Don’t Teach Kids How To Read, Teach Them Why

Don’t Teach Kids How To Read, Teach Them Why

by Terry Heick

Preface: I’m writing under the assumption that the ‘child’ in question has access to some form of mobile technology, and that’s a problematic assumption that causes problems for my thesis, here. Nonetheless, addressing both ‘sides would require a far more extensive essay than I have time to research and write. Keep this distinction in mind if socio-cultural paradigms tangle the extraction of ideas for you.

The discussion around literacy is an ongoing storm that pulls in classic tenets like literature and modern ideas like digital reading and coding.

As always, language is a factor. We use the word ‘reading’ when we sometimes mean ‘decoding.’

And sometimes we mean the practice of reading and sometimes we mean the process of reading. And sometimes we mean close reading–the ongoing critical scrutiny of a text and its author and context and form–but instead, call it ‘studying’ or ‘reading carefully.’ Yet, when we create programs or think about curriculum, we lump it all together in one word. Reading.

One thing, however, seems clear to me: Two decades into the 21st-century, it’s time to stop teaching kids how to read.

It’s Time To Stop Teaching Kids How To Read

If you’ve watched a child operate an app you’re not familiar with, two things should become immediately clear:

1. Children are a lot more capable than modern academic work can make them appear (or think of themselves) at times.

2. The psychology of learning is everything. Motivation, emotion, self-image, and social norms all play major factors in a student’s ‘literacy skills’–and thus if they ‘do well in school’ or not.

If a child is motivated to do something, they are capable of magic. Creativity and self-imposed quality standards and passion just pour out effortlessly. There’s very little coaching or teaching necessary. Few academic standards to ‘unpack’ and skills to break down into knowledge and competencies. They just do it.

And in this context, a teacher’s role changes and different forms of support become useful to that child. Modeling. Examples. Probing questions. Helping them create healthy self-talk and finding opportunities to transfer what they know and are able to do into their life so they can make live better and create a better world for and with the people around them.

In the ‘modern circumstance’–one increasingly or abbreviated texts, orality, and passive video consumption–pushing children to ‘read more books’ isn’t wrong, but it’s wrong-headed. Children have a nearly infinite number of choices of media forms. Increasingly, books aren’t thought of as alternatives to video (that is, a legit and authentic alternative to YouTube) or even as ways to learn about themselves and the world around them; rather, they are thought of in terms of their form as books.

A lot of this has to do with reading as a practice: reading as a personal practice and reading as a social practice.

It’s often said that ‘these kids can’t read,’ and in many cases that’s true. But why? Why can’t they read? We can’t possibly teach them to read if we don’t understand why they can’t read and why they don’t read with automatically connecting the two. That is, without automatically assuming that if they can read, they will.

What kids need to learn isn’t something to teach but rather something they should come to understand: Reading is simply a process of translating single-media symbols (text) into accessible ideas. If students ‘don’t like to do that,’ perhaps we should look at why. Why don’t students like to read?

Consider the difference between ‘why don’t they like to read?’ and ‘why don’t they like translating single-media symbols into accessible ideas?” The word ‘reading’ has a lot of baggage attached to it. Translating symbols into accessible ideas is something they do with every digital gesture, notification, form, and modality. Every time their friend raises an eyebrow or a parent changes the tone of their voice.

So why not books? And that’s not a rhetorical question. Truly, scientifically, and as a matter of precision exactly why not books? Too many words? Too few pictures? Not social enough? Not enough free time?

(We could even push the conversation further and ask if it matters that they don’t like to ‘read books’ and instead considered what other forms (and I don’t mean YouTube videos) might be a more seamless ‘fit’ for them, but that’s another topic for another day.)

It doesn’t matter if they can, it matters if they do.

The Relationship Between Reading & Critical Thinking

As far as I can tell, close reading is a lot like critical thinking. Not only is it difficult to teach but even if it wasn’t, teaching students how to think critically is less important than teaching them why to think critically–and both are less important than creating feedback loops in their life so that they do think critically.

Let’s think of reading for a moment as a matter of hierarchy–of levels:

word part level

word level

phrase level

sentence level

paragraph level

section/chapter levels (doesn’t always apply)

paper/book level

idea level

author level

(We can also keep going–social levels, historical levels, literary theory levels, and so on, but this becomes more of a reading [and reader] perspective thing.)

We Teach Reading All Wrong–Backwards

Like a lot of ‘things’ (skills, competencies, content, ideas, concepts, etc.), we teach reading all wrong, and the only proof we need that this is true is to look at the effects of how we teach reading now. We start with the process and hope we get to the purpose and gifts of reading, not to mention how it trains students to think critically–which leads to critical literacy, the ability to change the world.

Decoding doesn’t have much to do with thinking critically, but the ongoing process of meaning-making immediately after decoding a text requires a variety of critical thinking skills. When thinking of the ‘levels’ above, once readers start reading at the ‘phrase level’ and beyond, critical thinking is increasingly embedded in the process of reading–and this is still thinking of reading as a processReading as a practice is another matter entirely; here, critical thinking abounds:

What to read.

How to know if what they’re reading is credible, accurate, biased, and/or worth the investment of their time.

When to read.

How to share what they’ve read.

Why to read.

What to do with what they read.

How to ‘think of’ reading and of themselves as readers.

It’s difficult to ‘start’ with these kinds of ideas because they’re complex and nuanced and difficult to grasp for younger readers. So that’s fine–we can continue to start with reading as a process. Decoding and reading strategies and the like all matter. But at some point–with great ferocity and compelling pathos, ethos, and logos–we have to help students transition to reading as a practice.

And when we do, we’ll again create a generation of readers.


50 Things You Can Say To Encourage A Child

50 Things You Can Say To Encourage A Child

by TeachThought Staff

There are many ways to encourage a child, but for students of any age, honest, authentic, and persistent messages from adults that have credibility in their eyes are among the most powerful.

The National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning has put together the following list, 50 Ways To Encourage A Child. It was designed for younger students (head start/kindergarten), but with the exception of 4, 17, 21, and maybe 40, they’re actually useful for K-12 in general. It all depends on your tone, the situation, and who else is listening.

In addition, they’ve got a couple of other useful documents under their tips for fostering teacher connections series you can check out as well.

See also Sentence Stems To Replace ‘I Don’t Know’ Or ‘I Can’t’

50 Things You Can Say To Encourage A Child


See also Need A Lift? Here Are 50 Books That Can Make You Happy

50 Things You Can Say To Encourage A Child

  • Thumbs up.
  • You’re on the right track now.
  • You’ve worked so hard on that.
  • I heard you say how you feel. That’s great,
  • Oh, that turned out very well.
  • That’s coming along nicely.
  • I’m proud of the way you worked today.
  • You’ve just about got it.
  • That’s the best you’ve ever done.
  • You stayed so calm during that problem.
  • That’s it!
  • Now you’ve figured it out!
  • That’s quite an improvement.
  • I knew you could do it.
  • Congratulations.
  • I love hearing your words.
  • What a superstar you are.
  • You’ve solved the problem.
  • Keep working on it, you’re almost there!
  • Now you have it.
  • Your brain must be working hard, you figured that out quickly.
  • I bet you’re proud of yourself.
  • One more time and you’ll have it.
  • Great idea!
  • You’re amazing!
  • Terrific teamwork!
  • Nothing can stop you now.
  • You have such creative ideas.
  • That’s the way to do it.
  • Sensational!
  • You must have been practicing.
  • You handled that so well.
  • I like how you think.
  • Good remembering.
  • You know just what to do!
  • You really are persisting with this.
  • You expressed yourself so well.
  • You did it!
  • I knew you two could figure it out together.
  • Excellent job saying how you feel.
  • I know it’s hard, but you’re almost there.
  • Fantastic problem-solving!
  • I love hearing your ideas.
  • I know that was hard for you, but you stayed so calm.
  • Yes!
  • Looked how you help each other.
  • You finished faster because you worked together.
  • You kept trying!
  • Excellent try!
  • You are a creative thinker.

You can see the original pdf files here.

50 Things You Can Say To Encourage A Child; image attribution flickr user skokiemonumentpark


25 Tricks To Improve A Boring Lesson

25 Tricks To Improve A Boring Lesson

contributed by Lisa Chesser

Over the years, I’ve noticed how one question can change the dynamics of any situation.

Everything might be moving along quite nicely at the dinner table, everyone’s happy and laughing but one question can send those same smiling faces into a frenzy of shouts and upset. This also holds true in a classroom. Students may be working quietly and the teacher might be content but one question or comment from a student or the teacher can turn that quiet into bubbling sea of chatter.

Beyond textbooks and worksheets, at the core of every basic lesson lies the key to teaching students anything and everything–student engagement.

Routines give rhythm and security to any learning environment. For students, the rhythm begins with knowing that when they enter the classroom, they need to begin writing in their journals about the topic on the board. In another class they might start with a set of problems to solve. In yet another, they might pick up from where they began with the lab work they left behind in the previous class. In online classrooms, routines give students order and direction.

It’s when these routines turn into lullabies that it’s time to change the rhythm. These suggestions aren’t meant to become a project where the teacher spends endless hours planning. These are just quick tricks to step up the beat so that students stay interested.

Enter Math Class

1. Lesson:  Money and Multiplication

Multiplication and money go hand in hand. Word problems center on pulling apart large amounts into smaller ones and the number of $5, $10, $20, and $50 dollar bills which make up the equations.

Beginning class with a lesson in multiples only makes practical sense. So, students write times tables then often answer a word problem to demonstrate multiplication. After the routine sets in, add music—actually add rhythm.

Add Music.

Teachers can take it as far as you want, with short tapping, dancing or even a jump rope routine, but be sure not to penalize students who aren’t good at this part or don’t find it helpful. It’s simply a break in a routine.

2. Lesson: Measurements

Students may be learning the basics of measurements or even learning the conversion table. Either way, repetition helps understanding settle in. But, once it’s clear that this has happened, break into the pattern and challenge them.

Add Objects.

