I have written a lot about setting goals with students, and how that can be a powerful and effective tool for student achievement! Here are some of my most popular posts on the subject in case you missed some, or need a refresher!
This post gives you all the reasons that S.M.A.R.T. Goals are a good use of your time. I know, time is the most precious commodity that we have, and there is never enough. And Goal-Setting is not in the standards, or the curriculum…. So, why should you spend precious instruction time on it? This post explains why. (Hint: Goal-setting can actually SAVE you time in the long run!)
This is the place to start if you are new to S.M.A.R.T. Goals. This post goes over the basics. You will learn what the acronym means and I give you a few tips from goal-setting in my own classroom. While you’re there, you will want to be sure to grab this FREE template with an example to help you and your students set S.M.A.R.T. Goals? Grab it today. It’s FREE!
Next, add this video to your Edpuzzle account so that you can share it with students. The video introduces the idea of S.M.A.R.T. Goals in a way that is accessible for students, and it gives examples of goals that meet the criteria. All that in about 3 minutes!
This post is a snapshot of the first day of goal-setting in my 5th grade classroom. This post focuses on setting Reading goals because that’s where I usually begin. But, there are tips in this post that will help you with any subject area. I take you through the journey with my students, giving you some of the actual words that I used, and their responses. (Some are very funny! 🙂 ) When you are rollling out Goal-Setting for the first time, feel free to use my process. Over time I know you will make it your own.
This blog post dives deeply into reading goals. There are lots more tips for teachers on how to help students set relevant and meaningful goals – which they are more likely to follow through on! The post gives reading specific examples and lots to think about with how to empower your students with meaningful reading goals! Read this post to learn:
How to help students write meaningful goals.
How to help students track their data so that they can set relevant goals.
Tips for how often students should set new goals.
S.M.A.R.T. goals have been a game changer in my classroom, and they can be a powerful motivator in your classroom as well. Keep checking back because I have lots more to say about how to bring this powerful tool to your classroom!
If you need a ready-to-go resource to help you set goals with your students, track their data, and raise their achievement, be sure to grab this Student Data Binder. It includes 145 printable pages to help you and your students set goals, track data and grow in every content area!
“I love using these data sheets with my students. It promotes goal setting and inspires students to do better.”
-Winona G., 5th grade teacher
“There are a lot of different options available in this pack that meets the different rubric needs required by different districts. I am really excited to implement the use of data binders with my students this year!”
So, teaching is one of the most complex jobs that exists – I’m sure that you agree. And every year, more seems to get put on our plates – CCSS, SEL, UDL, BIPs, CBAs…. The Alphabet Soup gets added to every year, and nothing ever seems to get taken off the plate.
So, with all of that, why am I advocating that you use S.M.A.R.T. Goals in your classroom? Isn’t that just one more Alphabet Soup- with 5 letters! Well, I think it’s more than that. I think S.M.A.R.T. Goals are the best strategy to help you accomplish ALL of the other things you are asked to do. Read on to find out why it is the one thing that I will never take off my plate!
Goal-Setting Leads to Increases in Student Achievement
Goal-setting has been thoroughly researched, and all the research points to the same thing – when done well, goal-setting helps students understand where they are, where they need to be, and empowers them to get there! Here is a quick summary of some of the research on how this powerful strategy increases student achievement.
Visible Learning by John Hattie – This meta-analysis found that goal-setting has a .92 effect size – that is almost a whole year of growth just by teaching students to set goals. That’s a lot of bang for your buck! Imagine what would happen in your classroom if you just worked on goal-setting with one subject area – for example, Reading. Your students would grow enormously! (Check out this blog post to find out how I rolled out Reading S.M.A.R.T. Goals in my classroom.)
Classroom Instruction that Works by Robert Marzano – This book is an oldie, but a goodie. It’s another meta-analysis of thousands of studies. Marzano found that goal-setting can help students grow by 18-41 percentile points on standardized tests. Again, that’s a lot of gain!
Goal Setting to Increase Student Academic Performance – This is a small scale study in just one district, and I think the results are encouraging and realistic. When teachers were supported by the school district in effective strategies for teaching students to set goals, students achieved at higher rates. For example, in fourth grade, the 60% made adequate yearly growth. The next year, with the same group of students, 69% made adequate yearly growth. The difference? Their district supported teachers by teaching them how to set goals with students. That’s it! I know my principal would be delighted if my test scores went up like that!
Goal-Setting Fosters a Culture of Learning
This well-written blog post by Chase Nordengren does a great job of explaining how goal-setting with students has a positive effect on your classroom culture. I especially love the section titled “From Mandate to Ownership” which describes one school district’s attempts to roll out goal-setting in multiple classrooms. Key take aways:
Go slow to go fast. An intentional, focused start to the process is important for building a long-term culture.
Allow teachers and students to modify the process to fit their needs. I especially love the way the post describes the cookie-cutter worksheets that the district provided, and how those morphed into teacher-created worksheets, and eventually, into student-created work.
