October Teacher Talk

Kelly Harmon & Associates Educational Consulting

Dear Educator Friends,

Happy October! How are you doing? While hybrid, virtual, and in-person learning has presented many challenges, every teacher I work with is focused on student learning and collaborating with their colleagues to make it work for our students. In case no one has told you today, YOU ARE DOING MORE THAN ENOUGH! Thank you on behalf of all the children you teach!

This month I've asked our bloggers to share practical ideas to help you keep the momentum during pandemic instruction. We don't want to sacrifice best practices for learning, but we need to figure out how to keep students cognitively engaged. You will find some tips for achieving teacher clarity, authentic writing experiences, using Cuisenaire Rods for subtraction and division, and handling students who are challenging.

There are many upcoming professional development sessions, both free and paid. You will find links to these sessions at the end of the newsletter.

Be sure and take some time to take care of yourself! You matter and make a difference that will last well beyond this pandemic.

Stay well friends and happy teaching!


Focus on Impact

By Kelly Harmon

Know thy impact! This is the charge given us by Dr. John Hattie whose research has shown that it's how teachers think, not what they do, has the most impact on student learning. This thinking is student-centered and ensures that everything we ask students to learn or do is intentional and designed to move students forward.

Last month I shared some ways to focus our thinking about our impact on learning. Starting with building strong relationships and focusing on students strengths, rather than deficits establishes a community of growth-minded learners.

Yesterday, I was listening to Dr. Jo Boaler provide recommendations about math instruction during this pandemic year. Everything she said applied to all instruction. She talked about the importance of thinking about what students have learned over the past 7 months, rather than what they have missed. For example, students have possibly engaged in more cooking, building, and gaming. Many students have seen a lot of graphs and charts about flattening the curve and coronavirus case data. How can we use what they've learned to engage them in grade level standards-based thinking?

We have to move forward and help students achieve grade level standards, even though they might have gaps from last year(s). So how can we bridge the gap and not waste precious time trying to find and fill gaps?

Focus on Less Curriculum & Intentional Daily Learning Targets

What can you guarantee your students will learn this year? State and national standards are over-packed. There's no way to teach it all during a normal school year, so this year, it's even more important to identify the most critical standards. Start by making a list of the most important standards that you can guarantee students will learn. Ask "What happens in the future if students don't learn this standard to mastery this year?" I call this list "The Focus List." We can't focus on everything, so we have to focus on the right things.

Once we have the list of critical learning standards, we will find other standards that are integral to mastery of these standards.

Next, break down the critical standards into digestible learning chunks. For each lesson, provide students with clear, daily learning intentions and success criteria. Make sure students know what they are learning and what success looks like. It's important to differentiate "learning" from "doing." We do something to show what we have learned. Learning intentions clearly tell students what is "new" learning today. Activities and assignments tell students how they will use and show what they have learned.

Don't forget the success criteria. Good success criteria bridges the learning target and the work students will do. It tells students what to think about as they do the work. The success criteria will likely include some of the missing learning from last year. By including the missing pieces in the success criteria, we are bridging the gaps so learning can move forward.

When students know the daily learning intentions, they can set daily goals and take ownership of their learning. They are offered a partnership with you so that they can let you know what they have learned and what is tripping them up.

During the first week of school, I helped my granddaughter, Reese, with virtual kindergarten. On the third day, she asked why she needed to do a particular math activity. I could tell that she thought is was below her skill level. I explained that she knew she could count to 10, but the teacher didn't know she could. The activity is designed for her to show what she has learned so the teacher can plan what she needs to learn next. This seemed to satisfy her and she even suggested some other things she could do to let her teacher know that she knows. And this was day 3 of kindergarten! We can't make our students learn. They need to partner with us to learn really important concepts and skills.

Finally, make sure that everything you ask students to do (activities and assignments) clearly align with the daily learning intentions. So many times, students think that they do assignments just get grades or stay busy during class. It's important for them to know how the work they do makes learning visible, both to the teacher and themselves. End each class by asking these two questions:

1. What have you learned today?

2. How has your thinking changed?

Learning is a result of making sense of new information. If we have too much information, it's hard to make sense of it. So slow down, teach less, and your students will learn more.

Teacher Clarity

By Ashley Taplin

According to Professor John Hattie’s Visible Learning research, Teacher Clarity is one of the top influences that can greatly impact student achievement (Visible Learning, John Hattie). Teacher clarity focuses on intentional learning targets and success criteria. Through writing learning targets and success criteria, a teacher can gain greater understanding of what they want students to know and be able to do (DuFour’s 1st PLC question), and additionally, help students develop essential SEL skills such as self-regulation and metacognition.

