gifted- talented teacher? If so, add the ‘R’ to your menu board to create CRAFT.  It is important that these students practice strategies to ‘Respond to Reading’.  This is a higher level ability that is required of them later in their schooling careers.

 Find a resource that will help guide your Strategy Menu board.

Here are a few author’s/books that I have used that have helped me create a board that fits my style, my students, and my knowledge of reading. * Choose 1 textth

Boushey and Moser ‘The Sisters’- The CAFE Book– This IS the book to start with.  The Appendix gives you the Launching Sequence Day by Day for the CAFE.  It brilliantly lays out how to Conference with students, set goals with them, USE the Menu as a goal setting wall and NOT just wall paper, and helps the teacher Coach her way through a conference with a student. If you are new to this idea- THIS is where to start!!!

  • If the CAFE menu is an established classroom habit, here are a lists of books that can help your students become successful autonomous learners, provide assistance with strategy transfer, and target YOUR instruction even further.

Jennifer Serravallo- The Reading Strategies book.  If you do not own this book- Stop right now and order it on Amazon.  I will tell you, this is the ONLY book you will ever need.  The th3dyelrzcstructure of the book fits right in with the Two Sisters’ CAFE menu.  She has great anchor charts, great questions, and teaching lessons that fit into the format of the CAFE wall.

Linda Hoyt- Interactive Read Alouds– If you prefer to take a little bit more time with the frontload and strategy instruction, this is the book for you.  Linda does an amazing job introducing students to picture books while using the authentic, high interest reading as the background of her strategy instruction.  There are great graphic organizers and genres of every kind.  This was one of the books that started my career.

Lori Jamison Rog- Struggling Readers– This is book focuses on teaching and texts that thkaqf72grtarget the needs of struggling readers.  It has four or five strategies of Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, Expanding Vocabulary, and Writing that are quick and easy to follow.  The book’s Appendix is filled with resources that any student can use.

Stephanie Harvey & Anne Goudvis- Strategies that Work– This is one of those books that MUST be in your book repertoire.  The book thbadjexbwfocuses on the Metacognitive thinking of students while using authentic picture books of all genres as the teaching text.  * As a new teacher, this was difficult for me to weed through to gain ‘bang for my buck’.  I did not find the value in this book until after my teaching philosophy was established.

How To…

‘The Sisters’ encourage The Daily Five and The Café Menu to be used congruently.  I have seen teachers use these ideas separately, and I have seen it work brilliantly.  If you are wanted a student-centered classroom with autonomous learners, these must be brought together.  The CAFE book teaches you how to integrate the two by showing you a ‘Typical’ schedule in the Appendix.  Unfortunately, I never had the luxury of more than a 90 minute Literacy block, so I had to play with the schedule a little bit.

The most important points…

  1. A strong, productive classroom management system must be in place BEFORE starting the CAFE menu.
  2. Practice, practice, practice – allowing students to make their Daily 5 choices without interruption. NO student-teacher conferences or guided reading should occur until students are well versed in making their own choices.
  3. The whole group strategy lesson should not take longer than 15 minutes.  *This is very important.  You are just frontloading students with the idea of the strategy through a guided practice NOT teaching every student EVERY CAFE strategy!!!
  4. Start the One on One Assessments with students (some may call this progress monitoring) within the first five days of launching the CAFE/Daily 5.  This will allow you to begin your flexible groupings and conferences with informed information.
  5. Review whole group strategies Over and Over again.  Review, repeat, and add on.
  6. It is important to figure out what strategies you truly believe every student needs to have to be a proficient reader.  I am a firm believer in the Close Reading Strategy: preview, read (stop and think), and summarize strategy.
  7. Allow students to Choose their books– try not to get bogged down on student Lexile or reading level.  If a student is interested in dinosaurs or WWII or the Dystopian genre, let them use these books to practice their strategies.

