December Teacher Talk

Kelly Harmon & Associates Educational Consulting

Dear Educator Friends,

Happy Happy Holidays!

As we mark the start of the holidays with the beginning of Hanukkah, it's time to start celebrating all of the learning that has happened so far this year! In spite of obstacles that a year ago no one would have predicted, learning is happening both in person and virtually. Yay for the educators who are making this happen!!

This month we wanted to share ideas for wrapping up the month of December and starting 2021 off with flair and positivity. We've put in a few ideas for holiday magic, social/emotional learning, building expertise, and using technology to engage learners.

We have several upcoming virtual professional development sessions you won't want to miss.

We hope you enjoy some down time during the final weeks of 2020. We will be here to help make 2021 successful for you and your learners!

Stay well friends and happy teaching!

Kelly, Randi, Ashley, Rachel, Ann-Elise, and Cindy

Get into the Holiday Spirit!

As we count down the days to the holidays, I wanted to share something I saw on the Bitmoji Craze for Educators' group on Facebook. Kayla Natalie shared this awesome collection of youtube music. As many of you know, I absolutely love Karaoke and especially sing-along Karaoke. Singing changes the brain in so many positive ways and helps to build language comprehension. You might want to give your students a copy of the lyrics to use as they listen to and think about the meanings of each song. So as you count down, listen and discuss a song each day. It's sure to have a positive impact on your students!
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Holiday Magic

Here are some ways to make the week before the holiday break special for your students.

1. Cozy Up to Learn

2. Christmas Karaoke

3. You Light Me Up

4. Research Christmas Around the World

5. Christmas Reader's Theater

For more ideas for making the countdown to the holidays magical, click here.

Social and Emotional Learning

Engaging Virtual Learners

By Kelly Harmon

I was talking to my 8th grade nephew a few weeks ago about his experience with virtual learning. He said Google Meet was better than sitting in the same class all day long, spaced six feet apart. He likes being at home, able to get something to eat or drink anytime he wanted. When I asked him if he turned his camera on and participated in class discussions, he said no because "no one else does." He said he'd do it if others did.

This got me thinking about how to build an online community of learners who feel safe to share their cameras and speak up during discussions. How can we give students a reason to turn on the camera? How can we help students see that they have commonalities with each other? It really boils down to starting each session with the social and emotional connections and then moving into the lesson content.

Here are some of the ideas I've used or think would work in a virtual community.

Would you rather? Begin the session asking students a "would you rather" question. Be sure to live in their world so that the topics are relatable.

  • Would you rather watch a YouTube video or make a YouTube video?
  • Would you rather eat at Taco Bell or McDonalds?
  • Would you rather tell a lie to make someone feel good or tell the truth and take your chances?

Bring a pet to school day-Everyone loves to see a cute cat, dog, or hamster, so invite students to turn on their camera to show their pet. Ask questions about the pet and invite others to do the same.

Favorite hat day-Invite students to wear their favorite hat to class. Most of the time, they will show up with a hat that represents a sports team. You can link the sports team to the learning. Think about sports math!

Have a talent contest-Invite students to show off a talent they have. One second grade teacher was surprised when a student played an accordion for the class.

Play charades-Send one student a private message giving them a word to act out for the other students. Click here for some topics to use in charades or use your academic vocabulary.

For more Zoom (or Google Meet) games, check out this post on the TCEA blog.

Prepare to Reconnect Students to Learning after the Holidays

By Cindy Jones

The COVID pandemic has disrupted many students’ connection to school and learning. Some students depend so much on school for their social interaction, for a lot of resources, and for just the comfort of something consistent. This is a difficult time to be a teacher AND a student. What steps can we employ to help students reconnect and stay connected to school?

Here are ideas that have worked for educators both in the classroom and on-line.

Nonverbal Messages

  • Smile (with your eyes) at the students daily more frequently than usual.
  • Greet them at the door (or on-line) in a fun way.

