Monday, August 18, 2014

Day 1 of the 30 Day Blog Challenge: Number Talks

I'm joining the 30 day blog challenge. I've needed the motivation! Today I want to put one of my goals for this school year out there. This way all my friends can help hold me accountable! One of my goals is to fine tune my Number Talks.

What is a Number Talk? 

Number Talks are a fantastic way to increase your students flexibility with numbers. You may think you do number talks already...that's what I thought too. Then I was shown a video of Sherry Parrish (author of Number Talks) demonstrating it. I was blown away. It's mental math on steroids in only 10 minutes! My kids absolutely loved it.

How it Works 

The teacher writes a number problem on the board. Students are given think time. When they have an answer, they give a thumbs up against their chest. The teacher then calls on various students to share their strategy. The amazing thing is that the kids learn the correct terminology for each strategy and are able to assist each other when someone struggles. (I recommend using a different color marker for each strategy used so kids can easily reference previous strategies.) Their confidence soars! Keep in mind that the whole process should last no more than 10 minutes. Here is a video describing Number Talks. Notice how the kids are able to articulate their thoughts (as short as the clip is) and help each other.


The Brain Connection

Another reason I like number talks so much is that allows students to practice holding information in their working memory. The more they practice, the better they get! Can you think of some of your own students that could benefit from that?

Want to know more?

You can get more information from Sherry Parrish's book, Number Talks: Helping Children Build Mental Math and Computation Strategies.  One thing I appreciate about her book is the videos demonstrating number talks at all the different grade levels K-5. It is definitely worth the money.

That's one of my goals for the year...what is one of your goals?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Engaging Brains: How to Enhance Learning by Teaching Kids About Neuroplasticity

This post is co-authored by Marcus Conyers who, with Donna Wilson, is co-developer of the M.S. and Ed.S. Brain-Based Teaching degree programs at Nova Southeastern University. They have written several books, including Five Big Ideas for Effective Teaching: Connecting Mind, Brain, and Education Research to Classroom Practice.

Enhancing Student Commitment

Explicitly teaching students about neuroplasticity can have a transformative impact in the classroom. A central facet of our work as teacher educators is teaching about how the brain changes during learning. Many teachers have told us that these findings have had a positive effect on their expectations for their students and on students' perceptions of their own abilities.
Lessons on discoveries that learning changes the structure and function of the brain can engage students, especially when combined with explicit instruction on the use of cognitive and metacognitive strategies that guide them to learn how to learn (Wilson & Conyers, 2013). Using these strategies effectively produces learning gains, which motivate students to take charge of their learning, which leads to further academic success and may have the additional benefit of alleviating classroom management issues. When students see this process as changing their own brains, the result is a powerful and positive cycle.
The force behind this cycle is students' belief that they can get smarter through study and practice, which enhances their commitment to persist in the hard work that learning sometimes requires. Nisbett (2009) reports on classroom research involving seventh graders who were taught that learning changes the brain and that intelligence is expandable. Students in this experimental group did better on math tests than peers who did not receive that instruction.
The same dynamic of persisting to succeed applies to teaching. Keeping the idea of brain plasticity at the forefront of your professional practice offers a constant reminder than when students struggle with lessons, it isn't because they can't learn, but because they need more practice and instructional support.

Strategies for Engagement

Lessons and activities about the power of brain plasticity can take many forms for students of all ages, as the following examples demonstrate.

License to Drive

Remind students that they "drive" their own brains, and teach them useful learning strategies. Second grade teacher Donna Garland leads her students in daily exercises to practice cognitive and metacognitive strategies that they can use in learning all their core subjects. Students' desks are decorated with colorful "brain car" cartoons as reminders that they are in charge of their learning.

