Sunday, September 26, 2010

Give Respect, Get Respect

“Why do you say ‘yes ma’am’ and ‘yes sir’ to us?”  The student looked puzzled as she asked me the question.  Several interested faces turned toward me, curiosity knitting their brows.  I smiled warmly and answered, “I do that to show you respect, just like you show me respect.  I can’t expect you to show me genuine respect if I don’t treat you respectfully in return.”  The students considered the comment for a moment, and then nodded in agreement. 

It all begins the first day of school.  I teach my students to answer questions by standing up, addressing me (or whoever is teaching) by name, and giving their answer in a complete sentence.  This helps build a respectful atmosphere in the classroom.  It also gets students in the habit of speaking in complete sentences, which then transfers (hopefully) into writing in complete sentences.  Everyone benefits. 

I want to point out that I do not demand that students stand, nor do I belittle those who forget.  If students are forgetting to answer properly, I simply wait for one to remember and then send that student to the ‘treasure chest’.  (Sometimes I’ll even send the next few to the pencil jar for good measure.) There are those who are always looking for a way to the treasure chest… and they NEVER forget.  Once that first student remembers, the rest will follow suit without being told.  After a few weeks, students rarely forget.

I do realize there are teachers who demand respect from their students without showing respect in return.  However, I don’t believe we can create a safe and secure learning environment without an atmosphere of mutual respect.  I want my students to feel secure enough to take chances, make guesses, and yes… even make mistakes.  Meaningful learning cannot take place if students are afraid of the teacher! 

Now my students are beginning to say, “Yes ma’am” and “No ma’am” to me.  I didn’t ask them to do that.  I simply modeled the behavior.   Since kids tend to do what we do rather than what we say, doesn’t it make sense to show your students respect as well?  Wouldn’t you rather a student ask you, “Why do you say ‘yes ma’am’ to me?” instead of, “Why are you so mean?”  Show your students respect if you would like genuine respect in return.  Your classroom will be a better place!

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What I Learned About Shaving Cream Today

I learned that the old adage ‘a little dab will do you’ also works with shaving cream.  Let me paint the picture for you…

The Idea

I got the bright idea from a first grade teacher (you know who you are!) to let students spell their names out in shaving cream.  She said to put some shaving cream on each desk, let them smooth it out, then let them spell words in the cream.  Great! 

I showed up at school this morning armed with two cans of shaving cream.  I had visions of my sweet second graders obligingly spelling their words neatly in a nice section of shaving cream.  Their minds would absorb every letter visually, while their little fingers would remember the tactile sensations.  It would be great!  They did their part perfectly… I was the problem! 

Spelling Fun

My faux pas began as I squirted the anticipated shaving cream on each desk.  It went something like this… Squiiiiirt, squiiiiirt, squiiiiirt… hmm, doesn’t look like enough… squiiiiirt, squiiiiiirt….that ought to do it…one more for good measure, squiiiiiiiirt.   And off I would go to the next desk.   I was on the other side of the room (that would be the second half… as in desks 12-23) when I looked back and noticed how far each squirt of shaving cream went.   By then I was in too deep (no pun intended), so I finished the rest of the desks and let my little Hemmingways get busy.

“Okay, spell BROWSE,” I announced.  B-R-O-W-S-E…. I look across the room to see one little girl struggling with big stubborn clumps of shaving cream that were clinging to her hands.  Another child was trying to get the clumps off her hands by using the edge of her desk. Plunging ahead we got through our spelling list unscathed.  The students had a great time.  Then it was time to clean up.  Let the scathing begin.

The Clean Up

I decided to clean the desks off myself because of the sheer volume of shaving cream on each one.  We have a sink in the back of our classroom.  I sent students by table groups to clean the shaving cream from their hands while I tended to the desks. No problem, right?  Wrong!  It was hilarious… students waiting in line for their turn at the sink were getting creative with the shaving cream clinging to their hands. So there I was, trying to get 23 desks clean and the corresponding 23 students to PE in 5 minutes.   I looked up and saw shaving cream being smoothed up arms… on clothes… in hair…  Eeeek!  It took longer than 5 minutes.


Now, when I do this again (not if, but when), I will use only two squirts of shaving cream on each desk.  I will allow more clean-up time.  And finally, I will continue to laugh at my mistakes…er…learning experiences.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Help! I'm Losing My Patience!

I used to be the school secretary.  My office was across from a second grade classroom.  Every great now and then, the teacher would step out of her room, crazed grin on her face, and ask if I had seen her patience.  She’d look down the hall one way, then back the other, sigh, chuckle, and return to her room.  It always got a good laugh.  She had a wonderful attitude.

