April Teacher Talk

Kelly Harmon & Associates Educational Consulting

Dear Educator Friends,

We hope you are having a great start to the final quarter of the school year! This month, we want to share some ideas, strategies, and activities to energize you and your students. It's an understatement to say this has been a tough year. During the final 30 to 40 days, remember to plan fun learning activities into every lesson. We have included fun ideas for reading and math that you can use during in-person or online learning.

Also, be sure to check out our upcoming summer professional development offerings.

Keep smiling! We are almost to the finish line!

Happy teaching!

Kelly, Randi, Ashley, Rachel, and Cindy

Engaging Learners in ELA

Catching Up Students Who Have Unfinished Learning

I was talking with four 2nd grade teachers last week who are very worried about how they are going to send their students to 3rd grade reading and writing "on level." Given that during first grade, the students went into lockdown for the entire fourth quarter of the year and then with the challenges of keeping kids safe this year, these teachers were feeling very defeated. They wanted to know what I thought is possible for their students with the forty days left in the year.

First, we accept what we can't control and then, with laser-like intention, we focus on strategies that have the best chance for impacting student literacy growth.

Here are 4 strategies for helping students accelerate literacy growth during the last weeks of school.

1. Narrow the curriculum focus. We must decide what is absolutely critical for students to learn before the end of the year. What are the 3 or 4 MOST important reading, foundation, and writing standards that students much absolutely master in order to be ready for the next grade? Once you have determined what are the priorities, spend most, if not all of the time left, learning, practicing, coaching, and giving students feedback to move them forward in the identified concepts, skills, and strategies. Let everything else go! Even in a great year, we can't teach and learn every standard to the same depth and we certainly can't do everything a textbook says to do. So do what is MOST important.

2. Monitor and measure student learning. Be intentional about your observations of students. Look for very specific literacy behaviors. For example, if locating text evidence is a priority, monitor this on a daily basis. Have student provide specific information from the text to support their inferences and claims during discussions and in their reading responses. Confer with each student and ask them if they are feeling very confident, somewhat confident, or not confident in locating text evidence. Ask them to provide work examples to support their confidence level. Students must be aware of what is critical to learn and they must partner with us to determine if they have achieved the learning goal.

3. Increase reading and writing volume. No one gets better at a skill or strategy without hours of practice. We want students to accumulate hours of independent reading, so have students keep track of reading minutes. During the next weeks of school, set up a reading challenge. You might use a baseball theme like "Reading All Stars." Organize the class into 4 baseball teams. Then keep score using the number of minutes each team reads. For each 10 minutes of self-selected reading, they get to go up to bat. Fourth grade teacher, Randi Anderson, has the students "spin the wheel" to see how many bases they get to (metaphorically) run. Students love the fun of the game, but most importantly, they are spending valuable time reading.

4. Build background knowledge. According to Dr. John Hattie's visible learning research, readers who establish more connections between a text and their prior knowledge produce stronger situation models, or cognitive maps of a given state of affairs. This situation model, in turn, is aimed to improve comprehension and recall.

Many of our students are lacking in background knowledge that they can utilize during reading. Spending just five minutes a day reading aloud from interesting informational texts can substantially grow students' background knowledge and vocabulary. Over the last weeks of school, ask students for 4-6 topics they'd like to know more about. This could include topics like insects, volcanos, robots, the Mohave Desert, etc. Then collect articles, texts, and videos related to the topic. Spend a week learning about each topic and provide students with additional texts and videos to explore on their own. Check out Wonderopolis and ReadWorks for topics and resources you can use.

For more ideas and strategies, join me this summer for a full day of Catching Students Ups Who Have Fallen Behind in 3-5 Grades.

Engaging Students in Math Learning

How to Embed SEL Into Your Instruction

By Ashley Taplin

Checkout Ashley's latest blog about the importance of social and emotional learning in math on Edutopia.

Increasing Rigor with Worked Examples

By Ashley Taplin and Rachel Mane

According to Robert J. Marzano in Understanding Rigor in the Classroom, “knowledge that has been proceduralized can be turned into worked examples” (Marzano, Understanding Rigor in the Classroom).

A worked example, as explained by Hattie’s research with Visible Learning, is “a problem statement with step-by-step guidelines for finding the solution. Worked examples enable students to focus on discrete problem-solving tasks, rather than attempting to hold each of the steps in their working memory while solving a complex problem.” (Hattie, Metax). Marzano says, “the cognitive analysis process of comparing can enhance the rigor with which students execute procedural knowledge.” (Marzano, Understanding Rigor in the Classroom).

We created a Desmos activity that models the process of a worked example with the algebra concept of solving quadratics by factoring. Click here to access the lesson and read below for more explanation of the slides.

Desmos Slides:

Slide 1: Students will order the steps for a new problem based on the given worked example.