Challenge them to bring in objects to measure or weigh. Suddenly the lesson becomes three-dimensional and the daily routine has a heartbeat.

3. Lesson: Mental Math

With mental math resources and lessons, students are practicing multiples in conjunction with addition and subtraction. They may also be rounding and working on place value. So they answer routine questions daily. Then move on to more challenging formats and ask students to create their own problems.

Add Candy.

Essentially, all mental math equals visuals so give them a series of problems with lollipops or any other candy that you know they’ll love. Then, reward them with it once they solve the problem correctly.

4. Lesson: Computations

Whether it’s a lesson in associative property of multiplication or distributive property of multiplication over addition, repetition of the ideas creates comfort for students. However, application seals it in their minds so add a little challenge into the routine.

Add a Party.

Have students plan a party. Give them a budget and a quick list of criteria to complete such as a shopping list and a supply list. Students can partner with each other or even work in groups of four.

5. Lesson: Algebra

Students must practice equations and word problems constantly in order to keep their minds focused. For a practical problem such as y + 8 = 32, students work their answers easily and move to more complex equations quickly. Fine. Then, they get the challenge of the word problem and essentially, so do you because you have to make sure they’re still learning.

Add Grapes.

Bring in grapes or nuts or chips. The idea is that you allow students to focus on an object or reward to motivate them to create word problems centered on their object of devotion. Again, they do the creating. They’re motivated. You’re free to teach within their enthusiasm.

Enter Reading Class

6. Lesson:  Fluency

Never before has just the act of reading on a daily basis been more important to a student’s learning experience. Making sure that students can form words correctly and sound out new ones can be a tiring task for teacher and student.

Add Student Choice.

Simply ask the students what they’d like to read and only read that no matter how simple. It builds confidence and gives them a feeling that they have some control over what they’re learning.

7. Lesson:  Comprehension

It would only follow that if a student achieves fluency then they should be able to comprehend what they read. That’s not always the case or teachers wouldn’t spend so much time reading passages and having students answer comprehension questions.

Add Quiz Masters.

After several days of reading and answering questions have students ask the questions. Tell students to ask the questions and have them quiz each other, either in groups of 2 or 4. It can be a large-scale challenge or a small one. The idea is that they are in charge.

8. Lesson:  Vocabulary

Whatever the grade level, teachers are constantly making sure students are acquiring new vocabulary. But, while matching definitions and looking up definitions may clarify the meanings of the words, it doesn’t ensure that students will remember the words.

Add Passwords.

Simply enough, at least at first, have them build a story together. Each student takes a word and begins a story with one sentence. This takes 10 to 15 minutes and means a lot to them in the end: attention, laughter, and challenge.

9. Lesson:  Central Idea

There’s nothing more important and more difficult than teaching the central or main idea of stories large and small. Right when you think they’ve got it, students turn around and give you the completely wrong idea. So, it’s important to keep training them by constantly asking the same question. When teachers start to feel themselves collapsing, the class may collapse too.

Add Fishbowl.

Turn your class into a fishbowl. Put six or seven chairs in the middle and the rest surrounding those. Switch out students throughout the lesson. The students in the middle have to come up with the main idea and the students on the outside take notes and critique them.

10. Lesson:  Analysis

Analysis of short stories or novels requires a lot of critical thinking questions in which students justify their answers with evidence from the story. Without analysis infused into daily lessons, students would be lost in any subject requiring them to think outside the box. When practice becomes redundant, have them be the characters.

Add Drama.

Have them write a one-page response to the class from the characters point of view. Have the character analyze them. The character could be humorous or angry or even bitter about the whole thing. Whatever the view, it should give them some added interest.

Enter Writing Class

11. Lesson:  Opinion pieces

Daily journal writing is a great way for students to practice expressing their opinions on most any subject. Teaching them to respond to different questions gives them a sense of comfort with various topics.

Add Tension.

Ask a deliberately uncomfortable question. At this point you should know your class pretty well, so asking this question shouldn’t be too difficult. Just make sure that it’s within the limits of being appropriate for their age group.

12. Lesson:  Structure

Teaching structure is like pulling teeth. Students either love it so much that they sound like robots or they hate it so much that they fly off topic after the first couple of sentences. Forcing them to remain on topic on a daily basis means they’ll do it automatically when under pressure.

Add Bubbles and Boxes.

Students who hate structure love bubbles. Students who like structure love boxes. Tell them to use either for the next few daily lessons and insert their information accordingly. When they check over their work, they must then write anything unfocused outside the bubbles or circles.

13. Lesson:  Argument and Support

Students usually enjoy persuasive essays until they’re on their fortieth prompt and it’s still the beginning of the school year, so mixing things up becomes more than important.

Add Posters. (See also How To Make A Movie Poster)

There’s something about doing the same thing, only bigger that makes students pay attention. Break the room into groups of four or five. Have them brainstorm and work on introductions one class period then put it on a poster by the end of the class. The same can be done for the three supporting paragraphs and conclusion.

14. Lesson:  Expository and Information

One of the most misunderstood formats that students write, expository essays need constant practice depending on the grade level. There are several variations within the essays themselves. But, students begin to gripe about it after they’ve gotten over the first groans of protest and are deep into their routine.

Add Gummy Bears.

Gummy bears, chocolate, Skittles, or whatever candy they love to snack on. Have them research how it’s made then write about it. The essays that receive above a “B” or include certain criteria win free packages of their favorite candy. It all depends on how deep the lesson needs to go.

15. Lesson:  Grammar and Style

Identifying parts of speech and how to use them may mean endless reviewing and writing. Picking apart sentence structure and practicing syntax requires discipline. Diagramming sentences feels like a routine vaccine visit unless you add some interest.

Add Magazines.

Have students first read a high-interest story then pull some sentences from that. This will break up the lesson but also give the student and teacher a better idea of what’s really being learned.

Enter Science Class

16. Lesson:  Solar System

While learning about the solar system makes for an interesting lesson for most, some of the actual terminology needs repetition to be learned. After they’ve learned all the basic planets and that Pluto is now one of the dwarf planets, offer a challenge.

Add Meteors.

Students believe the world revolves around them anyway so play into that. By now, many have read about the meteor blast in Siberia, so ask students to not only read about it but come up with their own theories on how this affects the rest of the world.

17. Lesson:  Matter & Chemistry

Acids and bases, atoms, chemical equations, and so forth require reinforcement with repetitive lessons. But, minus movies and lab experimentation, try sealing in some of the terminology with some twists and turns.

Add Everyday Items.

The familiar world around us changes when we look at it differently, so have students find chemistry in their everyday lives. Challenge them to bring in various items as you move forward in the lesson. Simplicity matters. Use tea and add lemon to demonstrate the lightening effect.

18. Lesson:  Energy

Teaching energy efficiency, renewable energy, thermodynamics, or energy transfer gives students the knowledge they need in order to become literate in the subject matter. If the daily lesson involves answering a set of questions or rewriting definitions or simply reviewing, don’t allow the information to float away.

Add Critiques.

Simply asking students what they think of the way the school uses energy may be enough. Have them continue to follow their lesson but tell them to look around them and bring in five alternatives to the way their school consumes energy. The idea is that students are doing the work and finding the solutions to problems while doing one of their favorite things: complaining about school.

The U.S. Department of Energy has great lessons for teachers with useful ideas for practical purposes at

19. Lesson:  Life Science

Biotechnology, cells and cell processes, and genetics are among the many topics covered in Life Science lessons. Although interesting enough, the lessons require students to acquire and use new vocabulary as well as connect all the new concepts introduced. Making sure students retain this information can be a challenge in itself. The key remains repetition with connection.

Add Cloning.

With ideas and vocabulary swarming around the room on a daily basis, ask them what they think about cloning humans. This question alone should start the discussion up and then refocus them to the matter at hand. Teachers can take it as far or as little as they want.

20. Lesson:  Minerals

For some, learning about rocks and minerals naturally sparks interest. For many students, it only affirms their boredom. This means that even a demonstration with actual minerals will provoke little curiosity. So, once routine sets in…

Add Aliens.

Ask a simple question. How does our study of minerals help us search for extraterrestrial life? Then, let them argue their points and challenge them to use what they’ve learned about minerals so far.

Enter Social Studies Class

21. Lesson:  Maps

Students love to look at maps and pretend they know how to read them. They love to take notes on them and act like they’re experts after a day’s lesson. But, ask them to answer a question about distance traveled or where a team of travelers ended its journey and students suddenly have no idea where to start.

Add Scavenger Hunts.

Have them use their maps and create points in the class that represent a point on the map. It takes five minutes to put together and students love it. Add a reward to the mix, and they’ll like it even better.

22. Lesson:  Government

Teaching the branches of the government and how they work may be important but it can be an excruciating process. So many students despise the thought of it. So adding interest needs to be sprinkled throughout the lessons.

Add Current Events.

There’s no other way to get students to learn this part of social studies than to tell them to find a story on a weekly basis that’s related to the topic at hand. Or, just have UpFront, Scope, or Time for Kids available in the classroom for students to find stories that apply.

23. Lesson:  Civil Rights

One of the most important lessons taught to students, this gives them a deeper understanding of right and wrong and why laws exist and need to be enforced. Sometimes students see it as ancient history though. So keep it current as well.

Add Students.

Ask the important question: How have things changed? Have them list it or journal it then expand on that as the lesson continues. They need to understand their relationship to it.

24. Lesson:  American History

Teaching students about the Revolutionary War may be interesting to the two history buffs whose eyes sparkle when they hear the topic. But, the rest of the class might be going comatose. So, give them options.

Add Inventions.

Ask students what they would’ve done without air conditioning or even electricity considering that it had just been discovered. Ask them what they would’ve invented. Possibly assign them inventors to research.

25. Lesson:  World History

Teaching world history can actually be a very interesting lesson for students because they learn so much about parts of the world that they otherwise may never have known. However, ingesting this information means a lot of textbook chapters. To break the routine, just think of the wild, imaginative stories created by cultures around the world.

Add Stories, Myths, and Legends.

