Wednesday, October 2, 2013

3 Strategies to Improve Student Writing Instantly

"But Miss Parrish, I can't think of anything to write!"

Haven't we all heard similar lines in our classrooms? We see hesitant writers sit with a pencil in their hand and a paper on their desk, almost as if they have been handicapped by the task they have been asked to do? 

How is it that some students have so much to say when talking out loud, but when a pencil is put into their hand they suddenly hesitate, struggle and have nothing to say?  How can you help those hesitant writers eliminate the "handicap" or barrier that suddenly appears when asked to write?

The answer is to simply have them produce "writing" without technically "writing" at all. That's right, the way to get hesitant writers to produce as much "writing" as they do "talking" is to have them do exactly that - talk


  1.  Student Talks, Teacher Writes
    • Have your student stand up and you sit in their seat.
    • Pick up their pencil and simply state, "You talk, I'll write."
    • This usually catches students off guard and takes them a minute to realize that this is a real option for them.
  2. Audio Record It 
    • Identify a way that your students can audio record themselves "speaking" their essay rather than "writing" it. This could be a tape recorder, digital audio recorder, student computer with a microphone or even an audio recording feature on your phone.
    • Hand that audio recording device to your student and say, "Step out in the hall and 'write' your essay using this."
    • See confusion, sheer awe, and then signs of relief come over the face of your student.
  3. Audio Transcribe It
    • Identify an app or tool that will transcribe speaking into text. Some options for this are an iPhone 4s, PaperPort Notes (for iPad), Dragon Naturally Speaking, Dictation Pro and Voice Translator. Add one of these to your iPad, tablet or computer. 

Photo Credit:
    • I usually opened a blank email on my iPhone 4s, touched the audio transcription button, handed my phone to my student and said, "Go ahead 'speak' your paper." 
    • Next, see confusion, sheer awe and then signs of complete relief come over your student's face. 
    • After speaking/typing it, the student can simply email the text to themselves and work on their draft from there. 

The sooner students (and teachers) can see that writing has nothing to do with a pencil, a piece of paper or keyboard, and the sooner students see that writing is simply communicating, the sooner they will start making incredible progress. Barriers will come down. The handicapping hesitation of putting the pencil on the paper to "write" will go away. Then students will feel freed up to "say it as it is" in their writing. After all, writing is simply communicating, just through the pencil's "lead" rather than through a person's "lips."

Our concern is not whether a student communicates something through a pencil, pen, keyboard, chalkboard, papyrus, stylus, audio transcription device or otherwise. Our real hope and goal is for an individual to capture their high-quality thoughts and then to convey them effectively to others. These strategies break down the barriers between a student's mind and their audience. These strategies free up writers thinkers to express their thoughts without the handicapping hesitation that comes for some students as they pick up that pen and pencil.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

One Resource for ALL Your Curriculum Areas

Yesterday at the end of an elementary teacher training session, a teacher raised her hand and called me over to her while the other teachers were working away on their computers. She asked, "You mentioned at the beginning of the training that when you were teaching, you found ways technology simplified your life as a teacher." Pausing and looking into my eyes like there was sincere need she said, "Could you show me some of those ways or resources?"

I was so happy to offer anything that might be of potential help. I asked her, "Well, let's start with what area do you feel like you would like the most help in?"

"Science," she replied, without much hesitation. I would have loved to offer her my hyperlinked unit pacing guides for the specific topics she was teaching but she teaches 5th grade and I had only taught that grade level one year so I did not have a one-stop-shopping resources like that for her.

I asked what science curriculum and textbooks her school district had. She said it was old, not very helpful and she hardly ever even touched them. That is so often the case.

Rather than showing her a website that would work for only one of her curriculum areas, I decided to take her to one of the resources that I used in my classroom nearly every day. Brainpop.

What do I love about brainpop? Pretty much everything. I love that it has content on ALL of the curriculum resources. I love that it is upbeat and fun for both me and my students. I love that my students enjoy it so much that they choose to do it at home... yep, even when I don't assign it or ask them to. I love that it has quizzes, extended readings, experiments, extra activities and optional teacher webinars for those teachers who want to have a way to keep learning and growing without needing to pay for endorsement classes or another degree.

Quite frankly, Brainpop knocks the socks off of what my expo marker and I can do on the whiteboard. Brainpop was especially helpful when it came to helping my students understand topics like the molecular structure of an atoms, the electromagnetic spectrum, the size and shape of microorganisms like "euglena" and "streptococcus" and so many other science areas that I was never learned about in school in the first place.

There are many great teacher resources out there, so many actually that it can be very overwhelming for teachers to begin searching among them in the first place. Some websites are helpful resources for one or two math topics. Other websites are great for a few language arts topics. Another website is helpful for a small part of one of your many science topics. After bookmarking many of these "out there somewhere" websites, sooner or later a teacher's bookmark list can become cluttered and cumbersome.

