8 tips for training a student-teacher!

First time mentoring a student-teacher? After having many student-teachers in my classroom over the years, I wanted to share some of my best kept secrets 🙂

1) Focus on only one or two development areas at a time. Let them know what your focus will be. I had a mentor who would only give feedback on what I was doing wrong. Even after sharpening up in the areas she had perviously mentioned, she would instantly move on to the next thing I was doing wrong. I had no idea what my strengths were or what I should focus on.

2) Try to space your feedback. Giving specific feedback every lesson is can be excessive and overwhelming. Just like you, your student-teacher needs time to reflect on the lesson before they are able to make changes to their practice. I prefer to give feedback once a week at a set time.

3) Remember to praise! Being a student-teacher can be emotionally taxing. If they are on the right track, let them know. They might even come up with new teaching strategies that you want to try out — let them know you appreciate their ideas.

4) Show them how it’s done! After all, you are a mentor for a reason. I try to showcase the things that really make a difference for my classes. Some of the things we do as teachers are subtle, don’t be afraid to flag them up for the benefit of the student watching.

5) Consider what makes your teaching style unique and effective, and share this with your student-teacher! One of my amazing mentors had thousands of tips and tricks to tell me about. He could break down his technique into handy chunks and tell me about each step. He also had great advice about the non-classroom side of teaching. I think there’s a little bit of his style in my teaching today.

6) If you can, have your student-teacher sit in on parent/teacher conferences. They can either sit back and listen or contribute to the discussion. After all, they will need to know what to say when it is their turn.

7) Ask the student-teacher how they think a lesson went. People often have a very good idea of where they are going wrong already and just need your expertise for how to avoid it in future.

8) Enjoy it! Having someone in your classroom who has fresh insight into new teaching practices can give you amazing ideas and can help rejuvenate your practice.

Growth Mindset — not just for students :)

If you give a man a fish….or in my case, if you attach a file to an email for a colleague, they will never learn to be self sufficient with technology! I have quite a few friendly neighbors who still call me frantically when their printer won’t work, only to have me rush over and plug it in. This is funny the first few times and makes me feel useful, but does it really help anyone? It is hard not to shake my head when this kind of thing happens (which is quite often), but it doesn’t help the problem.

We’ve heard about the digital divide amongst our students, but what about the digital divide between younger and more veteran teachers? And does it matter? I believe it does. A teacher’s attitude toward technology can have a huge impact on student learning, so I made it my mission to be a technology ambassador at my school, and if you’re even remotely tech savvy (if you’re reading this, you are) you should, too.

Here’s Why: Growth Mindset

Hopefully you’ve heard about all of the research by Carol Dweck out of Stanford about Growth Mindset. I so often hear teachers say, “I’m not techie” or “I can’t figure out computers.” What they may not realize, is that they are demonstrating their fixed mindset to their students. An easy change would be for them to say, “I’m still learning how to use computers” or “I haven’t learned how to do this yet, I need help.” But for some reason, this is often a black and white issue for certain people, and they feel they are either good with computers or not. A common trait amongst these naysayers I’ve observed, is the fear of failure. Those of us who are comfortable using technology with our students aren’t afraid of technical difficulties, or appearing not to know something. For some teachers, this is extremely uncomfortable.

Here’s How: Change Attitudes, Encourage Risk Taking

The first thing I did at my school was hold an all inclusive, tech 101 workshop for tech-phobic teachers. Without judgement, I walked them through the basics, from how to turn on the machine, to how to attach a file to an email. Without rolling my eyes, I let them go at their own pace, and ask questions they’ve always been too embarrassed to ask, (like, what is the cloud? And what’s an MP3?). The next step is to ask your colleagues what they would like help with. You’re not going to gain any followers by trying to teach them to code in their first workshop. They may just want to learn how to troubleshoot their classroom technology, so that’s where you should start. After that, you can slowly introduce tools that you think are useful, such Google Drive or ClassDojo, but don’t start with these. Make sure you allow a lot of time for exploration, everyone should have a device in front of them while you demonstrate and you shouldn’t move on until they’ve caught up. Sound familiar? Yes, this is just good teaching! Adult learners differ from kids in many ways, but when it comes to trying something new, we all bring different experiences to the table. We all need time and room to fail.

Response to Intervention with 1:1 classrooms

If you have 1:1 devices in your classroom, first, take a minute to give thanks! After that, think about some of the great opportunities you have to differentiate instruction with your students using these devices. There are a lot of great resources that will track and assess your students’ work, responding to their needs and moving them forward accordingly.