The greatest thing about The CAFE menu is that it is Student-Centered.  Teachers become facilitators and coaches through this approach, mindful instructors, and set all students on the path toward proficient reading (on their terms).

Want to work Smarter and NOT harder? This is how.

The Most Difficult Post I Have to Write- a Teacher’s Confession

I have always been a futuristic, strategic thinker.  I blame this on my coaches and my mother, and I know this is a good thing (a strength). Unfortunately, it has also been something I have struggled with as a parent and a teacher.  It is difficult for me to stay in the moment with my kids.  My sons are only five and three, but everything I do with them has a purpose for their future; discipline, education, structure, etc… As a teacher, being a systematic, strategic planner was what came natural to me.  But, being so calculated has created some of my most difficult setbacks, challenges, and FAILURES in my career.

After three years of trying to affect my students’ futures, impact the classroom by making calculated decisions for the test  and trying to move students through the curriculum- I finally had the hit on the head I needed to wake me up- the HIT that made me slow down!   I was going to lose my job if I wasn’t willing to change. I also realized that those last three years, I missed the opportunity to know some great kids.

It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. I had to admit to myself that thinking about the future was hurting my relationship with my students and, in turn, hurting my results.  So, instead of hiding under a rock (like I desperately wanted to) this failure became the chance for me to reexamine myself, my teaching philosophy, and my mindset about teaching.

I had to STOP worrying about their future.

I had to STOP worrying about the scores.

I had to STOP believing that I could impact students’ lives without ‘knowing’ them.

I had to STOP thinking it was Me vs. them.

I had to START listening.

I had to START talking with them.

I had to START looking at my students as the drivers and me as a facilitator.

I had to START being in the moment.

I had to START looking at my classroom as my family, my team.

I had to START becoming mindful in my teaching.

It was during that year of reinvention that I discovered the value in student autonomy, student-involved data conferences and student collaboration and feedback. It wasn’t about what I did today to affect their lives tomorrow. It was about being in the moment with them; checking in with them.  When I stopped looking at the future, I was able to build relationships with my students that made a much bigger impact than any one thing I had done before.

My first step was to talk with my students even after the initial ‘good morning’ at the door.  I wanted to hear about their personal connections to characters, to conflicts, and solutions in our stories.

My second step was to create a student-centered classroom.  This meant the students’ knowledge and understanding determined the how long I taught on a certain objective.  They began to choose their independent practice based on their personal goals and areas of weakness.  Guided reading become the center of my classroom instruction.  I had students begging for the attention they were given during my small group guided reading sessions.  Fourth, fifth and sixth graders were asking to meet with me instead of working with partners or independently.

Final Stepmindfulness, every decision that I made was based on what that day brought.  I had to become mindful of my students’ feelings, attitudes, and personalities.  I had to KNOW whether or not, on that particular day, if the students would be able to handle what I had planned or if they were wanting MORE.  I had to become mindful. I had to become a mind reader; someone who was able to read the room. It wasn’t about ME anymore- it became about them.

-and with this-

My students became my ‘kids’.  I wanted them to succeed in each of their goals because of who they were, NOT for the results on the test or for me. I gained more than increased test results.  I was able to treat every day as a significant part of their life.

Teaching became a significant part of my life as well.


10 Tips on Getting The Daily 5 Student-Centered (2 of 5)

If you are following this series, you are looking for a classroom structure that will allow students to become autonomous learners with the opportunity for differentiated instruction to help increase overall reading performance.  Thank you for following along.

Before you can create a student-centered classroom, structure must be in place.  The Daily 5 classroom format lays out one of the BEST structures.  The Sisters create a launching protocol that allows new and veteran teachers jump on the Daily 5 bandwagon. Their website allows you to watch videos, read blog posts and articles that lay this all out beautifully. thedailyfive.com

Here are some Tips that have helped me launch the Daily 5 (or Daily 3) in my classroom.

Tip #1 – Make sure you take the time to complete the I-Chart.

