5 Tips and Tools for the Tech Terrified Teacher

Hello Readers! 

I hope you all enjoyed the long weekend. I had a family-filled week of engagement excitement. Last week, one of my pieces was featured on so I figured I would share it on EdGeeks today for those of you who have not read it. The piece is near and dear to my heart as it approaches an issue that is often neglected: teachers who don’t feel comfortable using technology. A special shout out to EdVoices, one of my go-to sites for great ed news!


Here is my latest guest blog piece for EdVoices!

I left the classroom in September to pursue my interest in education innovation and technology. It saddens me that I had to leave the classroom to pursue these interests but while I was in the classroom, I found myself overloaded with responsibilities. At points I felt that my teaching practice was confined to my city, my school, or worse, the four walls of my classroom. I just didn’t have the time to think outside of my city, or to learn new things and that was starting to scare me. It has been an interesting journey filled with education conferences, Skype sessions with teachers across the country, and talks with various EdTech startups. One of the key ideas I have learned through my research over the past few months is that there is a great divide between EdTech entrepreneurs and educators. The essential question I find myself asking all the time is: “How can we merge the two?”

There are two kinds of teachers today, the tech guru and the tech terrified. During the first panel at the NY EdTech Mashup on April 30th, Rhena Jasey exemplified the exact teacher that entrepreneurs need to target: the tech terrifiedteacher. Many educational events appeal to educators who are already interested in technology. What about the larger population of teachers who live in fear of it?

Rhena shared about how intimidating and overwhelming it was to be in a room full of “techies.” The idea of incorporating technology into the classroom is daunting for teachers like Rhena, who have never had an office job or been expected to use technology to boost efficiency. I know this because I was one of these teachers for a long time. I lived in fear of Smartboards and the laptop cart because I knew that even the smallest malfunction could throw off my lesson, leading to potential chaos amongst my students. I felt incredibly frustrated when an admistrator asked me to use a new website, software program or device in my classroom.

Over the past two years, I have gone through a transformation process. Luckily, I feel much more comfortable in the tech space these days, but I haven’t forgotten the tech terrified teacher-friends I have left behind, and I want to do everything I possibly can to support them. Being a great teacher looks very different in the 21st Century and there is no reason that as our world evolves, our teachers can’t evolve with it. That doesn’t mean “no more pencils or crayons,” but it does mean finding a place for using technology to captivate students. As always, balance is the key.

5 Tips for the Tech Terrified Teacher

  1. Remember, it’s not about you! Your discomfort with technology impacts your students’ futures. Teachers need to be preparing students for the world we live in today. So many jobs are dependent on a basic understanding of technology. Always ask yourself, “am I teaching something that is obsolete, or something that will help my students in the future that lies ahead?”
  2. Don’t resist your tech guru teacher-friend: It is difficult to ask for help but partnering up with a tech guru teacher-friend can provide a support system that can help ease your transition from tech terrified to tech curious.
  3. Realize it’s okay if you are not in control: In reflection, I realize that a major reason that I resisted tech for so long is because I feared what would happen if I was no longer in control…but it is okay if the tech malfunctions. In fact it can lead to some pretty teachable moments.
  4. Let your students teach you something: Newsflash – if you think you are the omnipotent force in your classroom, think again! Kids know a lot these days and it can boost their confidence and engagement if you call on students for support.
  5. If you find a product you like, ask someone from the company to come visit – Tech startups want you to use their products so most likely if you send an email, they will answer any questions you have or maybe even come visit your school to teach you how to use their product.


5 Simple Tech Tools for the Tech Terrified Teacher: A starting point

  1. Get a Gmail account! This may sound silly but once you have a Gmail account for your email, you begin to feel more comfortable with the Google way. This will pave the way to using Google Docs, surveys, and other fun tools to make you more efficient in your classroom.
  2. Figment – For those of you who teach ELA, reading or writing, Figment is a fun and easily accessible tool. It is an online community of young writers. The educator feature allows teachers to create private groups where students can interact and offer peer-to-peer feedback on their writing.
  3. TEDed – There are a few options for educational videos these days including Khan Academy, YouTube for Teachers and TEDed, which launched recently. TEDed offers visual videos made by teachers and animators.
  4. BrainPOP – Has engaging videos in a variety of content areas but I particularly recommend this tool for math teachers.
  5. Mentormob – This tool allows you to curate content from the Internet into an engaging playlist that you can share with your students. The interface is hip so it is great for middle school or high school students. You can click on each track in the playlist to go back to the original source. I use this tool to support students in strengthening their research skills.

Until we actively start addressing the discomfort that teachers like Rhena feel in the edtech space, we will not be successful in moving our teachers or students into the 21st Century. We need to work on finding ways to support the teachers who feel intimidated by technology so I’ll end with two questions:

1. Dear Tech Terrified Teachers: What can we do to support you?

2. Dear EdTechies: How do you do outreach to tech terrified teachers and engage them?

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Guest Blog: Flashcard Learning

Today, we welcome Isabell Collet, creator and writer of a new blog called Flashcards Guru. Collet shares some tips and tools on using flashcards for learning with children. Flashcards are a strange tool in the world of education. We all used them to help us learn the times tables growing up, but for fear of encouraging rote memorization of information, many teachers do not support the use of flashcards today. Collet offers new insights on how to use this age-old tool to boost learning (rather than rote memorization) for children. If you are interested in learning more about flashcards, I recommend checking out her blog.