Learning about countries and their unique cultures through myths, legends, and other stories makes the countries live inside the students’ minds and gives value to their knowledge. So, ask them to bring in an article or information about a legend or story unique to a particular country, then share it with the class.

This is a syndicated cross-post from


15 Apps & Websites For Teaching Math Online

15 Apps & Websites For Teaching Math Online

contributed by Jennifer Smith

With the increasing popularity of STEM-focused learning more and more students are taking on more and more challenging math courses.

However, for some students, the subject can present a real challenge; but knowing where to turn to for help can greatly mitigate the struggle and improve their understanding.

Online charter schools offer students the ability to get creative with their math resources—turning to apps, websites, and online programs to help them literally solve the problems in front of them. Choosing the most helpful, appropriate, and enjoyable online math tools can be a problem on its own—but luckily, with the help of a few of the teachers at CalPac, an online charter school that serves Southern California, that problem is easily solved.

Here are their 15 favorite online resources to help make math more approachable—and even fun—for students at all grade levels.

15 Apps & Websites For Teaching Math Online

1. Khan Academy

Khan Academy is a completely free personalized learning resource with online courses, videos, and exercises. Students can complete daily reviews and keep track of their progress within the platform’s learning dashboard. The math tutorials are categorized by subject and by grade level for easy navigation and utilize specialized content—with the help of organizations like NASA, California Academy of Sciences, and The Museum of Modern Art—to bring the lessons to life.

What teachers love: Practice problems provide hints one step at a time, so students can get help when they’re stuck at a specific point, but don’t necessarily need help with the entire problem. This allows them to work things out for themselves and learn at their own pace.

Grade levels: K-12; secondary

2. YouTube University

Many students are already familiar with YouTube, but we’re guessing they don’t frequent the site’s University channel. The Mathematics playlist has more than 30 videos with problem-solving lessons and real-life examples of math in action. Students can also subscribe to individual courses, teachers, universities, and organizations—like Khan Academy—to get notifications when new math-related videos are posted.

What teachers love: YouTube is a familiar platform for students so it’s easy for them to search for the help they need. Plus, many of the videos are relatable and fun (check out Math Antics’ channel, for instance).

Grade levels: 10-12; secondary

See also 25 Of The Best Math Resources For 2018

3. IXL

While IXL is a subscription-based learning site, it does offer free daily math practice problems. Students can complete ten free questions (in each subject) per day and grow their math skills. The subscription membership includes unlimited practice questions, analytics, certificates, and personalized skill recommendations.

What teachers love: If a student gets a problem incorrect, the program shows all the steps to complete the problem so they can see where they went wrong and learn from their mistakes.

4. Math is Fun

Just as the name implies, Math is Fun aims to make math enjoyable and entertaining. The site uses puzzles, games, quizzes, worksheets, and a forum to help guide students through their learning.

What teachers love: The problems and solutions are all explained in simple language, making it easier for students to learn on their own without the necessity of an adult or teacher to “translate.”

Grade levels: K-12

5. Wolfram MathWorld

MathWorld is a free online resource for everything related to mathematics. The site includes interactive GIFs and demonstrations, downloadable notebooks, and “capsule summaries” for various math terms. Students can explore the more than 13,000 entries to strengthen their math foundation and build up their understanding.

What teachers love: The site allows older and more advanced students to really dig deep into mathematics, with topics and articles in several different math-related subjects for a variety of background and ability levels.

6. Art of Problem Solving

With the Art of Problem Solving, students have three different avenues to get help and resources related to math. The Online School is a gateway for students to enroll in additional math classes and AoPS’ Bookstore offers challenging, in-depth textbooks so students can further explore the subject.

What teachers love: Students can challenge themselves to dig deeper into the math subjects they find fascinating through moderated message boards, games, and articles.

Grade levels: 2-12

7. Desmos

Desmos is a free online graphing calculator that students can use to graph functions, plot data and evaluate equations. The site also includes math examples and even creative art—so students can get the most out of the calculator.

What teachers love: The website and program are extremely user-friendly, with an extensive help center; and with Desmos, families don’t have to worry about purchasing a pricey graphing calculator.

Grade levels: 6-12; secondary

8. Prodigy Math Game

Grade levels: K-8

9. Numberphile YouTube Channel

Grade levels: 6-12; secondary

10. edX

Grade levels: 6-12; secondary

11. MIT OpenCourseWare

Grade levels: 6-8

12. How To Learn Math (a free online Stanford University course)

Grade levels: 6-8

13. Mathplanet

Grade levels: 6-8

14. Illustrative Mathematics

Grade levels: 6-8

15. Adapted Mind

Grade levels: K-5

15 Apps & Websites For Teaching Math Online


7 Mistakes That Quality Assessments Avoid

7 Mistakes That Quality Assessments Avoid

contributed by Daniel R. Venables, Founding Director of the Center for Authentic PLCs

This post has been updated with additional resources and republished

It’s that time of the school year when teachers are facing writing their first or second wave of unit tests and assessments. The following list of items are things best avoided in designing quality teacher-made assessments.  

1. Too many multiple-choice questions

Sure, they are easy to correct and reduce the time it takes teachers to correct several classes of tests, but they generally reveal very little about a student’s knowledge or understanding if she gets a question wrong. (This is true also for a question a student answered correctly in so far as we have no idea if the student’s answer was a random guess.)

To know how a student was thinking or where her confusion might lie, we need questions that give her a chance to say more than “B”. More, in the words of the late, great educator Dr. Ted Sizer, “How can we assess if a student is using her mind well if we ask her questions that have answers to choose from?”

2. Including ‘spoiler-alert’ questions

By these I mean questions that tell the student how to answer the question in the question itself. For example, on a math test containing a section on applying logarithms, don’t say “Use logs to solve each the following,” instead say “Solve each of the following.”

3. Using questions with no identifiable purpose

It’s so easy for us as educators to put a question on an assessment we’re writing that seemed like a good one but, upon further examination, has no real purpose.

For each question item included on your assessment ask: What is the purpose of this question? What specific knowledge will I gain about my students’ levels of mastery of a standard or substandard by their answers to this question?

4. Unintentional question redundancy

It may be the case that you’re deliberately asking a question that tests the same skill or understanding at the same level of cognition as another question, but very often we include several question items that may look different or have different window dressing surrounding them that tests the exact understanding or skill as a previous question. Ask yourself: Do I need another question testing this or have I covered this standard sufficiently by previous questions at previous levels of depth?  

Remember all the correcting you had to do in #1? Less is more.

5. Using unweighted rubrics

If the assessment you’re designing has a component that is to be scored with a rubric, weight the various dimensions in the rubric according to their significance.

For example, if one dimension is Writing Mechanics and another is Source Citing, decide if these should hold the same weight in the overall grade on this assessment and, if not, weight them accordingly. It is a rare case when it is sensible for every dimension of a rubric to have the same weight. Don’t do so by default because it hadn’t occurred to you to give them different weights.  

6. Rubric dimensions that address what students did

The purpose of the rubric is to discern levels of mastery of various standards addressed by the assessment and not a checklist of whether or not the student included things she was supposed to do in the manner you requested.

For example, a rubric dimension Use of Text as Evidence addresses a learning standard or substandard being assessed but a rubric dimension Completion of Portfolio Requirements addresses something the student did and not something the student learned.

Let the rubric reflect students’ level of learning; let a separate checklist denote what she did in the demonstration of that learning. [Bonus tip: For the Checklist, I always include one like “Use of Class Time”]

7. Using a single grade to reflect mastery of multiple standards

This may be a time-honored tradition, but it really makes no sense. We are interested in our students’ mastery against a standard or several standards and in that regard, there should be a separate score/grade assigned for each.

If this is too bold a break from tradition for you and you insist on an overall score for every assessment, avoid thinking in terms of percentages (another time-honored tradition that really makes no sense).  

Score the component parts of the assessment as you will and if you’re going to use an overall score, make it one that is sensible based on the amount of mastery evidenced and not on what percentage of the assessment items the student answered correctly.

Daniel R. Venables is Founding Director of the Center for Authentic PLCs and author of How Teachers Can Turn Data Into Action (ASCD, 2014), The Practice of Authentic PLCs:  A Guide to Effective Teacher Teams (Corwin, 2011), and Facilitating Authentic PLCs:  The Human Side of Leading Teacher Teams (ASCD, forthcoming). He can be contacted at

This post is aligned with two themes from Connected Educator Month 2015: “Innovations in Professional Learning,” led by ASCD, and “Innovations in Assessment,” led by NCTE. Click the following links to find ASCD resources for professional learning or assessment; The Mistakes That Quality Assessments Avoid; image attribution flickr us nickamostcato

The Future Of Learning

Should Sandbox Learning Be The Future Of Education?

Should Sandbox Learning Be The Future Of Education?

by Terry Heick

Two decades into the 21st century, highly-structured, formal learning environments may have run their course.

If nothing else, they have a pronounced limp and awkward speech patterns that students are increasingly finding, well, academic.

In many ways, the internet was the catalyst for this. As blogs and social media exploded in popularity, they have subsequently de-credited major news media in the process. Blogs became, for many, the dominant voices, while twitter and facebook became the crowd’s chatter and cultural tethers shifted from institutions to one another–or at least the platforms and devices that give the appearance of connectivity.

And this change has been neither minor nor gradual.

See also 5 Learning Strategies That Make Students Curious

The best example of this might be the video game community, where many software developers have found success not so much with games, but equipping users with the tools to create their own games. By releasing these tools for users to design their own content, levels, maps, etc., games moved from ‘here, play this,’ to ‘here, do something cool.’

Little Big Planet, Garry’s Mod, Minecraft, and others have excelled here by simply doing less. In Little Big Planet, developer Media Molecule created a brilliant digital sandbox for learners to ‘play’ in. And such ‘play’ is not a by-product of the game, but is the game itself. No goals, no ‘win’ conditions–just a big pile of cool stuff to mess around with and share with your friends.

Even games with heavily-scripted narratives—such as Fallout, Far Cry, Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto, and others are built around a play-how-you-want philosophy. Players are given goals and a story, and use their own strategies and philosophies to accomplish them. In fact, many of these games don’t even require that you achieve a goal.

