Archive for the ‘Relationships’ category

J is for Just Adjectives

May 21, 2017

Getting to know students and encouraging students to get to know each other is an important step in the process of building classroom community. Taking time to complete getting-to-know-you activities always pays off—go slow to go fast.

This mini-lesson came out of our Wonder unit plan because it is a great getting-to-know-you activity that could easily be used during the first days of school. It’s also a nice introduction to adjectives. Students explore adjectives with the ABC of Adjectives, then using adjectives, students complete Who Are You. The result is an I AM poster that can be displayed in the classroom—great for open house. The mini-lesson includes:

  • ABCs of Adjectives
  • Who Are You?
  • I AM Directions

SALE 20% off Adjectives and Me Lesson Plan

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C is for Colleagues

May 9, 2017

C is for colleagues, those persons with whom we share our professional and personal lives. I have had two experiences working with colleagues that almost seem like Camelot. At Burlington High School I worked with Carl, Patti, and Judy. I learned more about my own teaching from Carl and Patti than any other colleague—we teamed taught, experimented with block scheduling, and established site-based management. Judy was my life-saver when I had to call in sick because one of my kids was sick. But, more than that she and I shared our ideas about how high school English should be taught. Judy was innovative and supported my own innovation—gave me courage to go ahead and try it.

At Cadinal Stritch University, I worked with Linda and Jennifer, among others, to develop a Masters of Arts in Teaching program, designed for people who had a non-teaching degree who wanted to teach. I’m very proud of the teachers we turned out and to this day, those teachers are making a difference for kids. Linda, Jennifer, and I published two books together on classroom management, one for elementary and one for high school. We presented together at national conferences and area school districts—what fun! Today we are partners in Surviving to Thriving LjL and continue to create teacher materials that engage kids and are easy to implement for teachers.

When we presented, we always had give-aways which included bookmarks with inspirational quotes for teachers. So, we decided to offer those bookmarks to teachers free of charge. This product includes 16 reproducible bookmarks with directions for 7 Ways to Use Bookmarks with your colleagues. Each bookmark has a graphic and teacher quote. As you think about your own colleagues, think about how much you appreciate them and their role in your professional life.

16 Free Bookmarks

Building Trust with Students and Among Students

July 31, 2014

An optimal classroom climate for learning is one that generates an atmosphere of trust—a climate in which it is understood that it is okay to make mistakes because mistakes are the essence of learning. In so many classrooms, the greatest reason why students do not like to expose their mistakes is because of their peers: peers can be nasty, brutal, and viral! Expert teachers create classroom climates that welcome admission of errors; they achieve this by developing a climate of trust between teacher and student, and between student and student (Hattie, 2012, p. 26).

Community_circleThe first days of school for most are just around the corner—we know this because the “Back to School” ads have already been up and running. Teachers everywhere are preparing for those first days of school. The expert teachers are planning activities for students to get to know their teachers, for teachers to get to know their students, and most importantly for students to get to know each other. This is always time well spent and often sets the tone for the rest of the semester and/or school year.

Building relationships with students and among students is the key to building trust with students and among students as well as creating a classroom climate that facilitates student learning. When students know you care about them and their learning, they show up physically and mentally. I am always reminded of one of my high school students who had perfect attendance in my class, Early American Literature, and proudly told me that my class was the only one he attended on most days. While he may have had an overwhelming interest in early American Literature, he also knew that he was welcomed, supported, and part of a community of learners in my class.

Thriving in the HS Classroom

My colleagues and I have a new book out, Thriving in the High School Classroom, available from Teachers Pay Teachers. We share many strategies grounded in best practice and our professional experiences that facilitate building trust with students and among students. We also published a book with Lorenz Press, From Surviving to Thriving: Mastering the Art of the Elementary Classroom, also available on Teachers Pay Teachers. While both books are great for new teachers, more experienced teachers might be reminded of strategies they successfully used in the past and perhaps a few new ones too. Check out our other products on Teachers Pay Teachers!  Oh, and we’re having a sale on Monday, August 4, and Tuesday, August 5!!

 Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. London and New York: Routledge.