My favorite is a little-known company—you may not have heard of it—called Khan Academy. Ok… it’s no secret. Many people know about this video-based lesson platform. However, many teachers think that’s all it is—YouTube for Math class. Take another look. Their new teacher dashboard system has all the bells and whistles when it comes to adaptive learning. You start your students off by taking a placement test, and then Khan suggests lessons for them based on how they did. You can override those suggestions at any time, if you need to. On top of that, Khan’s student-facing LMS is very game-like, which keeps the kids interested and pushing to ‘unlock’ the next level. If you want more information, check out my post from a few months ago.

For English/Language Arts (ELA), I would look into MyON. This online library isn’t free, but it’s worth talking to your principal about setting up a trial subscription. The system is web-based, so you can use it whether you have laptops, iPads, or mobile devices. You can assign readings to your students, allow them to choose, or let the system provide recommendations to them. The recommendations are all based on Lexile level, which is determined by a pre-assessment that students take when they first sign in. Probably the most useful aspect of this service is that it tracks all student reading time. Since research shows there’s a correlation between test scores and the time spent reading per day, a service like this is very useful. Consider creating a contest based on minutes spent reading.

There are a lot of other adaptive learning systems out there, and they can make it seem like you have several teacher assistants in class with you at all times. Take a minute to look into a few of them, or ask colleagues or members of your PLN about what has worked for them.

Read to the Top!

Most teachers are always looking for new ways to get their students interested in reading. One of our favorite reading activities is a “Read to the Top” contest. In these contests, much like in some local library summer reading programs, students compete to read the most books.

There are several resources that can help you plan a similar activity. A lot of libraries have Pinterest boards set up with book ideas (some are left over from summer reading programs – but hey, don’t we all wish it were summertime all year round?). Another great Pinterest board has links to all kinds of library-based activities to complete with your students, but my favorite is this awesome March Madness-esque bracket, where students read each book, then vote on the winner. Why not start a blog where students have to post their rationales for choosing the winner based on some good, old-fashioned CCSS criteria like an analysis of the author’s craft and structure?

Not interested in tracking the number of books your students read, but rather the actual time they spend reading? You may have heard of a service called MyON, which provides students with thousands of eBooks (they can read on or offline). The system allows teachers to assign specific books, but it will also just recommend books to students based on Lexile level (derived from a diagnostic test students take when they start using it). Then, the system tracks how many minutes each student spends reading.

You could pull up the dashboard for your class each day on the interactive whiteboard and spend a moment tracking who is in the lead. You’ll see those times start to soar as the finish line looms.

What is your favorite activity to encourage your students to read? Post about it below in the comments!

Make your students feel more supported :)

In order to learn something new, students need to obviously be motivated – but they also must feel safe. When learning how to drive a stick-shift, my instructor used to shrug when I stalled at stop lights. “It happens,” he would say. My previous instructor wasn’t so understanding, and as a result I stalled a lot more. As teachers we need to make sure students feel supported, even when they make mistakes. Here are a few tips for making sure all students feel supported when learning something new:

1) Be patient

Be ready for the learning process to take a little (or a lot) longer than you predict. Be patient and stay consistent in your teaching.

2) Set an example

It doesn’t matter how many times you say “It’s okay to make mistakes”, getting upset when you make a mistake sends the opposite message. Set an example by keeping your cool.

3) Take an evening class

Taking a class gives you insight into what it’s like to be in your students’ shoes. For example, I hate it when my night-school teachers choose my groups or partners for me. Not because I want to slack off with my buddies but because I am inhibited by working with strangers. You also forget how scary it is to have a new teacher and how long it takes to get comfortable.

4) Encourage humor

Try to add some humor to your lessons! When I teach digestion, I make ‘cat food’ out of Mars bars and orange jello. I force it through some tights/hose, while narrating the digestive system. When I’m done I lick my finger. Not only do students remember that lesson for a long time but it makes for a warmer atmosphere in class.

5) Help the bullies

Young people who victimize others are usually the ones that feel insecure. I had a class of students who would pepper the air with put-downs. I found out their strengths and praised them, as frequently as possible. As they grew in self-confidence, they attacked each other far less.

I hope you will share more ideas in the comments!

Send delightful voice notes to parents!

Teachers can now instantly send voice notes home to parents using ClassDojo Messenger! Voice notes keep parents in the loop even easier than before 🙂 With just a tap (and hold) of a button, teachers send voice notes as a broadcast to all parents or as a private message to just one parent.

With Voice Notes, we’re excited that teachers can express empathy, passion, and excitement — all of which are difficult to do with text based messages. We believe that this will continue to help teachers save time while also building stronger teacher-parent relationships!

We are excited to have you try it out! Teachers can sign up to join the wait list here: http://www.classdojo.com/voicenotes

Learn more about ClassDojo Messenger here: http://www.classdojo.com/messenger

ADHD: friend or foe?

One sentence sums up “John” perfectly: He’s a class all by himself.

