Monthly Archives: November 2010

>Organizing Homework Agendas

>Helping Students Organize Homework Agendas

Homework agendas are used in schools everywhere.
– They serve as an excellent means of communication between home and school.
– They encourage students to:
            a) become increasingly responsible for their own learning.
            b) develop time management skills
            c) develop of overall organizational skills

It is important as teachers to take the time to teach our students to use their agendas effectively.
Routines and expectations should be set firmly in place at the beginning of the school year and monitored closely.

& so … If you were a fly on my classroom wall you would seeing me putting the following into place.


Awesome Agendas:

1. Read & Post:
Read & post homework assignments every day.
Do this at the same time every day.
Present it in the same format every day.
Colour code subjects.
Give ample time for students to both record the information & ask questions.

2. Rank & Order:
Have students number each assignment in order of “attack”, e.g. what is to be done first, second, third, etc. each night. I usually have students put a #1 beside the one that they think will take them the least amount of time to complete, and so forth … leaving the most difficult/longest task to the very end.
In doing “the easiest tasks” first they gain  sense of accomplishment every night. They gain confidence. They also don’t waste valuable time mulling over more difficult assignments.

3. Timing:
Have students estimate how long it will take them to complete each activity. Record the estimated number of minutes beside each entry. This is especially helpful when I have students who really struggle when it comes to completing everything in the time allotted. Together we can figure out why and what to do about it. We can make any necessary accommodation or modifications.

4. Colour Coding:
Highlight any tests (e.g. yellow), trips (e.g. blue), projects due dates (e.g. orange), special days (e.g. red), etc … e.g. colour code “The Biggies”.

5. Check & Sign:
As the teacher ensure that everything has been recorded neatly/accurately. Monitor for understanding and sign.
Ensure that parents sign the agendas every night.

6. Homework Buddies:
I also ave students record the names & phone numbers of three Homework Buddies in the front of their agendas. Homework Buddies are just that: Friends to contact if they are unsure about, or are having difficulty with an assignment.

(I hope you find one or two of these ideas useful … please forward any of your own! What works for you? Cheers!)

Memory Strategies to Use in the Classroom

Identified as Having a Weak Working Memory?
Memory Aids:  To-dos, Tricks & Techniques

Last week a parent and another teacher both asked me for any “memory strategies” that might be useful at home and in the classroom.
… Here you go!
Memory strategies to use in the classroom:
  • Relate a new concept to something you already know: When you activate prior knowledge the information becomes more meaningful
  • Explain a concept to someone else in your own words
  • Organize facts/concepts into units that make sense
  • Grouping
  • Visualize facts/concepts. Make the picture as creative, colourful, silly or as ridiculous as possible
  • Subvocalization
  • Movement – you may need to activate (e.g. chew gum, walk and learn, walk and rehearse)
  • Elaborative Interrogation: 1) Read fact 2) Turn the fact into a why question 3) Answer the question
  • Webbing, Mind-mapping
  • Mnemonics – teacher or student generated
  • Acronyms – teacher or student generated
  • Linking/Chain Method – link/associate consecutive pairs of items (vivid, unusual, interact)
  • The House Tour Method
  • Make Board Games as a review at the end of a unit
  • Rehearsal – simple repetition
  • Review concepts/ facts ASAP
  • Pair up with a buddy and practice/consolidate
  • Paraphrase as you read. Take notes in the margins, underline, highlight (colour code) and make notes on a Post-It (e.g. SEEDS). Stop & Talk. Act it out.
  • Practice active listening skills 
  • Use Learning Logs
 (For Study Strategies see my last post:

Study Skills & Strategies: Partnering With Your Child’s Teacher

Study Skills & Strategies: Partnering With Your Child’s Teacher
(Parents seeking information)

This week we had parent-teacher interviews at our school.

