Sunday, September 17, 2017

Why is learning in school so different than learning outside of school?

"If you are unsure how to complete your homework? Ask Google, a friend, your parents, watch YouTube, or use a calculator and of course you can always come to me for help, too."

When I said that to my 4th and 5th grade students as I introduced their first homework of the year, their mouths dropped. "You mean we are allowed to do that?" they asked.

I answered with another question, "What do you usually do when you want to learn something new or figure out how to do something?"

Many students responded they watched how-to videos or found an article on the internet with directions. Some said they asked their friend for help. Some said they just kept practicing and trying different things until they got it.


So why is learning in school any different than learning outside of school?

When students encounter problems in school with reading, writing, math, etc, I want them to use the same strategies they would use to flip water bottles, play baseball, or beat a video game. I want them thinking about how they can learn something new!

As educators, sometimes we seem to get so caught up on what we are supposed to be teaching and students are supposed to be learning, we place emphasis more on content than actual learning.

I realize my elementary students need fundamentals like reading, writing, and basic math. But, I also realize I am preparing my students for jobs in a world that is unknown. I honestly don't know what they will need to know in the future, but I do know they will need to know how to learn. My students need to understand they must use resources including digital sources, experts, and multiple tools to solve problems, innovate, and rule the world. They also need to know, more often than not, one source isn't going to provide the final solution. They're going to need to also use their brain power, creativity, perseverence, and stay committed to the task.

This is what I want my students to learn. So, yes, my students will be using Google, YouTube, experts, calculators, and anything else they think of to help them learn this year because I'm creating learners.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Being Content Where I Am

Ask me to describe myself and "driven" is a word I would probably list in my top 5, maybe even top 3. I always have a plan for the what next. In my daily schedule, in my personal life, in my career...I enjoy setting goals, working hard to meet them, and celebrating when I accomplish them. However, my celebration is short lived as I immediately begin contemplating my next move. 

The other day I was listening to a podcast on the topic of "drive" and the speaker (sorry, I wish I could remember which podcast it was to give them credit) talked about how sometimes driven people are so focused on their next move or meeting their goals that they're pretty much blinded by the future. They are so farsighted, they can't see what's right in front of them. Instead of putting all their effort into the current activity/task/job to the best of their abilities and enjoying the moment, they are just going through the motions and thinking what they should do next to get where they want to be. They don't take the time to be content.

Guilty as charged.

Content? Most definitely not a word that would be listed in my top 5 to describe myself.

After much reflection, I've came to the realization that I need a new goal. No, my goal setting won't be going away anytime soon. But, this goal is to better immerse myself in the today. 

Goal: Be Content.

Of course a goal without a plan is just a wish so I've thought about a few ways I can practice being content. As I'm enjoying my summer vacation, I need to relish the time I have with my kids who won't be around the house for many more summers. I will be thankful that we have this precious time together. When I head back to school, I want to focus on refining a new program that I was a part of last year, not to make it better for the following year, but to make it better for the here and now. I will be thankful for the job I love and the opportunity to work in a niche that I am passionate about. As I begin my doctoral journey this fall, I want to learn from the class I'm in and not look at the next class I'll be taking or what I will do after I get my degree. I will be thankful to keep learning and furthering my education. 

Tomorrow isn't a guarantee. 
I want to be thankful for my today. 
I want to become more nearsighted.
I want to be content!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Advocating for Gifted Learners

Over the past 6 months I've been working towards earning my gifted education certificate. I have enjoyed learning new information about a population of students who I know I have unintentionally overlooked in the past. As I've gained knowledge of these types of learners and their special educational needs, I realize that now I have a responsibility to share what I've learned with others. These students deserve an advocate!

As I've been trying to think of ways I could share what I've learned, I realized that I need to utilize what I already have created. What better way to share than through my blog? Previously, I've shared a few of the projects I've created during my journey. As I'm teaching a classroom of highly able learners, I want to continue by sharing my real life experiences. 

I have also updated my website to include a resource page where I've shared links for educators and parents. My goal is to update these often to keep them relevant. 

Through sharing this information, I hope to be a stronger advocate for highly able learners so they may receive the best education possible!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Is my classroom a thinking classroom?

In my previous post, I shared what I had learned about developing a "thinking classroom." At the end of the post I shared the three steps for creating this desired environment:
  1. Create a structured learning environment,
  2. Teach the thinking processes and allow practice, remembering to differentiate to meet all your students needs, and
  3. Provide effective feedback.
Before thinking about where I am going, I realize I must first reflect on where I am. 
So where am I on my journey of creating a thinking classroom?