Discuss Topics They Care About

  • Talk about something daily not related to school, subject, or behavior.
  • Use the 2x10 Approach: 2 minutes a day for 10 days talk to a student about something he is interested in. You could target 2 or 3 students during each 10-day period and talk to each student individually. This is a great way to deepen a relationship.

Plan for Learning to be Fun

  • Make review into a game or contest. One of the basic needs of all individuals is to have fun.
  • Make what you are teaching interesting and fun. When you enjoy and have fun teaching, it will spread to your students.

Build Community

  • Provide opportunities for students to get to interact with each other in positive ways.
  • Let the student be a cross-age tutor (3–5 times a week) for students in a lower grade.
  • Explore ways they can benefit others. What does the student know a lot about that they could share with peers?
  • Put students into teams and challenge the students to do something together. This could be solving a riddle or drawing a model of something. Make it a game.
  • Empower the students by giving choices. This is basic need. People need to feel they have some type of control.

Give Frequent Feedback

  • Provide at least one positive comment to the student each hour emphasizing effort, production, or outcomes. Don’t give compliments, state facts.
  • Provide negative feedback when necessary. Use empathy and benefit statements. Focus on problem, not student.
  • Call or message parents or guardians at least once a week with a positive comment.

Acknowledge their Feelings.

Let the students know you understand and care.

  • “You sound angry. We can talk about it later.”
  • “You look upset. Can you get to work or do you need five?”
  • “I’m sorry you feel that way. Let’s set a time to talk later.”
  • “When did you start (feeling, thinking, believing) that way? Tell me after class.”
  • “Did you always (feel, think, believe) that way about me? Let’s talk about it after class.”

Give them Hope.

  • There must be hope before there can be responsibility. Would you come to work if you had no hope of being paid? Kids will not bring their materials to class or log-on if there is no hope of being successful. The greatest gift you can give a child is hope.

Change is hard and this is a difficult time. Staying connected to your students and giving them a variety of ways to stay connected with one another is critical to both mental health and effective learning.

Cindy Jones has been working with challenging students for 50 years. Be sure to register for the online seminar Practical Strategies for Improving the Behavior of Attention-Seeking, Manipulative and Challenging Students presented by Cindy Jones.

Deepening Professional Expertise

One minute PD's

By Rachel Mane

When the pandemic hit, there was an overabundance of information and technology being shared in the education world and many of us were quickly overwhelmed. As an educator, it is important to model continued learning and reflection upon our craft when we expect our students to do the same, but when does it become too much? As a district math coach, I wanted to support in a meaningful, but less overwhelming way, so I began videoing myself doing a one-minute PD session. You can access my videos on my YouTube channel.

The inspiration behind quick professional development came from my observing teacher-learning burn out during the spring. As a lifelong learner, I find myself turning towards podcasts and videos when seeking out my own professional learning lately. Hearing new strategies and ideas or watching them being used in a video excites me to implement them, so I created a series of One Minute PDs showcasing strategies that can be used in both an in person and virtual setting.

Through these quick PD opportunities, teachers can learn a new instructional strategy, technology tool, or content specific strategy within a few minutes and still have time to reflect upon and implement it. During a year where circumstances are continuously changing, it is important to build expertise and capacity to teach in all environments. We teach our students 21st century skills to prepare them for future careers that may not even exist yet, so as educators we need to obtain new learning for the same reasons. Each school year, and especially this one, brings new changes, new challenges, and new opportunities for growth. Reflecting upon what is currently working and what is not can lead teachers to seeking out professional development to grow in areas that need support. My hope is these videos can provide “on demand” learning opportunities as well as inspiration for implementation, reflection, and growth.

Rachel Mane is a secondary math specialist in the NorthEast ISD in San Antonio, Texas. She also presents for the Bureau of Education and Research.