As I showed her the resource it was easy to see her anxiety level go down and relief go up. Teachers want to be teaching effectively. They want their lessons to be enjoyable, interactive, interesting and engaging. Providing professionals with professionally developed resources like these is an exceptional way to simplify teachers' workload and to enhance the quality of their work-life. 

Just as we want to provide troops fighting in the field with the best ammunition available for the work they do, we also want to provide teachers in the classroom with the best resources available for the work that they do. This is one of the tools that made my life as an educator more balanced and my students' learning much more effective. If you are looking for something to help you with both of those results, I would highly recommend it to you.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Instructions for Ms. Hutchen's Class

Today we are going to get to know more about YOU!

Here are your instructions.

1. Take this learning style quiz to find out how you learn best.
2. Log into 
3. Copy and paste your results from your learning quiz onto your kidblog. It will look like this.
4. Fill out this survey so your teacher will know what your learning style is.
5. Read all of your results and one of your friend's results. Comment on their blog post letting them know something that the two of you may have in common.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Raising Students' Reading Levels

Today is one of my favorite days of the school year. It's one of the few days when I get to assess all my students' reading abilities one-one-one. I absolutely love our personal reading meetings when, like a doctor listening to symptoms of a patient, I "diagnose" their reading level, "monitor" the strategies they are currently using and further "prescribe" what they need in order to improve their reading. Reading assessments take a good amount of time and produce a whole lot of paperwork but the results of the assessments clarify how students can make huge strides in their reading and comprehension. One hurdle that we need to overcome however is transferring the students' identified needs that the assessments produce into actual reading lessons in the classroom and reading results in their day-to-day lives.

Reading assessments produce piles and piles of paper that teachers may have to wade through to get to what their students really need. These are just some of the pages and pages of assessment results from today.

The information that the assessments have is important but with so much paperwork to wade through, the likelihood transferring that data into lessons being on their needs decreases as the ease of accessing their assessment information becomes more and more challenging. 

That is why I developed a one page "Readers-At-A-Glance" summary spreadsheet. Here is what mine looks like from today.

The spreadsheet helps me organize my reading groups by level and see individuals' learning needs, all on one page. More often than not, individuals in a specific reading group have related reading needs. For example, my lowest group on this spreadsheet all need a lesson on reading with vocal expression. I can also see that two of them are doing a great job of breaking words into smaller parts. Having all of their assessment information on one page helps me plan effective guided reading lessons for groups and individuals, and it was all done using data that I was already collecting.

If you would like to download the "Readers At-A-Glance" template, it is available for download at this link.

If you have any questions regarding this sort of data collecting, post them in the comments section below. I would be happy to reply to questions you may have. If there are spreadsheets or strategies that have helped you transfer assessment results into effective lessons, please share them in the comments section below!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Unit Guides with Resources

Imagine what it would be like if your job as a teacher was solely that of teaching. Every day thousands of teachers spend some of their precious time being a "Google searcher" for lesson plans and resources rather than spending their time teaching, monitoring student comprehension and further instructing.

How different would your job be if you did not need to search for good lesson plans and class activities? Even better, how nice would it be if you had a teacher tested, entirely organized and clearly laid out unit plan with all of the needed resources provided for you?

There were many days as a teacher that I did this same thing. Once my students clearly needed instruction on how to use commas correctly. So, that week during my precious prep time, I went to that source so many of us go when we have questions and needs - that's right, Google.

As I went to type in "lesson on commas" can you guess how many search results came up? Yep, over 1 million.
Professional teachers do not want to be professional Google researchers or resource finders. In order for to have resources to teach with, teachers need to either
  1. Be given the resource
  2. Find the resource
  3. Create the resource
How might this need for excellent resources be facilitated?
  1. Learning organizations hire instructional coaches who learn about the best resources out there and then train the teachers they coach on those resources.
  2. Learning organizations can purchase curriculum that has all of the resources teachers need so that they can go to the curriculum instead of going to Google with its 1,000,000+ search results for commas. 
  3. Experienced teachers can compile and share the best practices and strategies in organized unit plans. 
Every year millions of teachers retire, taking with them their wealth of knowledge and expertise. If however while individuals are teaching we can increase collaboration, documentation of best practices and resources, we can develop influential organizational models that do not quit when teachers do.

For example, while teaching I developed online pacing guides. These clearly show a 20 day lesson guide aligned with the state core curriculum's learning objectives, links to lesson plans, links to interactive learning activities, links to videos that teach the objective and exit questions that students would be able to successfully answer at the end of a class period.

Here is a sample of a unit guides I made. It is accessible on my Google Site.

