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Ryan O'Rourke

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No More Interruptions: 8 Effective Classroom Management Tips

Posted by Ryan O'Rourke on May 21, 2014 4:48:00 PM

effective classroom managementConstant interruptions are not only distracting, they’re wearisome. While most of our students outgrow their impulse to interject seemingly random thoughts during lessons or classroom activities, we’ve probably all encountered students who constantly vie for our attention. In lieu of  “calling out” these students in front of their peers—which only further disrupts the flow of your lesson and embarrasses the disruptive student—give a few of these simple, but effective classroom management tricks a shot.

  • Many students disrupt because they need to move around. If you can, find simple tasks or ways for these students to assist you with your lesson. If you are using a Power Point presentation, for example, give these students the opportunity to control the slides. 

    Another way to empower these students and re-channel their energy is by allowing them to be the “official writer on the board.” Instead of writing reminders and notes on the board yourself, have one of your energetic students take on this responsibility. 

  • In lieu of long lectures, provide opportunities for students to talk to one another and work in groups to solve problems. Provide each group with a detailed set of instructions and appoint those energetic students to be the “official secretary” for their groups. The secretary will be responsible for documenting the group’s conclusions and sharing them with the class once you come back together as a group to discuss the activity.

  • Provide energetic students with a notebook in which they can write down thoughts, questions, or anything that is unrelated to the lesson. At the end of the day, review the notebook and discuss with the student.

  • Provide students with “question tokens” (you can use anything from Monopoly money to Post-It notes) and explain that they have X-amount of tokens for the day. If students ask an unrelated question, they have to give up one of their tokens. 

  • Teach sign language symbols to all your students that reflect a question, comment, answer, restroom, water, wait a minute, etc. As long as you continue to stop and focus on the behavior you want changed, it won't. Consistency and patience with yourself and your students, along with positive reinforcement will help them to know how to get acknowledgement.

  • Set aside time each day where students can talk about or ask any question they want. Another thing you can do is set aside question time that is related to the topic you’re teaching. By doing this, you won’t have to deny students the chance to ask questions; instead, you can simply remind him or her to save the question for question time.

  • Take note of your students’ questions: Do you pick up any common threads? Do these questions give you more insight into what students are interested in? We bet they do. Use these questions to help you further develop your lesson plans or find books these students would enjoy reading on their own.

  • Try the “Parking-Lot” strategy. If students have something off-topic to share, they can write it on a Post-It and stick it up on the parking lot bulletin board. After the lesson, grab the Post-Its and take some time to answer the questions.

    If you're looking for more ways to develop an effective classroom management plan, check out our guide, 25 Effective Classroom Management Tips for Teachers!
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Tags: classroom management, effective classroom management, effective classroom management plan

5 Non-negotiables for Reading Teachers

Posted by Ryan O'Rourke on May 13, 2014 2:49:10 PM

Reading TeachersFew of us doubt the importance of teaching reading. Parents want their children to read and teachers have resorted to practically begging their students to read. But how do we make it happen?

According to Donalyn Miller, author of Reading in the Wild, teachers must build and depend on a “framework that exists every day throughout the school year.” This framework, or what Miller refers to as “non-negotiables,” should be the foundation against which teachers check their lesson planning, assessment, resources, classroom management, and virtually every aspect of their instructional design.

We’ve pulled five of Miller’s classroom “negotiables,” and listed them below.

5 Non-negotiables for Reading Teachers

Time to read; time to write
Miller’s students spend a significant amount of time reading in class—approximately one-third of every class period, in fact. During this daily independent reading time, she confers with several students about their reading and meets with small groups of students who need additional instruction and support. In addition to this, she encourages students to read at home and removes or reduces homework and busy-work activities in order to provide time for additional reading.

Students need to feel that they are a part of a community of readers and writers
To help students develop confidence and self-efficacy as readers, Miller places emphasis on ensuring students nurture relationships with other readers in reading communities. These communities include both their peers and teacher. Whether students read below grade level, meet grade-level goals, or surpass grade-level expectations, all of them fully participate in activities and conversations that value individual strengths and viewpoints.

Miller argues that students need to make their own choices about reading material and writing topics. So in her classroom, students self-select all books for independent reading. She encourages them to read widely, and helps them select books from a variety of genres and formats including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and graphic novels. She also supports and challenges students through reading advisory—that is, guiding them toward books that match their interests and reading abilities.

Students need the opportunity to respond to books in natural ways
Miller stresses the importance of providing students with daily opportunities to respond to what they read. Students share book recommendations, write response entries, and post book reviews based on their independent reading. In addition to this, they talk about books daily with their peers and us through conferences and classroom discussions.