Flashcard Learning with Children

by, Isabell Collet – Creator of Flashcards Guru

Are you a parent? A teacher? An educator? Then I assume you are always on the lookout for new ways to teach and engage. Educational games and practices pop up constantly and it can be hard to weigh the benefits or to determine the right way to use a learning tool, simply because there is so much information out there and so many products competing for attention. My goal today is to help you untangle some of the information on the web surrounding this study tool.

Flashcards for children are quite popular as a playful means to introduce children to new words, images or concepts. This does not match the image many have of adult flashcards, which are often associated with meaningless drill. In reality, the concept of flashcards is the same for all ages and it is probably one of the oldest and most basic ideas: Repetition. What differs, naturally, is the approach we take to learning (or teaching) at different ages. Learning at a young age holds a more playful element. The great thing about flashcards is that you can introduce them to a child early on as a learning game, which over time might evolve into a natural form of studying.

How to go about introducing flashcards? As previously stated they are an all-age learning tool; even toddlers can ‘study’ with them. The traditional format is two sides with one asking a question and the other depicting the answer. A spoken word accompanied by a picture can be used to properly target language development in younger children. Repeating words to children so they mimic them is already the most natural form of early teaching; adding a pictoral clue offers great visual stimulation in addition to the auditory learning. When you are using flashcards with your child, you can add written words over time. Tying text to image can help develop skills in reading and writing comprehension. Once a child reaches a more advanced stage it is important to go beyond mere recognition of words and sounds and towards actual production and application of the word in question.

When flashcards are first introduced and later, once their application progresses, there are many ways to keep the process engaging for a child. A central element should be the choice or creation of the flashcards, something the young learner can easily become involved in.

How can we engage children through card creation? Card creation can be a great activity for older children. It can help them understand how to go about building their own learning tools later in life. It is also a first step towards learning the material that will be covered with the flashcards. Children can be involved in the creation process in a number of ways. If there is no ‘required learning’ or you simply want to introduce cards as a learning game, you can ask for your child’s input on a subject to study. Encouraging kids to make their own choices allows them to take ownership over their learning. Once you have made a choice, you can get creative on the card creation process. Your child likes to draw? Allow him/her to draw the question side of the card. S/he is learning to write? Help them spell out the answer. When images are involved (and they should be wherever possible, because they enhance the visual learning flashcards promote) you can pick them with your child. Find images to color in or give your child magazines, newspapers, and/or coloring books to choose and cut out images from and add these to the flashcards.

As long as you are the primary educator and have a firm grasp of the subject matter and its boundaries, compiling flashcard material is fairly easy. Motivating a child to condense material covered in school into flashcards can be difficult, because it may seem like an arduous task. To facilitate the evolution from voluntary learning to required flashcard learning, start small. Children in elementary school won’t need to cover complex or even very detailed material. A first project that will encourage automatic learning is to ask your child to write down a few important words or sentences that s/he took away from that day’s/week’s lessons. Over time you will have a nice collection and a great starting point for your flashcards. When you have these pointers on what was important it will be fairly easy to add the details or expand to related concepts.

How to keep learning with flashcards interesting. One way to make flashcards engaging is to use them to play a fast-paced, quizzing game with other learners. Once the material has been covered by all children, quiz your child with a classmate, friend or sibling to offer more enticement to remember. In the digital age, there are also a vast number of apps available that introduce children to digital/mobile learning. The choices are numerous and you may be faced with the difficult decision on what is best for your child. Choosing the right app takes time and consideration. Ask yourself the following two questions: What is my learning goal? How would I like to reach it? The answers are important because they determine both the content and the features of the app you will download. A child learning about colors and animals will have different needs than a child studying for a school exam. If cost is a factor, be on the lookout for (temporarily) free apps or free trial/light versions. (Important: Consider that these apps will often contain ads that, while usually targeted at the young audience, may not be child-appropriate.) You should always open an app repeatedly and test it yourself – watching out for things like ads before involving your child.

Thank you to Isabell Collet for sharing tips and tools on using flashcards with children! It is always fun to have guest voices on EdGeeks!

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Guest Blog for Edutopia – Collaborative Team Teaching: Challenges and Rewards

Today is an exciting day because I have a guest blog piece on Edutopia! I love writing for Edutopia because their approach to sharing information is so proactive and they truly value the role of the teacher. As an organization, Edutopia celebrates strong teaching and shares about what works in education. Special thanks to Edutopia for having me!

Collaborative Team Teaching: Challenges and Rewards

What does CTT stand for? Some people think it’s “creative thinkers thinking,” or “cool teachers teaching.” Others say it’s “conflict tackling together.” While CTT means all of the above, it stands for “collaborative team teaching” and refers to the idea of a co-teaching partnership.

Over the years, I have taught in seven co-teaching partnerships in a wide range of classroom environments. This is the path for many dually certified special education teachers in New York City as the push for inclusion continues to spread. My partnerships have led me on an emotional rollercoaster, yet through thick and thin, my belief in inclusion and collaborative team teaching has remained constant. Though we are making strides in the right direction, we are still in the process of identifying what works in co-teaching.