Going BIG

Make these lessons a BIG deal. Nichole Galinkin designed a literature-based cognitive skills program she calls "Brains In Gear (BIG): Big Secrets for Thinking and Learning" for the K-3 students in her exceptional education classes. Children explore picture books that reinforce thinking skills, engage in role playing, and talk to teachers, aides and volunteers about how they benefit from thinking about their thinking.
"What I enjoy most of all is listening to the kids as they remind themselves of a catch phrase or a strategy and hearing them share those strategies with others," Ms. Galinkin says. "It's great to actually see them using the information they're learning."
Nichole Galinkin, daughter & brain lesson
In preparation for teaching, Nichole Galinkin and her daughter explore "BIG secrets" about the brain and learning.

Credit: Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers

Practice, Practice, Practice

Have a ready answer to the question, "Why do we practice so much?" For example, here's a great story about neuroscientists investigating how learning affects the brain. Medical researchers were fascinated with how veteran cab drivers could navigate the busy streets of London so effortlessly and remember all the shortcuts without consulting a map. So they did brain scans and discovered that the cabbies' hippocampal areas, the part of the brain associated with spatial reasoning, were larger than those of other adults. All those years of driving and remembering routes had literally changed their brains. Studies of musicians have found similar results of the impact of practice, practice and more practice.

Room to Improve

Encourage older students to make the most of their brain plasticity, too. By the time high school students make it to Jeremy Green’s AP psychology and U.S. history classes, some seem convinced that their academic shortcomings are innate and permanent. They are resigned to "making do" in their struggles with reading high-level texts, the most common problem Mr. Green encounters among his students.
With the goal of dispelling the misconception that "you're stuck where you are," Mr. Green begins the school year by sharing a presentation titled "Your Brain Is Amazing." He reinforces that message throughout the school year by teaching cognitive strategies alongside core content, such as explicit instruction on the organizational skills that students will need to complete a research project, and tricks for puzzling out the meaning of unfamiliar terms. The same message applies to the football players he coaches: "You're either going to get worse or better, but nobody's going to stay the same."
"Our role as teachers and coaches is to sell them on the idea that they can get better. If we improve, we win -- period," Mr. Green adds. "We talk about this on the first day of class -- how you're not just what you are today, and that hard work really matters."
How do you engage your students in learning how to learn?


Hinton, C., Fischer, K. W., & Glennon, C. Students at the Center: Mind, Brain, and Education [Executive Summary], March 2012.
Nisbett, R. Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count. New York, NY: Norton, 2009.
Wilson, D. L., & Conyers, M. A. Five Big Ideas for Effective Teaching: Connecting Mind, Brain, and Education Research to Classroom Practice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press, 2013.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

What does neuroplasticity research suggest about the potential of all students to master the 4Cs?

This article by Donna Wilson, Ph.D., is a fantastic look into student potential as it relates to the plasticity of the brain. It is also posted here:

Donna Wilson, Ph.D., is a school/educational psychologist, teacher educator, and author. Her most recent books include Five Big Ideas for Effective Teaching: Connecting Mind, Brain, and Education Research to Classroom Practice (Teachers College Press) and Flourishing in the First Five Years: Connecting Implications from Mind, Brain, and Education Research to the Development of Young Children (Rowman & Littlefield Education). She is cofounder and academic team leader at the Center for Innovative Education and Prevention (CIEP).

Driving Question: What does neuroplasticity research suggest about the potential of all students to master the 4Cs?
By Donna Wilson, Ph.D.

The discovery that learning changes the structure and function of the brain (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000) has the potential to transform education in both profound and practical ways—if we can, once and for all, dislodge persistent misconceptions that obscure this promise.

Neuroplasticity is one of Five Big Ideas for Effective Teaching (Wilson and Conners, 2013). It  contributes to a necessary foundation, a conceptual framework, for teacher education and professional learning. Calfee (2006) identifies neuroplasticity as one of four “reallyimportant problems” that merit continued study to advance educational practice. Likewise, Dubinsky, Roehrig, and Varma propose that “the neurobiology of learning, and in particular the core concept of plasticity, have the potential to directly transform teacher preparation and professional development, and ultimately to affect how students think about their own learning” (2013, p. 317).

