Are You Being Helpful or Harmful?

It’s time for change once again.

Yes…change. Again.

Y’all…this year has just been a year of constant change. Change in the structure of our class time. Change in student grouping. Change in staff. Lots of change.

Let me start by saying I have some AH-mazing kiddos. Some of them have….LOTS of energy. And when I say LOTS, I mean like ants in our pants energy.

I just felt like so much information was being lost because many kids just aren’t wired to pay attention for long periods of time without having behavior issues. So what did I do? I went to see Gretchen Bernabei for some tips.


IMG_5453Let me also say that I’ve tried so many different things…and I just felt like I had tried every trick in my hat and was grasping at straws to find something that worked for these kiddos.

Well…Gretchen came to my rescue with a plan she used with her high schoolers who had lots of energy. It’s very simple, but…oh. my. goodness. Last week was my best week so far with my kids.

I had a class roster (4 of them…since I teach 4 classes of writing) already done and printed, so I just used that one. I’ll be creating one that is much nicer, but I wanted to see if it was going to work before putting lots of effort into creating totally new ones.

We started by talking as a class (EVERY class) about how every decision we make in class is either helpful or hurtful/harmful to both you as the individual and to those around you in your classroom community. Then I told them that I would be watching and documenting their choices.

These choices would become a daily grade for the week. They earn up to 20 points a day for a total of 100 by Friday. Basically…if they pay attention, do their work, ask questions, and participate in whole group and small group discussions, they get a 100 in the grade book for the week.

I told them to think of it like a balance. If you have more helpful points (dots) for the day, you get 20 points. If they are equal, you get 10 points. If you ended up with more harmful than helpful, then you get 0 points for the day.

IMG_5436So the kids are totally in control of their grade. But just because they made one or two or even a few bad decisions in class doesn’t mean that it is totally ruined. They have every opportunity to tip the scale back in their favor by getting back on track and making more helpful decisions.

When students participated in small group discussions, they received a dot. When they raised their hand, they received a dot. When they followed directions the first time, they got a dot. ANYTHING they did that I wanted them to do…they got a dot for being helpful.

When students didn’t follow directions the first time or blurted out or started talking while someone else was talking…dun, dun, dun…they received a harmful dot. And they didn’t like it ONE bit!

I layered this with a whole class incentive as well. If all but two students or less in the class receive more helpful than harmful marks, they earn 15 minutes of game time for Friday. They can earn 15 minutes Monday through Thursday, for a total of 60 minutes on Friday, our whole class time.

And wow. Class participation increased significantly. TRYING increased significantly. On-task behaviors increased significantly. And just like that, we had MORE learning, MORE discussion, MORE ownership, and MORE time for fun!


Now these are educational games, of course! But oh man…these kids ate it up! They were SO excited to play a revising and editing game for most of our class time. (We had to finish up a warm-up really quick at the beginning of class…but they didn’t even complain because they knew they got to play games the rest of the time!)

If you’re looking for some revising and editing games, you can find some here.


These girls just melted my heart after their game. They put their hands in and congratulated each other for a good game and answering questions correctly. How sweet is that?!?!

Anyway…last week was awesome. I feel like we are making huge gains. I gave an exit ticket with a question modeled after a STAAR question for combining sentences…and it was NOT easy…and I only had 9 out of 98 get the incorrect answer. I’m calling that a huge win!

And I feel like I owe it to this new system.

It’s not punitive. It’s not complicated. But EVERY student gets recognized for positive choices. They see me smiling and putting down dots when they share with their group for the first time. They know that I see them raising their hand, following directions, and helping out their peers. And they are doing a LOT more learning.

I think sometimes we get so caught up in making sure we cram every single little piece of information into our kids as possible that we don’t stop to notice all the things they ARE doing right. We focus too much on how Johnny didn’t pass his benchmark and Kacey didn’t use her strategies and Bill just doesn’t care…and we just forget about all the good things our kids are or could be doing if we just encouraged more of that and recognized it in some way.

If you’re having trouble with some kids and feel like maybe you could use a “reset,” try this out. You might just be surprised what can happen! I know I was!! 😉

Until next time…



Scratch Off Tickets in Elementary?

Can scratch-off tickets be used to encourage positive behavior in an elementary classroom? You bet! No, not your traditional lottery scratch-offs. Handmade scratch-offs with rewards.

I got this idea off of Pinterest, of course. All you need is some card stock, lamination or wide clear tape, and some acrylic paint.


Just print out some reward tickets like the ones shown above. Laminate them or cover them with tape, and then spread dark acrylic paint over the reward section.

You now have yourself an awesome way to help students make better choices or a reward for great work.

The reward that my students are loving this year is the positive visit to the principal and the text your parents reward. Prize box? Eh. Texting their parents at school seems pretty cool. :)


Have fun!


How Expectations Can Manipulate Success


For those of you who don’t know, I’m teaching math again this year after taking on Reading and Writing for the past three years.  Teaching math is a little stressful intimidating when your passion is in language arts.  BUT–I’m putting on a smile and doing my best.

Last Friday, I gave an assessment on rounding.  My students have been doing so well that I just skipped that crucial piece of giving assessments: expectations.  Yep, I just gave out the test, reminded the students to put their name and date at the top and put it in the turn-in basket when they were finished.  The students put their name and date on it.  They took the test.  They turned it in.  They failed.

Or was it me who failed?

After stressing agonizing over the tremendous failure rate (to the tune of 17 out of a class of 22), I started to think.  Why did they fail?  Was it because I stink at teaching math?  Was it because they really didn’t know the material?  Was it because they were tired?  Why?

