Category Archives: organization

12 Classroom Tips for New Teachers … if you were a fly on my wall!

Tips for New Teachers

If you were a fly on my classroom wall here are some ideas that you would see me sharing with some of the student teachers who have volunteered in my classroom:

1. Plan ahead … overplan.

2. Teach children a “Morning Routine” that works for you right from Day 1.
Be consistent in its application! Mine is as follows:

  1. Entre the room and hang up your belongings.
  2. Hand in your homework.
  3. Place a ruler, pencil, eraser & highlighter on your desk.
  4. Out to play.

3. If students are leaving the room for gym, music, recess, etc. have them prepare for the next class with you before leaving the room. For example, if Math is the next class that you have with them have them put their rulers, pencils, erasers, highlighters, geometry sets, notebooks, textbooks, etc. (whatever they may need) on their desks prior to exiting the room.

4. Post the class timetable, routines, rules where they can be easily seen. Students perform better in a structured, predictable, safe environment where daily routines and expectations are clear. That being said if and when plans change, be sure to alert them to this.

5. Be strict but fair. Be forgiving … but don’t be soft. be their teacher not their “friend”. (Note: As silly as it may sound, I repeat this phrases often, especially at the beginning of every term: “I am strict, but fair.” The power of suggestion is truly amazing!)

6. When I challenge my students, when I demand more of them, I always tell them that: “I never ask you to do something that I don’t think you can do.”

7. Always remember to give students “processing time”. (I dare say it: I don’t know a single soul who likes to be “put on the spot”.)

8. Teach “active listening”. Be specific!  Teach “active reading”. Be specific!

9. Introduce, model and practice a reading comprehension strategy: Read the questions prior to reading the passage/story. Highlight key words, words that will appear in the response. In this way student will know what they are looking for and are able to highlight/mark the “answer” when they reach it. (This is one form of active reading.)

10. When using cue cards (ie study cards) make sure to have your students divide the cards into two piles with students: 1. The “I know pile” & 2. “The “I don’t know yet” pile. Study only the ones they need to learn. (It is so tempting to include the cards we already know as it “feels good” to get the answers right … but it is really just a waste of time.

11. When introducing manipulatives, iPad apps, etc. always allow students to “play with it first” in order to get “that” out of their system. When it then comes time to use it for educational purposes they will be ready to roll.

12. When feeling overwhelmed (and yes there will be those days!) do something about it. For example, I write down 6 things that I want to accomplish on a given day in order of importance. I figure that if I cross off the first three I’m good!


My Top Picks: Activities & Approaches that Rocked Our First Term!

My Top Picks:
Activities & Approaches that Rocked Our First Term!

Always Give Away the Ending
I start every unit in Social Studies & Science by “giving away the ending”. For example, when introducing our unit on Ancient Egypt we read a short article (or watch a video, read a picture book) all about life during that time: the roles of men, women & children, the foods they ate, where they lived, their kings & queens, religion, gods and goddesses, rituals, etc. We then discuss interesting facts (i.e. the fact that only boys were allowed to go to school) and “play with” the topic for a day or so. This introduction peaks their interest and serves as a foundation to build upon.

Choice is Choice
This year I have provided more “choice” than ever …. my students loved it … & I loved it. This approach allowed students the opportunity to build on their strengths while learning about and addressing their needs. With this apporach there is a true sense of ownership, interest, engagement and enthusiasm.
For example, upon finishing both class novels this term (The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick & The Iron Man: A Children’s Story in Five Nights is a 1968 novel written by British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes) students were provided with a “menu” of final assignments to choose from. Some excellent examples of project menus are as follows: 1. Book Projects 2. Final Novel Projects 3. 91 Ways to Respond to Literature  4. Novel: Tic Tac Toe

Project & Inquiry Based Learning
Love it(!) and I am excited to do more, more, more!
To learn more check out:

The Teach & Tell
A “Teach and Tell” requires that students teach their classmates about something that is of interest to them.  Much like “Show and Tell” this activity provides students with an opportunity to share individual areas of expertise/interest. It encourages students to make organized, engaging oral presentations, while developing effective speaking and listening skills. The Teach and Tell is also a great way to increase class interconnectedness as students learn important things about one another’s interests and skills.