Psychologists refer to the class of neuroplasticity that describes how the brain changes in response to what we hear, see and do as experience-dependent synaptogenesis (Lightfoot, Cole, & Cole, 2009). This term captures how the brain creates new synapses (neural connections) based on one’s unique experiences in day to day life. “Experience-dependent synaptogenesis is the mechanism that can turn what we do into what we know” (Wilson & Conyers, p. 33). Vocabulary development is an example of this form of plasticity: the more we read and learn new words, the broader our vocabulary. We can continue to expand our knowledge of words throughout our lives.

The transformational power of neuroplasticity lies in how we think about students’ potential to learn and whether students believe they can get smarter if they commit to the hard
work required to advance academically. Within this context, teachers, administrators, students and other community members alike can come to accept that virtually all students have the capacity to learn when provided the supportive environment and experiences to do so.

Embracing this perspective requires setting aside widely held but often unacknowledged and erroneous assumptions embedded in our society about innate intellectual capacity and “natural talent.” Are some people just born communicators (or teachers)? Is creativity an inherent trait? Should we steer students toward specific academic or vocational studies based on current assessments of their analytic, creative, and interpersonal abilities? Should virtually all students be taught thinking strategies, or only those labeled as gifted?

By taking a constructive view “of genes as phenomena that enable rather than constrain behavior” (Sylvester, 2010, p. 18), we can move forward to create policies and schools that help equip all students with the four Cs they need to succeed in school and in the workplace.

Equally important is the finding that neuroplasticity is not confined to the very young. Experience-dependent synaptogenesis is at work throughout our lives, powering lifelong learning—and, more to the point of this discussion, educators’ capacity to continue to learn as they practice throughout their careers. As one teacher told us, “educators and leaders will benefit [from learning about neuroplasticity] as they recognize that learning never stops, regardless of an individual’s age.” Another teacher put it more memorably: “In essence, you can teach an old dog new tricks” (Wilson & Conyers, 2013, p. 37).

Among the practical applications that arise from this research are these strategies for teaching and learning (Bransford et al., 2000; Centre for Education Research and Innovation, 2007):
  • Teach students about the power of their brains’ plasticity to help them achieve whatever goals they set for themselves in school and in life. Students who receive explicit instruction that they have the capacity to become functionally smarter are more likely to keep trying when learning gets tough.
  • Rely on formative assessment to identify where each student stands currently in terms of critical skill development and to chart a path to continue the progression toward mastery.
  • In teaching core subjects such as math and reading, emphasize “big ideas” like conceptualizing math operations and employing reading comprehension strategies rather than a focus only on rote memorization of math facts and words.
  • Think out loud, model problem-solving strategies for students, and invite them to share their own solutions to underscore that there is no one right way to learn. Share a variety of analytic and creative approaches, and encourage students to try out and adapt those that work best for them.
  • Beyond the classroom, educate others within the community to understand that virtually all students can succeed at school when the necessary conditions for students to flourish are present in communities as well as schools.
In the mid-1990s I completed research in doctoral studies in educational psychology followed by post-doctoral work studying structural cognitive modifiability overseas. My goal was to become the best teacher educator I could be by providing learning experiences to prospective teachers and administrators to create equitable schooling for our nations’ children.
The practical and hopeful work of cognitive theorists Robert Sternberg and Reuven Feuerstein, as well as other mounting evidence from research in cognitive psychology and education dramatically changed my thinking. Both theorists were writing about capacity to increase our functional intelligence. Steeped in research still often unused in education, I began to see new potential in myself, in other adults, and in students across the spectrum of current achievement. Sharing the applications of that research, as well as findings in educational neuroscience, remains central to my work in teacher education.

