Monday, May 23, 2016

Guest blogger: The Power of Remembrance on a Teacher’s Pedagogy

Guest blogger: Jeff Henning-Smith, PhD Student, University of Minnesota Elementary Education

Teachers often want to be remembered.  A bittersweet aspect for many teachers lies in the loss of their class at the end of each school year.  There is no surprise in the loss, and in fact, many teachers, aware of their fleeting time, desire to live on in the memories of their students. What will students remember about their class?  What learning will stay with them? What experiences will they recall year after year, and most importantly perhaps, how will they remember their teacher?  This question represents an important barometer for teachers, but, especially for beginning teachers, it can have a profound impact on their pedagogical development.  How we want to be remembered has the power to alter how we operate in the present and plan for the future. What do teacher statements on how they want to be remembered tell us about how they see teaching as an act of doing and a way of being? Could they be seen as an indicator of their own pedagogical beliefs, or the normed beliefs they feel obligated to espouse?

Teachers are surrounded by discourses regarding what it means to be a teacher at every level of their teacher development.  They are exposed to, explicitly and implicitly taught, and asked to exhibit (and be evaluated on) a wide variety of abilities and dispositions that at times overwhelm, contradict, and possibly re-prioritize the very qualities they are being asked to demonstrate. This pedagogical tension is present in all teachers, but especially in beginning teachers, as they attempt to find and develop their teacher identity. How do we then acknowledge, embrace, and ultimately, better support this pedagogical tension?

When asked how they want to be remembered, teachers often express a desire to be seen as a caring and intelligent person, capable of supporting both their students’ emotional and academic needs.  Based on the responses I got last summer from a group of amazing beginning teachers, it is clear to me that thinking about how they will remembered is a daily act. One teacher told me that she hoped her students would say that “She believed in me and saw my good,” and another said he hoped they would say, “He helped me learn new things and be excited about learning.”  These statements reflected a hope teachers had on how they wanted to be remembered in the future, but they were also statements on what kind of teacher they wanted to be in the present.

I think in the end, teachers want their work to have mattered, to have left a mark. They, like one teacher wrote, “want [their] students to say…that they will miss me.”   

How do you wish to be remembered by your students?

Monday, May 16, 2016

just say no to round robin reading

A literacy practice that I would love to see vanish from classrooms is round robin reading (RRR). Or popcorn reading. Or snake reading. Or popsicle stick reading. Same idea, different names. One does not need to look far to find criticism of this practice and yet I see it perpetuated in classrooms all over the place.

And I get why teachers use it. They think it helps with fluency. They think children enjoy it. They think it helps with classroom management.

BUT, and this is important, there is NO research to support this practice in schools. Research on the impact of round robin reading overwhelmingly shows its negative impact on word recognition, fluency, and comprehension, as well as engagement and motivation. Students terrified of reading struggle through being put on the spot. Reading only a few sentences or paragraphs at a time does not benefit fluency. And because students are only responsible for reading a small portion, their comprehension is limited to that portion, and often they are so worried about reading, they cannot be metacognitive about their reading enough during the reading to even comprehend that part.

To be clear, oral reading practice is essential for building fluency, it is just that RRR is not an effective structure to provide that practice (it undermines fluency instead). Need more resources? See some articles here and here to discuss the issues around RRR.

Ok, so your next question is what to do instead, right? Luckily, there are a number of alternatives to RRR. In fact, there is an entire book written by fluency experts Michael Opitz and Timothy Rasinski, Good-bye Round Robin: 25 Effective Oral Reading Strategies. Opitz and Rasinski provide a chapter on the importance of oral reading and reasons to move away from RRR. The majority of the book, though, is descriptions of practices that support oral reading and language development. Practices described in the book, like choral reading, readers theater, and paired reading, have substantial research to support these practices to develop fluency.

Looking for more ideas? Here are two web resources from Edutopia and Cult of Pedagogy to provide more ideas.

What do you do instead of round robin reading?

Monday, April 25, 2016

emotional resilience

A growing area of interest in teaching and teacher professional development that impacts the work of all teachers, but new teachers in particular, is emotional resilience. Not only cultivating emotional resilience in students, which is influencing schools a lot lately, but also cultivating emotional resilience in teachers.

This spring, I was fortunate enough to attend the New Teacher Center annual conference and attend a session with Elena Aguilar, a teacher, coach, and writer who works with teachers about cultivating compassion and building strong communities of teachers. I went to her talk on emotional resilience. In addition to helping students develop emotional resilience in the face of adversity, we need to be talking (and doing something) about this to support teachers, particularly new teachers. You can read more from Elena Aguilar about emotional resilience here and here.

In this article (read the whole thing – lots of great tips!), Aguilar discusses ways to cultivate emotional resilience. She names three specific ways to develop emotional resilience: building community, knowing yourself, and creating a plan for self-care.

Building community helps teachers feel connected. When teachers know their colleagues, students, parents, and the community, sharing stories and learning about one another, it reduces the isolation teachers can feel. Another way to build community is through professional networks. I’ve written about that here.

Another important act for helping build emotional resilience that Elena Aguilar writes about is knowing yourself. What are your teaching motivations? What makes you happiest as a teacher? How can you build on knowing this about yourself? She recommends reading Daniel Goleman and resources from the Positive Psychology Center.

And finally, find time to care for yourself. I’ve written a number of posts about this. You are a better teacher when you are taking care of yourself.

