Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Unwrapping TEKS: Unlocking the Path to Student Success


Educators are well-versed with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) - a comprehensive set of educational standards that outline what students should know and be able to do in various subjects at each grade level. But to effectively utilize TEKS in the classroom, it’s essential to ‘unwrap’ them. Unwrapping TEKS is the process of breaking down these broad standards into specific, manageable learning objectives. This practice is pivotal for several reasons.

Clarity and Focus

Unwrapping TEKS enables educators to gain a clearer understanding of the standards. It strips down the often complex language into more digestible components. This clarity helps teachers to focus on what exactly students need to learn, making it easier to create lessons and activities that align directly with the TEKS standards.

Targeted Instruction

By unwrapping TEKS, teachers can pinpoint specific skills and knowledge that students need to acquire. This facilitates targeted instruction, which is tailored to address particular learning outcomes. In turn, this ensures that no vital aspect of the standard is overlooked and that students are fully equipped with the skills and knowledge they need to meet the standard.

Formative Assessment and Feedback

Knowing precisely what students need to learn allows for more effective formative assessments. Teachers can create quizzes, tasks, and activities that directly assess the skills and knowledge outlined in the unwrapped TEKS. Moreover, it helps in providing specific feedback to students, guiding them on areas where they need improvement.

Differentiation and Individualized Learning

With a comprehensive understanding of what each standard entails, teachers can better differentiate instruction to meet the diverse needs of their students. For example, if a particular TEKS standard encompasses several skills, a teacher might provide different resources or modify instruction to help various students master these skills at their own pace.

Student Engagement and Ownership

Unwrapping TEKS isn’t just beneficial for teachers; it’s also advantageous for students. When students understand the specific learning objectives they are working towards, they are more likely to engage with the material. Moreover, it fosters a sense of ownership over their own learning.

Collaboration Among Educators

Unwrapped TEKS serve as a common language among educators. They enable teachers to collaborate more effectively, share insights, and build collective strategies for teaching the standards.

Closing Thoughts

Unwrapping TEKS is like decoding a treasure map for educational success. It not only clarifies the destination but also marks the key landmarks and paths that lead to it. By taking the time to delve into each standard and understand its core components, educators can create a learning environment that is focused, engaging, and tailored to meet the diverse needs of all students.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Good Vibrations

Week 3

Everyday, at a continues rate, the kids are experiencing heavy doses of positivity. Whether it's discipline or discussion, positive energy builds constantly. Here are a couple examples of the positive foundation being laid at the start of each class.

As the students enter class, Mom has them slap a brightly colored icon. Depending on which one they choose, they get one of the following: a dance party, hug, or high five. Watching mom "try" to dance is a sight to behold, but the kids love it. This simple act starts the positive flow for the day, and smiles are always the first thing on their tiny faces.

The next thing she has the little ones do is sit in a circle and sing Kum Ba Yah. Just kidding, she calls this circle, morning meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to establish team work by getting the kids to share things on their mind or tell a story about something good that happened to them. Using accountable talk and showing respect for their fellow students creates an atmosphere of positive communication and inclusion.

Through these little things and many others, positivity permeates all conversations, lessons and a smile is the most common expression in the class. This positive mindset is crucial to the metacognitive strategies implemented in the classroom. With these happy brains, brain hooks are formed faster and much smoother. I leave her class everyday with a smile on my face and I can't wait to create the same environment in my classroom.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Week 2: A Call to Arms

Week 2:

The most important thing Mrs. Dahl teaches is metacognition. Understanding brain hooks, and the importance of knowing the difference between a fixed vs growth mindset can be applied to everything students will do in life. These kids are being setup to be life long learners, with a potential intellectual capacity far greater than their peers who do not learn about metacognition.

It's truly sad that not all students are receiving this information. Even me, an uneducated, fantasy football playing, meat-head can see the impact this is having on the students' learning. Metacognitive strategies will be the banner I carry into my teaching career.