You just play.

And the best part is that this laissez-faire approach doesn’t erode the credibility of the game or how much fun it is to play, but rather increases it exponentially by changing the terms of engagement between user and media entirely, moving from passive, compliant, and on top of the game, to active, challenging, and within the game.

Platform Thinking As Sandbox Learning

Facebook has taken a similar approach. Connect with people, companies, and news how you’d like. Hide them, respond to them, de-friend them, like them, comment on them. You’re active, engaged, and in control the entire time (at least on the surface, but that’s another story entirely).

iTunes? Download only the songs you want.

Android? Configure your phone exactly how you’d like.

iPads? You’re still stuck with a walled garden, but the apps, the mobility, and the communication avenues are all yours.

YouTube? Do whatever, film it, and grow a community around that behavior.

Platform-thinking doesn’t just ‘let’ users do things, it can’t survive without it.

This is would-be ethos of sandbox learning.

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Teaching & Play Through Sandbox Learning

The takeaways here for education are nuanced. This shift isn’t simply about choice or personalization. It’s about a new locus of control–about offering new power to users. And even when that power is simply an illusion, the message is clear: the 21st century is about, among other themes, identity and connectivity.

Except that very little of this applies to education.

In college, students get some degree of choice–this major, that instructor, etc. But overall, K-20 learning is about institutions, and this has been true for over a century. The net result has been a society with very little capacity for mastering the process of learning itself, and generations of students that went to school to “get a job” rather than in dogged pursuit of innovation, genius, or critical thought.

But play can change that.

If you’ve ever taught–or even just watched someone learn something new–the role of play in learning is fascinating. In sandbox learning, learners are able to directly interact with content without the intrusion of monitoring, assessment, or having to decipher “teacher messages”. When this happens, there is more willingness to experiment, to understand, to follow curiosity, and to hold one’s self accountable to personal standards for achievement. And this is not a matter of simply moving from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation, but has more to do with sitting “first-person” in the learning process.

Not on the game but in the game.

One immediate effect of this is personalization of learning, for the learner, by the learner. Self-direction is extraordinarily powerful when combined with a supporting framework, e.g., communal constructivism, digital technology, and play.

The question then becomes a matter of logistics for teachers: Is the state of “flow” and self-directed play available in sandbox learning–where creativity and innovation come so effortlessly–something that can be promoted in a formal learning environment like a K-20 classroom?

Can a “sandbox approach” of combining self-directed learners in playful, authentic and often digital environments yield the academic and personal growth educators require and families deserve? As K-12 public education systems buy stock in data, standards, and polices that are blurry to families and communities, returning the power back to the learners—through a sandbox approach–may be the only thing that can save education as we know it.

If you want to teach kids, by all means teach them. Help them build background knowledge and develop skills. Have them jump through your hoops, and hand them little sugar cubes when they do it right.

But if you want to see them at their genius, create a sandbox and watch them play.

Should Sandbox Learning Be The Future Of Education? Image attribution flickr user flickingerbrad;


A Video Game-Themed Student Interest Inventory For Elementary Students

A Video Game-Themed Student Interest Inventory For Elementary Students

by TeachThought Staff

Curricula: You can download a ready-for-student version of this student interest inventory for free on the TeachThought TpT page.

Why Use A Student Interest Inventory?

The purpose of this inventory is to help children at the elementary age express themselves by itemizing their favorite things.

Studies have shown the role of ‘favorites’ in exploring one’s own sense of identity. For better or for worse, we are often defined by these kinds of choices into adulthood. Helping students express themselves, and then see both the commonness and individuality in these choices relative to their peers is a great lesson, and even better ice-breaker or team-building activity.

This is especially important for younger children as they experiment with different themes and ideas that they feel ‘suits’ them best.

The following inventory will help them express those choices, while doing so in the retro-hip ‘pixel’ style made popular by video games like Minecraft. We’ve included several versions to fit a range of elementary grade levels, though all are likely a better fit for K-3 than older elementary students.

You can download a ready-for-student version of this student interest inventory on the TeachThought TpT page.

A Video Game-Themed Student Interest Inventory For Elementary Students

What I Like

These Are My Favorite Things!

















What I Like

These Are My Favorite Things!


1. My favorite food is___________because___________


2. My favorite movie is___________because__________


3. My favorite song is ____________because__________


4. My favorite app is_________because______________


5. My favorite game is___________because___________


6. My favorite book is___________because___________


7. My favorite animal is___________because__________

What I Like

Choose four of the following topics and write whatever you’d like about them. There are no rules–these are just prompts to help me get to know you this year. : ) The best responses will include explanations and details–not just answers, but why you feel that way.

Potential Topics: favorite video game character, most difficult video game, how you respond when certain video game levels or challenges are difficult, most recent game you’ve finished, favorite video game series, favorite video gaming YouTuber, upcoming/unreleased game you’re most looking forward to playing, Minecraft, single-player games versus multiplayer, funniest video game character, the kind of video game you’d like to be the star of, action vs rpg, first-person vs third-person, best video game story you’ve played recently








Copyright TeachThought 2017-2018; A Video Game-Themed Student Interest Inventory For Elementary Students


A Poem That’s Been Torn In Half? New Children’s Book Explores Value Of Mistakes

A Poem That’s Been Torn In Half? New Children’s Book Explores Value Of Mistakes

by TeachThought Staff

This post is sponsored by Workman Publishing

Title: ‘My Book Of Beautiful Oops!’

Author: Barney Saltzberg (author’s page)

Ages: 3+

Availability: In Stores Now

Summary: ‘My Book Of Beautiful Oops!’ Is A Scribble it, Smear it, Fold it, Tear it Journal for Young Artists


Every mistake is an opportunity to make something beautiful. This is the central idea of Beautiful Oops!, Barney Saltzberg’s beloved bestseller—and now My Book of Beautiful Oops!, an interactive journal for young artists, takes that principle into unexpected new directions.

A hands-on journal that’s meant to be personalized—drawn in, painted on, torn up, smudged, or otherwise artistically wrecked—My Book of Beautiful Oops! is filled with folded, crumpled, die-cut, and lift-the-flap pages that will challenge the reader’s sense of play. The friendly green alligator from the first book prompts the reader: Bend a page. Decorate a smudge. Play with splats and spills. Even complete a poem that was accidentally ripped in half.

My Beautiful Book of Oops! champions imagination, play, and the courage to express oneself. It’s about self-forgiveness, about turning off that inner critic that clamors for perfection. And it’s about freedom—the freedom to be creative and follow your curiosity wherever it goes.

That’s a lesson to celebrate.

This post is sponsored by Workman Publishing

About The Author

Barney Saltzberg is the author of more than 30 books for children, including Beautiful Oops!, A Little Bit of Oomph!, Good Egg, and the bestselling Touch and Feel Kisses series. Additionally, he’s recorded four albums of songs for children. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, two dogs, and a pond full of fish.


Unique Literacy Apps Created For War-Affected Syrian Children

Unique Literacy Apps Created For War-Affected Syrian Children

by TeachThought Staff

From a press release

Oslo/Washington, DC (March 20, 2017) – A Norway-led coalition today announced two winners of the EduApp4Syria innovation competition and the worldwide release of open-source Arabic literacy learning games Antura and the Letters and Feed the Monster. Both games are now available for free download through Google Play and the App Store.

The EduApp4Syria competition was launched in January 2016 as a challenge to game developers and pedagogical experts around the world to create smartphone applications that can build foundational literacy skills in Arabic and improve psychosocial well-being for Syrian out-of-school children aged five to ten. Downloadable learning games such as these can be accessible to war-affected Syrian families, as smartphones are widely used. 

“All children have the right to education. We wanted to find new, effective and innovative ways to meet the critical need for literacy learning options for the estimated 2.5 million Syrian children whose education have been disrupted by six years of conflict. We must act now or we stand to lose an entire generation with huge long-term developmental effects,” said Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Børge Brende. “Norway is now looking into how we can develop the use of learning Apps in humanitarian crises further. We are hopeful that stakeholders in the private sector, governments and international aid organizations will embrace these as global learning resources. Every child that learns to read and write, have the potential to contribute positively to society,” the Minister said.

Antura and the Letters (Google Play & App Store), developed by a consortium led by Cologne Game Lab, and Feed the Monster (Google Play & App Store), developed by a consortium led by Apps Factory, were selected from a field of 78 competitors from around the world by a jury of experts in game-based learning, literacy, psychosocial well-being, Syrian culture and Arabic language. The jury was led by Dr. Alf Inge Wang, a professor in game technology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and co-inventor of the learning game platform Kahoot! which just recorded its one billionth player. The selection process has involved several rounds of testing with Syrian children.

The competition sought highly engaging and user-friendly applications, so that young learners can stay focused and have a fun, positive and motivating experience playing the games with minimal adult supervision. Addressing the innovation challenge required a broad spectrum of expertise within the competing teams, including pedagogical, psychological and Arabic language expertise, as well as game development, publishing, and marketing. Consequently, both the winning games are a result of collaboration between several institutions.

“Through this competition, we were eager to engage problem solvers from around the globe to develop an innovative, mobile solution to respond to the needs of displaced Syrian children who are out of school or struggling in new schools.  These children, who are innocent victims of one of our generation’s greatest humanitarian crises, deserve our very best thinking and efforts to help them overcome the challenges of not being able to regularly attend school,” stated Richard Stearns, President of World Vision in the United States.

In addition, UNICEF Ventures’ Office of Innovation will provide funding and serve as technical advisor for field testing of select applications. For more information about the EduApp4Syria competition visit and


There’s A New Sesame Street Character–And She Has Autism


New Bilingual Sesame Street and Autism Materials Created to Increase Acceptance and Provide More Tools for Families Impacted by Autism

From a press release

New York, NY—(March 20, 2017)

There’s a new Sesame Street character–and she has Autism.