Goal-Setting Empowers Students
Early in my career, I tried to bring goal-setting to my classroom. I typed up a list of approved goals for my students, based on their test scores, etc. And then, I tried to “steer” students to choose the goal I wanted them to. And, it didn’t work. Students were NOT motivated by MY goals (shocker!) Students did not make the achievement gains I was hoping for. So, I gave up and put my time into other strategies. Maybe you’ve had the same experience.
Then, a few years ago, I came back to goal-setting. This time, I taught students to create S.M.A.R.T. Goals (for more on that, check out this blog post and while you’re there, grab the FREE resource!). What I realized is, R is the most important part of the S.M.A.R.T. Goal – Relevance. If you want to motivate your students, help them find goals that are relevant and important to THEM, not to you.
I created this video to help teach my students about setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals. Add it it your Edpuzzle account today – it covers the basics for students in about 3 minutes!
Student Goal-Setting Makes Parent-Teacher Conferences a Breeze!
Probably my favorite benefit is how easy it is to prepare for and run my Parent-Teacher Conferences when students are in charge. In fact, they do the prep work and they run the conference! My main job in the conference is to facilitate the conversation. I use this Student Data Binder from TPT to organize all of the data and goals, and then students run the conference. It really is that easy!
So, do you want to build a learning culture that empowers students and leads to great achievement? Of course you do! Then you are ready to teach students goal-setting in YOUR classroom. But…
Where to Begin?
That’s a great question! If setting goals with your students seems daunting, begin by starting with data collection. Start small, just one subject area if you are an elementary teacher. Download this FREE S.M.A.R.T. Goal template. Use the example included in the resource, and the video from MsCottonsCorner on YouTube to teach students the basics.
If you need resources that will help with all kinds of data tracking, goal setting and reflection, grab this Student Data Binder on TPT. And then, dive in. Even a little goal-setting goes a long way, and once you begin, your confidence will grow and you will find ways to make the process even better for your students!
That quote has been ringing in my ears for the past few weeks. Like many of you, I have been learning about Science of Reading. I listened to the Sold a Story podcast with dismay. When I finished the podcast, I dusted off my bruised heart, and then asked myself, “What now? Do I make drastic changes to the literacy program in my kindergarten classroom? Am I hurting kids with my balanced literacy approach?”
Here’s the thing, I’ve been teaching long enough that I can remember the heated Reading Wars. When I entered the profession in 1995, teachers were still asking themselves which was better, Phonics or Whole Language? And then, in 1996, my aunt, a Reading Recovery Teacher, sent me “Guided Reading, Good First Teaching for All Children” by Fountas and Pinnell. And I had my answer. We should teach both.
That was my first exposure to the idea of balanced literacy. Fountas and Pinnell did spend more time talking about comprehension than decoding, but Word Work was intended as part of the lesson. As a young teacher, I had methods courses on phonics in college, but the world of reading strategies was new to me. I immediately resonated with it. It matched my own experience as a reader, and it felt really good. I felt like the Word Work was easy to teach, so I was grateful for their insights into engaging students in authentic text, and helping them develop comprehension, and along the way, to fall in love with reading.
What is Balanced Literacy, Really?
Balanced Literacy is taking a beating right now, and so are Fountas and Pinnell. In a recent blog post, Fountas and Pinnell said, “… in 1996 we used the word “balanced” as an adjective when describing a high-quality language and literacy environment that would include both small-group and whole-group differentiated instruction that included the various types of reading and writing, letter and word work, oral language, observation, assessment, homeschool connections, all supported by good teaching.”
I spent many years working to become proficient at all the things included in that quote. I learned how to take running records and how to understand MSV. I learned what to do when a student did not use ALL of the cues (including visual letter cues) to read accurately, and I learned how to improve oral language so that reading comprehension would also grow. I learned how to manage whole class and small group instruction in every grade, K-5, and I improved my skills as a writing teacher. I opened my classroom as a lab and invited other teachers to observe my practice and reflect on it with me – a process that helped me as much as it did them. I trained teachers in many of the things that I was learning.
And I had decent scores on state tests. I live in Washington state, and our first high-stakes test was called the WASL. I was there when they rolled it out, and my kids did OK. Then we had the MSP, and finally the SBAC. My kids always do fine. I’ve spent my entire career teaching in schools with high poverty rates and usually many multi-language learners, and my kids made good growth each year. But, despite my best efforts, I never reached my goal of 100% of students at standard on the test….
So, Balanced Literacy might not be enough…..?
In my quest to help all students reach the standard, I did what I always do. I read, I researched, and I learned. I tried new things in my classroom. And in 2004 I read this book, “Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement”. If you know Marzano’s work, you know that he approaches a question by studying ALL the available research around it – his conclusions are based on meta-analysis. That means hundreds, or even thousands of research studies. Better him than me!
In this book Marzano makes the case that academic achievement will increase when kids know stuff. In other words, background knowledge, also called schema, is key to helping kids comprehend and achieve at high levels. During the past 20 years, as school systems struggled to meet the demands of the high stakes tests, they have reduced and eliminated instruction in any subject that isn’t tested. So, it is normal for students to spend an entire year in an elementary classroom learning only reading, writing and math. If a student is lucky, science might get a little time. But the bulk of instruction time is spent on reading and math.