Bransford, J., Brown, A., & Cocking, R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school (Expanded ed.). Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Calfee, R. C. (2006). Educational psychology in the 21st century. In P. A. Alexander & P. H. Winne (Eds.), Handbook of educational psychology (2nd ed., pp. 29‒42). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (Eds.). (2007). Understanding the brain: The birth of a learning science. Danvers, MA: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Dubinsky, J. M., Roehrig, G., & Varma, S. (2013, August/September). Infusing neuroscience into teacher professional development. Educational Researcher, 42(6), 317‒329.
Lightfoot, C., Cole, M., & Cole, S. R. (2009). The development of children (6th ed.). New York, NY: Worth.
Sylvester, R. (2010). A child’s brain: The need for nurture. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
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Saturday, November 9, 2013

How to Plan and Schedule Guided Reading Groups

Planning for Guided Reading can be a particularly daunting task. Especially if you want to meet with your lowest groups every day, and every single group at least once a week. Throw in a few assemblies, library time, and any other number of interruptions and it's a hair pulling experience! I'd like to share my solution for planning all this out.

Determine Student Reading Levels
At the beginning of the year, I look at the data from the end of the previous year to temporarily group the kids. I know some teachers wait for students to take a computerized assessment (iStation) to begin grouping, however if you simply look at data (DRA and guided reading levels) from last year you'll have your groups the first week of school when teaching procedures. Waiting for classes to get set up in the computer and getting your class scheduled for testing takes weeks.

Once you know your levels, you can group the kids by reading level. I have no more than four to a group, and my number of groups can range anywhere from 6 to 9 depending on my range of readers. Then I arrange my groups beginning with the lowest group (figure 1).
Figure 1

Scheduling Your Groups
The next step is to plan out your groups on a calendar. Since you have your groups numbered lowest to highest, this becomes quite easy.  The trick is to look ahead for any assemblies, library time, holidays, etc. that will interfere with your lowest groups and make adjustments as necessary (figure 2).

Figure 2
Once you have the rotations on your calendar, it is easy to transfer the teacher table schedule over to your planning sheets. Below is the first page of my weekly station rotation sheet with my teacher table rotations filled in (figure 3).

Figure 3

Working Stations around Teacher Table
Now I can fill in my other station rotations without interfering with my teacher table plans (figure 4). My students know what stations to go to by looking at my handy dandy Debbie Diller Work Station Pocket Chart.

Figure 4

However, we need to get back to the teacher table! Now that I know my schedule, I can plan my specific lessons. Below is my daily guided reading lesson planner (figure 5).

Figure 5

That is how I plan and schedule my guided reading groups. I know I'm meeting with all my groups, and that my lowest groups are getting necessary interventions. Plus, I have the documentation needed to prove it! 

You can download blank copies of my forms here: 
I just use a random school calendar.

I will create another post to show how I decide what to teach each child/group once they are at the teacher table. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Thinking Across Content - Good Mathematicians Poster

We all know that students who monitor their thinking while reading do better. Therefore it follows that students who monitor their thinking across ALL subject areas will do better in other subjects as well. The problem many students face is knowing how to transition those skills to other subjects. In fact, many don't even know they can! We have to explicitly teach kids to use thinking skills across all subjects.

Language of Learning
Kids need to know that there is a "language of learning." This is particularly powerful with students who are strugglers, or "our low babies" as we call them at my school.  This language includes, but is not limited to: inferring, thinking, determining importance, predicting, questioning, visualizing, schema, purpose, structure, monitoring comprehension, etc. These skills help students dig deeper into metacognition and actively improve their learning.  I won't cover the meanings of each of these as I have previously done so on the blog.

Actively Using the Language

The most important role you play after teaching the skills is to model their use. No matter what subject you are teaching, use the language of learning. Help students find connections (schema) to other content areas. The brain looks for patterns, so encouraging schema helps students move new content into long term memory.  Use questioning strategies to help students make inferences, predictions, and determine importance. Make sure you are using the terminology as you teach for the most powerful results.