Having co-taught in first grade, second grade and sixth grade, I feel confident in saying that the greatest challenge is finding a working model for middle school co-teachers. While teaching first and second grade, I had one co-teacher for the entire school year. Whatever challenges came our way, we certainly didn’t lack the time to work them out. During my time in sixth grade, I co-taught ELA, math, science and social studies. Teaching with four co-teachers leaves little time for co-planning or problem solving. Many middle schools use stronger co-teaching models where the special education counterpart teaches two subject areas or one subject and small groups, but even in those cases, co-teaching in middle school presents challenges.

What Makes a Strong Partnership?

Strong co-teachers provide seamless instruction for their students. Both teachers must come to a mutual agreement that they are equals in the classroom, and students must perceive both teachers as invaluable members of the classroom community. This can be particularly difficult for teachers who have taught alone for many years. Sometimes we don’t realize how many decisions we make alone in our classroom on a daily basis. Making decisions as a team is key to a strong partnership, but it is often an adjustment for veteran teachers.

Strong co-teachers also eliminate the “mommy/daddy” issue in the beginning of the year through a series of open conversations. The “mommy/daddy” issue refers to when a student says something like “. . . but she said I could!” in order to manipulate a set of co-teachers. This happens quite often at first. Strong co-teachers do not always agree on everything, but they realize that the time for disagreement is not during class.

Finally, strong co-teachers solve problems together. In fact, that is the best part of co-teaching; you’re never in it alone!

Benefits of Co-Teaching

Having two minds facilitate a classroom community allows students to connect with different personalities. Co-teaching allows more opportunities for small group and one-to-one learning, and stronger modeling during lessons. The co-planning process encourages two teachers to bounce ideas off each other in order to deliver the strongest, most creative lessons. I always enjoyed using my partnerships to model behavior and positive peer-to-peer interaction for students. When students experience their teachers working together, they understand the power of respect amongst peers.

Let’s not forget the most important part: it is nice to have another adult in the room! One year, I taught with a co-teacher, a student teacher and four paraprofessionals. While things got a bit hectic at times, I loved the community we were able to develop in our class. Teaching is overwhelming, but co-teaching can provide a support system so that we can do our jobs, yet remember to have fun along the way.

Common Challenges of Co-Teaching

Co-teaching has its benefits, but be sure to understand that it has its challenges as well. The most common complaint I’ve heard from colleagues in co-teaching partnerships is that it is difficult to work with someone whose teaching style and philosophy differ from your own. In my own experience, success is less dependent on similar philosophies and more dependent on an open mind and willingness to compromise. If you are in a co-teaching partnership with someone who views learning and teaching differently, make sure to talk about it. Look at it as a chance to widen the scope of your practice by incorporating multiple styles into your teaching.

Another common challenge is in regards to the inequality that often forms in the classroom. Special education teachers often struggle to present themselves as equals to their students, and this becomes even more evident in the middle school setting. Elementary co-teachers share a classroom all day, but a middle school special education teacher can feel like a guest in a general education teacher’s space. It is crucial to have conversations with your co-teacher surrounding these issues. Setting up the classroom with your co-teacher in September can help build a strong foundation for an equal partnership. Practicing a variety of co-teaching models also helps foster equality.

A challenge that followed me through many of my partnerships was the issue of grading. Do you grade all students together? Does the special education teacher grade all students withIEPs? Does the general education teacher truly understand the purpose and implications of an IEP? These are all important questions to ask. I have found that it works best when you discuss this issue at the beginning of the year. While more time-consuming, grading all students together as co-teachers is the most fair and consistent way to grade. Grading together allows the special education teacher to share his or her expertise in IEP goals with the general education teacher, and it allows the general education teacher to weigh in on IEP goals for his or her students.

Five Tips to Becoming a Strong Co-Teacher

  1. Say this mantra: “All students are our students.”
  2. Come to planning meetings prepared (with an agenda) to maximize co-planning time.
  3. If you feel something, say something! Open communication is the key to a successful partnership.
  4. Realize that the success of your class depends on the strength of your co-teaching relationship.
  5. Use a variety of co-teaching models to help maintain equality.

“Inclusion is not a place, but instead a process.” – Anonymous

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Guest Blog: My Ideal Classroom (Emma Savino, School Psychologist)

I want to welcome back guest blogger Emma Savino! Savino is a school psychologist and today she will share about the importance of social development in school, and how to effectively utilize support staff (ex: school psychologists, social workers, etc.) to bring these skills into the classroom. In her piece, she proposes two models for collaboration.

My Ideal Classroom

by, Emma Savino, M.A., C.A.S.

Being relatively new in this field, I find myself struggling with the traditional set-up of public schools. I initially got into the field of school psychology because I wanted to work with children. I loved that I could conduct evaluations AND counsel students. Now that I’m actually in the field, I find myself doing mostly testing for special education placement and state mandated re-evaluations. The job does vary depending on the district, however, testing is often prevalent, leaving little time for counseling and staff support. I find that the school psychologist can be underutilized due to the caseload of assessments

Because such a heavy emphasis is placed on test preparation and academic performance, there is little time to teach students how to be happy, productive individuals. Children often miss out on important skill building opportunities like social problem solving, learning how to develop strong relationships and building coping skills. It is important to remember that just as we have to work hard to do well in school, we have to work hard to be happy and well balanced.  Strategies to develop this way of life can and should be taught in the classroom.