Since many published reading curricula focus on fiction, the majority of time is not even spent reading content. So students are not building background knowledge, which means they are not gaining the skills and vocabulary that they need to comprehend. Marzano made the case for building background knowledge in 2004. Natalie Wexler is making that case in The Knowledge Gap right now.
Is Science of Reading the Answer?
Well, yes and no. It is important to pay attention to what cognitive science tells us about reading development. But we can’t be simplistic and cherry pick the science. It is tempting to pay attention to the Science of Reading that is quantifiable. It is easy to assign certain phonetic skills to kindergarten, others to first grade etc. Systems love that kind of clarity, and I suspect, that’s why Science of Reading is becoming synonymous with systematic phonics.
But it’s not going to be enough. If the pendulum swings back to an all-phonics approach, we are going to face the same problems we faced in the 1990’s when kids could fluently decode any text, but they didn’t have any idea what the text was about. Right now, we need to take a good look at ALL of the Science of Reading – everything. There is a growing bank of cognitive research around what really works to help ALL students become good readers. The short answer is not a simple list of phonics skills to teach, it is much more complext than that.
Come on this journey with me as I dive into the Science of Reading. Together let’s explore what cognitive science says about reading proficiency. Let’s learn how phonics is part of the puzzle, and figure out which phonics skills should be taught when. Let’s understand the importance of vocabulary and background knowledge in fostering comprehension, and let’s figure out which reading strategies lead students to greater success as readers, not just in elementary school but in life.
Cognitive Science has answers for us, and together we can bring reading success to ALL of our students by bringing the science to our classrooms. This is going to be a lot of fun!
Ready for Part 2? Click here for the next post in this blog series.
Let’s face it. Instructional time is precious. There is never enough time to teach the content students didn’t quite master last year, to teach the skills and standards they need to master this year, and to maybe throw in a little something, just for fun. So, why “waste” time intentionally teaching vocabulary?
First, let’s make sure we are talking about the same thing. There are actually four different ways a student can master a given vocabulary term: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Listening and speaking are both oral language, and reading and writing are both written language. Children begin to develop oral language skills long before they come to school, but for most students, written language skills begin to develop around the time they enter school. Generally speaking, a student’s largest vocabulary is listening. Students can understand words before they can use them in their own speaking, but the two are connected. In the same way, most students have a larger reading vocabulary than written vocabulary, but the two support each other. More on that in later posts.
Later we’ll get into specific strategies for improving language skills in the four areas. For now, the reasons for teaching vocabulary explicitly mostly overlap.
Knowing the correct word helps students express themselves clearly and be understood – in both speaking and writing. Have you ever witnessed a two-year old’s temper tantrum? Likely, they are expressing their frustration in the only way they know how. They have an idea in their head but they don’t have the word. Then, an adult caregiver comes along and asks, “Would you like me to read this book to you?” The two-year-old calms down, and repeats, “Read.” Now they have the word they need and the frustration passes. Older students may not have temper tantrums, but they still feel frustration when they can’t make themselves understood. Vocabulary instruction helps them have the words to express their ideas and knowledge. Vocabulary = Being Understood
The reverse is also true. When we teach complex concepts (like equivalent fractions), explicit teaching of the term leads to greater understanding of the concept. When students understand that equivalent is similar to, but different from, equal, they begin to grasp the nuances of equivalent fractions. Vocabulary – Greater Understanding
Explicit vocabulary instruction increases reading comprehension. That has been well documented in study after study. And it makes common sense. Obviously, students cannot comprehend a text if they do not know the meaning of key words. It has also been well documented that students LEARN new vocabulary through consistent reading. Wide reading = Higher Vocabulary, and Higher Vocabulary = Wide Reading.
What to teach?
So, the Oxford English Dictionary defines about 600,000 words. But, that’s not all of the words in English. Some estimates say there are over a million words in English, and it’s ever growing. Do you remember a time you didn’t know the word meme? I do. It was invented after I was born, but I’m pretty sure the first time I heard it was out of the mouth of my 14 year old son – probably in 2020. English is a living language – one of the beautiful things about it.
This causes a problem for teachers. Even if we stick with the 600,000 words in the Oxford English Dictionary, and forget all the new words being created, we could never hope to teach them all. The good news is, we don’t have to. In 2002, Beck, Kucan and McKeown published Bringing Words to Life. In the book, they explained that teachers should focus on teaching Tier Two words. Check out these blog posts for more in depth information on Tier Two words.
Tier One words are commonly found in oral language. They are typical words that most native speakers learn to understand easily. Because they are learned through spoken language, they might make great spelling words, but they should not be targets for vocabulary instruction for native speakers.
Tier Two words are generally not used in spoken language, but they are encountered in written language, so they are key for students to learn. These are the words that unlock comprehension, advance reading skills, and bring writing to life. Many content words fall into this category. Because these words have the ability to be useful in many different contexts and domains, instruction on these words can have a huge impact.
Tier Three words are only used in a specific domain, and don’t cross into other content areas. They also might be very rare words. These are the words that students need to unlock key concepts in science and social studies, and should be explicitly taught as needed.