Making a resource like this takes a lot of time and becomes its best when multiple teachers contribute their best found resources and ideas to it.

Currently there is no structure in place that familiarizes new teachers with resources like this. New teachers go from being on a campus learning theory, to being in a classroom working in reality. If the two lands of theory and reality are not bridged, citizens in both theory-land and reality-land suffer, teachers are overwhelmed and students are underserved.
Integrating best resources and best practices into the training of future teachers benefits everyone.

Having resources like this available to teachers as well as a structure that introduces teachers to the best resources on the content would bring about multiple results.
  • Higher student learning
  • Increased student satisfaction
  • Increased teacher effectiveness
  • Decreased teacher burnout
You are a teacher; uniquely called, irreplaceable and gifted with personal strengths to meet the needs of those around you. Your gifts, abilities and resources are needed. Contributing to, saving and utilizing resources such as these will save your time, increase your effectiveness and influence for good not only your students now, but also the lives of students and teachers who are yet to come after you.

Professionals anticipate professional training.
Professionals anticipate professional resources.
Professionals desire to use their time preciously.

Here is to providing professional teachers with the professional training and resources they need, so that  they can use their precious time in the most effective way - teaching.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Making Memories with Your Students

Life is worth cherishing, remembering and recording, and when it comes to remembering, nothing helps me remember classic class moments quite like photos.

Throughout the years, my students and I took pictures of magical moments together.  Each year we had a class picture taken on on the playground in hopes that it would be somewhat like a "family" photo, giving them a sense of identity, belonging and pride about being in our class. I highly recommend it.

In an effort to memorialize magical class moments throughout my years of teaching, here are some of my favorite pictures with my students over the past 7 years.

My students have been an incredible ingredient in my life. While I anticipated that I would be nurturing children of my own at this time in life, I am so glad I have been able to play the role of a "mind nurturer" in their lives, and to have been surrounded by their happy nature, enthusiasm and creative spunk.

Here's to memorializing some of the many magical moments in class,

Friday, March 15, 2013

TRY IT TIP #1: Flip Your Classroom

Do you ever feel like a broken record, repeating the same instructions, information and concepts class after class, day after day and year after year? I found this personally waring, but not until after about 5 years of teaching. Studies show that novelty and newness are refreshing, bring enjoyment with them and people who feel like their jobs incorporate "newness" tend to be happier with their work-lives.

Once upon a time while skimming through some educational journals, I came across the then new concept of a "flipped classroom" and I was immediately curious. Here's the idea simplified to the max... or min... depending how you look at it. The idea of flipped classroom is to have students watch at home on the computer the portion of a lesson that might be "lecture-like" or "stand and deliver" style. Then during class time, rather than merely "sitting there" listening and watching, students become more active participants in the learning process.

Some teachers record themselves teaching the lesson and send that home to students to watch... but rather than adding "reinventing wheels" to my to do list, I'd decided to "outsource" and utilize something that is already recorded, phenomenal and user friendly  So, what's a quick and easy way to have this play out in your classroom? Chances are, your school or district has already paid bookoo bucks for curriculum that has videos online. Many teachers however have not received training on those resources which sit safe and sound on shelves cached away in classroom cupboards. (Tragic but all too commonly true.)

Teachers in Nebo School District have access to many videos & learning resources which students can watch and participate in from home.
  • Math
    • Virtual Tutorial Lessons
    • Lesson Quizzes that automatically grade the work and provide further practice work at the level individual students are at (reteach, practice or enrich). 
    • Virtual Manipulatives
    • Assessments that can be automatically graded online
    • More
  • Language Arts: Journey's
    • Spelling
    • Grammar Videos
    • Stories with an audio player to read to the students
    • Practice Work
    • Assessments that can be automatically graded online
    • More
Research is showing that a flipped model classroom is contributing to student success as well as teacher satisfaction. 
Not only could improved student comprehension and performance persuade someone to look into this, but also that second factor of teachers having greater job satisfaction which could reduce the astronomical costs educational institutions spend to replace faculty and insure some of the highest health expenses districts pay - stress related expenses. 
Letting professionally designed animated videos or other resources do some of the "audio repeat" that I had been doing for 5 years felt wonderful. And let's be honest, animated instructional tutorials did a much better job at keeping students' attention and explaining where an apostrophe goes than my expo marker and I did alone at the white board. Do these resources "replace" me as a teacher? Not at all - they're not meant to replace teachers any more than a student's workbook is meant to replace a student. Their use it not to replace but to further the efforts of a teacher and the learning of the students.  As I utilize these resources to do the "lower level" of instructing, I can then personally take my students thinking higher afterwards without exerting myself so completely on the most basic, lowest level of comprehension that the instructional materials do a great job of clarifying.