5 Things Middle School Students Want Their Teachers to Know

October 27, 2013

The quality of the relationships that students have in class with their peers and teachers is important to their success in school.  Bob Pletka

We recently completed a study that surveyed over 300 middle school students about their perception of effective instruction.  And, you know what?  Student comments regarding effective instruction connected to student readiness for learning, learning styles, and teacher and student relationships. Basically middle school student perception of effective instruction reflected those experiences with teachers and learning where teachers responded to students as individuals, attended to their learning needs, and created a classroom environment that facilitated community and learning.   Here’s just five things middle school students want their teachers to know.  Each item is followed by a quote from a middle school student.

5 Things Middle School Students Want Their Teachers to Know

  1. Make learning relevant to our lives. “Introduce how it will relate to anything else we’ve learned so far, or how it will help us in everyday life.”
  2. Start lessons with engaging activities. “Good teachers start teaching with a fun activity or brain teaser.  Good teachers start with a fun experiment or project.”
  3. Vary activities and include movement.  “The teacher teaches in different ways (audio, visual, and hands-on) which helps a lot.  We always get to get up and move around.”
  4. Plan less teacher talk and more student talk.  “Don’t lecture so much, find activities that make us talk but productive.”
  5. Be excited about teaching.  “I want teachers to be excited about being here and have a good time with their lessons.”

We will be presenting more about our research and what middle school students know about effective instruction at the Association of Middle Level Educators Conference in Minneapolis, November 7-9, 2013.  Hope to see you there!

Thursday, November 7, 9:45 AM

Here’s What Middle Level Students Think about Good Teaching
Linda Neiman, Linda L. Carpenter, Jennifer Fontanini
We surveyed middle school students to find out what are their thoughts about what good teaching is and what good teachers do. Their responses may surprise you and affirm what you already knew about effective teaching and student learning. Join us for discerning discussion about what middle level students are thinking about good teaching. Walk away with a sometimes humorous, always insightful look from the other side of teaching.

AMLE Conference Information

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Grouping to Build Relationships

August 10, 2013

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another:  “What!  You  too? I thought I was the only one.”

                                                                                            C. S. Lewis

August is the month of anticipation—new school year coming, football season beginning, fall and holidays around the corner—and we are still enjoying summer.  The creative energy emitting from teachers planning for the upcoming school year is electrifying.  Students are eager to reconnect with school pals and anxious about meeting their new teachers and class mates.  Good teachers know students learn best in a positive, nurturing learning environment where relationships between teachers and students and students and students are carefully constructed, day by day.

Build those relationships directly with getting to know you activities and indirectly by grouping students creatively.  One way to build relationships among students and form small collaborative learning groups is to use getting-to-know-you prompts on grouping cards.  Create a table with two columns and four rows on one page, forming eight “cards.”  In each space, write a different prompt and make four copies of the page.  Cut and distribute to students, directing them to find three other students to form a group.  As they form their group, they should respond to the prompt and share their responses with each other.  Time permitting, you can direct students to reform with three other students who have different prompts, and repeat.  Here’s a list of prompts you might consider using:

“Best”   Prompts

You, too!   Prompts

Best Sandwich

Best Superhero

Do you have   sisters or brothers?

Do you have   pets?

Best Sport

Best Holiday

Do you play a   sport?

Do you play a   musical instrument?

Best Book

Best Movie

Do you play   video games?

Do you like   the Muppets?

Best Video Game

Best Dessert

Do you know   how to dance?

Do you speak another   language?

For more ideas about grouping techniques, check out Grouping Techniques for the Classroom.  If you have a novel way to form groups, let us know!

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End of the School Year Activities

May 23, 2013

Reflection in the context of learning is a generic term for those intellectual and affective activities in which individuals engage to explore their experiences in order to lead to new understandings and appreciation.  It may take place in isolation or in association with others.  David Boud, Rosemary Keogh, and David Walker


Once again it is the time of the year that teachers are counting days, lamenting and celebrating the end of the school year while excitedly planning for next year.  End-of-the-year reflective activities wrap up the current school year and provide students an opportunity to reflect on their classroom experiences.  Student reflections solidify what students thought was important about their classes, whether that be what they learned, how they felt, or what they might do differently in the future.  These student responses also give teachers valuable information about their teaching and what they should keep doing and what they might consider not doing.  The activities listed below are just a sampling of reflective activities that have worked for us. Please share your end-of-the-year reflective activities that have worked for you and your students.

A Few Reflective Activities for the End-of-the-School Year

Reflective Essay

Write an essay about what you learned this year or semester in this class?  Not just the facts, but what did you learn that you can apply to your own life or that was important to you.  No limit or page requirement, just an essay.