There are about 7,000 Tier Two word families. If you teach a word from each word family, and help students make connections to the other words in the word family, the whole process becomes more manageable. 7,000 divided by 13 years of schooling is 538.46 word families a year. Still lofty, but doable. And as you unlock the meanings of words, remember, you are also opening the door so your students will comprehend text better. And that means they will read more. And that means they will learn more vocabulary from the texts that they read….. And just like that, you have a literate child!
From Theory to Practice
Now we’ve come full circle. You understand why explicit vocabulary instruction is important, but I’m sure you’re asking yourself the question we started with. Where do I find the time?
The answer is simple. Consistent, easy routines that you weave throughout your day, in multiple content areas, will help you explicitly teach the vocabulary your students need to know. This FREE e-book gives you details on 10 EASY to implement strategies. Click the image to grab it for FREE today!
Grab the book and then implement these strategies in your classroom today!
To increase oral language, use these routines:
Capture the Word
Fist of Five
Examples and Non-Examples
To increase written language, use these routines:
Capture the Word
These simple routines take little to no prep, and can be implemented in math class, science class, social studies…. Grab the FREE e-book today and give it a try!
This time of year it’s easy to feel grateful. Crisp fall weather, kids who have settled into school routines and begun to learn, pumpkin pie….. These are just a few of the things on my gratitude list this year. And, as always, I was looking for a way to teach that to my students when I found this delightful book, “Gratitude is my Superpower” by Alicia Ortego. The books uses rhyme to tell the story of Betsy and her turtle, Mr. T. Betsy is worried about her pet, so her mom takes her to the garden, and gives her a stone. Betsy learns to use her Gratitude stone to turn her worry into gratitude, and then, she passes it on to another worried child.
I read the story to my kindergarten kiddos today, and it really resonated with them. Many of them connect with feeling worried and sad and disappointed, all emotions that Betsy experiences in the book. To help reinforce the concept of gratitude, today, we made gratitude stones of our own!
Introducing the book
When I introduced the book, we clapped out the word gratitude, and learned that it had three syllables. Then we acted it out by putting our hands on our hearts, and then gesturing out to the world, because gratitude is something that comes from your heart and moves into the world! As we read the book, there are several natural stopping spots where we discussed what Betsy is grateful for, and then I invited the students to share their own ideas. Finally, we made our own gratitude stones to keep for awhile, and then to give away.
Making Gratitude Stones in YOUR classroom!
This was a truly wonderful lesson – one of those moments that resonates with kids and gets them excited about learning and growing. As we worked, the kids naturally fell into conversation about thing they are grateful for. As they worked, I also practiced gratitude words and phases with them, like “Thank you” and “I’m grateful for….” And the best part was, the kids spontaneously thanked the cafeteria workers when we went to lunch a few minutes later! If you’d like to do this with your kids, here is how I did it!
I put the kiddos to work on a math task that they can do independently, then called 3-4 students back to the STEAM table to work. Each one chose the rock that fit their hand the best, and I used a sharpie marker to write their name on the bottom.
After students choose the “Just Right” rock for them, they decorated with a few stickers. Some students wanted me to write the word “Gratitude” on the rock, so I used the Sharpie to do that.
Students applied the Mod Podge with the brushes. A thin, even layer works best. Students used their fingers to smooth out any wrinkles in the stickers.
The rocks were dry after about an hour, and they are so cute! The kids love them! Check out these pictures, and then give it a try!
In yesterday’s post I reviewed five essential fiction picture books for starting the school year right. The CCSS calls for equal amounts of fiction and non-fiction in the intermediate grades, and that means picture books too. So today, we will dive into five essential non-fiction books for starting the year right. These are books that I have used multiple times and they each offer a different insight for the beginning of the school year. Again, the links are to Barnes and Noble or Amazon in case you need to add any to your classroom library.
This is a truly marvelous book about an amazing pioneer. I read this story to students every year to launch my Writer’s Workshop. To get the FREE lesson plan, click here!
The book follows the life story of Jacques Cousteau. Not only was he an intrepid pioneer exploring the sea, he also had deep interest and knowledge in inventing, writing and film making. The writing is lyrical and the illustrations are vibrant. You will love this wonderful biography and your students will be inspired by him too.
This book by the same author as Encounter is a beautifully written account of a true story – the disappearance of the Mary Celeste in 1872. The mystery has NEVER been solved, and students will have a blast keeping track of the clues and trying to solve the mystery. The last 2 pages of the book give 6 popular theories, but no one knows which one, if any, are correct.
When I read this book, I ask students to try to solve the mystery. It is an illuminating peek into their inference skills. Plus, it’s such a terrific read and it will fly off the shelves as students puzzle over the illustrations and continue to try and solve the mystery.
This book is full of charming illustrations and amazing facts about the human brain. It clearly explains how the brain grows and changes over time, and how mistakes are an important part of that. This is a perfect book to launch a growth mindset classroom. Your students will be stretching their brains in no time!
This is a delightful book about time and perfect for launching the beginning of your time together. The book begins with all the things that you can do in a second and continues through a minute, and hour and so on until you reach a full year. And, it rhymes! If any of your students are still working to sort out time, this is great for them. But I like to read it and then do a little dreaming together. After reading the book together, we work through the Hopes and Fears protocol as we think about the year we will spend together. I learn a lot about my students, they learn about each other, and most importantly, the students start to feel some ownership in our classroom.