Those days happen to the best of us.  The students erupt in chatter at the slightest provocation.  You explain something 5 times, only to have a student immediately raise his/her hand to ask the very thing you just explained… again.  You ask another student if he/she understands why it was wrong to spend 15 minutes chatting in the restroom… and he/she looks you right in the face to inform you, “No, I don’t see a problem with it.”  Those are the days.   You can feel your patience slipping.  Ebbing away like the tide on a moonless night.   Or perhaps even sliding away like a car on an icy hill careening toward a brick mailbox… the mailbox with the Lexus parked in front of it… the Lexus owned by that lawyer… You know, THOSE days!  What to do?

I discovered early on that the only way to survive is to have a sense of humor.  Now, I’m the teacher stepping out in the hall to announce (to anyone unlucky enough to be in the vicinity)…”HAS ANYONE SEEN MY PATIENCE?  I SEEM TO HAVE LOST IT!”  I step back into my classroom to the giggles of students.  They get the point.   The charade breaks things up enough that we’re able to refocus. 


Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  He meant it as firefighting advice, but it applies to the classroom as well.  Prevention can take many forms.  Breaking up instruction with humorous quips can be effective.   Move students to another location in the classroom.  Stop instruction for a round of Word Wall Aerobics. (Raise arms straight up for tall letters, put arms straight out for regular letters, squat down for letters with ‘tails.’  You get to practice frequently used words AND exercise.)  Use a Thumball! (Do a google or amazon search.)  There are endless possibilities, but you get the picture.  Each of these suggestions will only take about two minutes and gives students the mental break they need so your patience won’t break.

However, for those days when you are sliding down the icy hill… step out of the room, but not out of ear-shot, and ask if anyone has seen your patience.   Maybe even look out of the window for your patience.  The mood will lighten and students will appreciate the effort.  I’ve had parents tell me how much their child appreciates it that I don’t raise my voice… then they ask about me chasing my patience down the hall… they’re never 100% sure if their kids are serious about it! 


Try chasing your patience, your class will love it, and so will your secretary!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Watch your students play sports, they'll love you for it!

This is actually a re-post... but it's the perfect time of year!

Kids don’t care what you know until they know that you care.

I don’t know where that quote came from, but I have found it to be true. It all began before I even became a teacher. My sons aren’t the most studious individuals you will ever meet. Well, okay… it was like pulling teeth to get them to study. Painful abscessed teeth. You get the picture. Anyway, I noticed that there were some teachers they would work harder for than others. What did they do that was different? These teachers went out of their way show students how important they are. Not just by greeting students by name at the door either, these went further than that. These teachers would show up at a sporting event or two. That spoke volumes to me as a parent as well. The ones I remember the most were Ms. Goetz from elementary school, and Ms. Graham from middle school. It didn’t stop there either. These teachers even went to events when the boys were no longer in their class. Word gets around. Parents and students alike knew that these two teachers were/are special. I decided that when I became a teacher, I would do the same thing. I can tell you it is very rewarding.

I had a student who I was having difficulty with. Nothing major… just talking out of turn, not putting forth his best effort, things like that. I got his sports schedule, went to a game, and the very next day I saw a big difference in his attitude in class. I’m not implying that he was perfect, none of us are. But the difference was significant enough that I saw improved performance in class. He even became a ‘hugger’.

I try to make it a point to get to one event for each student at some point throughout the year. Going out to recess with your class about once a month gives you a chance to spend extra time with the students who don’t have extracurricular activities.

I know that it is easier for some of us to get to games than others. So I have some pointers to make it easier. First of all, never take a student at his/her word about when and where a game is. They frequently aren’t very clear on the details. Trust me on this one. Get a schedule from the parent. Next, write the games & times on a special calendar. You will find that several students in your class are often on the same team. Then you can get in several games at once! You will also find that some games times back up to each other. That is also a great time saver. If you’re really strapped for time, you could spend 30 minutes at one game and 30 minutes at the other. It honestly doesn’t take much time in the long run. The benefits you see in class are well worth it. Finally, pace yourself. Don’t feel like to have to fit in a game for every student in the first semester. Remember, you’ve got the whole year!

Middle and High School teachers would have a more difficult time because they have so many students. What I saw when my boys were in those grades were teachers who would make it to one football game, one basketball, one soccer, etc. Students who aren’t even on the team will notice you there, and know you care.

My favorite part is seeing the kids faces light up when they see me. I’ve even had several parents tear up in gratitude. Little things mean A LOT!

Don’t fret if you have a busy family life and simply have no extra time at all. There is always that wonderful time of day called recess (for elementary anyway). Go out just once a month. Play four-square, or walk around the playground for exercise. My favorite is ‘duck, duck, goose’! The point is that the students see you spending time with them when you don’t HAVE to be with them. Actions speak louder than words.