Blogging Rocks!
This was the first year that I had my students blogging … & we all loved it! I used There’s nothing jazzy or fancy about this site … but it is easy to navigate and it is super secure: and that’s all that really matters to me.
The Benefits of Student Blogging include:
-Authenticity – authentic writing for authentic audiences;
-Affordability – is for example is free;
-Builds confidence as students shine, share & respond;
-Carries across the curriculum;
-Collaborative discussions as students respond to & learn from one another;
-Communication skills – writing for an audience necessitates & builds effective communication skills;
-Connections between students & classes, between home & school;
-Develops higher order thinking skills (as students write, read, reflect & respond).

Hot Penning Please
Three times a week I set our timer for 5 minutes. When I say “Go!” my students write and write and write. They write about whatever comes into their heads. They might write a story, a memory, a poem or a stream of consciousness. The “deal is” that they can’t lift their pencil from the paper! My students just love this opportunity “free write”. They tell me that “it’s fun!” and that “it feels like a game!” On occasion we go back to highlight favourite passages, sentences or ideas to use as a springboard for longer, more formal pieces.
Check out:

Strategy Driven
It’s so important for my students to learn about and play with different strategies. I want them to build on their strengths (e.g. know what works for them) and addresses their needs. I want them to understand how to listen and read for meaning,  how to answer comprehension questions, how to study smart, how to write a test, how to problem solve, etc.
For some tools of the trade check out:
Test Taking Tips:
Active Listening Skills:
Writing Strategies:
Math Problem Solving: ;

Picture Books in the Grade 5 Classroom
I love reading, exploring and sharing picture books with my Grade 5 students. I use them in all(!) subject areas: Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, etc. They are quite simply a fantastic resource.

Class Meetings Building a Classroom Community
Class Meetings are just that: A time for students to sit and discuss issues that speak to them. They are student directed and teacher facilitated. The agenda is set by the group and depends on the group’s various interests, needs and concerns at any one time.

Learning Logs
Learning Logs develop metacognitive skills, guide my teaching practice, and provide yet another authentic assessment tool. Learning Logs are classroom journals. Students use them in order to keep honest and reflective records of their understanding of subject areas in the classroom (e.g. Math, Science, Social Studies, Writing Workshop, Reading, etc.).
Read more here:

Home Journals: Authentic Writing & Communication Between Home & School
Every Friday students write letters home to their parents about their week. Home Journals help to answer the age-old “dinner table question”, “What did you do at school this week?”. These journals also provide parents, students and teachers with weekly examples/snapshots of individual writing skills development.

Well, although I am sure that there are more …. these are my top picks for our First Term/2011 in Grade 5!
What are some of your “hot picks” in your classroom? I would love to know!


Getting Through the School Day – The Impact & Importance of Executive Function

Getting Through the School Day – The Impact & Importance of  Executive Function

The other day I had a meeting with a mum and dad to address the fact that their child struggles in the area of executive function. I wanted to explain the concept and how it translates into the classroom. I also wanted to discuss what I was doing to address the issue.

Now, I have to admit that the concept of executive function has always seemed surprisingly illusive to me, and therefore difficult to grasp. Here is my understanding of what executive function is …
As best I can make out: Executive function is that “thing” within each of us that regulates other behaviours and abilities. (Now you can’t get much more general than that!) 
At a much more concrete level, executive function affects/influences the following (and more!):
  • organization
  • focus
  • the ability to process information
  • the ability to ask for help when necessary
  • planning and problem solving skills 
  • the ability to anticipate outcomes
  • impulse control/self-regulation
  • ability to stay on task 
  • flexibility/adaptability
  • time management skills
  • memory and study skills 
  • homework organizational skills & completion
Not surprisingly therefore, a student’s ability to function in the classroom is significantly impacted by an impairment in this area.
The question then becomes, what to do … How do I as the teacher best address the student’s needs? How do I increase his/her level of confidence, independence and sense of accomplishment?
I have worked hard to meet the needs of this child. Not surprisingly, any changes that were made to my classroom routine benefited everyone! Now that was an added bonus!!!
I have outlined my approach below. You will see that I have divided my approach into three categories:
(A) Before school 
(B) During the school day 
(C) At the end of the day.
I hope that this article (the definition & suggestions) proves helpful … and I would certainly welcome (now that’s an understatement!) any advice and support in this area.
Strategies to To Increase Independence / Executive Function:
(A) Before the day begins:

– Take some time every day to prepare for the day ahead. Let the student know what’s ahead. Surprisingly this only takes a few minutes, and saves everyone time and stress as the day progresses.
– create a checklist for the day
– organize materials (e.g. desks, pencils, rulers, erasers, highlighters, books, etc.)
– Approach the day thinking: “Structure & Love” (that’s my mantra!)
(B) During the school day:

– Post the class time table in a highly visible area of the room. Refer to it often.
– Stick to a predicable routine (well, as much as is possible). If something “changes” try to let the student know ahead of time.
– Minimize clutter
– Introduce each lesson clearly. Use visual aids.
– Teach readiness for, and notebook page set up for all classes – keep it the same!
– Break down tasks into manageable units; Check in with the student at various stages to ensure for understanding.
– Instructions and commands should be clear and very specific. Reference every step. Stop, look and listen.
– Allow for “processing” time. Allow time for instructions to sink in. Encourage subvocalization when appropriate.
– Incorporate a lot of review & repetition
– Try strategies in the classroom such as colour coding (or highlighting) information/assignments.
– Try colour coding “Hilroy” notebooks (e.g. Math notebooks are green, Spelling notebooks are yellow, reading comprehension notebooks are blue, etc.)
– Check in with the student on a regular basis.
– Help the student to maintain organized notebooks and binders.
(C) At the end of the day:

– Organize & review homework expectations
– Use an agenda/daily calendar
– Make prioritized lists
– Conduct desk check/clean-up
– Conduct notebook/binder checks to keep materials organized
– Organize backpack & locker
– Clean classroom/work space
– Partner with parents. Share successes as well as areas of need. Bring as many classroom routines/suggestions as possible into the household. Encourage feedback. Together is better!

>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!)

>Learning Logs: Develop Metacognitive Skills, Guide Teaching, Provide Authentic Assessment

>Why I Love Learning Logs

Looking for another way to improve students’ metacognitive skills/abilities? (e.g.
Looking for another way to connect with students? For another way to reflect on/guide your teaching in the classroom? For another means of authentic assessment?

Try using Learning Logs in the classroom!

(A) What they are:
1. Learning Logs are classroom journals.
2. They are diaries of a sort. 
3. They are used by students to keep and honest and reflective record of their understanding of subject areas (e.g. Math, Science, Social Studies, Writing Workshop, Reading, etc.).
4. They are notebooks in which to record their thoughts, observations, questions and concerns.
5. They are flexible: to be used in all subject areas.
6. They are “kid friendly”: children can “write” what they know; “draw” what they know; “list” what they know; “web” what they know; “diagram” what they know; etc. Often students choose the format for their response (e.g. paragraphs, webs, lists, graphs, charts,pictures, diagrams, etc.) (When they choose the format that is most comfortable for them I get a better sense of what they do and do not understand.)

(B) The goals:
1. The goal is for students to become increasingly responsible for their own learning …. to become constructive, reflective thinkers/learners.
2. The goal is for me, as the teacher, to be “in the loop” with regard to what my students strengths and needs are, and to adjust my program accordingly!

(C) Be a fly on my classroom wall: The Latest Learning Log Entries in My Classroom
1. Explain the process of long division (… most students created diagrams … lots of numbers, words & arrows!)
2. Compare your life to the lives of children in Ancient Egypt ( … most students created a Venn Diagram …)
3. Explain the digestive system (… most students created diagrams.)
4. What test taking strategies have worked best for you so far this year? Explain your answer. (… formats varied.)

(D) Why I love them:
I love Learning Logs for all sorts of reasons.
The three main reasons I use them are as follows:
1. They encourage students to reflect upon, to think about what they know and why/how they know what they know. Heightens their metacognitive skills (see
2. They help guide my teaching. Student entries get me thinking about my practice: What is working in the classroom? What am doing right? What do I need to change about my lessons/program? What do my students understand? What concepts are they having difficulty with? Who has well developed metacognitive skills?)
3. They are another means of authentic assessment


(E) Interested in learning more?

Back to School Tips

January: Back to School

Well, that’s it!
The Winter Break is over.
It’s back to school!
… bearing this in mind, I have decided to throw down some back to school tips! Let’s set everyone up for success!

… Now, before I begin please note that what follows is just some of what would/could be done in a perfect world. It is a “wish list” of sorts.
Have a look at my suggestions and then be realistic … just do what you can. (You may even be doing most or all of this already!)