Classrooms need to be therapeutic because kids need help solving problems and managing their behavior. When a child breaks his leg, we bring him to the doctor. We don’t expect him to mold a cast or build some crutches independently; we go straight to a professional. Providing tools and seeking help from mental health professionals is important too.  This shows children that they do not have to handle their problems and worries alone.  Creating a supportive environment will allow for trust and shared understanding. The best part is, these professionals have years of training and are there to support you. In fact, they live and breathe in your own school!

How do we make classrooms and schools more therapeutic? I’ll propose two models: the ideal and the realistic. As a caveat, my ideal classroom could only exist with adequate funding, staffing and in the absence of high stakes standardized testing (hence the word ideal).

My ideal classroom would be similar to the CTT (collaborative team teaching) model that is currently a staple in many special education settings. A school psychologist or social worker would co-teach with a classroom teacher (either part time or full time, depending on the needs of the class.) While this proposed model would help all students, this set-up may be most appropriate for students with behavioral and emotional challenges.  However, teachers can pick and choose techniques that fit their classroom demographic best. This model would allow for:

  • Behavior modification and intervention to occur in the moment.
  • Instruction and behavioral interventions to exist simultaneously.
  • Psychologists to plan, manage and collect data for individual behavior plans.  This way, the psychologist can target and address specific behaviors, rather than blindly implementing interventions that do not zone in on the real problem and are unsupported by data.
  • Daily whole or small group counseling to address issues in the classroom allows for a free flow of discussion and a team approach to problem solving.

The first model is unrealistic for most schools at this point in time. Here are some ways teachers can self implement or utilize support staff in a traditional classroom setting:

  • If you are experiencing behavior problems in the class, determine what time they occur most.  Ask a support staff member to push-in and intervene during these times.
  • Collaborate with your psychologist for behavior management strategies.
  • Take suggestions from others. Simple changes to the classroom environment (i.e seating, lighting, use of positive language) may improve behavior more than you think!
  • Incorporate weekly social skills lessons into your teaching and include support staff in the planning process. Take it a step further and invite your school psychologist/social worker into the classroom. This will help students identify staff they can seek out if problems arise during the school year. Having weekly sessions also allows for rapport building to start immediately.

Final Reflections by, Marisa (Your Resident EdGeek): 

A special thanks to Emma Savino for this thoughtful guest post! Last year, I taught sixth grade at a school with two incredible social workers. They were constantly in the classroom supporting our students. While the state was busy testing our students in reading and math, our social workers and teachers were busy collaborating to support students in becoming thoughtful, caring members of our school community. Sadly, there is little importance placed on social growth in schools, and no test that measures it…but I could not agree more with Emma that school environments need to be more therapeutic.

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DisconnectED – The Disconnect between Educational Technology and Educators

On Friday, one of my pieces was featured on The piece discusses a topic that is incredibly important to me. Below you can find a glimpse of the piece, but be sure to stop by EdVoices to read it in its entirety and post a comment, like it or share it with your friends. Thanks for supporting EdGeeks in sharing about an issue that is becoming more prevalent in the field of educational technology.

DisconnectED – The Disconnect between Educational Technology and Educators

Last week I attended the SxSWedu Conference in Austin, TX. I wrote about it all week on if you’re interested in checking out inspiration, thoughts, reflections and hopes for 2013.

Today I want to discuss the disconnect between edtech companies/startups and educators. SxSWedu offered endless opportunities to meet with inspiring and innovative folks who really want to make a difference in the lives of children. It also illuminated the fact that there is a gaping hole in this ever-so-important conversation…educators! I am boggled by the fact that so many edtech products are being developed without including the voices of educators on the team. Sure, it can be challenging for educators to take time out of their already busy day to offer feedback, but it is possible and there are educators who are willing to do it (I know because I met them last week.) One of the most common questions I asked of educational entrepreneurs was, “So were you ever a teacher?” and the answer was almost always “No.” That is fine…great technology can be produced by people who are not in the field of education…but great educational technology requires the input of a team of educators and dare I say it, even parents…

(Visit EdVoices to continue reading and be sure to leave a comment, like it, and/or share it with your friends.)

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Guest Blogger Emma Savino: What Do These Scores Mean?!

Preface: I am so grateful that Emma Savino wrote this piece for EdGeeks. I cannot tell you how many times a parent has come to me saying, “I got these test scores in the mail, but I don’t know what it all means!” Even worse, most teachers are often confused by the jargon. How can we know how to help our children if we don’t understand their strengths and weaknesses?

What Do These Scores Mean?! A Brief Overview of Standardized Assessment Interpretation

by, Emma Savino, NYS Certified School Psychologist

Data collection is becoming more common in schools to monitor student progress and to guide instruction.  Many of the assessments given to students produce a variety of scores that can be confusing to those who do not know what they mean.  Not every test is the same, nor do they yield the same type of scores.