Reflective Collage/Wordle

Create a collage or Wordle that reflects what you learned this year or semester in this class?  Not just the facts, but what did you learn that you can apply to your own life or that was important to you.

3-2-1 Contact

List 3 things you learned this year.

List 2 things you will do over the summer to become even a better student and learner.

List 1 thing you will try that you have never done before.

Contact:  Choose one activity you enjoy doing and practice it.  Become a pro!

Four Corners

Corner Question #1:  What was the most fun you had in this class?

Corner Question #2:  What was the most important thing you learned in this class?

Corner Question #3:  What would you tell someone who will be in this class next year about this class?

Corner Question #4:  What was your favorite activity in this class?

Use Post-Its or invite students to write comments on poster paper.  Invite students to visit each corner and write a response to the prompt.  After students have visited all corners, share responses.

Letters to Those Who Will Follow

Direct students to write letters to the students who will be in their class next semester or school year.  Provide a variety of stationary, including colored paper and different size envelopes.  Good opportunity to remind students how to address an envelope.  Great way to start the new school year or semester.

Spring Check-Out

Copy these questions on a half-sheet, add a spring graphic, and invite students to respond to each of these prompts:

  • One thing that really blooms in this class is…
  • One thing I might weed out in this class is…
  • One thing that would make my learning blossom is…

Kindness is Catching

If you keep scraps of colored paper, this is a great use for them.  Give students oddly shaped pieces of colored paper and ask them to write down a kindness someone showed them during the past year and how that kindness positively impacted them.  Create a bulletin board by displaying all the kindnesses.

Spring Snowball Fight

Give each student a piece of white paper.  Ask students to list the three most important things they learned this year/semester in this class.  Direct students to crumple the paper and on your signal, throw that “snowball” into the air.  Next, direct students to pick up a snowball, unwrinkled it, and read it to the class.  You might want to shovel up these snowballs for further reflection.

Something else to consider is to give students a project for the summer like our Summer Reading and Writing Journal which includes teacher guidelines, parent letter, resources for reading lists, bookmarks, 38-page student reading and writing journal and much more.  Ideal to give intermediate students and their families to sustain and promote reading and writing skills over the summer.


Summer Reading and Writing Journal

Connection between Learning and Reflection

Making Practice-Based Learning Work

Constructivism as a Learning Theory

March 21, 2013

QuoteBill 2nd Grade

A community of learners is established by hearing student voices.  It is a deliberate process orchestrated by an effective teacher to ensure that every child has that access to powerful learning experiences and potential academic success.

Linda Carpenter, Jennifer Fontanini, and Linda Neiman

This past weekend we attended the ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) convention in Chicago (and yes, we saw the Chicago River dyed green!).  We were honored to present, “Orchestrating Student Voices to Build a Community of Learners” and this the above quote is how we ended our presentation.  We were pleased that our participants were engaged and enjoyed an interactive, constructivist presentation.

As we also volunteered to host other presentations, and in talking to conventioneers, one theme emerged—that although we talk about interactive, constructivist learning, most presentations were lecture mode—sit and get.  Constructivism isn’t a passing fad, constructivism is a learning theory that is supported by educational and cognitive neuroscience (See Constructivism as a Learning Theory) and it applies to all learners.  As my colleague, Linda Carpenter remarked at the beginning of our presentation, “Kids and adults like to have fun just like elementary students. Sometimes that means music and colored paper and even crayons.”

All in all, it was a wonderful conference, highlighted by Maya Angelou.  We were in the sixth row thanks to Tammy from Alabama, who guided and glided us through the process of getting awesome seats.  It was a privilege to be in the presence of someone like Maya Angelou.

In our work for Teachers Pay Teachers as well as the presentations and workshops we do, we intentionally plan that work around the principles of constructivism.  We learn more, deeper, and better, when we construct our own meanings within a context that provides a positive and safe learning environment and relevant content.  Effective teachers teach in ways that ensure that every child has access to powerful learning experiences and potential academic success.

Check out the products we are developing for Teachers Pay Teachers.  Each month we are adding more products that employ a constructivist, student-centered approach.  It’s not your average workbook pages anymore!  Kids deserve better!


Orchestrating Student Voices to Build Community (Click to download)

Constructivism as a Learning Theory (Click to Download)

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