February Teacher Talk

Kelly Harmon & Associates Educational Consulting

Dear Educator Friends,

I hope you are well and thriving as we continue to navigate teaching and learning during a pandemic.

I think I can safely say that we have all learned so much over the last 11 months! Can you believe it's almost been a year?!

I've been thinking a lot about how I will continue to use much of my new learning after the pandemic has passed. I know you are, too!

In this newsletter, my colleagues and I are sharing some new, fun, and quick ideas for engaging your learners. We know learning is a result of thinking, so all are ideas centered around students doing the cognitive work. We hope our ideas will help keep you going and enhance the learning opportunities for your students.

Keep smiling and happy teaching!

Kelly, Randi, Ashley, Rachel, and Cindy

Engaging Learners in ELA

Collecting Ideas and Vocabulary Using Alphaboxes Charts

By Kelly Harmon

Do your students have trouble determining a topic for writing or deciding what details they want to share related to a topic they are writing about? Years ago, I learned about Alphaboxes from Linda Hoyt. An Alphaboxes chart is quick, brainstorming activity that warms up the brain in a non-threatening, let's-ease-into-this kind of way.

I usually start by modeling how to begin thinking using a topic students know a lot about, such as themselves. I model by creating an "ABC's of Me" chart. I either show them one I've already completed, or I Model-Write in front of the class. I want them to see that you can start anywhere and every box does not need to be used.

After brainstorming, I model ways to use the chart to gather ideas and decide on topics and messages. For example, I give them a chance to ask me questions about something they see on the chart. After all, inquiring minds want to know! I explain that whatever my audience is asking about will likely be a good topic or detail to include in my writing.

I also show them that on those days when you don't know what to write about, you can look for topics on your "ABC's of Me" chart.

I love this strategy because reluctant writers see it as something they can do. After just five minutes, they have a word bank they can use to begin drafting. As they think of additional ideas, they can always add them to the chart.

You can extend the use of Alphaboxes into all content areas. For each unit of study in science, social studies, math, art, or music, have students collect academic language on a chart for the unit. Then have students use the chart during review.

Online, you can create an Alphaboxes slide that can be shared with students. I've made a slide template that you can copy and use with your students.

If you prefer a printable document, click here.

For more writing ideas, join Randi Anderson and Kelly Harmon on January 30th at 10:00 Central Time for Writing with the STARS. Click here for more information on the live session.

Alphaboxes PD

Using Data to Determine What Students Need to Learn and Practice for Writing

By Kelly Harmon & Randi Anderson

When it comes to writing, some writing skills are constrained, meaning once they are learned there is no need to continue to teach or have deliberate practice. Grammar skills are constrained skills. After direct instruction, coaching, and practice, students will have learned these skills and are using them with automaticity as they move through the writing process. Only data will tell if students need to continue to learn or deliberately practice. We can gather this data by looking at student writing and giving students weekly spelling and grammar checks.

Writing a composition is an unconstrained skill. This means that we continue learning and developing expertise until the day we stop writing. To develop expertise, students need to study mentor texts, looking at author’s craft. They need to ask themselves "What do expert authors do that the student can try out and add to their toolbox?" We call these "craft moves" and students are actually gathering data from other authors.

As students compose for authentic or test reasons, it is critical to start with a rubric. The points on the rubric become the teaching points for mini lessons. It’s important to break the rubric into digestible chunks and have students deliberately practice each chunk. As we teach the points, we explain that each quality statement on the rubric is the success criteria for writing a score “4” paper.

This is where the modeling the craft moves becomes so important! Students need to see the thinking and have an opportunity to experiment with coaching and deliberate practice. As they experiment, we can gather data to determine to what extent the writer has learned the moves and determine our next steps.

Our ultimate goal is for students to self evaluate their writing. Students can’t assess or "grade" their own writing unless they know what each part of the rubric means. In Randi Anderson's 4th grade class, students "write with the stars" weekly. They are given a composition to score and discuss. This gives Mrs. Anderson an opportunity to gather data, see misconceptions or misunderstandings and take action to clear up the confusion. Watch the video below to see a clip from our "Writing with the Stars" online seminar.