This is a biography about Jim Thorpe, an unstoppable Native American athlete. This story will really grab your athletes, and all of your students will resonate with the story of the underdog defeating the favorite. Many students will also resonate with Jim Thorpe, a young man who didn’t find school engaging. As I read, I watch the body language and listen carefully during turn and talks. The book and our discussion often open a window into how my students are feeling about school. At the beginning of the year, that information helps me build relationships with my students.
There are so many amazing picture book biographies in addition to the two I’ve mentioned here. Bringing non-fiction picture books into your classroom will help you meet your standards and expose students to new content, different perspectives and interesting ideas. And, you can do it in about 10 minutes!
Why use picture books in the intermediate classroom? Won’t the kids think they are babyish? Well, that might have been true once (although I could make the case that it was NEVER true), but in recent years, authors have been putting out some amazing picture books aimed at older readers, and even for adults. A high quality picture book has sturdy paper, brilliantly colored illustrations and engaging text. I use picture books in my classroom all year long. Here is why:
I can read them in about 10 minutes!
They are easy to reread. I often read a picture book for one purpose, and then revisit it for another purpose.
The pictures help carry the meaning of the story and provide important scaffolding for ELLs and students with low language skills.
Students love to reread them. A picture book doesn’t feel like a major commitment. Even in fifth grade, some students feel overwhelmed by reading chapter book after chapter book. High quality picture books can fill a gap and give students a little rest while still keeping them reading!
Students need to be exposed to a wide range of non-fiction, and picture books are a great way to bring that into the classroom. Over the 25 years I’ve been an educator, content standards have narrowed considerably, and it is causing students to be less engaged in school. I don’t blame them! Picture books are a great way to widen their horizons and help them find topics and content that interests them. I meet required reading and writing standards AND engage students in interesting content at the same time.
Following is a list of my favorite fiction books for starting the school year. Be sure to check out tomorrow’s post to get the list of my favorite non-fiction picture books for back to school. I will read all of these books to my fifth graders in the first month of school. There is a lot of junk out there, but I promise, these will all be great reads in your classroom too! Links are to Barnes and Noble in case you need to add any to your classroom library.
This book was published in 1998, and I have probably read it to a group of students every year since it was published. There is plenty here for all ages.
The main character, Velvet, is odd. It’s not just her name, it’s everything about her. She doesn’t have fancy clothes or a big box of crayons, and she doesn’t even like talking dolls! Then, using just eight crayons, Velvet wins an art contest, and the kids begin to see her with new eyes.
This is a lovely story for the beginning of the year because it is a story of learning to accept those who are different from ourselves. As you are building your classroom community, it’s a terrific message to send.
I use this book to launch my Graffiti Wall every year because the language is so marvelous. Be sure to check out the blog post and video where I explain how to do that!
It’s shaping up to be the worst summer ever. Jeremy Ross has just moved into the neighborhood, and he is public enemy number one! When the protagonist (who is not named) explains this to his dad, dad instantly gets it and helps hatch a plan – to invite Jeremy Ross over and feed him enemy pie. Dad makes the pie, and all the boy has to do is spend one day being nice to his enemy. As the boys spend a fun day on the trampoline and in the tree house, the protagonist realizes that Jeremy isn’t so bad after all, and he warns him not to eat the pie – the act of a true friend!
This is a wonderful book to share with kids at the beginning of the year and talk about friendship. What makes a good friend? How can making assumptions about someone stop us from noticing their good qualities? Your kids will love the fun illustrations (by the same illustrator as Odd Velvet!) and you will love the way the discussion moves your classroom community forward.
Chances are, you will have at least one perfectionist in your class this year – one student who is afraid to take risks because they might fail. Chances are, it will be one of your highest performing students. This book is for that student.
Beatrice Bottomwell is known far and wide for never making mistakes. She never forgets her homework, she always makes a perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the perfect amount of jelly, and she has won the city talent show three years in a row. She has fans waiting to greet her as she heads to school each morning. When she slips and falls carrying the eggs for a muffin recipe, she catches the eggs before they break. She is perfect! But she can’t stop thinking about her Almost Mistake. And she is so afraid of making a mistake that she won’t join her friends as they play on the frozen pond after school.
The night of the school talent show comes again, and everyone, including Beatrice, expects that she will win. But, her juggling act goes awry, and Beatrice finds herself standing on stage, covered in water, and trying to figure out how to handle the situation. That’s when the book becomes so perfect for the perfectionist. Beatrice laughs. And the audience laughs with her. What a wonderful way to handle utter humiliation!
This book is a really great model for handling life’s difficulties, whether students are perfectionists or not. Again, read this early in the year and have conversations about handling failure. If you make failure fine for your students, risk taking will be much more likely in your classroom.
This book is told in first person by a young, black girl. As you can see in the cover art, she lives on one side of a fence, and a little white girl lives on the other. Both girls are warned not to go on the other side of the fence because it is dangerous. Eventually, the girls realize that there is no rule about sitting on top of the fence, and in that middle ground, they meet and become friends.