Most tests have a comparative point.  Therefore, student scores are either compared to students within their class/school, a nationally normed sample or sometimes both.  A nationally normed test (typically called a standardized test), compares student performance across a test group that is representative of the country’s population.   Therefore, a certain percentage of genders, races and ages are put through the same test, administered in the same format.  Ranges of scores are developed, where present levels of performance can be determined comparative to the norm.

The following is an overview of some possible scores you may see on assessments.

  1. Raw Scores: This is the total number of points earned on a particular test.  If there are 50 items on an assessment and 44 out of 50 are correct, the raw score is 44.
  2. Standard Scores: A standard scores is a converted raw score, representing performance relative to a testing sample. For the standardized assessments that I use, average scores are typically those from 85-115 or 90-110.  The standard bell curve is a useful tool that displays a visual representation of how scores are distributed.
  3. Percentiles: Percentiles represent student functioning as a percentage.  If a student’s performance falls at the 46th percentile, this indicates performance better than 46% of the students who took the same assessment.  Average percentiles are those generally between the 25th and 75th percentile, however, this can vary depending on the assessment.
  4. Grade Equivalents: Grade equivalents attempt to represent the grade level which a student is performing.  However, these scores are often misleading and misinterpreted.

For example, a 3rd grade student may take a test and receive a grade equivalent score of 5.1 (5th grade 1st month).  This does not mean they are working at a 5th grade level.  It simply means that the 3rd grade student tested performed as well as a 5th grader who would have taken the same test.  This 3rd grade student would not receive the same score if given a 5th grade level test.  If interpreted incorrectly, this can cause misplacement or poor intervention planning. Standard scores and percentiles are the best way to interpret scores.

5. Qualitative Descriptors: These descriptions are an easy way to understand standard scores. A specific range of scores is given a term to sum up performance.  Once again, this varies from test-to-test, but qualitative descriptors are typically presented in this order: Extremely Low, Borderline/Low, Below/Low Average, Average, High Average, Superior and Very Superior.

When reviewing test scores it is important to keep the following ideas in mind:

  • Testing can be negatively impacted by many factors.  Therefore, be sure to account for error.  These can include environmental factors (i.e. lighting, temperature, noise level, location) or motivational factors (i.e. inattentiveness, disinterest, fatigue, sickness).
  • Test scores give a general idea of where a student is performing and scores are not the end-all- be-all of their capabilities.  They provide insight to individual strengths and weakness which should help guide intervention and instruction.
  • Very often students are referred to me, evaluated and performance is found to fall slightly below or within the average range. Score patterns such as this show that a student possesses similar skills as same aged peers that took the same test.  Students who perform average on these assessments and struggle in the classroom may require changes to their environment (i.e. seating) or additional, Tier 2, AIS supports, but not necessarily special education.
  • Don’t expect perfection from students or for all students to perform within the average range.  Focus on growth and improvement.  I have worked with a wide range of students with varying abilities and some students innately struggle.  This does not mean they cannot learn, but may require more time and support than your average student.
  • Any decisions made regarding educational placement or programming should be done only if data is consistent across measures and should be evaluated by a team of professionals.

A special thanks to Emma Savino.

The more you know…

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Tips and Strategies for Classroom Wide Behavior Management by School Psychologist Emma Savino

School psychologist Emma Savino recently guest blogged for, writing about the use of charts and positive praise for behavior management in the home. Today, as promised, she contributes tips, ideas and resources for behavior management in the classroom.

Tips and Strategies for Classroom Wide Behavior Management

Emma Savino, NYS Certified School Psychologist

Managing behavior in a classroom is essential for effective and consistent instruction.  Teachers are often faced with behaviors that interrupt lessons and disrupt student learning.  Here are some foundations for successful behavior management in the classroom:

  • No matter what age, respect your students.  Remember, issues that affect your students are important and ever present to them. As adults, we should be mindful of this and try to be understanding.  If your students feel respected, you will receive the same in return.
  • Create clear and explicit classroom rules using positive language.  Creating these rules as a class during the first few days of school is recommended. Be sure to post a visual reminder such as a poster or chart somewhere in the classroom.
  • Remember…yelling gets you nowhere.  Communicating calmly with your students is key. Being clear and stern when problems arise is acceptable when implemented correctly.
  • Create a team atmosphere.  Highlight student strengths and show your class how each student has different skills that will help your class be successful.  Hopefully, this can reduce bullying behaviors and create a sense of belonging.
  • Reach out to your support staff! I find that many teachers feel they need to solve their classroom problems alone.  Social workers and psychologist can offer push-in services to help manage problematic behaviors in the classroom.