Success Criteria Is Essential for Clarity

Success criteria is most effective when it: (Source 1, Source 2)

  • links to the learning intention
  • is specific to a learning experience or task
  • is discussed, co-constructed and agreed with learners prior to undertaking the learning experience
  • uses child-friendly language
  • is visible and referred to during the learning experience
  • provides a clear scaffold and focus for learners while engaging with the learning
  • is used as the basis for feedback between learner and teacher and during peer and self -assessment
  • is tangible and measurable

Below are a few ideas to help make teacher clarity effective and engaging in virtual instruction.

3-2-1 Success Criteria Evaluation with Pear Deck: Before and/or after a lesson, the teacher can use Pear Deck to ask students to self-evaluate their knowledge of the target. Click here for a Pear Deck template.
Checklist for Success Criteria: Use a check-list format where students check the success criteria they feel confident about before and/or after a lesson. For math teachers, consider using a platform such as Desmos. Click here for the example shown.
Zoom Poll: Joellen Killion shared a strategy using Zoom in which she set up a quick poll for participants to review and self-evaluate the learning target. Similar to previous examples, this could be a really great tool for teachers to compare responses at the beginning and end of the lesson.

Numbering Success Criteria: By numbering the success criteria and asking students what success criteria they’d like to focus on, teachers can then use Zoom breakout rooms to divide students by heterogenous or homogenous groupings. The breakout room can provide a space for students to ask questions or give support on specific success criteria.

Ashley Taplin is a secondary math specialist for a large public Texas school district. She works with schools to implement PLCs, incorporate strategies in the classroom, and write curriculum for our district. She taught high school math and was a department dean before her current role as a district math specialist. In the summer of 2013, she traveled on a Fulbright scholarship to Germany and gained new knowledge and perspective in curriculum, diversity, and differentiation.

This year she will present the online seminar Increase Student Perseverance to Improve MATH Learning for the Bureau of Education and Research.

Visit Ashley’s blog at https://taplinsteaching.wordpress.com/

Contact her at 713.824.2939

Panther Talks: Starting the Year with Authentic Writing

By Randi Anderson

For the first major writing project of the year, students are creating an argumentative essay inspired by Ted Talks. At the end of the projects, students will present their talks to a live audience. We've decided to call our argumentative talks “Panther Talk Days” (similar to a Ted Talk).

We started the unit by watching two powerful TedTalks, given by kids. The first one was given by an 8 year old, on why kids need more recess. The second one was on the power of reading. My students used both as a mentor text and broke apart the speaker’s claim and evidence to support. They then imitated this in their prewriting for their argumentative project.

The kids are feeling pretty PASSIONATE about their claims and supporting evidence. I model wrote for them to show how good writers use their pre-write to guide their draft.

After drafting, we focused on revising and giving/getting feedback from our audience using the “Writing with the Stars” game. We learned to self-assess our own writing using a rubric and then get feedback from potential audience members. Students are learning to use the success criteria on the rubric to guide and evaluate their writing. They are also learning how to function as a community of learners who give descriptive helpful feedback to their peers.

Big picture
Our Panther Talks are coming up next week. My students have been so engaged. I've seen some pretty dramatic learning gains. They are keying in on the success criteria in order to meet the goal of convincing others to change their thinking.

As an 11 year veteran teacher, Randi Anderson is teaching 4th grade ELAR in Van Alstyne ISD this year. She has spent the last 6 years working as an instructional coach with schools across the U.S. Prior to this she taught third and fourth grade in the Fort Worth, Texas area. Be sure to follow her on Twitter @randinanderson or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Anderson-Adventures-in-4th-Grade-110838290747036

Using Cuisenaire Rods To Move Students Forward in Conceptual Understanding

By Ann Elise Record

Whenever we explore math concepts with students, having students see representations concretely, pictorially, and abstractly is so important for their brains. I have many math manipulatives that I love, but I think one in particular has the power to move our students forward on their math journeys from counting reasoning into additive reasoning and then, in grades 3-5, into multiplicative reasoning: CuisenaireⓇ Rods (The name Cuisenaire Rods and the color sequence of the rods are registered trademarks of hand2mind).