Woodson has such a lovely way with words, so you could easily read this book just for the language. But, it is also a great book to read and discuss the artificial barriers that keep people apart. You can easily bridge to the artificial barriers that likely exist in your own classroom: race, class, language, economic status, cool kids… I have always found that bringing up those issues early in the year before too many problems arise is the best strategy for preventing them from sidetracking your classroom community. This book will help your students find their own middle ground.
Miss Malarkey is determined to find each student a book they will love before the end of the year. The main character is pretty sure she will fail. After all, he hates reading. Maybe you’ve met a student like that….
One by one, his friends and classmates all get bit by the reading bug. But the main character remains completely unimpressed by books. Undeterred, Miss Malarkey keeps trying as he comes up with one reason after another to dislike her picks.
I think you can see why I love this book for the beginning of the year. I tell my students that I am just like Miss Malarkey. I am going to get to know them really well (starting with the Reader’s Interest Survey) and I am going to help them find books that they love. This book opens that door and starts to build our relationship around books.
As June rolls around, Miss Malarkey has gotten to know each of her students, especially the main character, very well. That knowledge of her students helps her find the perfect book for him. She gives him one, final book, hoping to hook him, and she does!
Using picture books in the intermediate classroom opens so many doors and helps you accomplish so many standards! I hope that these books, and the others that you will discover on your own, help you have a more literate classroom this year!
Players in Pigtails – This is a marvelous historical fiction book about the All Women’s baseball league featured in the movie a League of Their Own. It’s a delightful picture book to share with students!
As we celebrate the holiday in honor of Dr. King and move into Black History month in February, I want to share one of my favorite resources for teaching the Civil Rights Movement with you. As an extra bonus, these BOOM Cards are digital, so you can use them no matter your teaching situation! Here is how I used these BOOM Cards this year in person, AND how I modified the lesson last year for remote learning. Whatever your teaching situation, I’ve got you covered!
Make sure to check out the FREE resources linked at the bottom of the post!
In Person Instruction
Activate Background Knowledge:
I begin the lesson by asking students, “What are Civil Rights? Who has Civil Rights? Do you?” This question activates students’ background knowledge and also their curiosity. In truth, the phrase Civil Rights is used so frequently that it has kind of lost its meaning. So, we have a brief discussion about Civil Rights.
This year, one of my students gave a great example. He said that Civil Rights are the rights that people have but that he doesn’t have as many civil rights as adults because he is a child. He used driving as an example. My class had a great discussion about the rights, and responsibilities, of being a driver. We then talked about other examples of people who had, or did not have, Civil Rights. They mentioned voting rights, rights to an education, and the right to choose your own job.
After we activate background knowledge and curiousity about Civil Rights, I give students the objective for the lesson. Along with this main objective, they will also have the opportunity to practice inferring and deepen their understanding of key vocabulary.
Teaching the Content:
For this lesson, I ask each student to log into the BOOM Cards on their own computer, but sit in groups of three. As the lesson progresses, we will bounce back and forth from whole class to small group to independent work.
The task cards begin with the arrival of the first Africans on the White Lion. (If you want a more detailed resource about that, be sure to check out this resource – The First Africans; a leveled reading passage with comprehension questions.) I ask my students to read the text on the first task card to themselves. Then, in their group, I ask them to discuss what they see in the image on the Task Card. In this case, a picture really is worth a thousand words.
The next two Task Cards talk about the Emancipation Proclamation and Jim Crow laws. I teach students how to read Emancipation Proclamation, and then ask them to read the next two cards in their group. As a class, we discuss the mearning of the word segregation, and the students answer the question on the task card independently.
The next three task cards deal with desegregating the military, schools, and busses. Students read these task cards in their groups, and then we discuss boycotts. I begin the discussion by asking students, “Do you think a boycott can be successful at changing something in society?” It’s a good discussion because the text evidence is all about the Supreme Court making the changes, and so students are divided on whether or not they think the boycotts were effective.
This is usually a good place to break the lesson up. One of the things I love about BOOM Cards is that they automatically save a student’s progress. I think it is more powerful to spread this content over two days than to cram it all into one day. The kids need time to process this information, and they usually come back on the second day even more eager to learn the next part of the story.
If you break the lesson up, begin the second day by projecting the task cards your students have already read. I gather the students on the rug WITHOUT their computers and we go through the first task cards together. This helps remind them of what they already know, and also gives ELLs and struggling readers a chance to revisit key vocabulary and ideas.
The next card teaches students about the sit-ins at the Woolworths counters. We discuss what it means to be denied service and then I ask, “Do you think a sit-in will be effective?” Just like with the boycotts, students are usually mixed on their views.
The next card is about the Children’s Crusade, and in my experience, is the card that students have the strongest reaction too. For that reason, I always read that task card aloud to them. After I read the card, I turn to the next card and we analyze the photo of the Children’s Crusade as a class. Together, these two task cards really are the meat of the resource. Once we have discussed the photo, students usually have no trouble making an inference about the photographer’s purpose in taking the photo.