Sesame Workshop, the non-profit educational organization behind Sesame Street, today announced a rich new phase of the autism initiative, Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children, welcoming Julia, a Muppet with autism, to the broadcast and signaling a strong, continuing commitment to the autism community. Julia, introduced last year in digital form, comes to life as a Muppet in addition to a broad release of resources designed to serve autistic children and their families and increase awareness and understanding of autism.

New digital videos, books, and ebooks add to the See Amazing library, with the collection available in both English and Spanish. Sesame Street’s “Meet Julia” special episode airs in a landmark joint premiere April 10 on HBO and PBS KIDS in the United States and around the world on Cartoonito UK, Australia’s ABC network, and Mexico’s Televisa, with worldwide rollout planned within the year.

“Bringing Julia to life as a Sesame Street Muppet is the centerpiece of all of our new materials to support families of children with autism,” said Sherrie Westin, EVP of Global Impact and Philanthropy, Sesame Workshop. “The response from the autism community to See Amazing in all Children has been extraordinary, and we are committed to continuing our efforts to promote understanding and acceptance of autism, as part of our mission of helping all children grow smarter, stronger, and kinder.”

In creating See Amazing, Sesame Workshop has worked for more than five years in consultation with over 250 organizations and experts within the autism community to address an increasingly prevalent condition. One in 68 American children is diagnosed with autism, and nearly every family is affected in some way.

“For years, families of children with autism have asked us to address the issue. We heard a call to use our expertise and characters to build a bridge between the autism and neurotypical communities,” said Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, SVP of U.S. Social Impact, Sesame Workshop. “So many partners, advisors, and organizations have contributed to the success of this initiative, and we are thrilled to have the benefit of this collaboration as we launch this latest chapter.

Related Resources

The new resources include:

  • “Meet Julia” Sesame Street segment, available on YouTube, HBO, PBS KIDS, and
  • Six new digital live-action segments featuring Julia, Elmo, and Abby Cadabby, available on YouTube and
  • “We’re Amazing, 1, 2, 3!” ebook available on Amazon Kindle, Amazon Fire Kids Edition tablet, Apple iBooks, and other ebook platforms. Spanish version coming soon.
  • Free Sesame Street and Autism app available for the first time on the Amazon Appstore
  • Amazon and Amazon FreeTime have donated 100 Fire Kids Edition tablets, to be donated to schools and programs with children on the autism spectrum
  • Julia “Walkaround Muppet” costumed character for community events (also making appearances at Sesame Place)
  • “We’re Amazing, 1, 2, 3!” print book to release in January 2018 from Random House Children’s Books.
  • A “Meet Julia” view & do guide filled with activity and discussion ideas


New research commissioned by Sesame Workshop and conducted by Georgetown University Medical Center and Children’s National Health System, has evaluated the impact of Sesame Street and Autism on the autism community and beyond. Preliminary findings will be announced in April at an event in Washington, D.C.

Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children is funded with generous support from American Greetings, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, and Kristen Rohr, as part of Sesame Workshop’s mission to help all children grow smarter, stronger, and kinder. It was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award in the category of Outstanding Interactive Media.

It has generated more than 1.6 million page views, with more than 400,000 users and over 30,000 app downloads to date. The “We’re Amazing 1,2,3!” storybook is used by educators and service providers nationwide. The special Sesame Street “Meet Julia” episode was also made possible by funding from HBO.

About Sesame Workshop

Sesame Workshop is the nonprofit media and educational organization behind Sesame Street, the pioneering television show that has been reaching and teaching children since 1969. Today, Sesame Workshop is an innovative force for change, with a mission to help kids everywhere grow smarter, stronger, and kinder. We’re active in more than 150 countries, serving vulnerable children through a wide range of media, formal education, and philanthropically-funded social impact programs, each grounded in rigorous research and tailored to the needs and cultures of the communities we serve. For more information, please visit


Scholastic Offers Platform For Teacher-Created Curricula


Scholastic Offers Platform For Teacher-Created Curricula

by TeachThought Staff 

This post is sponsored by Scholastic.

Back in 2013, the term teacherpreneur really started to gain traction. In early 2014, we explored the idea in a post about the conditions that led to this new idea. In 2015-2020: The Rise Of The Teacherpreneur, Paul Moss explained why teachers are often the best creators of curricula:

“The first condition is a heightened and insightful understanding of the end-user’s needs. Teacherpreneurs naturally have an infinite advantage over edtech companies, as the end-user’s needs are often the teacherpreneur’s every waking thought. This has been intensified of late by the squeeze and pressure placed on teachers to become as efficient and resourceful as possible, and has turned the teacherpreneur into a lean mean finely tuned machine.”

This concept has led to the explosion of sites that allow teachers to create, sell, and otherwise share with the rest of the education world the ideas that, ten years ago, would’ve been limited to the other teachers in their hallway.

In this context is a new program from Scholastic that provides teacher-created and Scholastic-vetted printable resources for you classroom.

About Scholastic Printables

Scholastic Printables give you instant, unlimited access to thousands of skills sheets, activities, lesson plans and more. These classroom resources are created by teachers and vetted by your trusted friends at Scholastic. Save time and money, and browse with confidence. To start your free trial, please click here.

4 Examples Of Student Work Via Scholastic Skill Sheets

  1. Math Skills – Soar Into Spring!
  2. Reading Umbrella Skill Sheet
  3. Math Skills – Tooth Fairy Skill Sheet
  4. Quilt-a-Card Spring Art Project

3 Examples Of Available Scholastic Downloadable Skill Sheets

To start your free trial, please click here.

  1. Tool Time! Graphic Organizer(Gr 3-5)

In this open-ending reading-response activity, students invent a tool that a character or person in their reading would find very helpful, if only they had it.

  1. Two Poems: Differentiated Comprehension Activity(Gr 4-6)

Students use two poems filled with figurative language to explore seasonal changes and answer questions. This resource includes step-by-step instructions and practice pages for three tiers of instruction to reach all your learners.

  1. Irish Americans: Immigration Read-Aloud Play(Gr 4-8)

This engaging social studies play tells the story of an Irishwoman’s journey by ship from Ireland to Boston, and of her new life in America. Includes background information, a bibliography, and six activities.

Contact Scholastic

Visit the Scholastic Printables official website, and you can follow Scholastic Teachers on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, as well.

You can also follow the hashtag #ScholasticPrintables on twitter.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored post.” The company who sponsored it compensated us via payment, gift, or something else of value to write it. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we use personally and believe will be good for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


30 Of The Best Books To Teach Children Empathy

30 Of The Best Books To Teach Children Empathy

by TeachThought Staff

Often confused with sympathy and compassion, empathy is, put simply, the ability to feel what another person is feeling. Unlike sympathy or compassion, empathy doesn’t require you to feel for  them, though it can lead to those emotions. Empathy, rather, is a starting point for understanding both ourselves and other people from the inside out.

In “How To Teach Empathy,” Terry Heick said that “empathy is both a cause and effect of understanding, a kind of cognitive and emotional double helix that can create a bridge between classroom learning and ‘real life’ application.”

Since storytelling is such a powerful tool to communicate the human condition, we’ve created a list of 30 stories that do exactly that. Each of the following books in the collection we’ve created below were selected for the ability to provide an especially apt demonstration of, or opportunity to learn, empathy.

Most of the books are useful to teach empathy to almost any student of any age. In fact, it could be argued that a student doesn’t need a story at all–music, the news, art, film, YouTube videos, and other media forms are also useful here. It’s also true that they don’t necessarily need a “empathy story.”

Most literature, by design, promotes empathy with characters in stories, especially when told through a first-person narrator. Still, a book created expressly to showcase empathy can be an even more precise teaching tool. Though the list below tends towards K-8, there are many that would work well in a high school classroom as well.

See Also: 10 Team-Building Games For A Friendlier Classroom

Take to the comments below and let us know if we missed any of your favorites books to teach empathy in the classroom!

30 Of The Best Books To Teach Children Empathy

30 Books To Teach Children Empathy | El Deafo

1. El Deafo

Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers! In this funny, poignant graphic novel memoir, author/illustrator Cece Bell chronicles her hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with the Phonic Ear, a very powerful—and very awkward—hearing aid.

The Phonic Ear gives Cece the ability to hear—sometimes things she shouldn’t—but also isolates her from her classmates. She really just wants to fit in and find a true friend, someone who appreciates her as she is. After some trouble, she is finally able to harness the power of the Phonic Ear and become “El Deafo, Listener for All.” And more importantly, declare a place for herself in the world and find the friend she’s longed for.

30 Books To Teach Children Empathy | Wonder

2. Wonder

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. Wonder, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

3. Fish In A Tree

30 Books To Teach Children Empathy | Fish in a Tree

The author of the beloved One for the Murphys gives readers an emotionally-charged, uplifting novel that will speak to anyone who’s ever thought there was something wrong with them because they didn’t fit in. “Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.”

4. 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Precepts

In Wonder, readers were introduced to memorable English teacher Mr. Browne and his love of precepts. This companion book features conversations between Mr. Browne and Auggie, Julian, Summer, Jack Will, and others, giving readers a special peek at their lives after Wonder ends. Mr. Browne’s essays and correspondence are rounded out by a precept for each day of the year—drawn from popular songs to children’s books to inscriptions on Egyptian tombstones to fortune cookies.

5.The One and Only Ivan

Having spent twenty-seven years behind the glass walls of his enclosure in a shopping mall, Ivan has grown accustomed to humans watching him. He hardly ever thinks about his life in the jungle. Instead, Ivan occupies himself with television, his friends Stella and Bob, and painting. But when he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from the wild, he is forced to see their home, and his art, through new eyes.

6. Same Sun Here

With honesty and humor, the main characters bridge the miles between them, creating a friendship that inspires bravery and defeats cultural misconceptions. Narrated in two voices, each voice distinctly articulated by a separate gifted author, this chronicle of two lives powerfully conveys the great value of being and having a friend and the joys of opening our lives to others who live beneath the same sun.

7. Inside Out and Back Again

Inside Out and Back Again is a New York Times bestseller, a Newbery Honor Book, and a winner of the National Book Award! Inspired by the author’s childhood experience of fleeing Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama, this coming-of-age debut novel told in verse has been celebrated for its touching child’s-eye view of family and immigration.