After saying all this to mom, she gave me about seven of Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers books. They are two pioneers in the field of metacognitive teaching methods. With these books and mom as a guide, I hope to shape every step I take in my development as a teacher through metacognition and mindfulness.

Week two of school was just as inspiring as week one was. I can't believe how much I'm learning and how awesome this profession is. For the Love of Teaching makes sense to me now because... how could you not love this? Especially knowing that you're touching lives and the future.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Introducing My Classroom Observer - and Guest Blogger - My Son

My son, David, has decided to follow in my footsteps and become a teacher. I am beyond thrilled!

Me with my awesome sons, Jared and David.
David is the one in red.
In order to give him a realistic view of teacher life, and a window into brain-friendly teaching, I invited him into my classroom as an assistant and observer.  He plans to continue to do so as he works his way through online college. He has made some very astute and profound observations in the short time he has been in my class. I thought it would be a fantastic exercise for him to blog some of his reflections, and he agreed.

David and his brother love to poke fun at each other, so David decided it would be awesome to make his blog name: The Favorite Son. Therefore, when you see a post from The Favorite Son...that would be David. Sigh. What's a mother to do? In case you're wondering...they both know I don't play favorites!

I'm putting the ornery guy's initial post below, but in the future, he will post under the name: The Favorite Son. Please enjoy his (our) journey, and feel free to offer feedback, comments, and/or advice.


As you can tell by my username, I'm the "favorite" son of Diane Dahl, and must always remind my brother of it no matter the platform I'm using. As the favorite, Mrs. Dahl asked me to come and observe her class with hopes that being around people who live to learn and love their jobs would motivate me to go back to school. I'm incredibly proud to say that it has! So, this is my journey and observations of my wild and wacky mother's class.

My goals for this blog are quite simple. I must work on my writing, as it's my weakest area of knowledge, and track the lessons I'm learning in the classroom. Mom's teaching and genuine love for her students have completely changed the trajectory of my life, and I hope this blog shows you why.

Week 1:
It's the first day of school, and full engagement versus chaos is the battle of the day. The kids walk in with intense energy and voices barely under control. "It's like herding cats," mom says with a big excited smile on her face. Immediately this eases my anxiety and lets me know that within the all-consuming energy, she is the master.

The word enthusiasm just isn't a strong enough a word to describe her teaching. I've never seen anything like it. She was up dancing on a table at one point. At another point, she ran screaming out of the classroom. These kids just have no idea what they are in for.

Enthusiasm became a keyword, and one she would repeat to me almost every day during the first week. Her enthusiasm is so infectious that it didn't just spread to me, but also to her students. Toward the end of class every day I hear her students talking about what they are working on... with excitement! That love of learning is spread through the conduit of her enthusiasm.

The first week taught me that relationships with the students are key. "They don't care about what you know unless they know that you care." She said that to me on the first day and I've seen the effect of it though out the week. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Beginning of the Year Brain Lessons

I like to teach my students a few basic brain facts from the very first day of school. I find the knowledge is empowering for them and can be referred back to all year.

I've taught these lessons to 2-4th graders. They can certainly be used in upper grades too. I'm attaching the lessons I start with, along with links to all the resources. Feel free to use these in your classroom to empower your students' learning as well!

Brain Lesson 1: The Plasticity of the Brain part 1
Brain Lesson 2: The Plasticity of the Brain, part 2, The Pipecleaner Brain
Brain Lesson 3: Effort Beats Intelligence, You Control Your Brain

In April I do Brain Awareness Week with my classes for more fun and in-depth learning about the brain. However, the three lessons above have year-long benefits that just can't wait for April!

Have fun and let me know how it goes!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Making History Real for My Students, Part 4: Chaos Erupts

Get off my land!
Students knew they were in for a challenging day before they even entered the class. Mexico had won its independence from Spain. Now two tax collectors stood at the door to tax students on everything they brought into the classroom (Texas/Mexico) from their homeroom (USA). I led students to believe the money would actually be coming out of their classroom accounts (they have pseudo financial accounts in 4th grade). If they complained, they were taxed for complaining. It was awesome!