At this point in the lesson, it is time to release students to work independently on the rest of the task cards. I always try to gradually release responsibility to the students, and this is a good place to get them to work independently. They will answer a question about the March on Washington, organize key events on a timeline and fill in the blank to answer vocabulary questions.
The basic flow of the lesson is the same, whether or not I teach in person or remotely. However, these digital tools help the lesson go better remotely.
Activate Background Knowledge:
I use a Jamboard for this. I asked each student to respond to one of the Jamboards. Engaging students remotely is very difficult. By giving them a choice (which question do you want to respond to?) and requiring their participation, I was able to hook the students. We then briefly discussed and organized their responses to group similar ideas.
This doesn’t change for remote learning.
Teaching the Content:
For remote learning, I did not break the lesson up over two days. I began the lesson by reading the first 3 slides to the kids and working through them as a whole group. I then sent them to Breakout Rooms to work on the rest of the slides as a group of three – again, gradually releasing resposibility to the students. I checked in on the groups often to help keep them on track. And then I ask each student to complete, in addition to the BOOM Cards, a padlet answering the question, “Which event from the BOOM Cards do you think was most important in increasing Civil Rights for African Americans? Why was it important?”
I hope that this lesson plan helps you see ways to use these BOOM Cards in your classroom, no matter what your teaching situation is. If you have never used BOOM Cards, you can get a free trial here. Start with these FREE BOOM Cards about the Women’s Suffrage Movement from my TPT store, and if you love them, grab the Civil Rights Movement BOOM Cards. I think you will find that they are a versatile tool for your classroom, no matter your teaching situation.
Click the pictures below for Easy-to-Use resources for teaching Civil Rights.
Click the pictures below for FREE Civil Rights resources!
Goal setting is an important strategy for motivating students and raising their achievement. Done correctly, it will empower your students, giving them ownership and voice over their learning. For more on how I set goals with students, check out these blog posts:
In this blog post, I will go into detail about how to write S.M.A.R.T. goals with students. S.M.A.R.T. goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-based. That simple recipe can result in very strong goals that will motivate your students! At the bottom of this post you will find the video that I use to present S.M.A.R.T. Goals to my students. Add it to your Edpuzzle account – it’s just about 3 minutes long and packed with great information for students!
First, feel free to download this free SMART Goal template from my TPT store. The template walks students through the acronym and gives a sample goal. Using the template for your first lesson makes setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals a piece of cake! And if you need Data Tracking and Goal Setting Sheets, check out this Student Data Binder, which includes more than 110 Students Sheets to bring goals and data tracking to your classroom!
S = Specific
The first part of the acronym stands for specific. I find that students often make goals like, “I want to be a better reader” or “I want to get a higher grade”. Neither of those goals are specific, and so, most likely, the student will fail. What, exactly, does a student need to do to improve in reading? Are they struggling to decode multi-syllabic words? Are they reading slowly and losing meaning? Do they need more practice with inferential thinking? To be effective, a goal should be very specific. That is the reason that I DON’T set goals in the first month of school. First, we have to gather data. Then, we use the data to pinpoint a Specific area for improvement.
M = Measurement
A goal must be measurable, or the student will not know if they’ve succeeded. Measurable does not always mean percentages, though. For example, in my classroom, students often set goals around reading new genre or a certain number of books. Those are very worthwhile goals, and likely to lead to improved reading achievement. And they are completely measurable, although not a percentage or a score. In Math, my students often set a goal around time spent practicing. For example, one student set a goal of doing Multiplication by Heart at least 20 times in the month of December. I can’t wait to get back to school and find out if she met her goal! If she did, she is sure to improve in her mastery of multiplication facts!
A = Achievable
I often find that students set really large, exciting goals. For example, this year one student said they wanted to read 100 chapter books. When I asked them how many books they read last year, they thought the number was 12 books. So, I asked them if they thought 100 was achievable. Together, we decided to see if they could read 10 books in October, and they did! The student felt excited, I felt excited, and in one month they read almost as many books as they had in an entire year. That is a win! By helping them find an achievable goal, I helped that student find success! (They went on to read 11 books in November!)
R = Relevant
A common mistake I see in this category is students making a goal around increasing their reading level. The truth is, that goal is not relevant to them. While you, the teacher, know that they need to increase their fluency and comprehension by practicing their inference skills in order to reach the next level, the student does not know that. Changing reading levels is a mystery to students (and probably to parents). As teachers, we go to college to learn that type of information, but the student does not have our advantage. So, the goal needs to be relevant to the student. This also ties into being Specific. Relevant goals for students center around discrete skills or tasks, like mastering the multiplication facts, using more dialogue in their narrative writing and reading more non-fiction texts.
T = Time-based
A goal has a start and stop time. Period. This is usually pretty easy for students to understand. In my classroom, we generally set monthly goals. I find that a month is a short enough time period that students will maintain their enthusiasm and focus on the goals. But, it is a long enough time period that students can see important growth. I think quarters or trimesters also work well for goal setting time periods.
S.M.A.R.T. Goals have been such a motivator for many of my students. Use the FREE Goal Setting Student Sheet and give them a try in your classroom. I think you’ll find that, when students set meaningful goals, they generally achieve them and learning happens!