Monday, March 28, 2016

text-dependent questions: craft and structure

I've been working with a lot of teachers lately that are really gifted at asking text-dependent questions that focus on Key Ideas and Details in the Common Core Standards for ELA in reading. But when it comes to thinking about the Craft and Structure set of standards, they feel less confident about developing those questions. The Craft and Structure standards are as follows:

    • Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
    • Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
    • Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
For standard 4, the focus should be on the meanings of words and/or phrases and how those words/phrases impact the meaning and/or tone of the text. So, some of what teachers need to consider, then, is to determine the most powerful academic words / phrases in the text and explore the role of those words and phrases in the key ideas of the text. Examples might include:
  • What is the meaning of the word [ ____ ] in this text?
  • Which word means [ __________ ]?
  • Why did the author use the word [______ ] to describe [ _______ ]?
  • Which sentence helps you understand [ _________ ]?
  • How does the language in this section help set a tone for the text?
  • What types of figurative language is being used?
Standard 5 focuses on the structure of larger portions of text (sentences, paragraphs, stanzas, etc). So, for this standard, questions revolve around analyzing how those structures relate to the entire text. Examples of questions might include:
  • What type of text is this [story, poem, drama, etc.]?
  • What is the purpose of the first paragraph in this text?
  • Which best describes the structure of the fourth paragraph of this text?
  • How do the text features help me understand this text?
  • Which [paragraph/stanza/section/sentence] contributes the most to the development of ideas in this text?
  • How does the organizational structure help readers explain ideas presented in the text?

Standard 6 is designed to help students determine point of view and its impact on the text. Questions that help encourage this thinking include:
  • How do I know when a character is talking?
  • Who is telling the [story, poem, play] and why?
  • How does the point of view impact the [story/poem/play]?
  • Who is the subject of this text?
  • What is the author's point of view?
  • What techniques does the author use to develop/distinguish between the different characters'/ narrators' points of view?
These are just a sample to get you started. If you're looking for help unpacking the standards to get to the heart of what they mean for you and your students, among my favorite resources are the texts written or co-written by Jim Burke, for Grades K-2, 3-5, and 6-8


Blauman, L., & Burke, J. (2013). The common core companion: The standards decoded grades 3-5. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Burke, J. (2013). The common core companion: The standards decoded grades 6-8. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Taberski, S., & Burke, J. (2013). The common core companion: The standards decoded grades K-2. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Monday, March 14, 2016

interaction strategies

One of the best things teachers can do to support student learning is get them interacting with new content. We do this often by having students engage in the "think-pair-share" strategy. But sometimes this feels old and tired. Is there something else to try?


There are 10 great alternatives to "think-pair-share" found here at We Are Teachers. The "think-pair-share-square" gets kids talking to even more students. The "mingle-pair-share" is the same idea, but gets kids moving. "Sticky-note-storm" is a great way to get individual students to commit to paper their ideas in a low-stress way. "Sage-and-Scribe" also gets kids writing. And the "Tea Party" or the Circle Chat is a strategy that gets students up and moving while maintaining a structure for partner talk. Students form two circles, one inside and one outside, facing each other. Students have a set amount of time to discuss with the student they are across from, and then the outside circle moves one person to the left. Now they have a new partner to discuss with. Check out all the strategies described at the link.

Kagan Structures are also another way to think about cooperative learning. In particular, the "rally coach" strategy, where one partner works on solving a problem while the other partner coaches and then partners switch roles, can provide a different structure to the "pair-share" time.

We can still use "think-pair-share," but it can help to mix it up. And even better than "think-pair-share," try to be more specific than telling students to think. As this blogger wrote, ask students to summarize-pair-share, generate an opinion-pair-share, or estimate-pair-share. Instead of asking students to simply think, give them a clue about the strategy they should be using.

What are your most effective ways to get kids interacting with content in your class?

Monday, February 22, 2016

using encouragement as a management strategy

Hello dear readers. I've been writing quite a bit about classroom management strategies. No matter how many posts I write, I still hear that this is an area where teachers are hungry for more suggestions. So here's another strategy to add to your toolkit: using encouraging statements with students with whom you are struggling to connect.

This strategy comes from a text I've given to numerous new teachers When Teaching Gets Tough: Smart Ways to Reclaim Your Game by Allen N. Mendler. There are many helpful strategies described in this book, some of which I've described in some previous posts. The strategy for today is to increase the number of encouraging statements providing specific praise and feedback to difficult students in your classroom. As Mendler notes, words of encouragement are important to help students feel connected, and can support building positive relationships with students. While useful for all students, this is particularly helpful for students that are struggling in school academically or with behavior.

Some suggested statements include:

  • You really hung in there to complete that assignment.
  • You got right to work after directions were given.
  • I was impressed today when you ____ .
  • When you did _____ , that showed special effort. 
  • It is not easy to _____ , but you are making progress by ____ . 
  • Your cooperation is really appreciated. 
  • You should feel proud of your work on ____ because ____ . 
Finding ways to incorporate more positive, encouraging statements with students struggling with behavior can help build your relationship and make a positive difference in their interactions in class.

What are some positive statements you use with students?

Monday, February 1, 2016

power struggles with students

"Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, 
anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending."

The year is halfway over, and while we can't really make a brand new start at this point in the year, there are ways to shift planning, instruction, assessment, and management to make a real difference in how a classroom functions. This post will focus on one management struggle common for new teachers: the power struggle. It is easier to set the tone at the beginning of the year, but can be done at a new semester or if things are not going well. Now can be a good time to test out alternative processes and procedures if classroom management is not working effectively. 

Teachers know that there is not a winner if a power struggle begins with a student. When frustrated, it can be difficult to know what to do in the moment to maintain the integrity of your instruction while addressing an issue with a student. Several key resources can help you find strategies that work for you and your students.

Intervention Central provides ideas for disengaging, distracting, and deescalating power struggles with students. NEA makes suggestions for planning and building relationships through a list of dos and don'ts as it relates to power struggles with students. And an article on Edutopia shares the perspective that it is not about getting the last word in these management struggles.

What are your most effective management strategies when faced with a power struggle?