There are many different techniques you can use in your classroom. Here are a few interventions/strategies to consider implementing:

  1. Token Economy System: This is probably my favorite system to implement because I have found it to be the most motivating for students.  This system works by rewarding desirable behaviors by giving your students tokens or tickets.  As a teacher, you can create a system where a specific number of tickets results in a prize or special privileges.  You can collect tickets individually or as a class working toward a common goal.  Provide small rewards weekly (i.e. homework pass, free (healthy) snack, 5 points on lowest quiz score) and also larger rewards monthly (i.e. bring in your favorite stuffed animal, potluck party, afternoon movie with popcorn, extra recess time with special events).  You can also set up a classroom store where students earn money to spend on prizes or privileges.  If students do not comply with rules (i.e. bullying behaviors, not completing homework, noncompliance) students can pay you in tickets. The amount of tickets taken away should be consistent with the offense.  However, give them ample opportunities to earn tickets back.  Try to give more than you take away. Get your students involved and find out what rewards they would work for.
  2. Non-verbal cueing: Come up with a silent signal to remind students to quiet down when your classroom get noisy. This will allow you to avoid yelling over your students.  You can also create a sign or use a puppet to redirect your class.
  3. Planned ignoring:  Many behaviors are attention seeking. Although it sounds strange, some students do engage in behaviors that get them negative attention. Ignoring behaviors that are not causing significant disruption or compromising the safety of others can be very effective in some scenarios.  Students will eventually learn that they have to gain the teacher’s attention in more proactive and appropriate ways.
  4. Praise those who do it right: If one student is not following classroom rules, select a student who is cooperating and praise them.  Phrase the language in a way that catches the other student’s attention and of course, be positive.  For example, “Wow! I love the way Ashley is seated at her desk ready to learn!”  You can go around the room and praise a few students who are doing the same.  Little Bobby who was rolling around on the floor may then look for the same praise and comply.  Be sure to praise the behavior when the student cooperates and always be specific.
  5. Plan, remind and reinforce: Once you get to know your students, you can anticipate when disruptive behaviors may occur.  Plan for these moments by reminding your students of what is expected.  For example if transitioning into the hallway is challenging for your class, 5 minutes before you leave the room, state to your students “Music is in 5 minutes. When we walk in the hallway, we will be quiet so we respect those who are working hard in their classrooms.”  Have your students repeat what you say to reinforce the expectation. Remember that prevention can be stronger than intervention!

Most of your students will respond to the typical behavior management system. However, there may be a select few in your class who will require more intense or individualized interventions. If this needed, reach out to your support staff to create an action plan.  Keep in mind, behavior management takes time.  Having a plan in place before the school year starts will facilitate more teaching time, smoother transitions and active problem solving among your students.

Resources: – this website has video examples that model behavior management strategies. – this website has numerous behavior interventions and reward ideas.– this website provides information on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, which is a school-wide behavior management system.  You can apply many of these principles in your classroom.

If you found this post helpful, be sure to read these past articles by Emma Savino:

Behavior Charting, Positive Reward Systems and Praise

Home-School Connection: What’s the deal with A.D.H.D?

Personal Favorite’s:

The First Days of School: How to Be An Effective Teacher by Harry Wong

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How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

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Guest Blog for The Cooke Center: Writing in Response to Literature

I am so fortunate to have recently joined the team at Cooke Center for Learning and Development as an instructional consultant. I love what this organization is doing in inclusive special education! If you haven’t heard of them yet, be sure to stop by and visit their site to see what Cooke is all about. The Cooke Center has a blog that shares out about teaching strategies and tools that work and today’s post was written as a guest post for The Cooke Blog.

Writing in Response to Literature: A Step-by-Step Process

My name is Marisa Kaplan and I have recently joined the team at the Cooke Center Institute as a consultant, where I work with faculty in general education schools to improve classroom instruction. Certified in special education, my main area of expertise is in modifying curriculum and learning strategies to meet the needs of all students.

What I have learned throughout my career is that one size does not fit all.  Why is this?  Because every child is different, and all children have unique life experiences that shape their learning.  All children learn differently, and there is really no such thing as “general” education.  Therefore, I hold fast to the belief that all education should be special education.

Simply put, Special Education means that

  • All students get what they need to learn – not just the so-called “middle tier”
  • Curriculum is tailored to meet the varying strengths, interests and abilities of all students in the classroom.
  • Teachers present material in a variety of ways.
  • Student may demonstrate their understanding of a topic in many different ways.

A special education teacher might:

  • Model the task that is expected before asking students to work independently, in partners or in groups
  • Eliminate unnecessary distractions in the classroom environment
  • Take a hands-on approach to learning
  • Use manipulatives in math
  • Label and organize classroom materials to increase student independence
  • Give friendly reminders and time warnings during transitions
  • Use positive praise as an approach to encourage desirable behaviors
  • Break down tasks in a manageable way

My blog allows me to explore many of these topics, and I hope you’ll read and join in the discussion.  In the meantime, today I’d like to focus on one crucial genre of writing: writing in response to reading, also known as writing in response to literature. I call it crucial, because it is a skill that many of our students will carry with them and use in their futures. Most of the adults I know today must read and offer either a verbal or written response on a daily basis…even sending an email depends on an ability to read, comprehend and form a response to written text. We need to support students in developing this skill at an early age and continue honing in on it throughout their academic careers.

Of course, being that it is an important writing genre, it is difficult to teach because at the root of this writing genre lies one of the most challenging areas of learning: reading comprehension. The ability to offer a meaningful response to literature, depends on a few different things:

  • The ability to deeply comprehend the text
  • The ability to give a verbal response that pulls from or refers back to the text
  • The ability to convert that verbal response into a written response

Take another glance at that list…each skill has its own challenges, which is why I propose teaching, practicing and fostering them separately before together. I strongly suggest teaching this skill through read aloud, before relying on independent reading. While both are important, teaching through read-aloud offers students who struggle with decoding a chance to demonstrate comprehension of a more challenging text.