The workshops are built on structure and predictable ritual
In Miller’s classroom, reading workshops follow a consistent routine of lessons—and time for sharing and reflection. Regular conferences, reading response, and reader’s notebook records hold students accountable for their reading and provide information about their progress toward personal and academic reading goals.

If you’re interested in learning more about Donalyn Miller’s approach to reading instruction, check out one of our recent blogs, “5 Simple Ways to Increase Independent Reading Time.”

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Tags: reading assessment, effective reading comprehension strategies, reading ability, reading teachers, read alouds

Think You Know What Motivates Students? Think Again.

Posted by Ryan O'Rourke on May 5, 2014 10:14:00 AM

Last week, I shared a simple goal-setting strategy I’ve been using over the past few years. As a companion piece, I thought I’d share “The Truth about What Motivates Us,” an animated video adapted from a longer lecture by Daniel Pink. It’s a fascinating piece and was certainly an eye-opener for me.  

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Tags: student leadership, Success, intrinsic motivation, student independence, student engagement, student evaluation, goal setting

Keep Students Motivated with This Goal-Setting Activity

Posted by Ryan O'Rourke on May 3, 2014 6:00:00 AM

goal setting activityWhen we were students, often the last week of school was spent watching videos and goofing around. We loved every minute of it, but looking back, it’s easy to see that this was not a productive use of our time.

To keep students motivated and self-reflective, we like to have them complete goal-setting worksheets throughout the year—but you can certainly implement them at any point in the semester, even if you only have a few weeks left of school.

This activity comes from Larry Ferlazzo, but over the years, we've made a few tweaks to the original lesson. Here’s what we do:

Start by having students read an excerpt from Michael Jordan’s book, I Can’t Accept Not Trying. After students finish reading, ask them to pair up with another student and write a one-sentence summary of the information.

Next, students get together with another pair of students to compare their summaries and work together to develop the best one-sentence thesis/summary they possibly can. Once groups finish, we like to have each group write their sentence on the white board. Then, as a class, we review the strengths and weaknesses of each summary and work together as a class to create the most accurate and concise one-sentence summary that we can.

Following this, each student completes this goal-setting worksheet. If this worksheet doesn’t work for you, Worksheet Place has a nice collection of alternatives. 

After completing the worksheet, give students the opportunity to share their goals with their partner. Following this, collect the worksheets, make copies and return their sheets to them the following day. Until the end of the year, we will review student progress each week.

Photo credit: Ulf Bodin / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

36 Brain Breaks for Students

Tags: student leadership, Success, intrinsic motivation, student independence, student engagement, student evaluation, goal setting

Best of the Week: Volume 6

Posted by Ryan O'Rourke on May 2, 2014 12:17:00 PM

Best of the WeekThere’s never enough time to blog and reblog all of the interesting resources we find during the week, so we decided to start a Best of the Week List where we share all of the education-related blogs, articles, apps and resources we come across every week.

Classroom Management/ Student Engagement
Learning Up to the Very Last Moment: 15 teacher-recommended ideas will help channel spring fever into learning excitement

Reading and Language Arts
Beat the Bard! Shakespeare's characters fight it out in our interactive game
Literature-Map - the Tourist Map of Literature
It’s OK for adults to read from the Young Adults section of the bookstore (quilty!!!)
Book Crossing: It's easy to find books, share books, and meet fellow book lovers
Books Should Be Free: Free Public Domain Audiobooks & eBooks
Rare Book Room

The Scale of the Universe
FaceDementia (an interactive app to help students experience the effects of dementia)
What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (a must read!)

History and Social Studies
Decisive Moments in the Battle of Gettysburg (an interactive map)
The Story of Money (an infographic)

Random Links and Useful Apps
5 Ways for Students to Showcase Their Best Work
The Amazing Earth Clock
Appear.In (conduct video conversations with up to 8 people for free)
Good News from Discovery Education
Coggle (a free mind-mapping app)
How Can We Help Students (And Ourselves) Stay Organized? (a free podcast)
1,341 Quotes About Leadership
7 Tips for Overcoming Teacher Burnout
Holley Portraits (an excellent end-of-the-year project for students)
Full Documentaries (stream hundreds of free documentary films)



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Tags: reading comprehension, classroom management, reading strategies, reading instruction, Classroom Reading Strategies, classroom technology, Best of the Week Best of the week

Meet English Teacher and Technology Enthusiast, Amy Wilkinson

Posted by Ryan O'Rourke on May 1, 2014 2:10:00 PM

How I Work

This is the fifth in an ongoing series of posts inspired by How I Work, a series on one of our favorite sites, Lifehacker. As educators, we like to know how other educators work, how they live, and how they play, so every few weeks we’ll be featuring a new interview with a new teacher.