Building a positive classroom community is something I work hard to establish every year. I take the time to get to know my students and for them to get to know each other. We develop our classroom rules together based upon each persons goal for the year. We discuss how we can work together to ensure all students are successful and can meet their goals by the end of the year. Through these discussions, we establish a learning environment where students feel safe and willing to take risks. I teach accountable talk strategies for effective communication, especially focusing on developing listening skills and being an active listener. Students are encouraged to share their ideas and beliefs and I work hard to teach and model respect for all. 

I feel that my classroom is student-centered with my role being more a facilitator rather than knowledge giver. Students are encouraged to explore, investigate, and discuss. I provide many opportunities for collaboration, but also provide time for students to think independently. Scaffolding is an instructional practice I implement, providing students with support so they may be successful in their learning.

When considering the level of my learner's critical thinking in the classroom, I feel that I could improve on encouraging students to use more advanced vocabulary to express their thinking processes. I do not hear students referring to the thinking process they are participating in and do not feel that they would even understand the thinking process. I will need to explicitly teach them these process, including the language, and then provide them with multiple and ongoing practice. I also feel that I need to do a better job of modeling the language through my conversations in the classroom.

While I feel that I provide clear and specific feedback, I do need to work on providing it in a quicker manner.  If my feedback is not immediate then it will loose its effectiveness. I do make a conscious effort to take on a positive tone, praising my students for a job well done and encouraging them when needed. One area of feedback that I would like to grow in, is adjusting my feedback based upon a students response. 

A teacher's ability to motivate a student is the key to that student's success. When students know that the teacher cares about them, as an individual, they are more likely to put forth effort to succeed. Of course, as teachers, we also want our students to develop intrinsic motivation where they want to please themselves as well. By creating a positive learning environment, students will feel more inclined to take a risk in their thinking and learning. In our classroom, we talk a lot about the growth mindset and how true learning comes from failure. When students understand that it is okay to make mistakes or even fail, they will be more motivated to think critically or be creative.  Helping students set short and long term SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) goals will also help them stay motivated. As students experience success they will be motivated to set new goals to keep them moving forward.

I would like to think that in the past I have incorporated critical thinking skills within my lessons, but I must confess that it would not have been done intentionally. According to King, Goodson, and Rohani (2009), "careful lesson planning is essential" considering factors such as "organization of activities, clarity of explanations, modeling of thinking skills in action, examples of applied thinking, feedback on student thinking processes, instructional alignment of objectives and activities, and adaptations for diverse student needs." While I do believe lesson planning is a strength especially in the area of organization and alignment, there are definite areas I need to improve. The biggest area of planning I must focus on is to be more aware of how my plans are incorporating critical thinking skills rather than just focusing on the content of the lesson.

Designing questions that promote critical thinking is, as you will see below, one of my major goals for the upcoming year. I have participated in numerous professional development opportunities focusing on using questioning that promote higher level thinking. I believe that in the back of my mind I do refer to what I have learned when asking questions, but I do not record my questions in any manner. I need to make this more of a priority, planning my questions ahead of time rather than just "winging it." I want to ensure that I am asking a variety of questions, but especially hitting those requiring more critical thinking. I hope to incorporate more of Bloom's Taxonomy questions this year, recording the specific type of question within my lessons.

As I look ahead to this coming year in my classroom of accelerated learners, I hope to accomplish a three goals on my journey to creating a thinking classroom. 
  1. Goal #1 Ask thinking questions. I am guilty of "winging it" with many of my questions and this year I want to plan some questions ahead of time. By considering the questions ahead of time, I can ensure that I am asking a variety of questions requiring lower to higher level thinking skills. By thinking about questions more often, I will also become better skilled with questioning techniques making the times when I must "wing it" more conducive for thinking and learning. 
    • I will be able to self-assess as I will be using a blooms taxonomy checklist to track the variety of questions I will be incorporating in my lesson.  I will also label the questions within my lesson plan to make it easy to see the levels I have included for myself and others who may be reviewing my lessons.
  2. Goal #2 Teach Specific Thinking Processes. After reflecting on the idea of a thinking classroom, I came to realization that I may be so focused on the content that I am overlooking the need to teach my students how to think. Next year, I want to explicitly teach the thinking processes and provide my students with practice for each. It would be amazing if, by the end of the year, the students would define their learning based upon the thinking processes they utilized to accomplish tasks. 
    • I will self-assess this goal through observation, listening to student conversations to see if they are using the language. By creating a "thinking" wall, I'm hoping to include anchor charts for each process so this should also be a wall of progress to show the processes that have been taught throughout the year.
  3. Goal #3 Create Student Teams-Achievement Divisions (STADs). In King, Goodson, and Rohani's (2009) guide, they share that STADs are groups of students who work in teams and subteams as study groups. These study groups are then subdivided into pairs or trios to study and master basic skills and topics. Next year, I will have a class of 4th and 5th grade student for reading and math and the use of STADs will allow me to better differentiate within the classroom.
    • I will self-assess my progress through reflection and using student feedback. 
How will I know how I'm progressing on my goals?
The great thing about a blog is that it, as well as your readers, can hold you accountable!
I hope to share my journey of creating a thinking classroom here on the blog so stay tuned...