We recorded Randi Anderson's seminar "Writing with the Stars." If you are interested in purchasing the hour and a half PD session, click here for information. You will receive a certificate of attendance for 1.5 clock hours after completing the seminar survey.

Writing with the Stars Clip

Strike a Pose!

Here's a quick idea that was shared with me by Tracy, a 2nd grade teacher in Indianapolis. When she asks her students a question, she has them strike a pose when they are ready to answer. To facilitate this, she posted an anchor chart of yoga positions. This allows students to move and stretch, while giving everyone time to think. Thank you Tracy for sharing!

Engaging Students in Math Learning

Ashley Taplin Explains Student Engagement in the January Newsletter

By Ashley Taplin

I recently worked with a teacher on revamping a lesson to increase student engagement. Before designing the lesson, I asked her to describe what student engagement looks like and sounds like in her own classroom. Doing this seemed simple, but it uncovered key values that were important to her and helped bring more clarity to her vision.

Before reading on, I encourage you to take a 3-4 minutes to brainstorm your own ideas of student engagement on this Jamboard and share with others who might want to do this with you.

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Using Jamboard to Engage Students

After doing this Jamboard activity with colleagues that I am coaching, I am reminded that student engagement is complex, and new challenges of virtual learning make social cues of physical engagement even harder to see and hear. However, no matter what setting we are in, I believe each response to what it looks like and sounds like to you can fall under one of the three types of engagement: emotional, behavioral, and cognitive.

Below are a few ideas that can be incorporated into any lesson that I hope will jumpstart new conversations for increasing student engagement:

  • Emotional: Help students emotionally engage and connect with each other by starting off breakout rooms with SEL prompts. Using get to know you questions such as, “if you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?” or a “would you rather” type question can build relationships and comfortability before diving into content. (See it in action with students in this video from Edutopia).

  • Behavioral: Help students manage their behavioral engagement by purposefully embedding movement into content. Sara Van Der Werf is a math consultant who shares several ideas about movement in the math classroom. One of my favorites is incorporating it with remote students into Which One Doesn’t Belong by asking them to display their answer choice with a certain corresponding household item. (See example here).

  • Cognitive: Provide opportunities for reflection such as prompting students to graph their own engagement and confidence level. This can help you pinpoint specific students to check-in with and reflect on the lesson strategies as a whole. Grab this Jamboard template here.
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Deepening Professional Expertise with Impactful Instructional Strategies

1 min PD- Four Corners in Google Jamboard

Two Easy-to-Use Strategies for Engaging Students and Increasing Rigor

By Rachel Mane

With virtual and hybrid learning, it can be challenging to keep student engagement alive and formatively assess student learning in the moment. Here are two strategies I use to not only increase student engagement, but quickly monitor student learning and identify any misconceptions. These strategies can be used in all content areas as well as all grade levels.

"My Favorite Not" is a strategy that asks students to choose their favorite wrong answer from the answer choices provided. This strategy can be done in person, either on paper or using the corners of your room, or virtually through a platform such as Google Jamboard. As students make their choices and provide the reasons for the choices, you are able to quickly note who is understanding and who needs a micro-intervention. I found my students were much more willing and eager to discuss why an answer was wrong instead of which answer was correct and why. My favorite Not incorporates a level of error analysis, student discourse, and engagement all in one.

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The second strategy, a chat blast, is a way to virtually increase engagement while giving all students a voice in the chat. Overall, a chat blast is when you ask students to respond in the chat, but hold their answers until you say to hit enter or return. This strategy gives students more confidence to respond and provides more authenticity to each student’s response. You can give a chat blast a fun name such as “Storm the Chat” or count 3-2-1 Blast Off, which furthers the excitement to respond. The One Minute PD video discusses three different ways to use a chat blast strategy for emotional, behavioral, and cognitive engagement.