Then my brain turned on.  I didn’t see that they had shown their work.  I didn’t see that they had circled important information in the question.  They hadn’t labeled their numbers.  We did all of these things during our lessons and in their stations, but I didn’t see it on their tests.  Why?  Because I didn’t set up those expectations.

I’m all about giving my students a fair chance, so on Monday morning I spoke with several people about the problem and we came up with a simple solution.  Give the test again, but set up the expectations before allowing the students to begin.

So I did.  I told my students EXACTLY what I wanted to see on their assessment–all of the things mentioned above.  I told them that I expected nothing less.

Again, the students took the test.  They turned them in.  They succeeded!

First Round (Class #1): 2 100’s/17 60’s or below        First Round (Class #2): 2 100’s/16 60’s or below

Second Round (Class #2): 7 100’s/6 60’s or below     Second Round (Class #2): 9 100’s/6 60’s or below

A lesson on how expectations can manipulate success slapped me in the face.  Setting up expectations truly is VITAL to student success.  Students have to be reminded of what teachers expect out of them.  They have to know that it is not O.K. to settle for mediocrity.  We expect the best.  We expect them to try.  Most of all, we expect them to succeed.

**Oh, and this week, all but 4 (from both classes together) passed their end-of-week assessment.  :)


Teacher Week 2013: 5 Tips & Tricks of Teaching

I’m linking up with Blog Hoppin’ again for the last linky party of the week.

Teacher Week

Today’s topic is tips and tricks that teachers use to help get us through those first few weeks of school.  Some of these things last all year, of course, but others are implemented at the beginning of the year for the most part.

photo 11. Social Contracts:  On the first day of school, I always create a social contract with each group of students.  I don’t like to give rules to my students.  Instead, I let them set the rules, and social contracts make this go much smoother.  I’ve found that the students are actually harder on themselves than I ever would be, and they always come up with the same rules that I would give them, but just worded in their own words.  For more information on how to manage this activity and some of the thinking behind it, click here –> Social Contracts.

2. Build the Climate: I like to have several class building and team building activities for the first few weeks.  Even though these students have been in school together for awhile, there are always new students that move in and others that are very shy and need help getting to know the other students in the room.  Kagan is a WONDERFUL resource for these activities.  My favorites are inside/outside circle, 4 corners, and think-pair-share.  I try to sprinkle these throughout the day.

3. Hand Shakes: Many teachers (and the school nurse) think I am absolutely crazy for shaking my students’ hands when they walk into my room every day, but I don’t care.  Teaching in a school with 78% of students coming from a low socioeconomic background means teaching things that aren’t on “the list.”  Shaking hands is a lifelong skill that these kids need to learn.  I think it also helps build that positive climate that we are all wanting.20130731-174532.jpg  For more information about this and the workshop where the idea was presented, click here –> Capturing Kids’ Hearts.

4. The Safe Place: In the back of my room is a special place where students can always go if they are angry, sad, or upset.  It’s nothing fancy, but a place for students to be away from all other students when they need it the most.  There are several ways to go about setting this up in your own classroom, and you just have to do what works for you.  I choose to put a bed pillow on the floor with a seat cushion and lots of stuffed animals to hug.  For more information on how to manage and implement your own “Safe Place,” click here –> The Safe Place.

5. Organization: One of the BEST ways to waste less time and get more bang for your buck is by staying organized.  This is where I have the most trouble.  I don’t have a problem starting the year organized, it’s keeping it that way!  I’m getting better and better at it, and this year I WILL stay organized all year.

Oh, and one more thing: KEEP SMILING!! The best medicine for any situation is a smile.  Breathe, relax, and remember: “This, too, shall pass!”  :)

Do you have any additional thoughts?  I would love to hear from you!

I wish all of you the best of luck beginning a new school year!

teacherweek2Head over to Blog Hoppin‘ for additional tips and tricks!


Back To School Forms: Getting To Know You (Student Survey)

Getting to know youNext up is a student survey.  I like to get to know my students on a deeper level than some, so I created a student survey for the students to fill out during the first week of school.  The survey also serves as a conversation piece when it comes to writing.  I get so tired of students telling me that they have nothing to write about, so this is another way to conjure some ideas out of them!  To download the file, click here –> Getting to Know You.


The Safe Place

The Safe Place is just that…safe. Safe from people being bothersome. Safe from people talking. Safe from harm.

I have a special place in my classroom where students may go when they feel angry, sad, or upset. It’s a comfortable space in the back of the room that is still visible to me, but not in the line of sight of any other students.

Have you ever had that kid that always came into your room in a bad mood? Or the one who gets upset after recess? Or that other one that gets frustrated with everything his neighbor does or says? Yep, we all experience some sort of issue throughout the course of the year. Let me tell you, my friends, the Safe Place is a great way for students to get away from peers or other issues that are bothering them.

Here’s how it works. As a class, we talk about the Safe Place on the very first day of school. We talk about the rules of the Safe Place. 1. You may go there ONLY when you are angry, sad, or upset. It is not a place to relax and read or play with anything that belongs there. 2. You still have to pay attention and listen. I will not directly call on a student who is in the safe place, but work is still expected to be completed. 3. This is NOT a permanent seat, and the goal is to transition back to your desk within 10 minutes. (Of course, there are always extenuating circumstances)

Some teachers think that I’m crazy for having such a place in my room, but it has worked miracles for some kids!! And I always hear, “Oh, my kids would just always go there or would abuse it.” All I have to say to that is, if you set up the expectations early and stick to it, they won’t. In 6 years I’ve never has a student abuse it.

This, coupled with the Social Contract, is a great way to manage an effective classroom with a positive atmosphere.

Try it. What have you got to lose? 😉