Hamburger Helper? Nah… Behavior Helper

Does this sound familiar–you have a child (or student) who fidgets, gets off track easily in class or at home, is very verbal at inappropriate times, and then doesn’t get his work done?

Here are some ideas for helping that child become successful, happier, and more accomplished at home or at school:

  • When your student arrives at the kitchen table (or the classroom) in the morning, give him a specific job to do (clean the white board, get out the cereal bowls) and thank him. This helps with anxiety by beginning the day with a sense of accomplishment.  In addition, he gets to feel good about helping adults.
  • During class, your student can sit on an exercise ball. If there isn’t money in the budget for this, try experimenting with him sitting underneath his desk or in a corner on the carpet to complete assignments or take tests, since confined spaces may make him feel safe.  If he needs more space and feels confined by having too many students around him, set aside a space just for him, if possible.  Again, anxiety reduction.
  • Place a sensory strip underneath his desk so he can fidget with that instead of nudging his neighbor.  
  • Provide him with “talk tickets” to reduce blurting out. This way he has (3) times to speak out in class, instead of the usual (much larger) amount.
  • Right after lunch, your student can lead the class in chair push-ups for 32 seconds. (Pick some number that is likely to get the attention of the whole class.)  This helps him meets sensory needs and lets him be a leader.
  • If you notice your student getting discouraged, ask him to refill your water bottle. This allows him to move, get a short break from what is overwhelming him, and refocus.  Or maybe your student just needs to get a drink down the hall.  This accomplishes the same thing–movement, getting away, hydration!  (So important for brain work.)
  • After recess, your student can clean a desk or two using the “wax on, wax off” idea of crossing the mid-line to help with anxiety, sensory issues and concentration. 
  • Try using “Brain Gym” exercises with your whole class to get everyone back on track, should the need arise.
  • For the next week, try giving your student a star, a smiley face, or a high five every time you see him practice self-control in your classroom so he comes home with positive input instead of negative.  You could make a home chart for improvement there, too.

Who knows, maybe Behavior Helper will become your next favorite recipe!

Agile Learning Spaces

I recently attended an webinar entitled “Agile Learning Spaces” that focused on the redesign of learning spaces.   By having a changeable classroom in your school, you…

  • invite different thinking and behaviors.  (We want students to be content creators, critical thinkers.)
  • create space that INVITES that.  For example, rooms could have…
  1. rolling white board tables to move around for each situation (to use as tables or partitions)
  2. chairs that roll too, and yoga balls, bean bag chairs, and carpeted areas
  3. partitions to separate areas
  4. no “front” of the room
  5. tubs for making things

These would be rooms to use for the things that you can’t do easily in your regular classroom.  You could move the furniture around to make it work for a class of students, a staff meeting, or a whole grade level of students.

It was reported that students LOVE this.  Why?

  • Student Choice–They get to set up the room.  They have control.  This creates lifelong independent learners.
  • Movement–It allows movement of students.
  • Ownership–It encourages the ownership of maintaining the room, it pushes the ownership of learning onto the students.  How much of the room is messaged around the teacher?  Can the teacher make it a jointly held learning experience?
  • Inclusion–By inviting all students to be a part of this, it allows students to move, stand, etc.

The presenters describe students drawing ideas on white board tables during or after a story is read.  This gives all students a voice–even the ones who might not feel comfortable speaking.  When 8th grade English students set up their own space, they WROTE MORE, AND HAD HIGHER QUALITY RESPONSES.  They had a 10 minute writing block, and everyone stayed on task.  Just the act of asking the students to set up the classroom gave them buy-in.  When a 2nd grade math class used the room, they used wiggle bar stools instead of rigid wooden or plastic seats.  Their accuracy didn’t change but they finished significantly more problems when allowed to use wiggle seats.  Student productivity went up.

What does this mean for us?  In this age of budget cuts, it might not mean a whole lot, but maybe, just maybe some of you may incorporate some agile learning spaces into your classrooms somehow, improving the education of your students one little corner at a time.


Finland vs. America–How Our Education Systems Differ

Since Newsweek ranked Finland #1 in quality of life last year, we have to wonder how they got there.  Part of that ranking includes their EDUCATION SYSTEM.  For the last 30 years or so, Finnish students have been scoring consistently high, and we have been in the middle somewhere.

