Teacher Talk

January 2020 Newsletter

Written by Kelly Harmon & Associates

Dear Educator,

Happy New Year! We hope that your 2020 is off to a wonderful start. This month we are helping you keep that 20/20 vision going with ideas for social and emotional learning, writing in math, interactive reading responses and more! Our spring lineup for professional learning has just been posted. Join us online or in-person for one of our interactive sessions!

- Kelly Harmon, Randi Anderson, & Ashley Taplin

Do I Feel Like Learning Today?

By Kelly Harmon

It’s Monday morning and many students have arrived at school feeling tired or even stressed after a weekend of busyness. Some students move slowly to prepare for the day, while others put their heads down, ready to go back to sleep. In the worst case scenario, some students may have experienced trauma-filled weekends and their brains are still in fight or flight. So do they feel like learning? Probably not. Do students have a choice about whether they feel like learning?

Actually, we all do. According to Robert Marzano, all learning begins with the self-system. Each learner enters the learning situation with four questions that determine whether they will engage in the learning or not. In order to survive, our brains filter all incoming information to decide how to react. We ask ourselves “How do I feel? Am I interested? Is this important? Can I do this?” These questions determine the degree of engagement in whatever learning opportunity we are presented with.

Big picture

The first question is “How do I feel?” seems to be the one that keeps a lot of students from reaching their daily learning potential, being tired and lacking energy. If a student comes in feeling tired, stressed, unfocused, anxious, or having other worries on their mind, it’s quite likely they aren’t going to feel much like learning. For many students, this happens a lot on Monday. The weekend was busy or stressful and who likes Monday anyway? Unfortunately, in many classrooms, Monday is heavy in new learning, so many gaps are created because the student isn’t in a learning mind frame.

So, what can teachers do about this? Quite a bit, actually!

What can teachers do about this? Quite, a bit, actually!

Let’s Rock!

While we can’t do much about kids who lack sleep, we can try energizers throughout the day. Play upbeat music throughout the day. Music has the potential to change our mood and give us energy. The rhythm and lyrics can get the heart and head going, producing smiles, increasing the feel-good hormones, and pumping some positive message and energy into our day. Combine the music with some exercise and movement to energize and get the blood flow going to our brains rather than our glutei maximi. Just 16 minutes of sitting can redirect blood flow and make us feel tired.

Small Wins All Day Long

Keep celebrating the little victories throughout the day with descriptive feedback that lets the student know their effects are noticed and moving them forward in the learning. Statements about effort and thinking helps develop positive feelings and upshift thinking. Saying “Look at you summarizing that story with plot elements! You got this!”.

Is This Interesting and Important?

Passion is Contagious. Being passionate about the learning helps students develop the same sense of urgency. Passion is such a positive emotion. In the TED TALK “Every Child Needs a Champion,” Rita Pierson describes a day she taught a lesson all wrong. The next day, she shared with her students that she had made a mistake and needed to reteach the lesson. Her students told her it was okay. They said “You were so passionate, we didn’t want to stop you!”

Great Beginnings!

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." - Maya Angelou

Start 2020 off with great beginnings to your student's day! Here are some fun ideas.


  • Play fun music as students enter the classroom
  • Gather for a morning meeting
  • Sing one favorite song together
  • Share a joke (could even be content related!)
  • Have students share a celebration in their life
  • Do a team building activity
  • Have a 2 minute dance party
  • Kick off the day with karaoke (1-2 songs)
  • Play a relationship building game (like Friends Wanted or ABC's of Me)
  • Do some yoga moves
  • Celebrate birthdays

Get thinking started:

  • Do one or two book talks to spark interest
  • Start with a number talk or challenging problem to solve
  • Read aloud
  • Write or read a message to your students
  • Share the daily agenda

Research says that during the first 5-10 minutes of class learners either check in or out, so start by connecting to students on an emotional and interest-driven level.

Great Endings!

End each day with a great ending that gets students reflecting on their day. End with a bang!

Great Ways to End:

  • Class meeting to celebrate and reflect on learning
  • Set goals for the next day
  • Create a Tweet or #hashtag for the daily highlights
  • Share books or suggestions for reading at home
  • Remind students to look for math all around
  • Sing your way out the door
  • Do a team building task
  • Read Aloud a poem or story to your students
  • Have students share an appreciation, apology, or Aha

Writing in Math

By Ashley Taplin

I was recently sent this quote from math guru, Marilyn Burns, in which she said, “I can no longer imagine teaching math without making writing an integral aspect of students’ learning. . . . Writing in math class requires students to organize, clarify, and reflect on their ideas” (Schmoker, 2018). As I began to reflect on integrating more opportunities for writing in my own classroom, I realized it was these fundamental skills from writing that deepened my student’s mathematical comprehension. I also gained new insight into their level of understanding as it was a more personal mode of communication beyond route calculation. But, just like math, writing requires practice and intentionality, and the more exposure, encouragement, and feedback we can give to students, the more competent and confident they will become. Below are some ideas to incorporate as you are beginning or continuing to develop writing in your classroom.