Now I am not sure how parents feel as they enter our Grade 5 classroom to hear about their child’s experiences as seen through my eyes, but I am always just a little more than on edge. I set up the room so that it is welcoming. I have all my notes and samples of student work. I discuss strengths and needs, and well as goals and “next steps”. Still, I worry that I will forget to say something or that I will somehow put my foot in my mouth. That being said: So far so good! I guess my interview-jitters simply mean that I care … and I do. (Oh, I also have chocolate, water and tissues on the table. To date no one has used the tissues, I don’t like water (don’t ask … I know), and I am the only one who ever eats the chocolate … still … 😉

Anyway, if you had been a fly on my classroom wall last week you would have noted that there were some reoccurring themes. For parents seeking to partner with their child’s teacher (me) there were three questions that were asked over and over again. I have chosen to address “the-third-most-often-asked question” here:

“My child finds studying for tests really difficult, and I don’t know what to do. Is there anything that you can recommend?”

My answer — without hesitation? —>  “Yes!”

Truth be told:
If I ever meet any of my students 2 or 3 years from now and they don’t seem to remember what the ancient Egyptians ate (now I am not really sure why the topic would arise in the first place … surely I am not giving them some kind of random pop quiz in the future)  I really won’t be all that concerned. (“Shhhhhhh…” don’t tell them that now.) If however, I ever meet any of them 2 or 3 years from now and they don’t know how to study for or take a test …? Now THAT would make me sad.

Anyway, for those of you who may be interested, I shared the following suggestions and strategies with the parents. I already use most of them in the classroom so any reinforcement/mirroring at home would be great!

(A) Prior to studying:
1. Understand your goals. Make them as concrete as possible. e.g. “My goal is to study from 7PM to 7:45PM with one 7 minute break at 7:25PM”
2. Be organized. Have a study area all set up ahead of time. Make certain that you have everything you need (whatever that means to you) prior to starting.
3. Be Realistic, Accepting & Optimistic. Accept the fact that studying may in fact be “boring”. Oh well … So you’d rather be playing baseball, watching a movie or reading a good book? It makes no difference. At some point you need to study for that test … So make up your mind to do it and do your very best! Engage in the process with a positive attitude and an open mind. Believe in yourself! You’re great!
3. Know your strategy before starting, e.g. colour coding, flash cards, a buddy-system, etc.
4. Know what you know, and know what you don’t know … and know where to go to fill in any gaps (e.g. a friend, a parent, a sibling, a teacher … ).

(B) Studying:
1. Motion: For some children “motion” when learning is really important. It helps them to activate & stay focussed. Try chewing gum while studying. Try walking and reading your notes out loud.
2. Cue Cards: Make cues cards and play games with them. If you have a friend over take both sets and play “War” or “Concentration”.
3. Cue Cards: I realize that this is common sense but it bares repeating. If you are studying from cue cards make sure to focus on the cards that you are struggling with. Create 2 piles: The “I Know” pile and the “I Don’t Know Yet” pile. Ignore the “I Know” pile for now.
4. Colour: Make a photocopy of your cues cards or notes, and then colour them! Colour coding can be really helpful. Have a pattern or strategy in mind: e.g. all dates are blue, all names are red, all countries are yellow.
5. Draw/Doodle: Draw a picture on each card that relates directly to the concept/fact. If you don’t like drawing try cutting out pictures from magazines and gluing them on. The more effort you put in to making them interesting, clever, silly, &/or detailed the better
6. Mind maps & Webs: Try making webs, mind-maps or some sort of diagram to help you remember facts and concepts.
7. Be the Teacher: Design a test of your own. What questions would you put on the test? What are the answers? Consider giving the test to your parents for example. Let them have a go at it. Give them as much time and support as they need. Once they have returned the test grade it!
8. Know Thyself: If you start to lose your “edge” … that is if you start to get extremely frustrated, anxious, etc. stop. There’s no sense in continuing. Having said that, do not use this as “an out”. Remember, you will have to study at some point, so budget and use your time wisely.