The step-by-step process that you are about to read is applicable and can be modified to any grade level (ranging from pre-school to high school.) For the sake of meeting readers in the middle, I will write the steps in regards to a sample elementary lesson.

Literature: Ish, by Peter H. Reynolds

(Choose a book you are passionate about, that can naturally lead to deep discussion questions.)

Step 1: Read Ish aloud to your students, preferably on a rug. Stop every few pages to engage students in a turn and talk (as a way to get kids talking about the book.)

Possible Questions for T&T: Have you ever drawn anything in a funny place like in bed or outside? How do you think Ramon felt when Leon burst out laughing? What feeling is Ramon having when he crumples up his drawing and throws it across the room? Have you ever felt like that?

Step 2: After the book, facilitate a whole group discussion. Ask students a series of questions and have students share out. If possible, take notes on their ideas using chart paper. Make sure to ask a variety of question types including both literal (in the text) and inferential (based on interpretation of the text.)

Possible Questions for Whole Group: What did Marisol have in her room? Why do you think she collected Ramon’s art? How did Ramon feel when he saw Marisol’s room? What does it mean when something is –ish?

Step 3: When you feel like most students have an understanding of the text, pass out a sheet with a question on it (or write one on the board if your students use a notebook.) Have students go back to their tables to write in response to the text. Remind students that they may refer back to the chart paper or talk to a neighbor if they need a reminder about something that happened in the story.


Ish Questions

Differentiate! Here is where differentiation comes in. Some students might not have shared out during the whole-group discussion because they didn’t really understand the book. Keep a small group of students who you feel like might benefit on the rug. Lead them through a shared writing experience. First, lead them through a re-tell of the book. Then pose a question and take responses. Finally, have them sequence their ideas in a way that makes sense and have each student come up and write one sentence on chart paper. Voila, you have included and engaged all students using the same book, same skill, varied task!

This is only one possible way to teach writing in response to literature. As your students become stronger at this skill, further differentiation will take place. You may have some students reading their books independently and responding to a question at their tables. You may have other students working with a partner who is reading aloud a text to them and they are sharing the task of writing. Still others might be working on the rug with you responding to a short story that has been read aloud. The important thing is to always be challenging student at their level to both deeply understand a text, as well as be able to respond to it (first verbally, then written.)

Possible extensions for older students: Re-stating a piece of the question in your answer, referring back to the text, using details from the text in your response.

If this helps you, you should read:

The Importance of Sharing: Feature pieces, gallery walks, spotlights and more

Incorporate Non-fiction Text Into Your Home or Classroom Book Collection

Top Secret! (Book leveling secrets)

Strategies and Tools for Topic Generation in Writing

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Guest Blog for The Reading Tub: Bridging the Gap Between Home and School

I always love guest blogging! A few months ago, I met a new blogger friend, Terry Doherty. Today’s post was written for her blog The Family Bookshelf, which is connected to her website The Reading Tub. Make sure to check out both the blog and the site as a resources for book lists, reviews and ideas for creating a literacy-rich environment at home. A special thanks to my new friend Terry Doherty for supporting EdGeeks! Later this week, she will share ideas on literacy in the home…stay tuned!

Bridging the Gap Between Home and School

“Better parents can make every teacher more effective.”

-Thomas Friedman, NY Times

When things don’t go the way we want, we look for someone to blame. Right now, education in our country is not where we would like it to be. I have met some inspiring teachers throughout my career, as well as some who I have found…well, uninspiring. I can say the same of the families I have come across. There is always a range. I don’t think placing blame necessarily does anything for the problem – the problem is too large. What we can do in an effort to be proactive on the matter is try desperately to bridge the gap between home and school, which will support families and teachers in building a partnership rather than working independently.

I am a special education teacher by trade and the bulk of my experiences have been in Collaborative Team Teaching settings. A CTT class is wonderful for many reasons, but first and foremost because a team works together to provide support to a group of students. A teacher is never alone in regards to decision-making in a CTT class, because there is a team of teachers, related service providers and often paraprofessionals working together. I propose that we approach the parent-teacher relationship as a co-teaching experience.

Let’s take a logical approach to this issue. The hours in a student’s day are split between their home environment and their school environment. If families and teachers are working alone, chances are they are not thinking alike. Consistency is key in the success of a student. Consistency can be in reference to the teachers in a school, the adults in a family, but I’d like to think of the bigger picture…consistency between the home and school environments.

