Teacher Talk

March 2020 Newsletter / Kelly Harmon & Associates

Dear Friends,

It's almost spring..break! This month we are bringing you ideas for incorporating March Madness and student teaming strategies to increase student achievement. We have loved being able to collaborate and share ideas with our readers. Please share any ideas you try/implement in your own classroom. We would love to see you and your students in action. Tweet us @TexasLiteracy & @randinanderson .

- Kelly Harmon, Randi Anderson & Ashley Taplin

Academic Teaming

Written by Ashley Taplin

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a conference by Steve and Michelle Ventura focused on growing our teams through data, strategies, and teacher clarity. We dove into Visible Learning research, founded by John Hattie, which synthesized instructional influences and ranked their effect size on learning. Hattie found that .4 was the average effect size of a year’s growth and thus, the strategies that are identified as .4 or higher can have an even greater impact on student learning. When educators apply the Visible Learning research they “can make informed decisions based on evidence to maximize their time, energy, and resources” (https://www.visiblelearningmetax.com/research_methodology). Below are some specific ideas that can easily be implemented into your academic teams to positively impact student achievement.

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Collective Teacher Efficacy

The highest influence that has the potential to considerably accelerate student achievement is collective teacher efficacy. This is the “collective belief of teachers in their ability to positively affect students” (https://visible-learning.org/2018/03/collective-teacher-efficacy-hattie/). Hattie explains that “when you fundamentally believe you make a difference and you feed it with the belief that you are, then that is dramatically powerful.” There are many ways to develop collective teacher efficacy, but one of my favorite activities you can do as a teacher team or staff can be found on Ventura’s website called Collective Intelligence Resume. I have done this with several teams and it is such a powerful experience! After collaborating in this process, teachers saw the skills and strengths that others are bringing to their classroom, the school, and the team, and felt a greater sense of efficacy.
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Strategies Book & Play Card

Reflecting on our teaching and discussing specific strategies is another important aspect of teams. Steve and Michelle Ventura showed us an instructional strategies flip book they created in which every strategy featured has a large effect size. This is such a valuable resource to bring to our teams when planning initial instruction, intentional interventions, and/or enrichment opportunities. One of my favorite strategies in the book that encourages collaboration and discussion among students is Teammates Consult, pictured here.
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After reading through this flip book, I created a play card (above) that teachers can print out to keep on their desk, put around their lanyard, and/or bring to team meetings to discuss strategies they will incorporate. Each strategy from the flip book is categorized into one of 5 domains. The focus questions can help a team have rich conversations as they analyze data and plan for instruction. Similar to sports coaches, we as teachers can use this tool for reflection, planning, and actionable steps to growing student achievement.

Discussion Circles are Powerful!

Written by Randi Anderson

Throughout the past year I've spent extensive time talking, collaborating, and brainstorming ideas all focused on classroom discussions circles. The research around discussion circles is astounding for student growth. In fact, classroom discussion has an effect size of .82 which translates to a TWO YEAR gain in student achievement. See Hattie's Effect size chart for reference.

If you are anything like me, you are interested in using instructional strategies that get the biggest bang for your buck, thus the biggest effective size. Discussion circles are key in ALL classrooms. The teacher is the facilitator and the students are team players in a discussion circle. Remember that "Whoever does the thinking, does the learning."

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Discussion Circles in the Classroom

Before starting discussion circles in your classroom, we as educators must model how this will look. It's important to teach the conversation roles of listening and responding. This is key!


  1. Place students into team or circles of 3-4 participants. It's important to circle up for body language purposes.
  2. Give students a topic, question stem, or claim to be discussed. The students need to know the success criteria before discussions begin. Also, using accountable talk cards is helpful for students to have appropriate conversations.

Example of Success Criteria:

  • I will listen to my peers comments.
  • I will respond appropriately with facts, details, explanations, or personal experience to comments made within my discussion circle.
  • I will pose a question to extend the learning on the claim or topic.
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4. Allow students 3-5 minutes to discuss the topic in their groups. The teacher walks around to facilitate the conversations.

5. As an extension, teachers can have students do a quick write to wrap up the learning for 1-5 minutes. Discussions must happen before we ask students to write. It warms up the brain and gives us extensions of our own knowledge. Not to mention that fact that it brings down writing reluctance in students because we have equipped them with time to process the thinking with others and giving them new information to use in their writing.

Incorporating March Madness in the Classroom

Written by Randi Anderson

I've always been a sucker for a good theme. Every March, there is always buzz around the men's NCAA basketball tournament. Educators can tap into that buzz and use it in the classroom to get students motivated.

Ideas for Using March Madness in Your Classroom:

1. Map it Out

Teams from all over the country travel to the tournament to compete. Have students locate where each team is from. Read and discuss locations/colleges that are in each bracket. Have students calculate miles traveled by each team. Also take time to discuss the importance of using a map and how it can help readers learn new information.

2. Make it a Game

Turn simple review tasks into games in your classroom. Take shots and earn points as individuals or in teams. Create math word problems for students to solve using the analysis of points scored.

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3. Follow a Team

Choose a team to follow and give daily updates on games and players. Have students read player bios, listen to interviews, study stats, and write their own word problems about that team or player.

4. Create Your Own Tournament

Create a tournament of books for students to vote on and see which book wins overall! Each day of March (or everyday of the year) read aloud a different text, #classroombookaday Students listen and discuss each book. Add books read in March up to the outside of the bracket. Have students vote as to which book from each bracket should move forward in the tournament. In the championship game, the winning book will be chosen.

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Did You Miss Our Countdown to Reading STAAR Virtual?

You can purchase the video! The 2 Hour virtual seminar includes all the resources from the training. Broadcast the video for your campus today! Visit our flyer for more information on the content of the seminar. Contact us for more information about purchasing for your school.

Struggling Readers Conference 2020

March 16-17, 2020

Long Island, NY

March 18-19, 2020

Chicago, IL

Grades K-6

Helping your struggling readers with strategies that work! Hear from three experts over two days in the area of reading on topics of vocabulary strategies, RTI, growth mindset, literacy centers, comprehension, teaching walls, and much more!

Strengthening Your RTI Program!

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

Albany, NY

April 27 - 28, 2020

Cherry Hill, NJ

April 29 & 30, 2020

Learn how to better lead your school or district RTI program 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. For more information, visit BER.org.


Summer Workshops

June 24, 2020 San Antonio, Texas

Reading Between the Lines-Learning to Analyze Texts Before, During, and After Reading

Presented by Kelly Harmon

In this interactive seminar, educators will learn ways to get students engaged in critical thinking about a text. We will talk about direct instruction and practicing the skills related to making 3 types of inferences, synthesizing text information and using and building background knowledge. We will explore ways proficient readers think about the author's intentions 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!

June 25, 2020 San Antonio, Texas

Increase Student Engagement and Perseverance to Improve Math Learning

Presented by Ashley Taplin

During this seminar, teachers will discover new ideas to engage students and boost their mathematical thinking. Participants will learn about ideas that make a large impact on student learning and ways to create a more student-centered classroom. Teachers will walk away with practical strategies and ready to use resources that have been tested and used in a variety of secondary math classrooms.

Bring a Training to Your Campus!

We provide onsite seminars, instructional coaching, and curriculum assistance to school districts. Contact us today for more information!