Always Sometimes Never Jamboard- One Minute PD
Stop & Jot Strategy: 1 min PD

Kelly's Attempt at a "One-Minute" PD

I was so inspired by Rachel that I thought I'd give one minute PD's a try. Well, I'm not as brief as I'd like to be, but here's a 2-1/2 minute PD about exit questions.
2 great closing questions - Google Slides

Ann Elise Record's Free Fraction Training for Brainingcamp

Did you know that the foundations of fractions are found in the geometry standards in K-2nd grade? Spend an hour with Ann Elise learning how to develop fraction concepts in Kindergarten to third grade using virtual manipulatives.
Fractions- Part 1

Using Technology to Learn

Building Conceptual Knowledge with Desmos

By Ashley Taplin

Desmos is one of my favorite digital platforms for math instruction because their classroom activities, linked here, are rooted in problem solving and inquiry approaches. I have loved using Desmos for several years, but more recently as the need for virtual learning platforms has grown, I started to think about what makes Desmos lessons so effective. Nick Corley, a Desmos fellow, shared a blog post with me describing the pedagogy behind Desmos lessons and I love how it explained the importance of developing conceptual knowledge prior to learning a procedure. Their lessons and activities do this in several unique ways.

Activity Builder Lessons in Desmos

In every lesson, Desmos ensures that the learning is based on a “problematic activity” that creates a need for the math. Framing the lesson around this engages students and drives their curiosity as they uncover what they need to know to solve the problem. In addition, Desmos builds their lessons with “informal analysis before formal.” For example, they suggest that lessons should do the following:

  • Ask for estimations before calculations
  • Conjectures before proofs
  • Sketches before graphs
  • Verbal rules before algebraic rules
  • Home language before school language.

Some of my favorite pre-built Desmos lessons are “Will it Hit the Hoop” (high school) “Land the Plane” (middle school), and “Adding Whole Numbers” (elementary). In each, you can see the power of inquiry, the development of both prior knowledge and language, and rich mathematical understanding unfold.

Activity Builder Card Sorts

Another feature that can be incorporated into Desmos lessons is a card sort which can help develop conceptual understanding, build mathematical language, and activate prior knowledge. I often use a prompt that is featured in several Desmos card sorts: “Sort the cards into any amount of piles. Then explain your reasoning.” Instead of focusing on accuracy, students are able to explore and discover their own reasoning, engaging in more inquiry-based discussions.

Whether I use pre-made Desmos activities or design my own, building conceptual knowledge has helped guide my lesson development while incorporating mathematical language and prior knowledge.

Ashley Taplin is a secondary Math coach in the NorthEast ISD in San Antonio, Texas. Check out Ashley's website for more great strategies and ideas like this!

Desmos Activity Builder
Join Ashley on January 23, 2021 for a 90 minute session to learn how to impact math learning with DESMOS. Click here for registration information.

Upcoming Seminars and Recorded Sessions

Strategies for Increasing Engagement and Rigor During Pandemic Teaching

December 12, 2020

Zoom Session

9AM to 12 PM Central Time

During the pandemic, it has been challenging to get students to share their thinking, both virtually and in-person, given the limitations of social distancing and wearing a mask. Since learning is a result of thinking, we need to be intentional about the instructional strategies we use to impact student learning. In this session, participants will learn specific strategies to get students thinking at the analysis level and sharing thinking through innovative classroom discussions. We will explore specific, proven instructional strategies that engage students in reasoning through making inferences, comparing, and examining errors. You will be able to easily implement the strategies for both core instruction and interventions. Best of all, your students will be motivated to make their thinking visible!

Click here to register for the session.

STRENGTHENING YOUR GUIDED MATH PROGRAM: Practical GUIDED MATH Strategies to Increase All Your Students' Math Achievement (Grades K-6)

December 14-15, 2020

Practical Ideas and Strategies

Learn how to better lead your school, grade level or district math team in this strategy-packed two-day institute led by popular national presenter, Kelly Harmon. You will discover how to work with teachers to identify and implement the most effective cutting-edge, Guided Math instructional strategies to greatly increase student math achievement in grades K-6 whether teaching in-person or online. Kelly will share strategies for organizing the math block from beginning to end, as well as ideas for planning and implementing more intentional small Guided Math groups that meet the needs of all your students – from those who excel in math to those who struggle with concepts and basic skills.