Finally … here are some additional ideas for your consideration:

1. Some people believe that sucking on a peppermint while studying might help you focus. It tastes good, activates your sense and might even might help to clear passages. This means that more oxygen will travel to you brain.
2. Listen to music. Why not try a little Beethoven – both soothing and invigorating.
3. Some research shows that colour helps to boost memory. Bright yellow

& so there you have it!
All that really matters in the end is that you simply find out what works best for you. Mix that understanding with a lot of drive and determination, as well as a positive outlook and see where it takes you! Dive right in! You can do it!


>Writer’s Workshop: Editing My 2nd Draft Checklist (for Students)

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___RE-READ PAPER – use a ruler under each line as you read to help you track
___READ PAPER TO A BUDDY – Get some feedback!
___HIGHLIGHT NOUNS (… then add adjectives?)
___HIGHLIGHT VERBS (choose a different colour… then add adverbs?)
(***Return “conventions” checklist)


>Study Strategies: Tricks of the Trade for Elementary School Students

>Study Strategies: Tricks of the Trade for Elementary School Students

1. Make Cue Cards. Use the cards to play: “War”, “Concentration”, etc.. When your child is studying alone make sure he/she creates 2 piles: the “I already know pile” and the “I need to learn pile”. Don’t spend too much time on the “I already know pile”. Shuffle the pile every once in a while in order to change the order.

2. Chew – Chew your way to the top! Some students just need help to become activated, to focus … a little movement can go a long way! Something as simple as chewing gum might help him/her focus.

3. Walk – Encourage your child to walk while he/she reads/reviews his/her cue cards. Again, a little movement can go a long way!

4. Rainbow – Colour code notes or cue cards. Be creative. Make them look great! Create and follow a pattern or strategy.

5. Draw – draw, doodle, illustrate concepts … Have fun! Cut pictures from magazines and make a collage or two (or ten!). The more meaningful, clever, silly, creative the illustrations the more the concepts will “stick”.

6. Teacher – Ask your child to create, administer and mark a test it for you to take. Let them be “the teacher”!

7. Sing – Take a familiar tune (e.g. “Happy Birthday”, “Twinkle, Twinkle”) and write new words to the song based on the study notes/concepts to be covered.

8. Create – Use well known, or help your child create his/her own mnemonics to help him/her to memorize facts.


Talking to Kids About What Strong Readers Do

Talking to Kids About What Strong Readers Do

Yesterday we set aside a good chunk of time to talk about what strong readers do.

I teach Grade 5 … & I make a point of reading at least one picture book to my students every day.
During each reading I serve as the “model” and we talk about reading with fluency and expression. As we read we stop along the way to reflect & relate. We talk about the author’s purpose, the pictures, the vocabulary, even the choice of font … Picture books are inviting, entertaining, clever, rich, meaningful, bite-size pieces of literature … and serve as a fantastic springboard into any and every topic under the sun … Anyway, during our read alouds there’s certainly a lot of learning that goes on along the way.         

So yesterday, after our read aloud, we made our list of everything that we feel strong readers do. I posted our list on the Smart Board and it looked something like this:

(A) Setting the Stage:
– Set a purpose for reading
– Look at the cover and the pictures inside – make predictions
– Survey: Read the table of contents & the back of the book.
– Survey: Take a good look at and think about the illustrations found inside, the headings, charts, graphs, etc.
– Think about what I already know about the topic
– Think about what might happen in the story
– Think about the author’s purpose

(B) During Reading:
– Think about the author’s purpose
– Stop along the way to “smell the roses”: to comment, discuss
– Think: question, consider, predict, infer, make connections, relate, evaluate,
– Visualize

(C) We decided to save the concept of “After Reading” for another day 😉

Following an energetic discussion I gave my students four graphic organizes to choose from.
Once each child had chosen the one that appealed to him/her they set to work.
Their task was to choose the strategies that they found the most helpful/useful. They were to indicate (using jot notes) why as well.
They also had to identify two strategies to focus on, either because they hadn’t actively done so as yet, or because the strategies work for them and they want to improve.
We glued our graphic organizers into our Learning Logs to be returned to next week.

As their teacher it was a wonderful lesson to engage in … I was so very proud of, and happy for them. I hope that they all see (or will come to see) the benefits of these discussions as well … anyway, only time will tell.