8. Sunborn Rising: Beneath the Fall

Cerulean is on the brink of collapse. The decay wasn’t fast, it wasn’t obvious, but now the world stands on the precipice. Woven forests floating on an ocean around a star, Cerulean’s once vibrant treescape has grown dim over generations of arboreal life, and the creatures of the forest have forgotten the light.

9. The Family Under the Bridge

This is the delightfully warm and enjoyable story of an old Parisian named Armand, who relished his solitary life. Children, he said, were like starlings, and one was better off without them. But the children who lived under the bridge recognized a true friend when they met one, even if the friend seemed a trifle unwilling at the start. And it did not take Armand very long to realize that he had gotten himself ready-made family; one that he loved with all his heart, and one for whom he would have to find a better home than the bridge.

10. Hannah Coulter

Life carried on for the community of Port William, Kentucky, as some boys returned from the war and the lives of others were mourned. In her seventies, Nathan’s wife, Hannah, has time now to tell of the years since the war. In Wendell Berry’s unforgettable prose, we learn of the Coulter’s children, of the Feltners and Branches, and how survivors “live right on.”

11. Brown Girl Dreaming

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world.

12. Island of the Blue Dolphins

‘Island of the Blue Dolphins’ is an adventure of the spirit that will haunt the reader long after the book has been put down. Karana’s quiet courage, her Indian self-reliance and acceptance of fate, transform what to many would have been a devastating ordeal into an uplifting experience. From loneliness and terror come strength and serenity in this Newbery Medal-winning classic.

13. Jayber Crow

Jayber Crow, born in Goforth, Kentucky, orphaned at age ten, began his search as a “pre-ministerial student” at Pigeonville College. “You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out—perhaps a little at a time.”

14. Paperboy

Little Man throws the meanest fastball in town. But talking is a whole different ball game. He can barely say a word without stuttering—not even his own name. So when he takes over his best friend’s paper route for the month of July, he’s not exactly looking forward to interacting with the customers. But it’s the neighborhood junkman, a bully and thief, who stirs up real trouble in Little Man’s life.

15. The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible

This, the only memoir published by a former Schindler’s list child, perfectly captures the innocence of a small boy who goes through the unthinkable. Leon Leyson (born Leib Lezjon) was only ten years old when the Nazis invaded Poland and his family was forced to relocate to the Krakow ghetto. With incredible luck, perseverance, and grit, Leyson was able to survive the sadism of the Nazis, including that of the demonic Amon Goeth, commandant of Plaszow, the concentration camp outside Krakow.

16. Night (Night)

Night is Elie Wiesel’s masterpiece, a candid, horrific, and deeply poignant autobiographical account of his survival as a teenager in the Nazi death camps. This new translation by Marion Wiesel, Elie’s wife and frequent translator, presents this seminal memoir in the language and spirit truest to the author’s original intent. And in a substantive new preface, Elie reflects on the enduring importance of Night and his lifelong, passionate dedication to ensuring that the world never forgets man’s capacity for inhumanity to man.

17.One Came Home

In the town of Placid, Wisconsin, in 1871, Georgie Burkhardt is known for two things: her uncanny aim with a rifle and her habit of speaking her mind plainly. But when Georgie blurts out something she shouldn’t, her older sister Agatha flees, running off with a pack of “pigeoners” trailing the passenger pigeon migration. And when the sheriff returns to town with an unidentifiable body—wearing Agatha’s blue-green ball gown—everyone assumes the worst. Except Georgie.

18. Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood

In this groundbreaking memoir set in Ramallah during the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War, Ibtisam Barakat captures what it is like to be a child whose world is shattered by war. With candor and courage, she stitches together memories of her childhood: fear and confusion as bombs explode near her home and she is separated from her family; the harshness of life as a Palestinian refugee.

19. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (Pantheon Graphic Novels)

Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

20. Where the Red Fern Grows

Billy has long dreamt of owning not one, but two, dogs. So when he’s finally able to save up enough money for two pups to call his own, he’s ecstatic. It doesn’t matter that times are tough; together they’ll roam the hills of the Ozarks. Soon Billy and his hounds become the finest hunting team in the valley. Stories of their great achievements spread throughout the region. But tragedy awaits these determined hunters—now friends—and Billy learns that hope can grow out of despair, and that the seeds of the future can come from the scars of the past

21. My Side of the Mountain (Puffin Modern Classics)

Terribly unhappy in his family’s crowded New York City apartment, Sam Gribley runs away to the solitude-and danger-of the mountains, where he finds a side of himself he never knew.

22. I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This

Twelve-year-old Marie is a leader among the popular black girls in Chauncey, Ohio, a prosperous black suburb. She isn’t looking for a friend when Lena Bright, a white girl, appears in school. Yet they are drawn to each other because both have lost their mothers. And they know how to keep a secret. For Lena has a secret that is terrifying, and she’s desperate to protect herself and her younger sister from their father. Marie must decide whether she can help Lena by keeping her secret–or by telling it.

23. The Breadwinner

The first book in Deborah Ellis’s riveting Breadwinner series is an award-winning novel about loyalty, survival, families, and friendship under extraordinary circumstances during the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan.

24.Out of My Mind

Melody is not like most people. She cannot walk or talk, but she has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She is smarter than most of the adults who try to diagnose her and smarter than her classmates in her integrated classroom—the very same classmates who dismiss her as mentally challenged, because she cannot tell them otherwise. But Melody refuses to be defined by cerebral palsy. And she’s determined to let everyone know it–somehow.

25. Moon Over Manifest

Abilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job. Armed only with a few possessions and her list of universals, Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kansas, aiming to learn about the boy her father once was.

26. A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story

The New York Times bestseller A Long Walk to Water begins as two stories, told in alternating sections, about two eleven-year-olds in Sudan, a girl in 2008 and a boy in 1985. The girl, Nya, is fetching water from a pond that is two hours’ walk from her home: she makes two trips to the pond every day. Enduring every hardship from loneliness to attack by armed rebels to contact with killer lions and crocodiles, Salva is a survivor, and his story goes on to intersect with Nya’s in an astonishing and moving way.

27.They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan

They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky is the three boys’ account of that unimaginable journey. With the candor and the purity of their child’s-eye-vision, Alephonsian, Benjamin, and Benson recall by turns: how they endured the hunger and strength-sapping illnesses—dysentery, malaria, and yellow fever; how they dodged the life-threatening predators—lions, snakes, crocodiles and soldiers alike—that dogged their footsteps; and how they grappled with a war that threatened continually to overwhelm them.

28. The Wall (Reading Rainbow Books)

A boy and his father have come to the Vietnam War Memorial to look for the boy’s grandfather’s name among those who were killed in the war. They find his name surrounded, but far from lost, in the rows of print that “march side by side, like rows of soldiers.” “I’m proud that your grandfather’s name is on this wall,” says the boy’s father. The boy agrees, adding, “but I’d rather have my grandpa here.”

29. Bridge to Terabithia

Jess Aarons has been practicing all summer so he can be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. And he almost is, until the new girl in school, Leslie Burke, outpaces him. The two become fast friends and spend most days in the woods behind Leslie’s house, where they invent an enchanted land called Terabithia. One morning, Leslie goes to Terabithia without Jess and a tragedy occurs. It will take the love of his family and the strength that Leslie has given him for Jess to be able to deal with his grief.

30. Charlotte’s Web

E. B. White’s Newbery Honor Book is a tender novel of friendship, love, life, and death that will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come. It contains illustrations by Garth Williams, the acclaimed illustrator of E.B. White’s Stuart Little and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, among many other books.


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30 Of The Best Books To Teach Children Empathy

Teaching Technology

How Technology Should Have Already Changed Your Teaching


How Technology Should Have Already Changed Your Teaching

by Terry Heick

Ed note: this post has been updated from a fall 2015 post

A little bit of technology doesn’t change much.

It can make things a little easier by automating them. It could make a lesson here or there gee-wiz flashy, or even engage hesitant students. Tacked-on learning technology can do this. But deep integration of technology–real at-the-marrow fusion of learning model, curriculum, and #edtech?

That changes everything.

10 Ways Technology Has Changed Education: The Iconic Actions #edtech Should Disrupt

1. Giving letter grades

You may need appreciate the way gamification can improve the visibility of the entire learning process. You may dislike standards-based reporting, using labels like “proficient,” or grading with a 1-3 scale. You may not even like pass/fail.

This is okay. With technology, the name of the game is publishing. Sharing. Fluid documents and processes. Iteration. Reflection. Crowdsourcing. Digital communities. Authenticity.

You can still give letter grades–the parents will revolt and the children may be confused if you don’t. Give them whatever grade makes them feel better. But use technology to provide the kind of self-awareness and self-directed revision of work that a letter grade could never promote.

2. Classroom design

Concerns of bulletin boards, rows versus clusters of desks, and where your desk goes change with the full integration of learning technology.

Of more pressing concern is the signage on the walls that focuses on learning strategies and digital citizenship. Also to fret? WiFi signal, outlets, students that need to move freely about the room, ways to not disrupt other classrooms with “noise.” Your classroom has become the world’s classroom–more of a vessel or template than something your own.


3. Where the learning happens

Usually learning happens in your classroom. Part of the time they’re reading or writing or solving problems. Part of the time they’re listening to you. Part of the time they’re doing group work, and then following it all up at home with practice–or in a flipped setting, reverse it all.

But deep integration of technology in learning should–ideally anyway–make learning mobile–always-on, asynchronous and self-directed access to both content and collaborators. In the library, down the hall, from any room in the school, from any school in the district. In their own neighborhoods, cities, and surrounding communities.

Yes, this sounds like crazy talk. No, it’s not feasible for every classroom every day for every age group. Yes, there’d be chaos and disruption of your district’s schedule they created back August.

Cool, huh?

4. The pace of student progress

As the teacher, you’re used to being the control valve for content, assessment, feedback, and reporting.