Won't This Take Too Much Time?
Ah yes, the time issue. Believe me, I'm right there with you. No it doesn't take a lot of extra time at all. When you are planning, look for places you can utilize the skills in your lesson. However most of your opportunities will arise through active questioning and discussion during the lesson. That's the beauty of this, students will see the application of the skills in real time!

To give students a visual connection on bridging the skills from reading to math, I have created a companion poster to my Good Readers poster called the Good Mathematicians poster. This one takes the same skills from the reading poster, but targets them for math.  Side by side, these will be a powerful reference for reinforcement! You can make your own posters (I used Swift Publisher 3 on my Mac), or you can download the posters at my TPT store here: Good Mathematicians PosterGood Reader Poster.

I have seen the profoundly positive impact of teaching students to THINK across the curriculum year after year.  If you have not yet discovered this amazing tool, I encourage to you begin tomorrow! You will be thrilled with the results.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Using Data to Drive Meaningful, Targeted, Brain-Based Math Instruction

     Imagine a student's face lighting up upon seeing a math quiz, running home to excitedly show their parents the current math homework, or begging for more word problems at the teacher table. Now envision your own contentment at knowing the math they are excited about is targeted directly to the needs of those very students. I want to share how I create this excitement in my class using data. I'm a data-nerd...I admit it.

     In Texas we have end-of-unit Curriculum Based Assessments (CBAs). Our instruction is delivered through the workshop model. The goal is to meet with our lowest students at the teacher table every day, all the way up to our highest students once a week. The teacher table does give us valuable information. However, life happens and there will inevitably be a group of students who don't get to the teacher table for one reason or another. Since there aren't "turn in" type assignments, I wanted an additional method of monitoring individual student mastery and need of intervention.

     The Solution
     My solution is a multifaceted approach. It involves knowing your students interests well, reflecting on the content you have already taught, what you will be teaching, student performance on past quizzes/CBA's, knowing the language your students need to know to be successful, and then it all circles around again. 

     To Begin
     As an example, if you are teaching 3D shapes next week, sit down and analyze what students need to know. Design instruction and stations around the content and language, and then blend in their personal interests whenever possible (music, sports, games, etc). Use data to determine which content you need in your spiraling stations. As much as possible in stations, use student names, names of their friends, other teachers, and school staff in problems. They will be more engaged with more brain involvement because the work will be more meaningful.
     The Language
     Before I explain "language," let me emphasize that I am not talking about teaching to the test. I experienced a pivotal moment when a woman named Sue McAdams told me that it is simply unfair to give students a test without preparing them for the language (or vocabulary) they will be tested with. I had never really looked at it that way.  For example, one of our 2nd grade CBA questions is worded like this:

  Which value is the shaded portion of the fractional model closest to?

     If I didn't prepare my students by using that language (value, portion, fractional model) in my daily instruction/quizzes/homework, they would likely be thrown off by the wording of the question even if they understood the concept. If I were teaching to the test, all of my instruction would be based around only what the test will cover. That would be just as unfair to kids as not teaching the language would be. Moving on...

     The Next Step
     At the end of the week, if you want to see what they learned and what they still need help on, you need data. If you were unable to get a class-wide feel for it at the teacher table, create a quiz. It is very important that you continue to use the language, names and interests, and spiraling content. Here is page one of a quiz I've written for next week.

     You'll notice I've used student names, interests, necessary language, and spiraling content while still maintaining a high level of thinking.
     When you grade your quiz, note the questions kids missed the most. I like to have a tally chart to mark each time a question is missed. If you notice a class-wide trend... it's time to reteach! Then be sure to revisit that concept on your next math quiz.
     Use the individual data to target your instruction at the teacher table.  For example, if I had four students miss number 4 on the quiz above, I would call those four back to the teacher table to work on two-step problem solving. As part of that targeted intervention, I create problems using their names and interests.  I am also careful to target their learning and processing styles during instruction. This is so important because you WILL get more engagement from them. They always ask for more!