Ideas for Starting Small

  • One sentence response: Ask students to respond to a prompt with one complete sentence. Use sentence stems to help students, especially EL learners, by having a starting point and a way to frame their thoughts. Sample sentence stems I love using are: “The first step I did to solve the problem was…, I think this makes sense/doesn’t make sense because…, I noticed that…” One book I also find helpful for this is 7 Steps to a Language Rich Classroom.

  • Opening Multiple Choice: Have students write explanations for why any incorrect multiple-choice answer is wrong (Doug Reeves; Schmoker, 2018). This level of error analysis coupled with writing will “exercise students' critical and mathematical reasoning capacities and the ability to give verbal form to numbers and equations” (Schmoker, 2018).

  • Think-Ink-Pair-Share: Allow students time to write after thinking and before sharing aloud. I was recently listening to a podcast by Cult of Pedagogy in which she explained the importance of this to help students organize and summarize their thoughts and in turn, build their confidence and clarity.

Connecting Writing to Math with Classroom Supply

One of my favorite classroom supplies that allows for seamless transitions from math into writing is this composition notebook that has half graph paper and half lined paper. These are a perfect way to have students respond to a notice and wonder statement (“I notice…” and “I wonder…”) or to take it a step further and write longer responses using vocabulary and key features from a graphed function. The novelty of this paper and the ease of the layout makes this a fun tool to use.

Writing with an SEL Focus

Writing also opens great opportunities to connect Social Emotional Learning and one activity I recently did with teachers to take back to their classroom was “Pass it On” from CASEL. To do this in your classroom, ask students to fold a paper in fourths, write a response to a prompt (ex. what is one thing you remember about long division) in one quadrant, and then and then pass their papers and read and respond in a new quadrant on that paper. Using this activity “enables participants to share ideas with each other in a quiet, focused way…and helps to develop the Self-Awareness skill of Self-Efficacy, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision Making” (CASEL, 2019).

Writing During Reading

By Randi Anderson

Integration is key for being able to fit all the things in that we have to teach! Here are some ways to get students talking and writing during your reading block.

  • Interactive Reading Responses

After reading a selection, pose an open-ended question about the text to the students. Have students STOP (think time) and TALK (discussion with peers) about their responses to the question about the text. Allow students time to share (in a small group setting) their answers and reasons to the question. Then, have students STOP (revise their thinking) and WRITE to answer the text question. Make this writing time no longer than 5 minutes.

For younger learners, pose the open-ended question, STOP (think) and TALK (discuss with peers). Then have students STOP and DRITE (drawing + writing) their answer to the question. Allow 5-10 minutes for them to Drite.

  • Stop and REREAD What You Wrote

Once students have finished writing, remind them to stop and reread what they just wrote. Model for students what this looks like and how this is an important lifelong habit practice. Model both revising and editing by fixing a mistake, rewording a sentence, adding an important detail so that students can see that no matter your skill level or age, we are always learning and improving our work. It's a simple daily instructional tool!

  • Ending Each Day with Rigor

A simple way to get students analyzing their thinking (through writing) is having them journal at the end of each block or class to these 2 questions.

  1. What did I learn about .... today?
  2. How did your thinking about .... change?

These questions engage students in a reflection on their own learning and thinking processes, thus locking in learning.

Countdown to Reading STAAR Virtual Seminar

Countdown to Reading STAAR

February 8, 2020

9am to 11am


Learn strategies to get students analyzing the text. Experience activities and projects that target specific STAAR reading and writing processes, skills and strategies. Discover the difference between test review and test practice and how to incorporate both into daily instruction. You will leave with ideas and activities to help you create an action plan that maximizes practice time and provides “just right” practice for each student. Learn motivation and goal setting techniques to use with students.

Reading Between the Lines: Making Inferences, Synthesizing, & Analyzing the Text

March 2nd, 2020

8:30am to 3:30pm

San Antonio, TX

March 5th, 2020

8:30am to 3:30pm

Dallas, TX

In this interactive training, educators will learn ways to get students engaged in critical thinking. Focus on strategies to get the students doing the thinking, which will result in the student's doing the learning. Hear information on synthesizing, thinking of the author and their use of structure, literary elements and much more! Empower your students to be in productive discussions with peers and take in new, or different, perspectives. Challenge your students to write short answer responses that include elements from their favorite authors. Inspire students to read and write using favored authors!

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