One person’s control valve is the next person’s bottleneck. Technology should completely obliterate your ability to precisely control what learning happens, when. With full integration of technology, students can choke on too much information, or fall on their face with no idea where to go, or what to do when they get there.

This is an excellent starting point for a new kind of planning.

5. The audience for student thinking

For years, it was the teacher. Then other students when you pinned the work on the classroom walls and in the hallway. Then you started a blog that sees 135 visits per month, and shared work there. You mixed in the occasional project where students all took home—or brought in—very similar artifacts, and felt pretty good about it all. No worksheets in your class!

Except that the idea audience for any student is their community. Connecting them with their own neighborhood in new ways. Or their extended family. Or business and cultural leaders in their city. Or even a classroom in Bombay.

Anybody but you.

6. What is studied

Yes, you’ve got a pile of academic standards that have to be mastered. Grant Wiggins has a great analogy for standards—building code. They only provide a framework for what the building has to look/feel/perform like, but don’t tell you exactly how to build it.

While it’s not that simple for every teacher (your school or district may think of it as otherwise), the fact remains that technology is dynamic. The movie should change every time you watch it.

7. Where the questions come from

Usually the questions come from you. You probe, prompt, front-load, and assess. You take snapshots of learning, and know how to scaffold questions for different students at different levels at different times. It is the students’ job to answer.

Technology creates a different possibility, where inquiry is more natural, and sustainable in highly dynamic and social digital environments. If questions really are more important than answers, shouldn’t students be learning to develop and refine their own?

8. Who provides learning feedback, and when

You probably do all of the grading. This is too much work for you, and robs the student of a chorus of feedback they deserve. You can still be the closest and most attentive responder to their work, offering the most expert feedback of anyone, but as it has been said there smartest person in the room is the room.

Technology says offering feedback can be done asynchronously. Comments can be threaded for discussions. Texts and writing can be highlighted, annotated, and fluid. The cloud says both teachers and students can access the same document at the same time from the park, the classroom, or public library.

The frequency, quality, platforms, and nature of the feedback for learning should be completely alien to that of a “normal” classroom.

9. Starting and stopping class the class, correcting misbehaviors

“5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Eyes on me. Thank you for giving me your attention. Thank you Mackenzie. Thank you Dillon. Thank you for coming to level 1 so quickly, class. I’ve placed you into groups, and written a set of questions on the board. When the timer sounds in five minutes, one speaker from each group will stand and share out takeaways from your mini-discussion on these questions.

Just a reminder, per our district policy and Principal Peabody’s PA announcement this morning, there should no cell phones out any time. No texting, twitter, etc. You don’t need anything for this lesson—no Googling, YouTubing, Wikipediaing. No adaptive apps like Knowji or Duolingo. No sharing a question through twitter with our sister school in Beijing. And whatever you do, do not check the blog post you wrote last week as a journal response to pre-empt this discussion, nor the threaded discussion that followed.

If we have time, we can even use the Smartboard! You’ve got 5 minutes. It is time to learn.”

Technology says that while you were reminding students about Principal Peabody’s very eloquent speech, they could’ve grouped themselves based on the framework you implemented back in August and have practiced weekly since. They could’ve watched the video last night on your YouTube channel, had a follow-up discussion last night on Google+, recorded it via Google Hangouts, then saved it to a private YouTube channel of their own that they could then annotate and contextualize for the class during said “share out.”

Yes, that is oversimplification.

Yes, that is possible.

10. Using curriculum maps to create finished units and lessons

Your curriculum map probably says that you “cover” this standard in this lesson in this unit during this month.

Technology suggests differently. Technology provides, among other things, the ability to curate, revisit, and iterate. This means students will be able to return to work as they learn, connect, and grow, no matter what the curriculum map says.


11. “Covering” your content

This idea has been on the way out for a while now, but for some it remains a sticky concept. “Covering” a standard or idea makes about as much sense as sweeping a gravel driveway. You’re never finished, and you look ridiculous.

Technology reinforces the idea that learning is a marathon, not a series of sprints. More than anything else, technology provides access. This is neither good nor bad, but rather represents potential. It’s what you—or your students, rather—do with that potential that matters.

10 Iconic Teacher Actions That Technology Should Disrupt; How Technology Has Changed Education; image attribution flickr user vancouverfilmschool


Why You Shouldn’t Use Physical Education As Punishment


Why You Shouldn’t Use Physical Education As Punishment

by Dr. Kymm Ballard, Executive Director for SPARK

Think about any time you’ve seen “army boot camp” portrayed in pop culture — are you picturing the traditional drill sergeant, ordering his troops to do endless laps and push-ups, as punishment for their errors that day?

Now, with that scenario in your mind, imagine it being played out by children and teenagers at school — and instead of drill sergeants, their teachers are at the helm. Believe it or not, it’s actually quite common in certain areas of the country for teachers to have students do physical activities as punishment for misbehaving.

While this may have been perceived decades ago as a way to “toughen kids up,” it’s a trend that ought to be falling out of favor by now – particularly when children today are already less likely to be active than generations before them.

If you’re a teacher yourself, you know how impressionable students can be. Reinforcing the idea that exercise equals punishment promotes negative feelings towards physical activity.

The Problem with Physical Punishment

While some feel that running a few laps as punishment sounds reasonable, this can have an adverse effect on a child’s psyche that lasts for decades. Researchers have found that PE teachers and coaches think physical punishment is an effective way to show students that there are consequences to their actions; they’re not wrong, and in fact, that’s exactly the problem. Physical punishment happens to work a little too well.

When we demand a set of push ups to punish misconduct, the message we’re sending — loud and clear — is that physical exercise is a terribly unpleasant activity, and something we all should try to avoid. And, our children are certainly hearing it. At a time when not enough children (or adults, for that matter) are getting the recommended amount of daily exercise, the last thing we should do is reinforce the idea that physical activity is something to dread. If kids are already trying to find reasons to be less active, viewing exercise as a punishment is all the more reason not to do it.

This mentality can carry over into adulthood as well, leading to an aversion towards physical exercise for the rest of one’s life – naturally pushing a person in the direction of inactivity, obesity, and other health problems. The goal of any physical educator should be to teach students that exercise is a positive and productive way to spend time, rather than something to rebel against.

To add to the pile of psychological and physical health repercussions of this trend, there’s even more serious reason not to use physical education as punishment: it could be illegal in your state.

That’s right. It’s actually against the law in 29 states – deemed a form of corporal punishment. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) states that “Administering or withholding physical activity as a form of punishment and/or behavior management is an inappropriate practice.”

So while your school’s PE teacher or team coach may think it’s perfectly fine to have students run drills as a disciplinary measure, it might be breaking the law – and acting against the best interest of the students.

Better Alternatives for Student Discipline

Teachers and coaches often struggle to find methods for disciplining students that are both appropriate and effective. This may account for why some still prefer to go the route of physical education as punishment; it’s easy to dole out, it’s over fairly quickly, and a heavy workout can wear a student out by exhausting them. For the sake of the children and their future physical health habits (not to mention the law), teachers and coaches should avoid the easy route, and strive to find more appropriate ways to discipline the class troublemakers.

On the flip side of this trend, some teachers go in the opposite direction, banning misbehaving students from participating in recess; in fact, 77% of teachers prevent children from taking part in recess in order to diminish bad behavior. Unfortunately, this extreme isn’t ideal, either.

Taking away children’s outlets for exercise can also skew their perception of activity and participation. Although the presumption is that children will learn that getting exercise is a privilege (the opposite of using it as punishment), it also eliminates their daily chance to interact socially and physically at school. Researchers have found that recess acts a “reset button” for students’ cognitive function, so removing it (for any reason, good or bad) can actually set students up for failure the rest of the day.

Instead, look into disciplinary tactics that don’t involve the threat of overexertion, or forced physicality. Children, especially in their formative years, need to be able to develop their own boundaries when it comes to their own comfort with physical activity. Though it’s good to keep them moving – which is why banning recess is a bad idea – pushing them into exercise under negative circumstances leaves a lasting impression. The important thing should be to promote physical activity (through phys ed classes, recess, and so on) as a fun and positive way to spend time.

If you’re facing ongoing issues with a student and you’re at a loss, talk to your school administrators to see what they advise as appropriate punishment. Disciplinary tactics may include calling a meeting with the student’s parents, or assigning detention. While there can be some argument for banning a student from participating in sport, it can be looked at as a last measure to try to curb negative behavior.

Make Exercise Fun, not Fearful

Physical education teachers and coaches know, better than anyone, the importance of physical activity for a long and healthy life. They’ve devoted their careers to instilling healthy values in children, and inspiring positive associations with exercise. They may not realize that sometimes, their attempts at discipline are acting against those very values.

Forcing students to run laps or do push-ups as penance for bad behavior has long-ranging effects that may turn them away from physical activity altogether. Even just threatening to add extra sit ups, jumping jacks, and drills — whether you act on it or not — promotes an unhealthy aversion towards exercise, as a weapon that can be used as a threat.

Keep the focus on activity as a positive and fun pastime, rather than something to be feared — it’ll go a long way towards fostering a lifelong love of movement.

Dr. Kymm Ballard is the Executive Director for SPARK, a division of School Specialty, Inc. Kymm is the former Physical Education, Athletics and Sports Medicine Consultant with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.  Her professional experiences include service for more than a decade as a physical education teacher, several years as an administrator and the co-developer of North Carolina’s first high school demonstration school. Kymm’s direct service to children influences her work at the national level today. She wrote, advocated for and promoted the Healthy Active Children Policy of the NC State Board of Education and the state’s Standards for Physical Education

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored post.” The company who sponsored it compensated us via payment, gift, or something else of value to write it. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we use personally and believe will be good for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Why You Shouldn’t Use Physical Education As Punishment; image attribution flickr user wave
Literacy Technology

Instead Of A Book Report, My Students ‘Wrote’ A Video


Instead Of A Book Report, My Students ‘Wrote’ A Video

by Kim Blomqvist, Secondary Teacher

Assigning book reports was slowly creeping up on me as the school year progressed. My former colleagues were all complaining about it and I remembered it all too well from my days in the classroom. While there always are those students that love reading and take on the task of writing a book report with enthusiasm, over the years my experience tells me that most pre-teens and teens do not exactly long for the book report assignment.