Morning Math Talk
My student teacher, Mrs. Harris, working on the morning math talk.
     Every morning we write four math problems on the board for students to solve. The problems include content we know students need more work with. This is based on data from quizzes, homework, and teacher table discussion. Morning math can also include current and spiraling content.
     During morning math, students discuss strategies and different ways to solve the problems presented. This way, students get to hear how their peers think through problem solving in different ways.

     Homework can be a valuable tool if it is not overused.  Every other week our grade level team sends home math work. There are four days of homework with six to eight questions a day.  Again, we utilize current content, spiraling content, content that needs to be reinforced, student names and interests, teacher names, and even parent names. Additionally, trying to wrap content around a real-world theme makes it more meaningful and engaging for developing brains.
     For example, we are currently participating in a food drive.  One of the other 2nd grade teachers (Mr. Wandersee) has agreed to shave his head if our pod brings in the most donations. As a result, one page of our homework looks like this:

     On this page of homework, there are 3 current content questions, and 3 spiraling questions centered around a real-world theme students that are currently experiencing. Additionally, both teacher and student names are used, and a high level of thinking is maintained.
     In this next example, I spiraled content around one of our 5th grade math teachers. Mrs. Tipton asked me how we come up with our homework questions. So I highlighted her on a page for fun! Students will be excited to see her included in our homework. In this example, you will see that I opened with a current content question, then spiraled through several past units using real-world applications.  The brain looks for patterns and connections, the connections are obvious here.

     Through the spiraling content in homework, you are also given a peek at things students might be forgetting (although the hope is the spiraling will keep them from forgetting), or still struggling with. This gives you valuable data to drive your teacher table instruction.  

     If you are concerned about the time involved, consider involving the rest of your grade level team. My 2nd grade team is wonderful about sending me questions for the quizzes and homework.  That makes it less labor intensive.

     These techniques give you immediate data to drive meaningful, targeted, brain-based instruction.  Begin with in depth reflection on upcoming content. Weave the students names, interests etc. into morning work, daily instruction, quizzes, and homework. Use your data from your teacher table, quizzes, and homework to meaningfully drive your instruction and intervention. Wrap content around real world situations and themes.
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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Tips for Productive Math Groups

I was at the teacher table, working with a small group. Glancing up, I tensed as I noticed Tommy, Sarah, and Tanisha arguing about who should have the first turn. A game of Rock, Paper, Scissors ensued to solve the disagreement. Congratulating myself on having taught such a valuable problem solving skill (*cough*), I refocused on my group. A few moments later, Tommy appeared at my table. He tearfully explained that he had been winning the Rock, Paper, Scissors best-of-three round, when Sarah changed the rules to "next-one-wins." I quickly UN-congratulated myself for not seeing that one coming, (sneaky little Sarah!) and then spent the next few minutes dealing with the Rock-Paper-Scissors conundrum. Due to the crisis, Tommy's group lost a good 8 minutes of work time. My teacher table group lost about 4 minutes of valuable intervention work.

Sound familiar? Maybe you have these students in your class too. You may also have: excuse makers, wanderers, socialites, the bosses (Sarah), the I'm-too-good-to-work-with-him/her, the argument makers, the wallflowers (Tanisha), the criers (Tommy), and the refuse-to-work with anyone else students. Hopefully you've also got the all important: always-on-taskers, the peacemakers, the little teachers, and the rule-followers. With such a range of personalities, how can you make math stations productive?

What Do We Want?
Before looking at HOW to make productive stations, we need to define WHAT we want. First, how will our students be held accountable? As teachers, we need proof that our students were actually doing their work rather than visiting (or arguing) while we were engaged at the teacher table. Next, how do we ensure that all children participate? We don't want our rule-followers and little teachers doing all the work while our wanderers and socialites do their own thing. Finally, we need to know that students are practicing how to get the correct answers. That was my biggest fear; I was afraid students were practicing and reinforcing incorrect procedures. Once those pathways in the brain are reinforced, it can be difficult to undo! Let's look at solutions now.