Possessing a great deal of energy, John is a bright, intense, young man with strong opinions, an off-beat humor, and obsessive interests. John can be polarizing, but he’s quick to stand up for others and what he believes is right. On a rare bad day, his silence puts a damper on the classroom atmosphere; usually, he is actively engaged and talkative. Though he frequently needs redirection, he usually leads class discussions. John is a powerful, positive presence in the class.

John is also one of the increasing number of students I have who have been diagnosed with ADHD.

Many students with ADHD have accommodations with 504 or IEP plans; others, like John, do not. That’s why it’s so important that teachers not only comply with 504/IEPs but also be aware of how to help students with ADHD be successful in a classroom setting.

Here are some suggestions for supporting students with ADHD.

  1. Knowledge is Power: It’s important to educate ourselves about what ADHD is and how it affects each individual student. Understanding ADHD helps me remain patient when students exhibit some of the associated behaviors, such as blurting out comments, being distracted, forgetting important items, and being very defensive. I know that their behavior isn’t intentional (usually) and focus on helping them rather than correcting them. Some excellent resources for teachers who would like to learn more about ADHD include adhdaware, humansnotrobots, and Idonline.
  2. Emphasize organization: I always pick up plastic file folders when I see them in the dollar section at Target. Most of my students, with ADHD in particular, love these folders for organizing work. I invite my students to attend tutorials and I help them periodically organize their notebooks, folders, and determine what they can throw away and what they can file. I also them time in the beginning of class to write down the work due for the week.
  3. Redirect and channel that energy: Often students with ADHD have a great deal of energy, which we can help them channel into positive activities.  One student, who frequently finishes his work early, becomes an adept peer tutor, assisting others with their work. Another student is an excellent helper, distributing handouts and running small errands. A third student likes to lead group work. Here are some excellent tips for how to redirect and channel excessive energy from intervention central.
  4. Make accommodations: Though 504 and IEP plans dictate any modifications students are entitled to, there are many students who do not have these plans, but benefit from some simple accommodations. I encourage them to privately share with me any conditions they may have and what I can do to make them more comfortable and productive. For example, I provide copies of class notes to students with ADHD (as long as they are engaged and take their own notes as well). They appreciate having a printed copy, as many of them have poor handwriting and difficulty keeping up with taking notes. Also, I always seat students with ADHD in the front of the room so that it’s easier for them to stay on task. Here are some helpful suggestions regarding accommodations from attitude mag.
  5. Embrace differences: On the first day of school, I tell my students that I have ADHD and explain how it affects me as a teacher. I may talk too quickly or jump from topic to topic. I ask for them to let me know and help me stay on track. But I also explain that people with ADHD often have gifts or a “superpower”, from speed reading to acting ability.

Encourage students to discover and cultivate their gifts! It’s amazing to see how confident students with ADHD become when they learn to embrace who they are and emphasize their positive attributes. Here is a great article about the benefits of ADHD from healthline.

At a parent/teacher conference, I met John’s mom. She thanked me, saying that her son had told her that he had finally accepted his ADHD and liked himself. She had tears in her eyes, and so did I.

It’s time to start exploring the world of Blogs!

School is about to start up again! This is the opportune time to plan for the upcoming school year and think about the changes you might want to make in your classroom. Most tech-minded teachers already know about top education sites like Edudemic and Edutopia, but where else should you look on the web to find tips this summer? Here are some great blogs that will help as you plan for the fall.

Free Tech 4 Teachers: This excellent blog written by Richard Byrne covers all kinds of technology, from web-based tools to apps. Byrne updates regularly with reviews and descriptions of new tools.

The Innovative Educator: Public school educator Lisa Nielsen focuses her work on using everyday technology to inspire and motivate students. This blog will help you incorporate technology that students already use, such as cell phones and social media, into your classroom.

Cool Cat Teacher: Written by Vicki Davis, a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director of a small school in Georgia, this blog strives to help teachers use technology to innovate their teaching. Davis also hosts the Every Teacher Matters podcast, in which she interviews teachers about best practices for using technology in the classroom.

Teacher Tech: In this blog, self-described “technology missionary” Alice Keeler gives tutorials on how to do all sorts of technology-based tasks. Recent posts include instructions on how to use Tweetdeck to follow multiple hashtags at once and how to create and manage YouTube playlists.

Teacher Reboot Camp: Shelly Sanchez Terrell challenges teachers to transform their teaching. In addition to her 30 Goals Challenge, Terrell also runs a blog full of resources for teachers, including her “A to Z Guide of Technology and Trends,” a weekly webinar, and a series of “survival tips” for teachers.

Those are just five blogs to help you jumpstart your search. What other blogs do you use to inspire your teaching? Please comment below.


Constructing a community of learners

Remember the song “We Are Family” by the Pointer Sisters? That has become the mantra for my class as we journey through the school year together, building a learning community as we go. A learning community is a group of students with a common purpose and shared values and goals. Building a classroom community truly enriches the students’ learning experience, and helps them learn valuable life skills they will be able to use and benefit from for the rest of their lives. Here are four thoughts to consider as you build your own classroom community this year!