But it's my land~!
Once in the classroom they had to visit the Emresario to present their existing Spanish Land Grant for review.  Once approved, students could continue to their land. Unfortunately, they soon discovered strangers (I borrowed students from another class) had settled onto the lands my students already had land grants for. These new settlers claimed Mexico had given them permission to settle the lands, and if my students had a problem with it then they had to go see the Mexican Empresario again.

The line quickly formed in front of the Empresario. However, our Empresario didn't always settle issues in the student's favor. In such a case, students had to travel to see the Government Official (who was in Mexico)...on the other side of the school!

Here we go again...
The government official would find problems with student's paperwork. Students then had to return to the classroom (back across the school) to get the item fixed, then travel BACK to the official again to have their claim resolved. However, by the time the claim was resolved and the students returned to class, there would often be another issue that had arisen for which the kids needed to return to the official.

Once student's frustration level was evident, I took pity on them. We sat down and had a fantastic discussion about what it felt like from the point of view of each role. Students then wrote their journal entries.

Point of View Reflection by Students

I think that what has been happening is so unfair! We have to pay taxes for items that we bring in, they’re telling us what to do, and taking our land away from us! We were perfectly fine before all those people came in and started controlling us. Guess what happened when we were trying to come in. A tax collector was waiting to take money away for our own belongings! I mean who tries to be serious with a pillow hat on? Well as you can see unfair, horrible, and unreasonable things have been happening. If I had a say about all of this, I would kick them out into the ocean and not even think about looking back to help. This is just so unfair. Just thinking it about gets me overwhelmed. Well better get to work so I’ll have enough to pay. P.S. I’m certain that there will be a revolution because people like me won’t let this slide without… something that may stop them. Off to work. Bye.  ~Campbell, a settler
Today I, Empresario Paari, had a horrible time giving people land grants then giving other people the same land plot. They were getting angry and having wars with other people and getting furious at me. They kept bugging me so I eventually let the government handle it. I think they are soon going to start a war or a revolution.  ~Paari, Empresario
KA-KLUMPP, KA-KLUMPP, KA-KLUMP. Today Yasmine (bree), Amitola (Zoe), and I were woken by yelling and the sound of hooves beating the ground like drums.  When I walked out of our hut It was terrible. I saw people fighting and saying, “I don’t want to have to pay taxes to bring simple things like food and water in.  WE don’t want to have to be with the Mexican Government!”. See? I didn’t want to get into trouble, so I listened from a distance, trying not to be seen. I heard them talking about people getting “land grants” and then they were being taken away from the rightful owners. I hope this never happens again.  ~McKenna, Native American
Summing it up
The day was CHAOS. Exactly what I wanted! Students were frustrated and ready to revolt.

The next day we held a debate to discuss a revolution. That debate could be a blog post in itself! The kids collaborated within Google Docs to prepare the sides they argued. Then worked together within the document during the debate itself to stay on top of the arguments. It was amazing!

Next...the Alamo!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Making History Real for my Students, Part 3: Students Try to Mutiny!

Students' view upon arrival.
Part One
Part Two

Part Three
My students strolled into class to find most of the room (aka their lands) taped off. I quickly informed them that Spanish Land Grants were multiplying, leaving little room for the tribes. They sort of, but not really calmly found room to squeeze all 18 of them in what little space was left. After all, it was supposed to be fun, right? But,  I wanted them to be FEEL the loss of their space. It went better than I expected, in fact, I almost had a mutiny on my hands!
TEKS: 4.2 History. The student understands the causes and effects of European exploration and colonization of Texas and North America.
The initial tight squeeze was doable.