These charts give everyone the opportunity to understand the expectations of the student and the teacher during the Daily Five time.  This provided student buy-in for procedures that held them accountable for their behavior.  It felt almost like a contract that we created together. Have a collaborative conversation with your students about what should be expected for their success- What does it look like? What does it NOT look like? (role play).

Tip #2- Practice, practice, practice

It is important to set the structure, the standards, the expectations and practice them.  Do have students go through the transitions multiple times before pulling a small group that will pull your attention away from the masses. This is the opportunity for students to become familiar and routine with the ‘contract’.  When students are routined, you are able to sit back and watch students become the productive members in the classroom.  They are the ones going home tired- NOT you.

Tip #3- Start with 1 Daily activity at a time and ONLY add on when you KNOW students are ready.

When first starting this process, I made the mistake of jumping in with both feet.  We had 3 of the Daily’s going; read to someone, read to self, and word work all going at once.  It was chaos, and the students were never in a routine enough to know exactly how to reach the ‘contracted’ expectations. We had to back up and come up with a game plan.  I never did that again.

Tip #4- If you are a 4-6 grade teacher, try adding Respond to Reading as an extra Daily station Creating CRAFT.

Students in grades 4-6 are expected to prove and justify their thinking. This is one of those new waves that has allowed students to reach the College and Readiness standards that are creating inferential, high level thinkers.  This thinking allows you to really see their level of thinking and problem solving. I highly recommend adding this to the Daily expectations.

Tip #5- Try Weekly 5 instead of Daily 5

It is difficult to get through an entire Daily 5 when your teaching block is only 90 or 130 minutes long.  Try incorporating the Daily 5 but modifying it so students are expected to get through all 5 by the end of the week.

Tip #6- Have something that will hold students accountable for work or progress

The Sisters have great ideas on making sure each student complete the Daily 5 every day, and if you Pinterest Daily Five, I guarantee you will find something that will work for you.  This is important for students in grades 4-6 because they tend to want to read to self most of the time.  Which, as a reader, I don’t blame them.

I have also found that setting goals with students helps to motivate them to complete the Daily five ( more on this on post 5).

Tip #7- Teach students what a Good Fit Book is for them

There are so many conversations happening right now with the focus on the Joy of Reading and bringing that back into the classroom.  If we ONLY base student text on their reading level and NOT their interests or their ability levels, we have missed the point.  You will have a classroom filled with students who feel like reading is a HAVE to and not  WANT to.  It is our job, as educators, to encourage and excite students about learning- light the fire don’t dull it.

Tip #8- Allow students to choose their Daily from the beginning

After you have introduced and practiced at least three of the Daily 5 options, allow students to choose the Daily 3 they want to go to.  This will help your classroom become student-centered quickly.  They will learn responsibility, problem solving and accountability quickly- if you believe they can do it- they will be able to do it.

Tip #9- Revisit expectations (I-Charts) as often as you see fit

There is nothing wrong with having a class meeting on the expectations at the end of the semester or the six weeks.  And, there is nothing wrong with practicing each Daily 5 as a class every Monday until they are routined.



Why Create a Student-Centered Classroom That Gets Results (1of 5)

Yesterday I posted a blog by Simply Skilled in Second by a 2nd grade teacher named Anna.  Her 3 Easy Steps to Streamline Your Guided Reading Instruction had me thinking.

(This is a 5 part blog that will help teachers implement the Answers to the following questions.  A, sort of, step-by-step guide on creating a student-centered classroom)


  • Why aren’t more teachers providing guided reading intervention to their students?
  • How do teachers differentiate without this practice?
  • Time, time and time.  How do teachers work smarter and NOT harder?
    •  Teachers are bombarded with responsibilities, more and more accountabilities, and expectations.  But, the school length stays the same. My good friend, Valinda Kimmel, writes about this in her blog post titled, Best New Year’s Resolution for Teachers in 2017: Do Less @ valindakimmel.com.