  1. Research community building games, and help students get acquainted through these activities at the beginning of the year. As time permits, challenge students with various community building tasks related to the standards you are teaching throughout the school year. Learning to work together on a team successfully is a life skill that has many rewards.
  2. Stress to students that we are a family, we are all in this together, and that learning never stops! Just like the armed forces – leave no man behind! Say to students weekly or even daily, “The most important things we do in this learning community are learn and help each other be successful. Any behavior that takes away from learning is unacceptable and has no place here.” Repeated reminders of this ideology will encourage students to take ownership of this belief statement.
  3. Let your students know that their contributions to the lessons and the learning community are valuable and appreciated. Pull a student aside once a day, get on their level, and look them in the eye. Tell them sincerely that you are proud of them and what they have accomplished, how much they have improved, how much you appreciate the support he or she gives you and his or her classmates, and how glad you are that he or she is in your class. The return on this minute-long conversation is invaluable!
  4. When you see that a student is upset, pull them to the side, and ask them how they are feeling on a scale of 1–10, 10 being the best. Ask them what you can do for them to help them get to a 10. Yes, this takes time, so don’t do this in the middle of a lesson… use your judgment about the best time to ask. Not only will you be addressing the students’ needs directly, which helps them feel an important and respected part of your community, but you are modeling valuable empathy and problem solving skills that they will undoubtedly need to utilize as they mature.
  5. Encourage a culture of respect. Encourage students to be sympathetic and supportive. Reward positive behavior such as this through your behavior system, or with positive ClassDojo points! Better yet, customize these behaviors in ClassDojo for your classroom, and weight them heavier than other positive behaviors. You will be amazed at the culture change in your community! When students support and respect each other while learning together within a community, continuous improvement becomes an embedded value.

Building a learning community in your classroom definitely takes more time and effort. The powerful qualities ingrained in its philosophy shape and enhance learning invaluably. Students will undoubtedly benefit from such a rich educational experience, and your love of educating children will grow stronger, guaranteed!


Motivation + monitoring + movement = Management miracle!

Isn’t it funny how some days you feel like your students are perfect angels and then all of the sudden everything seems to fall apart? A million factors contribute to the classroom atmosphere — from a full moon to spring break starting the following day. It is one of the most important elements of a successful learning environment.

I have found that combining motivation, constant monitoring, and time for movement breaks can result in a managed classroom that can stand up to pretty much anything… even the last week of school! ClassDojo has been my motivational and monitoring savior for the past several years. Several elements of ClassDojo worked wonders to motivate and monitor my students:

1. Motivation: Motivating students can be frustrating, but somehow ClassDojo found the perfect way to instantly encourage students with both impactful feedback and points. Engaging students with ClassDojo was largely due to these factors:

  • SOUND EFFECTS: My students squeal with excitement every time they hear the delightful “ding”, resulting when someone receives a positive behavior point. I love that something so simple has such an effect on my students.
  • AVATARS: Could the ClassDojo monsters get any cuter? Students love choosing their avatars. You can also create your own for a customized effect. My colleague sets point goals for her students (10, 20, 50, etc) and when they reach their goal they get to change their avatars. You should see the excitement over such a simple reward.
  • CLASSROOM ECONOMY: In our class, we use ClassDojo as a component of our larger classroom economy system. Students earn (or lose) Dojo points, which are equivalent to “dollars”. They receive paychecks for total points/dollars monthly or bimonthly. Students can cash them in and use them to purchase items at our classroom store.  

2. Manage and monitor: When I began teaching, tracking and communicating student behavior was laborious, time consuming, and often far from accurate. Then came ClassDojo! ClassDojo has such an amazing, built-in data management and monitoring system. In my opinion, this is perhaps the best aspect of ClassDojo.

  • PARENT PORTAL: With easy parent sign-up, ClassDojo becomes an automatic and effortless parent portal into student behavior within the classroom. Parents can see in real-time how their students are doing, so that nothing is a surprise at parent-teacher night! Also, teachers can instantly message them exciting moments from school or to just clarify a Dojo point that was given.
  • TEACHER TRACKING: Best of all, I have instant and accurate access to student behavior data for any period of time I wish to choose. Thanks to ClassDojo this extremely important portion of our job is made so simple!
  • STUDENT SUCCESS: It is quite powerful to see students check their points and view their reports. The ownership they feel over monitoring their own personal progress and achieving personal behavior goals is empowering, impressive, and effective.

3. Make Time for Movement: No matter how great your classroom management system is, students need time to give their brains a break and get in some movement. Try some yoga or dance moves in your classroom!

I hope these tips come in handy for you this school year!