Teacher Talk

September 2019 Newsletter

Dear Friends,

Happy September! We are super excited to welcome Ashley Taplin, @Taplinsteaching to our writing team this month! She brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise in the areas of math and best practice strategies. We know you will love her ideas and want to follow her on Instagram!


Our theme this month is "Creating a Culture for Student Centered Learning!" We have so many ideas for you. (This should have really been in two newsletters!). So save the link and take a few minutes over the next few days to read up on ideas you can immediately use with your students.


Also, mark your calendars! Our two hour, Saturday morning virtual PD sessions start Oct. 26th!! There will be one each month from October- May. We are also available to provide virtual sessions specifically for your campus/building teams. Reach out to Randi for more information!


Happy teaching everyone!


- Kelly, Randi, and Ashley

Rolling Out the Red Carpet for Students

By Randi Anderson

This August, Sanford Elementary rolled out the red carpet for their students. Literally! Students were greeted by high school football players, cheerleaders, administrators, teachers, and even the district mascot (Panthy) as they walked the red carpet to their new classrooms!


As I walked my child into his new school, I was struck by the sense of school spirit and excitement that filled the entire building. The theme for this school year at Sanford is "Sanford Stars Shine Brighter". This made me think of how students are immediately a part of something great the moment they walk into school. The sense of community was instantly built and promoted unity through school spirit and the common goal of learning from day one.

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Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

Peter Demerath, PhD, says school culture is the secret to school success. A healthy school culture promotes student achievement. Feeling safe and having a sense of belonging ensures that students can get into a learning mode. Schools accomplish this by creating school spirit and sharing rituals and traditions, like school songs and chants. This creates an atmosphere where everyone feels part of something bigger than themselves!


Culture must be developed at the classroom level, as well. When I taught 4th grade at Elkins Elementary, my class name was "The A Team" (my last name is Anderson). We had a chant and on the first day we had a Classroom Pep Rally (the kids thought I was crazy). We also had Friday dance parties to celebrate the effort and learning each week. Everyday I met students at the door to greet them and let them know I was excited for them to be in class. We started class with class meetings and shared exciting news and kicked off class with positive words.


My students soared that year! It was that sense of belonging that happened on the very first day of school when I told them that they were on "The A Team" this year and it was their year to show the entire school what they were made of. My class was known as the"The A Team" from that year on!


Remember the saying "culture eats strategy for breakfast!" You can have the best instructional strategies and they won't work if the culture in the school or classroom isn't positive and safe for all community members. Taking time to establish a positive school/classroom culture daily helps everyone feel like part of the community so that they are safe to take responsible learning risks! Check out Every Student Matters for more ideas.

Keeping the Calm

Looking for a way to get your student's attention in a calming and stress free way? Use a Xylophone! Educators can play a calming sound or a little tune to let student's know that it is time to clean or listen up. I use this one in my workshops and everyone loves it. Amazon has a great one!

The Power of Student Teams

by Kelly Harmon


I'm so excited to share a new book just out on using student teaming to increase the learning. In the book The Power of Student Teams, by Michael Toth and David Sousa, you will explore collaborative learning and crosswalk this strategy with SEL learning, 21st Century Skills, Habits of Mind, and more.


Having been part of the research team, I saw the impact on student learning, as students collaborated in structured, minds-on ways that included coaching and peer feedback. This strategy ensures students work as hard (maybe harder) than the teacher. And whoever does the work, does the learning! This is an easy-read guidebook for giving students the autonomy they need to engage in rigorous learning.

Two Truths and a Lie

By Kelly Harmon


A fact is anything that can be proven or disproven. It's the readers' responsibility to distinguish fact and fiction. Two Truths And A Lie will push your learners to read to find the truth! In each of the nine chapters, the authors provide three essays about a topic. Readers are challenged to find the fiction using research skills, as they sharpen their evaluation skills. Is the website credible, accurate, reliable? How do you know? In today's age of Google research, learning to evaluate the source is a skill students need to learn early and use often. This book is a perfect push on thinking about the source!

Laying the Foundation For Growth

By Ashley Taplin of Taplin Teaching


This month, as we dive into the consistency of school days, I have been thinking about ways we can develop and foster a growth mindset for students in math to gain confidence in their knowledge. I have been working with another department in our district to bring more SEL practices to the curriculum. We have been talking about how the foundation of this mindset is helping students become self-aware in their learning in order to take on challenges and new situations. Below are some strategies and ideas I have been reflecting upon to cultivate this.