And check out this video from Ms. Cotton’s Corner on YouTube! It’s perfect for teaching students about S.M.A.R.T. Goals! Enjoy!
In my last post, I gave you some strategies for dusting off all those Google Slides you made/borrowed/bought during distance learning. Now that you are back in the classroom, they still have a place! But of course, being back in person means we have the opportunity to use Task Cards again, so this post will feature my favorite ways to use them.
Why use Task Cards?
Anytime you are planning to use a work sheet, ask yourself if you could use Task Cards instead. Task Cards give students the opportunity to move around the classroom, to collaborate, to spend time with a concept or breeze through more quickly. A worksheet is more static and less dynamic. So, if you can use Task Cards, you will most likely increase student engagement, and we all know that minds on means more learning!
I use Task Cards:
To give students extra practice with a skill.
To give students choice.
To review before a test.
To get kids using target vocabulary and communicating about Big Ideas!
Anytime I want students to be engaged and on task!
So, here are some of the ways I like to use Task Cards in my classroom!
This is a simple way to use Task Cards and get kids moving. This strategy works great for math problems or vocabulary words. It’s perfect for these Wander Words Task Cards.
To use this strategy, simply tape the Task Cards around the room, and even out the door and down the hall. Space them a few feet apart. Then, give kids their Recording Sheet and set them loose. This strategy works great for collaboration. I often pair students up with two Recording Sheets and ask them to agree on the answers.
One thing that is great about this strategy is that the kids can go in any order, so there is no congestion. Another thing I love about this strategy is that there is built-in differentiation. I organize the Task Cards strategically, and then I start the students strategically. For example, I might put the Task Cards in order from simplest to most difficult. Then, I start students who are struggling with the first Task Card and more confident learners with the Task Cards in the middle. As students rotate, they are appropriately challenged.
A Scavenger Hunt can be a fun way to keep kids engaged. If the Task Cards don’t include a Scavenger Hunt, it is easy to add one. Simply find a riddle (check out a book in the library or the internet for TONS of riddles) and then put one letter of the answer on each Task Card. As students solve the problem, the answers to the questions spell out the answer to the riddle.
What’s great about this strategy is how fun it is – I love it when kids laugh in the classroom! Students do not need to solve the Task Cards in order, and it can be helpful to have them start at different places in the Scavenger Hunt so that they are not bottlenecked at one Task Card. This strategy works great with a partner, and it is self-checking! If students have the answer to the riddle, they have the correct solutions to the problems!
These Task Cards have a Scavenger Hunt all ready to use! You can get them as a printable, use them in EASEL, or grab the Google Slides version! Click to grab them on TPT.
This is another fun way to get the kids to use the Task Cards. Students feel like this is a game, and the Task Cards do the moving, which is fun for the kids. You will need to make several copies of the cards – enough so that each student will have one card. I really like Scoot as a test review the day before.
Students sit in a large circle with their Recording Sheet on a clipboard. You could also have them sit in table groups.
They begin with one card and solve the problem.
Set a timer for two minutes. At the end of the timer, the task card SCOOTS to the right, and students get two minutes to respond to a new challenge.
This is a quick strategy, and sometimes students don’t finish in time, which can be frustrating for some students. Adjust the timer appropriately for your students and the task on the card.
Students do not need to finish every card, so you can strategically arrange the cards to differentiate for your students.
It is helpful to go over the correct answers so that students get immediate feedback.
These Task Cards give you a double whammy – learning important content and practicing prefixes at the same time! They work great for Scoot, or for your favorite Task Card strategy.
This is another great strategy for reviewing before the test. For this strategy, students work in pairs to solve problems. You will need enough copies of the Task Cards for each pair of students.
Pair students, putting together one confident student and one that is still struggling to master the content. One student will be the coach and the other will be the “athlete”. The athlete has the pencil and the coach has the Task Card. The coach reads the Task Card to the athlete. The athlete has to solve the problem. The coach checks for accuracy, encourages the athlete and gives suggestions, but not the answer.
Then, the athlete brings the problem to the teacher to check. If they have the right answer, the teacher gives them a new Task Card, and they become the coach for the other student. If they don’t have the right answer, the teacher asks them to to try again.
Student keep switching back and forth until they’ve solved the problems and reviewed for the test.
These Task Cards also have a Scavenger Hunt, but they work great for a Relay! Students work together to solve word problems and tasks related to volume.
Small Group – Intervention and Extension
Task Cards work great when you are working with a small group. I used these Task Cards at the beginning of the year to review 4th grade place value concepts for my fifth graders. The 40 Task Cards provided plenty of variety and challenge for the different levels of my students.
If you have a good set of Task Cards with a good variety, you can easily use them for Small Groups. I sort the Task Cards in advance by challenge level. Then, I group my students according to their level. With some groups I use mostly the easier Task Cards, and with other groups I use the more difficult problems. A good set of Task Cards can easily give me a week’s worth of Small Group lesson plans!
These are my favorite ways to use Task Cards in my classroom. I hope you give one of these ideas a try and find that it helps engage your students and leads to learning!