Look at the list and decide what may, and may not work for you and your family.
No two families are ever exactly alike, and so no two routines are ever exactly alike.
Again, just find what works for you.

& so with that … read on!

All the best to you and your family in 2010 & beyond!

Back to School Tips & Strategies:

1. An Individual Homework Agenda:
If your child doesn’t have one already, run out and get one! It’s the best thing ever!
If possible have your child come along to choose it with you. After all it belongs to her and you want her to love it and use it daily. For younger children, explain that this is a very special, grown-up thing to have, and that she’s ready for it. She is ready to take charge of recording her daily life!
She will need to record her daily homework, as well as both short term and long term assignments therein. She can record field trips, PD Days, birthdays, etc.
Buy stickers, coloured pencils, whatever makes her happy. This is her book!
Note: Before beginning have your child tell you how and when she is going to record her information. Come up with a routine and a pattern (e.g. If possible colour-coding is a great idea. Math should always be written in blue, parties & birthdays in pink, etc.). As a parent read and initial the book every night.

2. One Super Large Calendar:
Have a large calendar posted in a highly visible area of you home. Record everything: school related, family related (e.g. birthdays, playdates). Refer to it often. Encourage your child to do all/some of the recording. Again, colour coding is useful when possible.

3. The Night Before (when & if possible):
a) What is your child going to wear on the first day? Let her choose. Lay it out. All of it. (Put your foot down if the outfit is inappropriate, otherwise let her express herself.)
b) Have your child pack her school bag. Make sure that she has a small pencil case, paper and her agenda at all times. Leave it by the door.
c) Pack lunch the night before. Don’t forget to pack an extra snack and drink. Also check labels carefully to ensure that no foods were packaged in a facilitate that isn’t nut-free. Another great suggestion is to write little notes and leave them in her lunchbox to find/read when she gets to school. Tell her how much you love her and how proud you are of her. It’s true after all! She’ll love it!
d) Finally, review your family’s morning routine with your child. What time is she getting up? Does she get dressed before or after breakfast? What time do you need to be out the door? This is one area that you need to have control over as the parent. Let her know that this is the way that things are going to be done, and why.

4. Set the Tone:
a) Be enthusiastic! Fake it if you have to! Who cares. Just so long as your child believes that you are excited for her. School is great! She is going to see her friends and teachers. She’s going to be learning new and exciting things, etc. Be specific whenever possible. Does she love Math? Maybe she’s learning long-division! Does she love Science? Maybe she’s going to be doing some amazing hands-on experiments! Does she love Reading? What stories and novels will she be reading this year? Whatever she loves! Whatever makes her happy!
b) Set some goals for the new term. Her goals might be academic, e.g. To write the best speech ever! Her goals might be extra curricular: Join a new sports team, a club, try out for the school play. Her goals might be social: Set up more play dates. Her goals might be personal: Help around the house or the classroom more. She might try to do one good deed a week or be nicer to her siblings.
*Note: Although it seems obvious, make certain that your child sets realistic goals for herself. Make sure that her goals are attainable, and then do whatever you can to set your child up for success!

So, as stated above, this is really just a “wish list” outlining some of the things that you can put into place in order to set your child up for success.
Take from it what you will, and then throw a lot of love and structure into the mix!

Happy New Year!

>MATH: How to Solve Word Problems

Break it down … Keep it clean & simple!

highlighters, pencils, erasers, rulers, Math notebook (graph/grid paper)

Step 1:
Read the questions carefully. Do you understand the vocabulary?
Do you understand what’s being asked?

Step 2:
Highlight the question & the important information (data).

Step 3:
Using your ruler, draw a line through the information that you don’t need.

Step 4:
(A) Copy the question (exactly as it appears) into your notebook.
e.g. “How many CDs does Simon have?”

Step 5:
(B) Copy the information/data into your notebook.
Use point form. Keep it simple!

Step 6:
(C) Choose an operation and solve. Now reflect/estimate: Does your answer “look right”?

Step 7:
(D) Rewrite the answer the form of a statement.
e.g. “Simon has 68 CDs.”

Now try it on your own!

A Word of Advice:
I encourage you to copy, print & paste these instructions into your child’s math notebook. Posting these steps on the wall in your child’s homework area is a great idea too!