Fact: Working together to support a child has a greater effect than working alone. That being said, bridging the gap is easier said than done. Creating is my small contribution to the cause but let me put forth some ideas for ways that teachers and families can work together to improve a child’s education:

How Families Can Bridge the Gap

How Teachers Can Bridge the Gap

  • Put time into reading any notices sent home by your child’s teacher
  • Support your child with their homework in whatever way you can
  • Ask your child’s teacher for feedback on your child’s in-classroom performance
  • Ask your child’s teacher how you can support his/her work in the classroom
  • Show that you take your role as a parent seriously by using educational resources such as websites for learning
  • Assign family reading time as homework to boost family involvement
  • Invite families in for a parent-teacher night and discuss a particular topic
  • If a family asks for help, try modeling for them as you would for a student
  • Loan materials to your families (ie: books, math games, etc.) so they can practice skills at home
  • Send out an invitation for family members to come spend a period in the classroom



Why is consistency key to a student’s success in learning? Because without consistency, we send mixed messages to our youngsters. For example, when I taught second grade math, there was much confusion in regards to strategies for adding 2 and 3-digit numbers. The school’s curriculum guided students through a variety of strategies that did not include “stacking,” which is the good old-fashioned vertical way that many of us learned to add in school. Families would always come to me and say, “I taught my son/daughter stacking last night because that’s the best way.” It was challenging for me, but even more so for the students. They were learning one strategy at home, and then being asked to use the opposite strategy in school. Both their parents and their teachers were telling them that their way was “the right way.” This resulted in chaos, confusion and inefficiency for many students. I remember making that topic a “must discuss” during parent-teacher conferences that year. My co-teacher and I modeled the strategies for families so they could walk away understanding how to support their kids at home in math. I highly recommend choosing a focal point or a strategy to share at teacher conferences. Although it is a short amount of time, it can be valuable when focused.

Here are some other situations where a lack of consistency between home and school can be detrimental to a student’s success.

Teacher Says… Parent Says…
“It is so important that you get your homework in on time. If it is late, I will deduct 5 points.” “Don’t worry about it, it’s not a big deal if it’s one day late. I’ll talk to your teacher.”
“I don’t care about spelling on your first draft, that’s why we edit.” “You can’t hand in your writing with all of those mistakes.”
“You must always be sure to show your work when adding, even if you already know the sum.” “Why are you wasting time…you already know the sum. Just write it down.”
“Your homework is to complete the worksheet.” “Your teacher must have showed you what to do. What was the strategy your teacher gave you?”
“This is how you multiply two-digit numbers.” “This is how you multiply two-digit numbers.”


If you were a child, whom would you listen to?

Tough choice. Bridge the gap.

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Guest Blog at Edutopia: Breaking Down Differentiated Instruction

This is an exciting day for EdGeeks because this post was written as a guest blog for, which is one of my favorite educational websites! The article discusses differentiated instruction and breaks the concept down into more manageable pieces. Thank you Edutopia for all you do in education and for giving EdGeeks a platform to share ideas.

What does the “Special” in “Special” Education mean?

Quiz of the Day: What does the “Special” in “Special” Education mean?

A. That every child learns in a special way?

B. That every teacher teaches in a special way?

C. That a teacher specializes in educating all kinds of learners?

Actually it’s

D. All of the above

What kind of chef are you? How are you in the kitchen?

If I posed this question to all of my friends, I would receive a wide range of responses. Perhaps I would have one group of people who could barely follow the instructions to make a box of macaroni and cheese. Others could probably make eggs and spaghetti but that is the extent of their culinary expertise. Then I would have this top tier of friends who are so amazing in the kitchen that they make their own sauce from scratch! That’s how I judge top notch…sauce from scratch.

What does this have to do with learning?

Well, I would never ask my “macaroni friends” to make their own sauce, nor would I toss a box of macaroni to my top tier friends, when I know they could be creating a divine meal from scratch! Let’s apply this idea to the classroom.

Content / Delivery of Instruction / Resources /Product and Assessment

These 4 ideas are interconnected but to truly understand how to differentiate instruction, it is more manageable to look at them separately. 


Content is what we teach.  It is what we want students to learn, understand and be able to apply as a result of instruction. 


Delivery of Instruction is the how of teaching.  This can mean how activities are designed to help students make sense of content.  Delivery of Instruction also includes the process of teaching and even integrating different co-teaching models if you have multiple adults in the classroom. 


Resources act as the medium through which you teach students. Resources can include texts, supplies, videos, materials, field trips, etc.


A product is the evidence of learning. It is how the student demonstrates his/her understanding of an idea.  A product is a method of assessment and in a differentiated classroom there are multiple product/assessment styles offered to students.

Here is an example of how one lesson might be differentiated in all 4 ways.

Example: In a differentiated classroom, students are learning about communities.

Differentiated Content: Some students may be working on developing an understanding of the term “community” by exploring different books, photos and videos about communities. Others might be working on understanding the difference between rural, urban and suburban communities. Here, the content for each group of students is different.

Differentiated Delivery of Instruction: A teacher might teach a lesson about the different types of communities by watching a video and taking shared notes. A teacher might then pull a group of students and do a read aloud activity using a book with vivid photographs that show the different types of communities. Here, the students are learning the same content through different learning activities. The instruction is being delivered differently. 

Differentiated Resources: A teacher might have 3 groups of students researching communities. One group might be using a series of easy readers and picture books to compile their information, while another group uses higher-level non-fiction text with chapters and text features such as glossary and index. Perhaps there is a third group doing independent Internet research. In this case, three groups of students are using appropriate texts in the classroom. 

Differentiated Products: To assess learning, perhaps some students do an oral presentation of their findings, while others create a poster full of research. Others design a test and answer key on the subject! In this case, student learning is being demonstrated in different ways.

Let’s remember these 3 things:

  1. In education, one size does not fit all
  2. All students deserve and are entitled to appropriate instruction
  3. We can accommodate in small, simple ways that will support growth in all of our students

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