To make them feel the squeeze, I gave them an assignment they had to complete before they could move anywhere else in the room. It entailed a journal entry reflection of how their tribe might have felt about being pushed out of their lands, a timeline of events leading to this moment in Texas history, and the impact of each timeline event on the settlement of Texas.
Finally, an important decision had to be made; they had to decide whether to continue playing the role of a tribal member or change roles and play a settler. They then had to justify their thinking for whichever choice they made.

Things were going swimmingly until the kids began to feel the need to stretch out. First, a foot went over the line, then a book box, next a hand. The infractions multiplied as time went on. Every time I made them get back within their designated boundaries. As time wore on, a couple of boys decided to take a stand! They
The view from behind the Alamo! Notice all 18 4th-graders
squeezed into the front of the room. *The role of Alamo
inhabitants are currently being played by Poppy and Oreo!
wanted to stretch their legs out into the forbidden zone, and by-golly I wasn't going to let them. When I came down on them for repeatedly trying, they actually tried to rally the rest of the class. It was a mutiny! I sincerely thought I was going to lose control for a few minutes. It was AWESOME, they truly felt a measure of the frustration I was hoping for.

Here are some reflections that were written from the point of view of the Native Americans:

  • Today we realized how much land we've lost to the colonists. We were pushed out of our tribal hunting grounds and now we don’t have anywhere to go.  Right now we're very confused because they just walk in and take our land! We didn’t do anything to them so they shouldn’t do this to us. Seriously, I had a life there and they just take it away from me! This is not good, not good at all. ~Campbell
    As space began to feel smaller, the
    boys by the door tried to instigate a revolt! 
  • “NO! You can not have any buffalo!” yelled the Comanche. “We don’t even have enough to feed our own people. Now scram or die, Wolfbone.” I ran out of there as quickly as I could. Those horrible colonists had taken away our land, food, and pride. Now we have to fight each other for what is left. ~Paari (One of my mutiny leaders!)
  • Right now there are hundreds of people coming into the colonies! I don’t know what to do! I recently was adopted into the Comanche tribe and given the improved name, Animaltalker Birdsong. I don’t know what to make of all this, but I do know that I’ll never join a colony. The Comanche were also so kind when I told them what had happened to me, and how I’m one of the last remaining Atakapa tribe members. I still can’t believe that I’m with the Comanche now! ~Haley
At first, most said they would remain a Native American. But as time wore on, more and more gazed longingly at the vast open space that was the remainder of the classroom. The time arrived to make a choice. Here are two examples:
Trading for supplies.
  • I choose to be a colonist because I feel like it would fun, and it makes me feel non-surrounded. I would feel good that we get so much more space!  I finally know how the Native Americans felt. ~Eli
  • The reason why I stayed as a Native American is that all of the tribes are being forced out. I don’t like that, so I am going to stand my ground! ~Clark
Decisions made, the kids happily retreated to their chosen sections of the room to continue class. Being the amazing teacher troll that I am, I strategically split the class with their book boxes in the colonists' area and the laptops in the new Indian Territory. Now the kids have to trade with each other every day to get the supplies they need! They absolutely love the challenge.

Next week in class, Mexico will gain its independence and the pressure will be on our colonists. I've got our existing Native Americans, two Mexican Empresarios, a government official, and a tax collector ready to provoke another mutiny and launch us into our first debate.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Make History Real For Students, Part 2: Upping the Rigor

Part One

Part Two
One by one the students stopped working, peering up in confusion. Our Library Media Specialist (Alison Smithwick) and a Technology Coach (Elizabeth Benno) had slipped quietly into the room. They appeared to be in a boat, and were pointing and pausing to confer and take notes. After sailing down the coast of our classroom, they quietly disappeared.

The blue tape line for de Pineda's path.
Then the fun began! 
Students had to figure out what the strange visitors were doing based on the observations kids made. They were able to infer that our visitors were on a ship drawing a map. It turned out that my tribes had just witnessed Alonso Alvarez de Pineda sail along the coastline of Texas! A fantastic discussion ensued using the following criteria:

Based on your research of your specific tribe's customs, beliefs, and culture, how do you think your tribe reacted to seeing Pineda's ship go by? 