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Chat Blast Strategy - 1 min PD

Social and Emotional Learning

Creating and Maintaining a Successful Educator/Parent Team

By Cindy Jones

Sometimes when working with the parents of your students, things can get tense. I would like to offer some tips that have helped me throughout my years in education as a general and special education teacher, consultant, and administrator.

Our goal is to get the parent to work side-by-side with us in solving the problem.

Conferencing with a Parent

When conferencing with a parent (whether it is an IEP meeting or a teacher/parent conference) FIRST, say something positive about their child.

I am so glad that you are here. I have wanted to meet with you. I did want to let you know that two of Maria’s teachers have told me that Maria is so kind and helpful to children who are struggling.

Also, when working with frustrated parents, always use a neutral or empathic voice and neutral or calming facial expression.

I use an interaction model called I Know and the Sooner.

In this model, you use empathy and then give a reason why the person would benefit by being cooperative. Empathy is a very powerful strategy.


It seems like you are upset and…

I know this is disappointing and…

Don’t say but or however. Instead, say and.

Then, give a reason why it would benefit them to do what you asked.

The sooner that we talk about this, the sooner we can move forward with creating a plan for Aidan.

Then, put the two together.

I know this is disappointing and the sooner we talk about this, the sooner we can move forward with creating a plan for Aidan.

What a frustrated parent may do:

Tries to have you do all of the work:

I know that this is a big problem. Let’s see what we can both do to make it better.

Tries to manipulate you:

You have mentioned some things that must be very concerning for you. Let’s work together and come up with a plan that might help Tyrone find success. I would love to hear your ideas.

Tries to rush you

Wow! This is going to take some thought. When would be a convenient time for me to call and share with you what I have come up with? Please be thinking about some ideas, too.

Proclaims herself the “Expert”

Recognize and mention their knowledge.

I am so glad that you have so much knowledge in this area. I know that since we both have a lot of expertise, we can come up with a great plan to help Adam. I think that we will be a great team working for your son.

Here are other tips to use when meetings are getting tense.

Agree and give an “add-on”.

Thanks for that idea. Let’s add it to our list and see what other things we can think of. I will make sure that we get back to it before our meeting is over.

Do not say “No” automatically, and do not say “Yes”, when you need to say “No”.

Yes, we can do that. Here is what we both would need to do to make it happen.

Working with parents is an integral part of teaching. These strategies have really strengthened my success in building and maintaining parent/educator relationships.

Goal: Get the parent to work side-by-side with you in solving the problem.

Upcoming Seminars and Recorded Sessions

Practical Strategies for Dealing with Disrespectful and Disengaged Students at School and Online with Cindy Jones

February 10, 2021

March 18, 2021

March 19, 2021

Practical Ideas and Strategies

Students with disrespectful and disengaged behaviors are becoming more and more prevalent in our schools. These students are exceedingly difficult to reach and even more difficult to teach. They often exhibit rude behaviors, infringe on others' rights, disrupt the classroom and online learning environment, and refuse to engage in learning. This NEW, highly practical seminar by Cindy Jones is designed to offer educators powerful tools and techniques for changing students' negative behaviors into positive, productive learning behaviors.

You will leave this seminar with many highly effective and game-changing ideas for reducing disrespectful student behavior as well as helping students move from unmotivated, disorganized, and apathetic to engaged and successful learners in your classroom and online.

Catching Up Students Who've Fallen Behind in Reading or Writing (Grades 3-5)

Feb 16, 2021

Feb. 17, 2021

March 15, 2021

March 16, 2021

March 29, 2021

March 31, 2021

April 1, 2021

Practical Ideas and Strategies

In this NEW strategy-packed seminar by Kelly Harmon, an international educational consultant with extensive experience working with Grades 3-5 students, you will discover how to empower learning for your students who have fallen behind. In Kelly's seminar, you will discover the most effective, cutting-edge instructional strategies to catch up third, fourth and fifth graders. You will learn dozens of ideas for accelerating the learning of your struggling students. Join Kelly to explore the newest ways to monitor and adjust instruction based on student results. You will leave this outstanding seminar with renewed enthusiasm for teaching and learning as well as a wealth of ideas for innovating the learning opportunities for your Grades 3-5 students.