Slide 2: Students will check their accuracy of ordering on this slide, go back and adjust if needed, and if correct, they can move on to generalize the steps with an explanation.

Slide 3: The teacher will gather student answers from Slide 2 and facilitate a class discussion to make one combined list of steps and “fix any bugs” that might have resulted from student explanation. This enables students to reflect on “how their thinking changed” while providing formative assessment data to the teacher.

Slide 4: Students complete a new example, comparing their process to the worked example and the generalized steps.

Slide 5: Students will reflect on one more formative assessment summary question- “what is one thing you learned about solving a quadratic?”

This Desmos worked example is a snippet of a lesson on solving quadratics by factoring. From here students can engage in an activity independently or collaboratively to complete additional solving quadratic problems and deepen their understanding.

Using Worked Examples as a strategy for helping students think Rigorously

Social and Emotional Learning

Coaching Reluctant Workers

By Cindy Jones

I have worked with many reluctant workers throughout the years. There are certain neutral phrases that encourage students to work without causing them to react negatively. The concept is based on the model, Life Space Crisis Intervention. I train about this in my workshops, and teachers have frequently told me that this has been incredibly beneficial for them.

What are the steps that you use when coaching reluctant workers?

Step 1: Empathy

Step 2: Define Concerns of Staff

Step 3: Issue an Invitation for Collaborative Problem Solving

Please note: The bolded words below are the key words for maintaining the coaching conversation.

Step 1, Empathy: The Empathy step involves not just being empathetic, but also digging for the REAL unsolved problem.

This step starts with the words “I’ve noticed” and ends with the words, “What’s up?”

Example of Empathy Step:

Teacher: I’ve noticed that you have trouble answering the questions in your social studies book. What’s up?

• Student: I can’t do it. It’s too hard.

• Teacher: You can’t do it. What do you mean?

• Student: I know the answers. I can find them in the book, but I can’t write them down.

• Teacher: You can’t write them down. What kinds of answers are the hardest for you?

• Student: I can’t remember what I read. I forget before I can get it written.

• Teacher: So, you can’t remember before you can get it written down.

• Student: Yes. You usually let us work with a partner. We talk about it and it helps me remember.

• Teacher: So, let me see if I have this right. You are having trouble remembering the answers before you can get them written down. And, you are having trouble doing your assignment without a partner because your partner helps you remember. Is there anything else that is making it hard?

Student: No. I can’t think of anything.

Plan B, Step 2: Define Concerns of Staff

This step begins with phrases such as My concern is…” or, “The thing is…”.

Here is an example.

Teacher: The thing is, you are always going to have to write answers. And, as you move up into higher grades, there will be more questions to answer. So, I was thinking that we should work on a plan now so that it won’t be so hard for you later on.”

Plan B, Step 3: Issue an Invitation for Collaborative Problem Solving

This step begins an invitation for the student to work collaboratively with the staff to solve the problem. If often begins with “I wonder if there is a way…”

It might sound like this:

Teacher: I wonder if there is a way for us to figure out how you could remember the answers that you find in the book for long enough to get them written down on your paper. Do you have any ideas?

Student: You could write them for me.

Teacher: I could do that, but that would not help you learn to write them for yourself. I could do the first one for you, however and show you how I remember what to write.

Student: Ok. But, would I have to write the rest?

Teacher: Yes, but I could talk you through some of the questions and give you strategies to help you remember.

Teacher: Let me know if you think that would work for you. And, if that doesn’t work, we’ll talk again and come up with something that does work.

Remember, the solution that is generated must meet two criteria. It must be feasible and mutually beneficial.

Upcoming Seminars and Recorded Sessions

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

July 7, 2021

July 8, 2021

July 12, 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.

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.

Reading Between the Lines

June 22, 2021 9AM to 12 PM CENTRAL STANDARD TIME

In this interactive seminar, educators will learn ways to get students engaged in making inferences before, during, and after reading any text. We will talk about direct instruction and practicing the skills related to synthesizing text information and utilizing 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!

Guided Math Conference: Using GUIDED MATH to Catch Up Students Who Have Fallen Behind and Accelerate the Progress of All

June 29-30, 2021

Choose fro 21 Strategy-Packed Sessions presented by 3 International Math Experts!

Sessions include:

  • Using Guided Math To Catch up Students Who Have Fallen Behind and Accelerate the Progress of All!
  • Unlock the Power of Guided Math Groups! What All the Books Did Not Tell You!
  • Building Confident, Enthusiastic Problem Solvers in Guided Math! (Grades 3-6)
  • Setting Guided Math Goals and Tracking Student Progress
  • Developing Computational Fluency Through Number Talks and Number Strings
  • Organizing the Math Block to Incorporate Guided Math Instruction
  • Not-to-Miss Math Learning Center Activities
  • AND Many more!

You will receive extensive resources to help you get ready for a super successful school year!

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.