The students' in-depth understanding of each tribe was phenomenal and contributed to the lively discussion. They were thoroughly engaged and ready to write their first journal entry recording the historic event...from their tribe's point of view

    The growing timeline.
  • Today a large canoe made out of wood, crossed the ocean. It was very chaotic. As soon as someone saw it they called a meeting. The women and men gathered around the campfire. As the men argued the women decided it was best left alone. ~Katie

Along with the journal entry, they began a Google Slides presentation within Google Classroom to record each explorer's name, home country, motivation, achievements, and impact (if any) on the settlement of Texas. We then added each event to a timeline with 1-3 corresponding journal entries attached. Each explorer's path through Texas was recorded on the floor with colorful tape.

Mr. Smith as a hungry, shipwrecked deVaca.
The excitement in the room remained high for weeks as kids wondered when the next "explorer" would visit. Cabeza de Vaca came through two times courtesy of our school counselor (and author), Bryan Smith (@kidauthorsmith). This time the major challenge was communication. Students had to figure out what deVaca needed without being able to speak his language or understand his culture. Discussion, timeline slides, and point-of-view journal entries followed each visit.
  • Today a person but not a person came. He was like us but the skin was totally different. He spoke the weirdest kind of language. It sounded like gibberish. This could be the start of something new. What if more come, what if they try to take us? I think I’m gonna just go hide in my hut and stay there in case they do come back. Even though my tribe is kind, how are they going to be kind with this happening? ~ Campbell
A particularly entertaining explorer was Marcos de Niza, played by our principal, Kevin Parker. He
Mr. Parker as de Niza
slammed the classroom door open startling the kids and began demanding in Spanish to know where to find the 7 Cities of Gold. Pictures of distant pueblos were on the wall for certain kids (who were in the know) to point to. When de Niza left in a panic, he flipped one of the boys out of his chair. It was unexpected, the kids loved it and still talk about it!

  • Today a man named de Niza came with Esteban. I was happy to see Esteban while traveling for some meat, but then an arrow struck him in his heart and there was nothing I could do. The other man ran away yelling a strange word: gold. ~Paari
  • Today a new ghost came. Luckily we had our new friends the Atakapa with us, but we couldn’t do anything to stop them from walking right into our camp. He said he was looking “oro” which I don’t know of. He said this to us, “Oro, oro, gold, De Niza.” Now we understood he was looking for the Seven Cities of Gold. We told him that the mountains bathed in sunlight were gold. I hope he goes away. ~Olivia

Mr. Knoerr as Coronado
Another fun explorer was Coronado, played by 2nd grade teacher, Doug Knoerr. He was the last Spanish explorer to visit. As you can see in the following reflection, some students were so enthralled with this activity, they researched and tried to utilize the actual language of their tribe.

  • Today a whole group of ghosts appeared!  Now it seems that they come every year! Before we could do anything, the Chief said to us, “They are hathe (men). You know that even if there are wocpe (ten) of them and only hannik (one) of us, we will win! By the power of the cāmc (wolf), cako (bear), and lāns, let us be safe.” After that, we just had to keep night shifts and carry on our business. The leader sent out two men, and when they got back, they said, “Coronado, we found a beautiful canyon. Sadly, we found no City Of Gold.” The leader got very angry and stormed off with his men. We are safe for now, but the people coming will only get worse. ~Haley

From Mrs. Smithwick to Mr. Knoerr, the school came together to help my students witness history in action. Students responded with high levels of engagement and reflections that went above and beyond expectations. The ownership they displayed for their tribes and territories continued to grow. This makes the next section of the lesson even more powerful.

Stay tuned as students react to their lands being taken away, and others transition into the role of settlers. The perfect recipe for lively debate!

If emotion makes meaning and drives learning, how are we doing so far?