So I went on a quest. I set out to find a way to make this assignment more appealing to each and every one of my students. As a teacher, teaching both young people as well as adults, I have always taken great care in regards to using the Vark Model. I think most of us teaching are familiar with it and use it in some way. Anyhow, knowing that students can actively learn in 4 ways – visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic, I wanted to find a way to try and combine all of these learning styles in order to cater to all of my students. After researching and asking around, a colleague introduced me to an online video maker called mysimpleshow.

Eager to try the tool, I sat down with it the very same day. Having used numerous digital tools, the first thing that hit me was how easy it was to get a grasp of. Before I knew it I had created a few videos using the different templates provided in the tool. I immediately thought it would be a great tool for my students to use to help them with their book reports and the perfect way to combine active learning styles.

After telling my students that I found this new tool that enabled them to work more interactively with their book reports, without assigning additional homework I might add, they were overjoyed. They eagerly sat down and started writing their book reports as they now had had something to look forward to after writing it – showing the class the video they created! They were clearly excited as they even came up with a ‘best video’ competition amongst themselves, and I was happy. Not only did they do the book report, they also improved even further on their reading comprehension and writing skills since we worked on the book report in several stages. Furthermore, I knew that using this interactive media tool helps meet school board requirements. The tool really helped me cater to all active learning styles, which was probably the most exciting part for me.

mysimpleshow uses a 4-step process that made video creating simple for my students and I. I had the students write an outlined version of the book report, and had them insert the text into the mysimpleshow template. In the Draft step, I used the “Summarize literature and movies”  template. I also showed the example video for reference. The guidelines and word limits within the template helped the kids structure their reports in the Write step, along with training them in precision writing. It was a pleasure to watch my students ask each other for help while thinking critically and creatively, and having fun doing so.

The Visualize step was next. It gave me a good insight into who preferred which learning style while all of them got to enforce and practice their creative skills using mysimpleshow. The Explainer Engine is also worth mentioning – the most intelligent part of the tool in my opinion. It automatically suggested illustrations based on the text entered in the Write step. The kids loved this because they were instantly provided with visuals to their stories, and they favored the illustration style. They liked all of the other options, tool–like being able to choose their own illustrations from the database, upload their own, resize and combine images, and use the text feature.

In the Finalize step, most students opted for James and Paul as voice-over artists. James and Paul? I wondered at first too. They are automated voices provided by mysimpleshow, and they translated the English text nearly perfectly, making finalizing the video simple and fast. Some students wanted to record their own voiceovers, and did just that. The self-recorded voiceovers didn’t turn out so bad and we were able to use them for in-class presentation purposes, and I enjoyed watching them take on the challenge. Once their videos were rendered, I had them download the video and then showed them how to publish the video to YouTube for those who wanted to show their family and friends what they created.

The learning experience mysimpleshow provided was nothing less than great for everyone involved. I learned more about my students while they learned how to become storytellers by using well-written text and images in order to create memorable cognitive associations. I would recommend using mysimpleshow not only for book reports but for all kinds of tasks and assignments, including integration into lesson plans as well as PowerPoints–do try it!

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored post.” The company who sponsored it compensated us via payment, gift, or something else of value to write it. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we use personally and believe will be good for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Com


How You Can Support The New Kid In Your Class


How You Can Support The New Kid In Your Class

by Sara Boehm

“It has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

5 Ways You Can Support The New Kid In Your Class

It is not uncommon to have new students in the middle of the school year.

These students are often new to an area–new city or state, for example. In the coming months, you may have some students joining your class(es) who are new to town. As you can probably imagine, the first day and even the first few months into the school year can be rough for a new student. Learning to navigate new hallways, making friends, finding ‘their place’ amongst established natives, adjusting to the curriculum… there is a lot of anxiety and pressure during this transitional time, and there is equally a lot you can do to help ease the process of settling in. That first day at school doesn’t have to be a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day!” Here are the top 5 ways you can help out “new kids” in your class—let the countdown begin:

1. Team-Building Games

We can all envision that scene from any TV show or movie where a new kid arrives in class: the dreaded moment where the teacher asks him to introduce himself in front of everyone. Many people dread public speaking, so it’s best not to add this dimension on to an already stressful first day. Let the class know that new faces are always welcome in your classroom, and team-building games are an excellent way to do so.

2. Group work

Teachers have the ability to create powerful in-class teams and can strategically place a new student with other students who will be welcoming, have common interests, are inclusive, and will show her the ropes. From in-class group work to team assignments and projects, to helping with homework, there are opportunities to advantageously include the new student with those who will help her transition. You may even consider encouraging certain students to lead the charge in helping out the new student. This opportunity is just as much about assisting those new to a situation as it is teaching current students the value of reaching out to those in need.

3. Seating placement

Similarly, try to seat the new student near or around other students who are helpful and welcoming. Though a small, seemingly logistical matter, seat placement creates opportunities either for engagement and comfort, or detachment and isolation. If the seating chart has already been established, place him in an open seat and then consider a mid semester/quarter/year re-organization to shuffle students around (this will help newer students continue to acclimate and also has the added benefit of potentially enhancing learning opportunities for all students).

4. Lunch hour

The first lunch hour can often be the most stressful time in a new student’s day. Its often unstructured and social nature can bring anxiety and stress. Who will I sit with? What if I have to sit alone?

If your class happens to coincide with lunch hour, give your new student the “scoop” about how to get around at lunch. What time it begins and ends, what her options are regarding where to sit or what she can do if she feels uncomfortable (e.g. can she ask for a pass to the library and head there instead?). Any information you can give her will mitigate some of the unknown and help her create a plan. And if you feel comfortable doing so, encourage a few students before lunch to reach out to the new student and ask if she would like to sit with them! Inclusivity goes a long way to help welcome new students in those first weeks of settling in.

5. Curriculum gaps/class level placement

If you are able to meet with the parents of the new student ahead of time, do so. Otherwise, find out from the student or their school counselor the level of their previous class placement. Many schools differ in the order in which they cover curriculum, so even if the student is placed at the correct level, there still may be gaps in knowledge. Touch base with the student periodically to see how he is handling the workload and information, and encourage questions at any time.

Watch his performance to see if you think he would benefit from additional instruction or tutoring. If you think he was placed at a level too high for his current abilities, consider options to place him in the correct class. Alternatively, what can often happen during a move is that high performing students get placed in lower levels at the new school in order to ‘prove’ that they are, in fact, high performers.

This can be both frustrating to the student as well as a factor in potentially falling behind at their current level as they are forced to advance back to the correct level, all the while missing out on important lessons. While this placement process may not always be seamless, when it is handled in an encouraging and supportive way, it will greatly benefit the student’s future academic performance and ambitions.

Before the year begins, think about what small steps you can take to ease the transition for any incoming new students you will have over the coming months. And share any stories or tips you have that have worked for you in the past in the comments below!

Sara Boehm is author of The Essential Moving Guide For Families and other titles in its series. Boehm has lived the world of corporate relocation, moving 12 times as a child and as an adult. She empathizes with all who are going through the moving process, and works with companies and individuals to assist those whose lives are being disrupted by relocation. She received her MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and presently lives in the Los Angeles area and runs Essential Engagement Services.

How You Can Support The New Kid In Your Class; image attribution flickr user fairfaxcounty

POTD: Children’s Books: 26 Books For $1 Each


Cheap Children’s Books: 26 Books For $1 Each

by TeachThought Staff

If you’re an Elementary school teacher, today’s POTD is for you. Amazon is running a nice promotion: $1 children’s books–everything from Cinderella to our good friend Arthur, to Building with Dad.

The bad news? They’re not physical copies–Kindle only. The good news? There’s a nice variety of classics and newer publications, and they’re inexpensive. And you can download them and read using the Kindle app for iOS or Android, too. No need for a Kindle, technically.

Cheap Children’s Books: 26 Books For $1 Each

1. The Hiccupotamus

2. Silly Tilly

3. Goodnight, Little Monster

4. Secrets of the Magic Ring 

5. The Boy Who Became Buffalo Bill: Growing Up Billy Cody in Bleeding Kansas

6. Hippo Goes Bananas!

7. Ralph Tells a Story

8. Chalk

9. Kitty Cat, Kitty Cat, Are You Waking Up

10. Hero Cat

11. At the Old Haunted House

12. The House Takes A Vacation

13. Sneeze, Big Bear, Sneeze

14. 10 Little Hot Dogs

11. Cinderella

12. There Was an Old Mummy Swallowed a Spider

13. Arthur Lost and Found

14. How Do You Sleep?

15. Trucks: Whizz! Zoom! Rumble!

16. The Last Day of Kindergarten

17. Down By the Barn

18. Grumpy Groundhog

19. The Reader

20. Don’t Wake Up the Bear

21. Arthur’s Halloween

22. Hero Dad

23. Mary Had a Little Lamb

24. Ready, Set, 100th Day!

25. Arthur’s Valentine

26. Building with Dad

POTD is independent of TeachThought Editorial & Advertising; if you buy something through using a link in POTD posts, we may get a percentage of any purchase. Read more here.


40 Of The Best Learning Apps For Elementary Students


40 Of The Best Elementary Learning Apps For Elementary Students

Looks like this mobile learning thing might actually take off, eh?

Just as we recently looked specifically at some of the best educational apps for iPadnow we give some love specifically to elementary students (and teachers) who have devices and want to separate the digital wheat from the digital chaff.

The following listly collection is an excellent starting point for elementary teachers looking for elementary apps for elementary students in the most elementary way possible: a collection of 38 possibilities. This is a diverse collection of apps, from games to digital media software to math and literacy apps.

Might we recommend Analogies 4 Kids, Explain Everything, and Mathmateer to start? And for pure phonics instruction for the younger elementary students, Phonics Genius and Word Families aren’t bad.

40 Of The Best Elementary Learning Apps For Students

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Image attribution; 38 Of The Best Elementary Learning Apps For Students