When I first saw them, I didn’t like them because the colors weren’t in rainbow order. It turns out, though, that there is a color coding system that will allow our brains to learn the colors and the corresponding number of units they are. In this post, I’d like to share with you how Cuisenaire rods can help us solve a common problem: fluency with subtraction math facts. Since the quantities exist as a group, we can help students focus on the number relationships and move beyond counting with addition and subtraction (and beyond skip counting with multiplication and division, but that’s a post for another day).

Don't Let Subtraction Take Students Down!

Over the past 20 years of working with many students in many different schools, one thing I see all the time is that subtraction takes the students out! For the younger students, I witness them counting back on their fingers to determine a fact like 15 - 8 (it’s hard not to when you are counting back a large amount like an 8). For the upper elementary students, I witness them doing the exact same thing except the subtraction facts are embedded within the subtraction in a division problem. There are two keys for developing fluency with subtraction:

  1. Understanding of decomposing numbers; and

  2. Knowing that subtraction has two meanings-removing objects and the distance between two numbers.

Cuisenaire rods can play a powerful role in developing their flexibility with subtraction while also developing their number sense.

Subtraction Fluency within 10

The first context we use when we explore subtraction with our youngest students involves the action of removing items so objects get eaten, broken, or given away. Because this action is in the story problem, it becomes natural that students act out the problem and count the objects as they remove them and then count the ones that are left.

As our students are introduced to working with larger numbers in grades 1 and 2, we want to help them move past the counting phase of reasoning and into additive thinking. The first step on this journey is to explore the second meaning of subtraction: finding the distance between the two numbers. A context such as Kylynn has 8 cookies and Delia has 6. How many more cookies does Delia need to have the same as Kylynn? This story situation encourages using addition to solve subtraction. So, rather than counting back 6, we can start at the 6 and count up to the 8. This is a tell-tale expression I use when I interview students on their basic facts using Dr. Nicki Newton’s Math Running Records (www.mathrunningrecords.com). At the same time, we can be exploring the decomposition pairs of all the numbers up to 10 so that if I ask a student 8 - 6, they will know it is 2 because 6 + 2 = 8.

Here is a Cuisenaire rod wall of all the pairs of addends that compose a 5. We can build these for all the numbers up to 10 and have students notice and wonder about all the number relationships.

Subtraction Fluency within 20

As we move into subtraction facts within 20, we want students to use strategies that make sense for their brains. Some prefer the removal thought process, while others prefer to think addition. We never want to dictate which strategies students use, but we can show that some strategies are more efficient with certain numbers than others. This is particularly true with subtraction.

Rather than counting back or counting up, students can think in chunks using 10 as a bridge. Here are two examples using Cuisenaire rods and notice the difference in the thinking to arrive at the same difference of 7.

If you are interested in learning more about how you can use Cuisenaire rods to explore fluency, word problem types, and the content standards for K-5, check out my on-demand workshops on the Power and Versatility of Cuisenaire rods. I have a class for K-2 content and another class for grades 3-5 accessible from my website: https://www.anneliserecord.com/courses-new.

Ann Elise Record has been an educator for twenty years in the roles of classroom teacher, K-5 Math Coach, adjunct faculty member for Plymouth State University, and currently Bureau of Education and Research presenter, contributing author of Fluency Doesn't Just Happen, and independent elementary math consultant. Her passion is working with educators to help them implement best practices within the three basic pillars of classroom math instruction that encourage growth mindset messages: math fact fluency, word problem structures, and understanding progressions of the content standards.

Using Teflon Responses in Challenging Situations

By Cindy Jones

Some students enjoy “pushing our buttons”. It is very entertaining for them when we lose our cool and get frustrated. So, when you are verbally intervening with a student, do not get into a power struggle. Power struggles tend to damage relationships and escalate the situation. Instead, keep a neutral face and use Teflon Responses to respond to students’ inappropriate comments.

Teflon Responses are neutral statements that help us to stay in control and to keep our power. When you emotionally negatively engage with a student that is being rude or baiting you, you are handing him your power.

Teflon Responses should never be said in a sarcastic manner. Instead, they should be delivered in with a neutral face and a neutral voice.

A neutral face has no expression. And, a neutral voice is flat with no emotion.

Also, after you deliver the Teflon Response, walk away or change the subject. If you continue to stand there, the student will probably continue to be rude.

An example of changing the subject might be, “Hey, John, what should you be working on right now?”.

When we are treated rudely, we sometimes respond in a rude manner. So, pick the Teflon Responses that work best for you and practice with a colleague to make sure that you are able to deliver them with a neutral voice and facial expression.

These are some examples of Teflon Responses:

The ones in bold are my favorites.