I’ve followed the example of those inspirational teachers and even go to games of former students. I love it! Thank you Ms. Goetz and Ms. Graham for the great examples you set. Try following the example yourself, you will find the rewards are well worth the effort.

I'm sure there are some other great ways to go that extra mile.  What do you do outside of class to show kids you care?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Multiple Intelligences, The Modular Brain, and Student Learning

I’ve mentioned before that I am getting my Masters degree in Brain Based Teaching.  It is the BRAINSmart program through Nova Southeastern University in Florida.  This week, among other things, we learned about the modular brain and it’s connection to Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences.  Following is a snippet of what I learned. 


The human brain is profoundly efficient.  Consider the following: skin sends impulses up to 10 million bits per second to the sensory cortex, the eye sends 100 million bits per second to the occipital lobe, and the ear sends 30 thousand bits per second to the brain stem.  (Conyers, 2008b)  Finally, our modular brain system works to make sense of, and react to, all of this sensory input in the blink of an eye.  The modular brain system is made up of four lobes, the frontal, occipital, temporal, and parietal lobes, plus the brain stem and limbic system. (Carter, 2009) All work together seamlessly. Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences compliments the Modular Brain Theory perfectly by accessing the different neural pathways.  Putting all this together in a meaningful way with practical applications will enhance student learning in the classroom.

Connection to Multiple Intelligences

            Modular Brain Theory supports Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences.  According to Buraldi (1996), “Gardner argues that there is both a biological and cultural basis for the multiple intelligences. Neurobiological research indicates that learning is an outcome of the modifications in the synaptic connections between cells.”  Gardner’s theory therefore utilizes all four lobes of the brain by emphasizing eight different types of intelligence.  Those intelligences are: logical-mathematical, spatial, naturalist, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, linguistic, intrapersonal, and interpersonal.   Gardner’s theory therefore gives us a framework to apply the Modular Brain Theory to our classroom. 

Classroom Application

Not only is sensory input is the basis for learning (Conyers, 2008b), but each student has a sense (or intelligence) that works best for them.  Therefore, it is logical to incorporate as many as possible in a lesson. Before beginning this course of study, I tried to incorporate the various senses (or intelligences) into daily class work, but I didn’t have a full understanding of its importance or function.  However since starting the BRAINSmart course I’ve tried to integrate the senses in a number ways.  For example, one day I took students outside to write their spelling words in sidewalk chalk.  In addition to writing the words, I had them spell each word out loud as they wrote it and then draw a picture to go with each word.  By doing this students were accessing all four lobes of the brain as well as the linguistic, spatial, naturalist, and kinesthetic intelligences.  Last week I had them stand in a big circle facing the back of the person in front of them.  I would say a word, spell it, then have the students spell the word out loud as they drew big letters with their finger on the back of the person in front of them. This way, they were again activating all four lobes as well as logical, spatial, kinesthetic, and interpersonal intelligence.  The children enjoyed the change of pace and did well on the spelling tests.
Music is also a good tool.  Carter (2009) refers to the possible effects of Mozart on increased student performance.  She states that the increase “may have more to do with changes in mood and arousal affecting mental performance…” (p. 91).  I purchased a Mozart CD and played it last week in class.  Students enjoyed the music and appeared to have more focus during math while the music played softly in the background.  Next week I plan to play the CD during spelling practice, then again during the spelling test to see if there is another increase in comprehension.

            Modular Brain Theory and Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences are a must for any teacher interested in increasing student achievement.  I highly encourage you to look further into the connection between the two and how to implement them in your class.


Brualdi, A. (1996). Multiple intelligences: Gardner’s theory. Practical Assessment,
       Research & Evaluation, 5 (10). Retrieved from http://PAREonline.

Carter, R. (2009). The human brain book. New York: Darling Kindersby

Conyers, M. A. & Wilson, D. L. (2008a). The body-brain system: Leaner body, sharper mind EDU 610 BrainSmart Science, Structure, and Strategies, Disc 1 [DVD]. Orlando, FL: BrainSMART.

Conyers, M. A. & Wilson, D. L. (2008b). Gateways to learning: Perception, senses and emotion EDU 610 BrainSmart Science, Structure, and Strategies, Disc 1 [DVD]. Orlando, FL: BrainSMART.

Restak, R.  (2009).  The modular brain.  Chapter 1.  Retrieved from                                                                                                                              

Wilson, D.& Conyers, M. (2010). BrainSMART science, structure, and strategies:
      EDU 610 study guide. Orlando, FL: BrainSMART.

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