King, F.J., Goodson, L. & Rohani, F. (2009). Higher order thinking skills: Definition,
     teaching strategies, and assessment. Retrieved from

Elder, L. & Paul, R. (2010)The elements of reasoning and intellectual standards. Retrieved

National Association of Gifted and Talented Children (2013) NAGC – CEC Teacher
     Preparation Standards in Gifted and Talented Education. Washington, DC: Author.

Creating a Thinking Classroom

Photo Credit
Most teachers desire thinking students. Those who persevere, think critically, problem solve, self-reflect, and are flexible learners. Today's classrooms are preparing students for jobs that have not yet been created, therefore we have to teach our students these skills so they will be prepared for their futures. 

In order to produce these "thinking" students, teachers must promote a culture of thinking and engage students in the practice by being diligent in the structuring of the learning environment and experiences. The learning environment and experiences that occur within the classroom must encourage learners to act like a 'community of thinkers', sharing their strategies and ideas. In order to promote thinking, classrooms must be student-centered. According to King, Goodson, & Rohani (2009), the student-centered environment "supports the open expression of ideas, provides active modeling of thinking processes, develops thinking skills, and motivates students to learn." For this environment to develop the teacher must be aware of the affect that student motivation has on student achievement.  Of course, "great expectations lead to greater achievement" (King, Goodson, and Rohani, 2009) so it is vital that teachers maintain high expectation while also expressing positive interactions. To ensure that high expectations are being developed, SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) instructional goals should be set for both short and long term.  Always remember that "there is not busywork in this student-centered, thinking classroom, and student progress is monitored using several methods - not just tests" (King, Goodson, and Rohani, 2009). 

Just as we take time to teach specific content, we, as teachers, must take the time to teach specific thinking processes. Thinking processes include: context, metacognition, procedural knowledge, comprehension, creativity, insight, intelligence, problem solving, and critical thinking (King, Goodson, and Rohani, 2009). Each of these processes or strategies must be demonstrated and modeled with ample time allotted for students to practice them. Below are examples of how strategies may be taught within the classroom:
  • Metacognition is thinking about one's thinking. This strategy of thinking includes being aware of your thinking processes, self-monitoring, and application of the steps for thinking. "One's success with metacognition depends, in part, on a belief in one's ability to get smarter as well as the beliefs of others, such as teachers, in one's ability" (King, Goodson, and Rohani, 2009). Lesson plans should teach self-reflection and self-evaluation and students may practice these skills by tracking their thinking and learning independently. Students should also be encouraged to reflect upon new information, responding in writing or through discussion
  • Creativity "involves divergent and convergent thinking to produce new ideas" (King, Goodson, and Rohani, 2009). Creativity requires thinking beyond the box to produce new solutions to problems. Not only is it about finding the solutions though, but often it is about discovering the problems as well.  In order for creativity to prosper, students must feel safe in their environment so they may take risks in their thinking and learning. Teachers should share examples of creative thinking. They may offer students choices within their learning so that students may choose how to demonstrate their thinking or learning. These choices may also include a variety of tasks that incorporate multiple intelligences. Providing students with hands on situation also allows them to play while investigating new information. It is also beneficial to assign tasks that are open-ended and may involve several "correct" solutions. 
  • Critical Thinking is "goal directed, reflective, and reasonable thinking" in which "analysis, inference, interpretation, explanation, and self-regulation" occur (King, Goodson, and Rohani, 2009). Collaboration and communication play an important role in critical thinking as students provide evidence of their reasoning to support conclusions, while listening to others share theirs, which may result in a change in one's views. Students must be taught how to communicate, and more importantly listen when participating in collaborative groups. To foster critical thinking, teachers should provide opportunities for students to collaborate often. Once again, it is also important that teachers have created a safe learning environment where students are free to express their ideas and beliefs and open to listening to others express theirs.