  • I see.
  • Hmm (nod head)
  • Thanks for noticing.
  • Thanks for sharing that. Perhaps you are right.
  • That’s an interesting point.
  • I’ll have to think about that.
  • I hear what you are saying.
  • You may be right.
  • You got me! Can we move on now?
  • That’s possible. Let’s talk about it later.
  • That stinks.
  • Oh no. That’s never good.
  • I bet it feels that way.
  • I respect you too much to argue. I like you too much to argue.
  • If you want to fight, fight with someone else. I want to teach.
  • I argue at 3:30. Come back then.
  • You must be really angry to say that. We’ll talk about it in a minute.
  • It is okay to be mad. It is not okay to say that. We will talk about other ways to let me know you are mad without using those words.

Closed ended question:

Is that what you are supposed to be doing? Yes or No?

Calling a bluff

Did I hear you right? You said you’ll get your lawyer? That’s an interesting choice and now please get started on your ________.

You said your mom told you that you don’t have to do any school work? That’s very interesting. Thanks for letting me know. Please get started on your work.

Staying objective is critical when students want to get you into a power struggle. With teflon responses, they quickly learn that you will always stay in control of yourself and guide them to make better choices about how to stay focused on the task at hand.

Cindy Jones is a 50 year veteran teacher. She has co-authored 4 books and written many teacher handbooks for the Bureau of Education and Research. Currently, Cindy provides staff development to schools and districts across the country and in Canada. She presents numerous brain and behavior seminars for the Bureau of Education and Research. Be sure to look for her all new seminar Practical Strategies for Improving the Behavior of Attention-Seeking, Manipulative and Challenging Students

Contact Cindy Jones at cindypurcelljones@earthlink.net.

Upcoming Seminars and Recorded Sessions

Distance Learning: Strengthening Your Online Instruction With 2nd grade Students

Oct. 21 Pacific Time

Oct. 22 Central Time

Oct. 23 Eastern Time

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.

For more information:

Practical Strategies for Improving the Behavior of Attention-Seeking, Manipulative and Challenging Students

Presented by Cindy Jones









Students with attention-seeking and manipulative behaviors are becoming more and more prevalent in our schools. These students are very difficult to reach and even more difficult to teach. They often exhibit severe and disruptive behavior patterns, infringe on others’ rights, disrupt the classroom or online learning environment, and stop their own learning as well as that of others. This outstanding seminar is designed to offer grades 1-12 educators powerful tools and techniques for changing students’ negative behaviors into positive, productive learning behaviors.

Increase Student Perseverance to Improve MATH Learning

By Ashley Taplin





Recorded Event

Perseverance and engagement, especially in math, does not come automatically to all students. It is, however, something all math students can develop. Join outstanding secondary math teacher, Ashley Taplin, in this NEW seminar that will bridge research and practicality. Learn ways to boost your students' mathematical reasoning, help them purposefully talk, and deepen their understanding of content while strengthening their perseverance and increasing their engagement. Ashley will show you how to make math come alive in your classroom or in a virtual setting with instructional strategies that improve student achievement, develop a growth mindset, and allow your students to take greater ownership of their learning. Teachers will leave not only understanding educational research, but also how to apply it – through dozens of classroom proven, practical strategies – to increase student math success.

Recorded Professional Development Sessions


In this interactive session, you will learn how to teach reading and writing in a distance, hybrid, or blended learning. Kelly will share ideas for establishing literacy routines in all learning platforms, including Google Classroom, Seesaw, Bitmoji classroom, and much more! We will talk about how to have students use digital reading resources and notebooks. We will demonstrate how to teach whole group and small group lessons. You will get resources you can use immediately with your students! Register now and receive the a video and a huge resource document ready-to -use activities for your students! For more information, click here.


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.

Webinars: Supporting High-Quality Math Teaching in Uncertain Times

Have you heard of Knowledgehook.com? I hadn't either until about a month ago. This Canadian company has developed an online gamified formative evaluation system and instructional guidance system for 3rd through Algebra 1 math instruction.They also have a math leadership series of free webinars and roundtables about great math instruction. I recommend you watch the webinar Supporting High-Quality Math Teaching in Uncertain Times. Dr. Jo Boaler, led a team to produce a short, practical report designed to be accessible to all stakeholders providing pandemic instruction. It provides a narrative on research-based best practices as well as a list of recommendations across four categories: technology, assessment, curriculum, and pedagogy. It highlights key thoughts with respect to implementation. The co-authors hope this combination will help all educators support high quality teaching and learning in math no matter what the circumstances.