  • Daily Guided Reading Time
  • Daily 5 Literacy Framework
  • CAFE System
  • Student Involved Data Meetings

Daily Guided Reading Time Benefits

What is Guided Reading?  (small group instruction with like leveled readers that provides students with guided support in Comprehension, accuracy, fluency, and word work)

  • provides differentiation to students through leveled text, comprehension strategies, and vocabulary focus
  • Teacher is able to model for the small group so all students are focused on the skill
  • Provides guidance in a safe environment that encourages all students to try.
  • The small group gives the teacher the ability to monitor and hold all students accountable for their strengths and weaknesses
  • Gives each child the opportunity to share out, have engaging conversations with the teacher, and builds strong relationships.

Daily 5 Benefits

What is Daily 5? (A literacy framework that allows students the opportunity to choose from 5 Balanced Literacy Tasks to achieve their personal reading goals)

  • students develop independence, stamina, and accountability;
  • less time consumed by classroom management leaves more for instruction;
  • the framework adapts flawlessly to district-adopted curriculums and state mandates;
  • improves schoolwide literacy achievement; and
  • behaviors of independence transfer to other content areas

CAFE System Benefits

What is CAFE? (The CAFE System to assess, instruct, and monitor student progress. It provides tools for constructing group and individual lessons that provide just-in-time instruction, ensuring that all students reach their potential.)

  • establish and track the strengths and goals of each child by providing a structure for conferring;
  • organize assessment data and use it to inform instruction;
  • maximize time with students in whole-group, small-group, and one-on-one settings;
  • create flexible small groups focused on specific reading needs;
  • engage students, fostering ownership and accountability to reach goals; and
  • develop a common language to talk about reading development and proficiency.


Student Involved Data Meeting Benefits

What is Student Involved Data Meetings? (Student-Teacher discussion with the purpose of setting overall reading goals by instructing students on strategies and a focus.)

  • Student autonomy
  • Student accountability
  • developed problem solving skills
  • Improved overall reading abilities
  • working smarter, NOT harder

In my next post, I will focus on the Daily 5 Literacy Framework; how to get it started and how I have used it and have seen it used to increase student overall reading scores and classroom productivity.



Beginners Guide: Flexible Seating in the Classroom

As you’ve skimmed through Pinterest for teacher ideas, I am sure you’ve noticed a lot of new posts on ‘flexible seating’. Which have peaked your  interested or, at the very least, you are now intrigued.

Am I right?

Well, let me provide you with a few tips on Why? and How? to get this started in your classroom.


The Two Sisters introduced me to student choice many years ago in their books The Daily 5/CAFE.  Through this idea of Centers or Stations, I was able to implement ‘flexible seating’ before it really even had a name.  As an Instructional Coach, I am seeing more and more teachers jump on this new student-centered idea.  Giving students the opportunity to earn or choose their seating benefits the classroom for many reasons…

  • student-buy in
  • more focused and attentive students
  • develop learner autonomy
  • initiate problem solving
  • foster responsibility

The students are apart of the decision making when it comes to ‘flexible seating’.  They get to make the choices, reflect on the decisions that they made, and because of that become productive members of the classroom learning environment.  One of my favorite TPT and blog posts on flexible seating is by Tammy Danley, she explains how she jumped ‘feet first’ into this idea because of the student feedback. http://www.literacylovescompany.com/2016/04/flexible-classroom-seating.html

She has some wonderful advice on how to get the students to develop autonomy, problem solve and become responsible.  Because I will warn you!!!

You will want to throw in the towel because it is such a drastic change from what students are so used to – sitting in a hard, uncomfortable chair all day. BUT it is well worth the time and skills you are helping students develop.


First– Decide what seating you will want, offered, and house in the classroom.  This is a great time to give students a list of options and allow them to express what they want.  Here are some ideas..