There are a few major reasons why Finland is at the top of the heap.  They ASSIGN LESS HOMEWORK and ALLOW CREATIVE PLAY in schools.  There are NO PRIVATE SCHOOLS IN FINLAND.  None are allowed to charge tuition.  Almost every person in Finland attends public school whether it’s for preschool or a PhD.  They have NO STANDARDIZED TESTS.  Rather, they use teacher-made assessments and students are graded individually by their teachers.  They give their teachers and administrators PRESTIGE, DECENT PAY and A LOT OF RESPONSIBILITY.  (You must have a Master’s degree to teach in Finland.)  They use COOPERATION between teachers and schools, not competition.  They have FREE SCHOOL MEALS,  FREE ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE, FREE PSYCHOLOGICAL COUNSELING, and INDIVIDUALIZED STUDENT GUIDANCE.

The word “accountability” doesn’t even exist in Finnish.  “Accountability is something that is left when responsibility is subtracted.”

One point that stood out to me was, “Every child should have the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income or geographic location.”  It is not a way to produce star performers, but is used as a tool to even out social inequality.  When the focus is on EQUITY, not academic excellence, they GOT academic excellence!

Their focus is on cooperation rather than competition, and on equity rather than choice.  Food for thought, folks.  Food for thought.




Least Effective Teaching Practices

As per John Hattie again, there were some major findings from his research about those things in education that make the LEAST impact.  Topping the list was RETENTION.  It actually had a negative effect.  Some others:

  • reducing class size (from 30 down to 15 students–no effect).  I know.  I found this hard to believe too.  I think the effect comes in at 14…
  • ability grouping/tracking
  • homework (no details on this, so I can’t tell you any specifics–just in general)

Some things to ponder, for sure…



John Hattie, an Australian statistician with an interest in education worldwide, has published some very interesting results.

These are the things that have the HIGHEST EFFECT in education across the globe:

  • Providing FEEDBACK to your students.
  • SPACED vs. mass PRACTICE (4 days of 15 min practice rather than one straight hour of practice)
  • PHONICS instruction!
  • Teaching STUDY SKILLS.
  • HOME environment.
  • Teacher-Student RELATIONSHIPS.
  • VOCABULARY programs.

The practice that gives the overall HIGHEST EFFECT?


Get your students to fill in their fluency charts, put stickers on the classroom Autoskills chart, make goals for how many books they will read this year, predict what their grades will be in a month or at the end of the trimester, give themselves their own grades on writing projects.  Got more ideas?  Comment on this blog post and add them here!

Reading Assistant Tip for Correct Pronunciation

Is Reading Assistant making your students repeat certain words over and over, only to cause massive frustration?  Here’s the solution:

  • Go to your myscilearn account.
  • Click Manage.
  • Go to your school, then your class.
  • Click on one of your students to go into the account.
  • Go to Assignments/Reading Assistant.
  • Click on Edit.
  • Click on Show Advanced Settings.
  • Go to Speech Recognition Settings/Pronunciation Correctness.
  • Set the scale to whatever you wish, but 25 might be a good place to start.  It is currently set at 50.  This gives the computer a little more leeway when “hearing” your student read.
  • Click Save.

Adjust down further, if needed, once you try the student out at that setting.

It takes about 30 seconds per student to do these adjustments, once you get the hang of it.

This has helped in my classroom–I hope you find it helpful, too.


Google Apps for Education

I recently attended a webinar entitled “Intro to Google Apps for Education”.  These are a few of the things I learned which you may find helpful too.

  • Chrome has the current browser market share with 60.4%.  Firefox has 23%,  Internet Explorer has 9.5%, and Safari has 3%.
  • Chromebooks are nearing 50% of the market share sales in education.  They are generally around $249 so they are low cost, and they use Chrome apps and extensions.
  • 40,000,000 students are using Google Apps for education.
  • Google Apps are FREE.  These come in the forms of Google drive, docs, sheets, presentations, forms (graphic organizers), drawings (charts), apps and extensions.  (If interested, you can dive into any of these to find out more.)
  • They are safe and secure in the cloud, which reduces costs.
  • A very helpful tool is google docs, which allows collaboration on documents.  You can easily edit your students’ papers, for example.
  • Under “forms” you can create surveys or give quizzes.
  • Drive/Docs is like a hard drive where you can store everything–pics, videos, documents, spreadsheets, any type of file.

Feel free to share any other information you’ve come across in your recent internet travels–sky’s the limit!