How do we know students are doing their work? I have tried station answer sheets and weekly station rubrics which were glued into their math journals. However, students often forgot to glue them in and/or fill them out (2nd graders). I want their grades to reflect their math ability rather than their gluing ability! Additionally, the students' station rubrics ended up taking valuable time, and both solutions wasted paper. I finally decided on what now seems such an obvious answer...have them write the answers directly in their journals (*facepalm* Why didn't I think of THAT first?). Students title the page with the station name and write the answers underneath. If the station is unfinished, then they can go back to the page to complete it next time they are at the station.

Wouldn't it be nice if they were all able to take turns? If they could support, listen to, and coach each other with ease? Pipe dream? Nope... Kagan structure! Our district has been training us in Kagan structures, and I have to say I am sold. It compliments the valuable research and strategies I learned in the BrainSMART graduate program.

Update: I've updated the structure listed on this post after a discussion with a Kagan representative.  I discovered there is an even better structure for math stations, with more involvement! 

The structure we now use for our groups is called RallyCoach (Kagan, 2009). Students work in pairs. First, partner A solves, while partner B coaches. (Students need to be instructed that coaching means helping and guiding, not giving answers.) Once the problem is solved, partner B will give partner A praise and then the roles switch.  Now partner B will solve, and partner A will coach. Each student is getting a turn to solve and coach.

I have mentioned on this blog before what a powerful tool peer-coaching is. Students who teach each other will retain far more than students who work alone. The RallyCoach (Kagan, 2009) structure has this powerful brain-based component built in.

For more information about Kagan please visit the website

Correct Answers
Now that we have the accountability and the participation pieces in place, we need to make sure the kids are practicing the correct procedures. I try to have an answer key at each station. Therefore, the “answer checker” is able to be sure of his or her response if a challenge is issued.

Another, more fun way, is to use QR codes. After student 2 works out the answer, student 3 can use an itouch or ipad to check the corresponding answer embedded in the QR code. The app store has tons of free qr code readers. I like the one called Scan. Students love to check their answers with technology, so you’ve got instant engagement! Best of all, you can easily make your own qr codes.

Creating QR Codes
QR codes are embarrassingly easy to create! Simply google “Create QR Code” and you’ll have lots of possibilities. I usually use the website Type in the information you want to appear when the code is scanned, click on the “create qr code” button, and the free website will create the code for you. All you have to do is copy and paste the code into your document! (There are also iphone/ipod apps you can use.) Here is an example of station task cards I created:

You can download this taskcard set free in my TPT store Number Sentence Task Cards for a closer look. 
Now I am comfortable at the teacher table because I know my kids are LEARNING! They are problem solving and determining the best way to get the correct answer.

Are my stations perfect now? No.  However, things have dramatically improved! Now I know my kids are all engaged, I have proof of their work, and I know they are practicing correct procedures. Plus, I won't have to deal with the whole Rock, Paper, Scissors issue because the student with the lowest class number always goes first! What procedures do you use in your classroom?

Kagan, Spencer & Kagan, Miguel. (2009). Kagan Cooperative Learning. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Reading Thinking Stem Guide

Get your free download in my TPT Store!
     The Math Thinking Stem Guide in my last post was so successful, I decided to create a guide for the Reading Thinking Stem as well.  As I have posted quite a bit about thinking stems already, I will not go into detail about them other than to say that my students have shown significant growth in their reading, their ability to use metacognition across all well as vastly improving their writing skills! 

     I have two different rubrics for the reading thinking stem. One is a basic rubric to generate a reading grade. The other generates both a reading and writing grade. All of the rubrics and guides are available as free downloads in my TPT store.

     Give the thinking stems a try if you haven't already. We've got to get our kids thinking critically! For help in getting started, see my post here: How to Introduce Thinking Stems.
     Let me know if you have any questions or comments!

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