  • bean bags
  • exercise balls
  • rolling chairs
  • floor pillows
  • cushioned crates
  • benches
  • wobble stools
  • stools
  • cushioned buckets
  • chair cushions
  • folding chairs
  • sit spots

Second- Troll the Dollar Tree or Dollar General for good deals and comb through Pinterest for ideas only your most out of the box thinker can imagine.

ThirdCreate Rules and a student/class Contract that will help hold everyone accountable.

Fourth– The day the new seating changes DON’T try them all at once.  Sneak them in slowly or the students will become very overwhelmed, as will you 😉  DO allow students to play around with the seating for about 5-10 minutes.  Let them get this out of the way because you know they are going to do it no matter what you say, so you might as well let them get their ‘play’ in before applying the strict expectations.

This student-centered idea allows students to feel as if the class was made for them.  When taking the time to find out what they want from their classroom, students will feel appreciated, cared for, and, most of all, important.  This will give you the opportunity to help them become successful.



Data Talk the Right Way

Picture this scenario…

As you sit in your hard school chair, you can hear your heart pounding against your chest, and your hands are sweating from the nerves that are racing from the anxiety your teacher’s heels are creating on the floor as she passes out yesterday’s assessment.  She calls your name at the same moment she lays the test face down onto your desk.  With a nervous heart, you place your trembling hands on the test.  You peek through your fingers to notice the long list of questions you missed.  Your heart sinks deep into your stomach as you swallow hard.  This is not good.  You tried so hard, and still was not successful!?!?

Unfortunately, this is the moment most students believe defines them.  This is the moment that most students stop trying and allow this one test to claim them for the rest of the year.

As teachers, it is our job to use these short cycle assessments, benchmark assessments and district tests in a different way- The Right Way, the meaningful way.  Here are Six steps to make these tests about what students and TEACHERS did right and how we can fix what went wrong without allowing these tests to define the2016-10-19-14-11-02m.

  1. Notice what questions you/students answered correctly.  I heard a teacher just today announce, “Celebrate what questions you answered right because that is just as important as what we did not answer correctly.”



2. Use the assessment to collect data on many different areas BUT most importantly

Vocabulary – This is one of the highest areas of struggle for students in all content areas, in all grade levels, and in all backgrounds.  2016-10-19-14-12-15

Question Stems – This is where most students struggle.  The test questions are different than the objective, and the tests are asking the students the same kind of question multiple different ways.



3. Allow students to measure their own effort and their strategy use.  Ask them how much effort they put forth on this test.  Without a growth mindset and the belief that staying focused and attentive during a test, students will not be successful. This is a very difficult thing for teachers to teach.  Teachers need the buy in from our students on the importance of effort, there is very little we can do about the actual data. Ask them what strategies they used on the test.  Have them show you evidence of those strategies.  Allow them to express what strategies you have taught that helped them, and what strategies need to be practiced or implemented to support their success.



4.  Notice the trends with your class, rotations, campus, and district.  What questions did most students struggle with, what questions did most students do well on, and what objectives did we improve on?  The school I am currently working on uses a lot of consensograms to collect this type of data.  The visual allows students to be reflective and goal oriented. If rotations differ, figure out why?  If teachers’ data is different, ask why? In this reflection, teachers can find opportunities to grow from each other and learn new ideas.

5.  Set goals and change classroom instruction based on this assessment. If teachers don’t use the data to drive instruction forward, there is absolutely no point in taking the assessment.  Our (RX) prescriptions for change give students so much control in the classroom.  This collaborative opportunity allows each student to express his/her concerns and ideas to the teacher.  When a teacher actually listens and makes the tweaks during this reflection/prescriptions, the students are more apt to be engaged in the learning process.  Give students the chance to sit with you, one on one, to discuss the data.  During this conference set goals with the students; specific, measureable, attainable, realistic, timed goals. SMART goals.