You will leave equipped to assist your teachers in using the top, research-based instructional strategies that will help your students learn and retain key math skills and concepts, as well as how to transfer these skills to math problem solving, all in a Guided Math format.
This is a unique opportunity to evaluate your own Guided Math program in light of current research that identifies the most effective math instructional practices and gain an in-depth look at how these practices can be applied to your classrooms, school or district. You will walk away with dozens of practical strategies and an extensive digital resource handbook to help you lead and teach your teachers.

Bring your math team to join Kelly for two, fast-paced days packed with the best strategies to increase the math achievement for all your students.

Guided Math Conference

January 11-12

January 13-14

Join Kelly Harmon, Ann Elise Record, and Mary Peterson for 2 days of focused breakout sessions on many aspects of successful guided math instruction.

Choose from 21 Strategy-Packed Conference Sessions

  • Outstanding Trainers
  • Math Teacher Resources
  • Hundreds of Practical Strategies
  • … and Much More!

Practical Strategies to Use GUIDED MATH to Strengthen Your Math Instruction (Grades K-3)

Virtual on the following dates:

January 19, 2021

January 20, 2021

January 21, 2021

January 22, 2021

In this highly practical seminar, Kelly Harmon will share a variety of guided math techniques, including how to plan and implement small guided math groups designed to better meet your students' needs – from those who excel in math to those who struggle with basic math skills. You will learn the top, research-based instructional strategies that will help your students learn and retain key math skills and concepts, and how to transfer these skills to math problem solving. In addition, Kelly will give assessment ideas that will guide you in forming flexible and intentional small groups to better meet each student at their instructional level.

You will leave this outstanding seminar with renewed enthusiasm about teaching mathematics as well as a wealth of ideas for implementing guided math online or in-person.

Enhancing Virtual Math Learning Using Desmos

January 23, 2021

Zoom Session

10:00 AM to 11: 30 AM Central Time Zone

In this session, teachers will learn how to use Desmos, a free digital platform for grades Kindergarten to High School for creating interactive math lessons, from both the teacher and the student perspective. Teachers will engage in an investigative, problem-based Desmos lesson and then learn about the Activity Builder features to search from pre-made lessons and/or build their own. Teachers will design multiple types of screens including interactive graphs, tables, choice and checkboxes, open ended, card sorts, and more and know how to deliver them with students using the Teacher Dashboard.

Click here for more information and to register for the session.

Writing with the Stars

January 30, 2021

10:00 AM to 11:30 AM Central Time Zone

All students are capable of writing, revising, and editing with proficiency! Unfortunately, these skills don't naturally develop without modeling, coaching, and practice, and, most importantly, just-right feedback. Join Randi Anderson for a jam-packed 90 minutes of practical strategies, tips, and tools for helping your students grow in writing knowledge and skills. Click here for more information and to register for the session.

Recorded Professional Development Sessions

Impacting Student Learning Using Learning Targets, Success Criteria, and the Formative Learning Cycle

It has never been more important to strive for teacher clarity than when we are navigating the demands of teaching during a pandemic. Clarity requires us to have clear daily learning targets, daily formative assessments, and student-friendly success criteria to ensure students learn deeply and prevent learning gaps. In this session, we explore the impact on learning of using a formative learning cycle for each lesson. We will examine how to create learning targets that are aligned to daily formative assessments. We will look at specific success criteria that students and teachers can use to guide and evaluate student learning. Time will be allotted for coaching and practice with writing learning targets, aligned formative activities and assignments, and success criteria. Email Kelly to get details on accessing the recording.


In this session you will learn about helping K-5 readers understand how words work in order to become a fluent, skilled reader. You will deepen your expertise in word-learning lesson protocols and engaging activities that will get your students reading and spelling words in isolation and in connected texts. We will examine research practices for guided and independent practice, including games and use of decodable texts. Click here for more information.