Our classrooms contain diverse populations so when providing instruction and practice, teachers must remain cognizant of the ways students differ in their prior knowledge, or schema. Be aware of the cultural background of each individual when providing support in developing thinking skills. Scaffolding is a way to differentiate instruction as it provide support throughout the lesson. At the beginning, the teacher may take on a dominant role to get the learning rolling, but then gradually removes themselves allowing students to take the lead on their learning. It is often helpful to provide visual representations and break problems into steps to foster success. To meet all students needs, be sure to check often for understanding and provide additional examples or explanations when necessary (King, Goodson, and Rohani, 2009). 

Feedback is critical in the thinking classroom as it helps to promote self-awareness, self-assess, and self-regulate student thinking. Teachers must constantly be assessing student learning using a variety of formative assessments. When providing feedback, it must be "immediate, specific, and corrective information, using a positive emotional tone" (King, Goodson, and Rohani, 2009). Take the time to adjust the feedback based on the response. For quick and correct responses the feedback can be short and general, for correct, but hesitant feedback make be more encouraging, and incorrect answers may require additional explanation or questioning.  Prompting students who are unable to respond provides better feedback to the child, rather than calling on a peer to answer the question. Be careful not to provide excessive praise as, according to King, Goodson, and Rohani (2009), "praise is effective only when students believe they have earned it." 

So when creating a thinking classroom, be sure to follow the three steps:
  1. Create a structured learning environment,
  2. Teach the thinking processes and allow practice, remembering to differentiate to meet all your students needs, and
  3. Provide effective feedback.
Do you already have a thinking classroom? Or in the process of creating one?
I'm reflecting on where I am in developing a thinking classroom and setting some goals to help me strive to make it better in my post, "Is my classroom a thinking classroom"?


King, F.J., Goodson, L. & Rohani, F. (2009). Higher order thinking skills: Definition,
     teaching strategies, and assessment. Retrieved from

Elder, L. & Paul, R. (2010). The elements of reasoning and intellectual standards. Retrieved

National Association of Gifted and Talented Children (2013).  NAGC – CEC Teacher
     Preparation Standards in Gifted and Talented Education. Washington, DC: Author.

Friday, May 22, 2015

I could have died. But I didn't. So let's enjoy the weekend!

Last weekend, I wrote my post about making learning count during the last few weeks of school. I was determined to not countdown the year, but instead focus on making the last three weeks of school something my 3rd graders would remember.

Then came Monday.
I had some chest pains on Sunday that were quite intense through Sunday night. I decided that on Monday morning I would run into a walk-in clinic before heading into school. I thought I had pulled a muscle and figured some type of medication would clear it up. When I got to the clinic, I was first diagnosed with some type of inflammation and was going to be prescribed a steroid and higher dosage of ibuprofen. For some reason the diagnosis just wasn't sitting well with me, which I stated in a text to my husband. Then the doctor came back into my room, asking me about our plane trip to Spain and some other questions. I shared with her some strange bruising I had on my leg and asked her if she thought they could be related. Her face immediately changed into concern. She then told me she thought I actually had a blood clot in my lung and I needed to proceed immediately to the ER because I could die.

Yes. On Monday, I was told that I could die.

Needless to say, I was rushed to the ER where every blood test, CT scan, x-ray, heart echo, and other tests were conducted with a diagnosis of a pulmonary embolism. I had a blood clot in my lung. I ended up being admitted to the hospital where I have spent the past four days.

Four days of laying in a hospital bed gives you a lot of time to think.
I thought about my life.
My family.
My friends.
My students.
My career.
My priorities.

I'm ecstatic to share that today, I came home. As I'm typing this, I'm sitting in my front yard enjoying the warm sunshine and soft breeze as my daughter plays and my dog lays in the grass next to me. I can hear my son playing his piano through his window.

On Monday, I could have died.
But, today, I'm happy to say I'm alive.
And I won't be wasting tomorrow!

It's okay to have plans. I will admit that I am one that always has a backup plan for the backup plan. But, remember that sometimes life doesn't necessarily follow a plan. Sometimes we just have to go with the flow. Take time to just be. Enjoy the important things like friends and family. Stop and smell that flower. Walk on the beach. Relish the quiet moments.

This weekend is a long weekend for many of us. I encourage you to make sure to take time to do something unplanned with the people who mean the most to you. Because remember that life is not a guarantee and you never know when you may be told that you could die.