6.  Learn from your mistakes BUT celebrate the successes!!!!  If it is always about what went wrong, the test will define the student.  If the teacher can see the light and express her/his pride for the student effort, mindset or successes, the test will be just a piece of the learning process.  Next assessment, set a goal and find some kind of incentive (extra recess, a pie in the face, a game of knock out, dance party etc…) to intrigue all your students to do their best, to show what they know.


Help students understand that this is a jumping off point. This assessment is being used to collect data and information on what we (teachers) need to be providing for them to be able to be independent learners.  Students can be helped all day with differentiations in place to help them be successful.  But what do students need to be successful on a test that measures all students on the same objectives? What strategies can we implement to help students become good test takers?  Until we can find another way to hold everyone accountable, tests are the reality, and they are not going away any time soon.  Let’s make the best of it, and make tests work in our advantage.

3 Must Haves to a Perfect Class Closure

I was honored to observe a new teacher at our school and our district today.  Her closure was a Process of Beauty.  I had to share.  In this closure she included three  essential parts that make a Closure reflective and comprehensible.  Walking out of her class today, made me feel a sense of pride for her and for her students. They are very lucky to have such a new teacher truly understand what the Learning Cycle is all about.

Before the video, this is the conversation that led to the step I was able to capture on video.

*Names were changed

Mrs. N – “Who wants to share what strategy they used today to help solve their independent work?”
Bobby- ” I used CRAZY HEAD MATH!” (I am assuming this is math done in your head).
Mrs. N- ” Okay, great! Raise your hand if you also used Bobby’s strategy today during independent time?”
(most of the hands go up)
Mrs. N- ” Who used a different strategy?”
Michelle- “I multiplied the tens by the decimal, the ones by the decimal, added them and then moved the decimal.”
Mrs. N- “Wow! Raise your hand if this was your strategy.”
(the rest of the hands go up)
Mrs. N- “Okay, let’s get our Plickers cards out and see who took away the learning objective today.”

This simple but affective check in with the students allowed Mrs. N to see what strategy students used today. This adds to their toolkit, gives the students choice, and allows them to experience a little control in their learning.

Please observe the following video.

As you observe, simply notice the three steps she takes to help her students grow and have a growth mindset.

In the video, Mrs. N uses a technology tool to assess her students in her learning. This tool is Plickers.  As a classroom teacher, this was one of my favorite formative assessment tools.  It did not require a lot of time to set up, not any other device than your phone or Ipad, and it gives automatic feedback.  Plus- if you heard the cheering- it is a lot of fun for the students.

Her final step was to ask a student to explain how she got the answer.  This is a Number Talk.  If a student can explain how she/he got the answer, then they will most likely learn in faster, help another student understand the process, and by talking it out- the teacher gets to clarify misunderstandings and vocabulary.

To sum up…

A Must have Closure  must include…

  1. reflective check in with the students.
    1. strategies that they used during the independent practice, How do you feel about the learning today? or What was your take away?
  2. Formative Assessment of some kind
    1. Exit ticket, Plickers question, assignment question reviewed from independent work
  3. A chance for students to  Explain their thought process.
    1. Number Talk, Turn and Talk, share out, written response, journal writing


Norms vs Rules


Creating norms in the classroom is the first step to establishing a collaborative student-led classroom.

Above is a video created by a staff member on my campus that articulates the Norms of the art room.

It is important for all students to have a voice and to understand what types of ‘normal’ classroom behaviors will need to occur to be successful.  The first question you ask students is …

“What do you need from your peers to be successful this school year?”

These answers create your NORMS.  These are behavior expectations that will need to occur every single day to make sure ALL students are successful.

The most important thing to remember when establishing norms is that THEY ARE NOT FOLLOWED UP WITH CONSEQUENCES! If a student does not reach these norms, they are not given a consequence.  This is the time to sit with a student and remind them about NORMS and how they are just expected behaviors that the students in the class decided would help all students succeed.


These are the nonnegotiable expectations set forth by the teacher, campus or district.  These are posted in the classroom before students even show up on the first day.

The most important difference is that Rules = consequences.