The Numbers to Success

I recently tried the first instructional strategy at a high school in connection with learning targets and success criteria. I have been wanting to find more ways to bring the planning and crafting of these from the teachers into the ownership of students. By using this strategy, we found that it helped turn a typical practice day into even more formative feedback for her and her students, and together we came up with the name, “Numbers to Success.” For this day, the teacher used numbers to label her success criteria instead of check boxes. During practice, when a student had a question, we asked them to not just raise their hand for help, but to point out what numbered step they were struggling on. (Some students said the number and some signaled the numbers on their hand like the picture.) Identifying this gave the conversation a starting point and much more specificity instead of just, “I don’t get it” or “I’m confused.” One student I worked with told me, “yeah, I get the first and last step, but I’m stuck on 2.” This was true evidence of growth mindset because using this strategy was validating to the student that he knew two out of three steps and the missing step became our focus as we worked together. I even got a high-five after he got all three steps on his own!
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Vertical Alignment Planning

The next idea is something I am excited to bring to teachers. It was developed out of a conversation I had with deans and a principal. We were talking about wanting to become more vertically aligned in order to fill gaps and grow students. I had recently been to a Solution Tree training and the presenter showed us an example where teams created posters listing 5 Essentials that the teachers wanted their students to start the year knowing and 5 Essentials to end their year knowing. One dean commented that this could be done with each unit. I hadn’t thought about that, but it is such a great way to bring intentionality to the targets throughout the year and also display the learning outcomes for students. This would enable students to have more clarity over what they still need to know and also celebrate all they have learned. Furthermore, another colleague pointed out if you know or use Understanding by Design, these would be your “Big Understandings” and would be a great way to highlight them for students.
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Self-Assessment

Lastly, I think self-assessment is an important piece of growth mindset as it helps students communicate their understanding. One way I like to do this is by a “thumb-ometer” followed by a think-pair-share to address questions that arise from students who hold up a sideways and thumbs down. After using this strategy often in class, I started putting this “thumb-o-meter” on quizzes and tests as a way for students to self-assess their learning and explain where they may need more support. (Below is a picture of a quiz I created modeled after https://mathequalslove.blogspot.com/). It was helpful for me as a teacher to read feedback from students and after sorting them into three piles, I could make homogenous or heterogenous groupings. Another idea to include on formative assessments was a vocabulary strategy I learned at the training mentioned above. The presenter suggested having students circle any unknown words as a way to help them pinpoint where they were struggling. After sharing these ideas, the dean mentioned above sent me this second picture of how she added these on her first biology test of the year.
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Vocabulary Boosters

By Randi Anderson


I recently dove into researching best-teaching practices for increasing student vocabulary. This is a topic I am asked to present on frequently, probably because it is one of the most complex areas to teach. This summer I read, Responsive Literacy by Editor, Patricia L. Scharer. Here are some of their ideas for helping students strengthen language comprehension.


Conversations in the Classroom

Practice using language is key to increasing vocabulary. Language is learned through production. Simply holding frequent, brief conversations in your classroom will expose and give students the opportunity to practice using new words. Plan time to talk about a variety of concepts from personal to academic. Allot a time each day to allow students to discuss a question of the day. (i.e. Which do you prefer, YouTube or Netflix? Why?) We made discussion cards for you!


Read Aloud

Select 3-5 words from a daily read aloud to discuss with their students. Read aloud the text for the first time for students to comprehend the overall meaning of the text (day 1). The next day (day 2), reread the text and after the read aloud discuss the words with the students. Add the words to the class word wall. Have students add the words to their personal word wall. You can also have them create a vocabulary "no glue" book for the weekly words. Have students to draw a picture that shows word meaning and use the words in several different sentences.


Word Walls Organized by Units of Study

I love this idea of grouping words by units of study! Organizing words by how they relate is a great strategy for helping students make the meaning of words stick. For example:


Rainforest Words:

  • Habitat
  • Canopy
  • Kapok Tree
  • Evergreen
  • Amazon
  • Understory
  • Forest Floor
  • Ecosystem
  • Humid
  • Rainfall


All of our students come to us with different levels of vocabulary development. It is important for educators to meet their students right where they are in their vocabulary learning. These ideas are easy to implement in your classroom for "fast mapping" student's vocabulary development.

Example Word Walls

Good News Postcards

By Ashley Taplin


Starting my 10th year tomorrow and I’ve been thinking about things I love doing each year. One of my favorite things I used to do as a teacher was “Good News Postcards”.

I loved writing these because I think we all get caught up in some of the craziness of the year, but taking a moment to reflect on the good students are doing really helped me refocus and recharge. It also made me see more in my toughest kids and connect with them as I continued to find value in each student.

I’ve always been a handwritten note type of person, and I think in my role now this could be cool thing to start with the teachers and admin I work with to highlight all the good I see...maybe I don’t need their addresses and I can just leave it in their school mailboxes...we all live at school anyway, right?!

Fall 2019 Virtual Seminars

Kelly Harmon & Associates, LLC

Kelly Harmon & Associates began in 2001 with a mission of instructional coaching and providing rich literacy resources for educators and parents. Our work incorporates research-based best practices for teaching and learning.


Our Services Include

  • Literacy & Math based seminars
  • Instructional Coaching
  • Curriculum Development
  • Grant Writing
  • Project Management
  • Technology Integration