This fast-paced day, packed with the best research-based and classroom tested strategies, will provide you with the tools you need to catch up your students who have fallen behind! You will walk away not only with an extensive digital resource handbook packed with dozens of practical, easy to implement strategies but access to Kelly's online resources designed specifically for Grades 3-5 students who need to catch up. The day will focus on the practical strategies needed to catch students up and will include strategies that work whether you are teaching in-person or online.

No matter your experience level with struggling learners, you will leave this seminar with a wealth of practical, use-tomorrow ideas.

DISTANCE LEARNING: Strengthening Your Online Instruction with SECOND GRADE STUDENTS

March 17, 2021

March 18, 2021

March 19, 2021

Practical Ideas and Strategies

In this NEW strategy-packed seminar by Kelly Harmon, an international educational consultant with 30 years of experience working with primary students, you will discover how to empower learning for your Second Graders using the most effective, cutting-edge, distance learning instructional strategies. You will learn dozens of ideas for working with all Second Graders, from struggling to high performing, along with ways to continually monitor and adjust instruction based on student results. You will leave this outstanding seminar with renewed enthusiasm for teaching and learning as well as a wealth of ideas for innovating the learning opportunities for your Second Grade students and ideas for partnering with parents.

Join Kelly for a fast-paced day packed with the best research-based and classroom tested strategies that harness the power of technology and bring learning to life! You will walk away not only with an extensive digital resource handbook packed with dozens of practical, easy-to-implement strategies, but access to Kelly's online resources designed specifically for Second Grade. While the day will focus on the practical strategies that work during distance learning, you will quickly see they will increase student engagement and can be applied to in-person classroom communities as well.

No matter your experience level with distance learning or these powerful tools, you will leave this seminar with a wealth of practical, use-tomorrow ideas.

Strengthen Your RTI Program! Powerful Strategies to Increase the Success of Your Current Response to Intervention Program

May 17, 2021 - May 18, 2021

Learn how to better lead your school or district RTI program whether online or in-person in this strategy-packed, two-day institute led by nationally acclaimed presenter and RTI facilitator, Kelly Harmon. Specifically designed for school teams who are using the RTI model and are looking for ways to strengthen it, this two-day institute will help you look at new and different ways to refine and build your RTI model to better focus on planning learning goals that meet the needs of your students.

Discover strategies to increase all students' success at the Tier 1 level and interventions that work for those students who need further, small group instruction at Tiers 2 and 3. This is a unique opportunity to take a closer look at your RTI program, identify the most effective, research‑based, instructional practices and learn how to implement them in your own school or district.

You and your team will walk away with dozens of research-based strategies and an extensive digital resource handbook to help you refine and strengthen your RTI program.

Making Best Use of DESMOS to Strengthen Your MATH Instruction (Grades 6-12) with Ashley Taplin

May 10, 2021

May 11, 2021

May 19, 2021

May 20, 2021

Practical Ideas and Strategies

This outstanding, NEW live online seminar is specifically designed for secondary mathematics educators who want to make best use of the FREE Desmos calculator and Desmos Activity Builder lessons to greatly enhance mathematics learning and instruction. Experienced secondary mathematics teacher Ashley Taplin will share practical, effective ways to use Desmos to build strong conceptual understanding and increase student success in math.

Enable students to deepen learning by constructing their own mathematical understanding. Increase students' confidence in their mathematical abilities and when faced with new concepts or challenging questions. Discover how Desmos online calculator is much more than just a replacement for a handheld device. Learn how to help students become mathematicians with Desmos – to conjecture, test ideas, notice and wonder, productively learn from mistakes, make connections between algebraic and graphical representations, and much more!

Whether you are new to using Desmos, an experienced user or anywhere in between, and whether you are teaching at school or online, you will leave this seminar with numerous practical ideas you can immediately implement to greatly enhance your math instruction.

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.

Writing with the Stars!

Recorded Session

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.

For registration information, click here.