This week, we’d like to introduce Amy Wilkinson!

Location:  Avenal High School, Avenal, California, south of Fresno

Desired location:
A view of the beach

Current work title? Also, what grade do you teach?:
ELA Department Chair, English Grade 9 teacher, technology enthusiast and cheerleader.

Area of expertise: I teach English, but my expertise seems to be pop culture, as I am constantly referencing TV and movies and all things Nerd as a way to make connections between what we are reading or writing about and the world at large. I also love history and getting into the historical background of whatever we are currently studying.

Do you have a specific long-term career goal?:
I have an evolving long-term goal: I want to continue to be a classroom teacher, but I would like to start helping teachers more directly with successfully incorporating technology into the classroom.

Languages you have studied or currently speak:
English, Teenager, Jive

The project you’re most proud of: This year my students and I participated in the NaNoWriMo project, where we all tried to write a novel for the month of November. It was the most ambitious thing I’ve done, and it changed how I did everything else this year.

Favorite time of the day: The morning, when it is quiet and the only sound you hear is me, swearing like a sailor at the copy machine or printer as I try to get ready for the day.

Favorite technology gadget for the classroom: The Apple TV, which, in theory, should allow me to seamlessly display what is on my laptop onto the projector. This is a working theory.

Next conference/professional-development event you’re planning to give or attend:
CUE Rockstar Teacher Camp in Tulare. I can’t wait!!

How many hours per day do you usually work?: I work from about 7:30 to 5:00, and I put in about 3-5 hours on the weekend doing lesson planning or thinking about different ideas for lessons.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?:
I am fairly extroverted. I really love interacting with my students, and that is what I miss the most when we are on vacation. Grading, not so much J

Are you an early-riser or a night-owl?: Early riser. Even on Saturdays. Ugh.

Do you have any pets or kids (names and ages)?:  
I have two children, Sam, who is 12 and Kate, who is three.
Next city/country you want to visit:
I can’t wait to visit New Orleans and NYC.

Favorite vacation place:
San Francisco and the Central Coast.

Favorite book: That is like asking me to pick my favorite child. I currently love the Harry Potter series, The Book Thief, Gone with the Wind, Pillars of the Earth, World War Z, and any other book I can get lost in. My favorite non-fiction book is the Autobiography of Malcolm X.

Favorite song: “One” by U2 and “Happy” by Pharrell

Where we can find your website/blog/classroom blog: That is still in progress

Do you have a Twitter account we can follow you on?: @MsWClassroom is my PLN

Tags: How I Work Series

5 Apps to Enhance Students’ Social Learning Skills

Posted by Ryan O'Rourke on Apr 30, 2014 9:29:00 AM

Enhance Students’ Social Learning Skills resized 600The ability to successfully monitor and distinguish between emotions—both our own and the emotions of others—is one of the most important aspects of our development. Yet many of our students lack the social, personal, and emotional competencies that allow them to be socially and academically successful.

Although it might seem counter-intuitive for educators to turn to apps and online gaming to enhance students’ social learning skills, we believe that when used in tandem with personalized instruction and an engaging curriculum, social learning games can be incredibly useful.

5 Apps to Enhance Students’ Social Learning Skills

social learning skillsIF... is the brainchild of Trip Hawkins, the video game pioneer who brought us classics like Madden NFL, Medal of Honor, Desert Strike and the list goes on and on.

To create If…, Hawkins paired up with counselors and educators to create a world in which children explore their own emotions by role-playing social situations with their characters.

The game unfolds in Greenberry, a world run by cats and canines who just can’t seem to get along. Part of the gamer’s challenge is to change that. As students play, they’ll take part in a virtual counseling session with a community leader who teaches students deep breathing exercises and has a dialogue about feelings of loss.

social learning skillsThe Social Express features a series of animated episodes that model real-world social situations. If you’re concerned about students passively absorbing scenes, think again. The Social Express asks students to make choices, help characters navigate common social interactions, follow social cues, and make the appropriate decisions so that they can transfer these skills into their daily lives.

social learning skillsWay is definitely one of our favorite social learning games. Students play in pairs and take turns guiding each other through each level using gesture and non-verbal cues. This helps students experience what it is like to trust and be trusted.

social learning skillsSocial Skill Builder focuses on building friendships, problem solving, critical thinking, and perspective taking by asking students to work through video sequences and answer multiple-choice questions.



social learning skillsMisunderstood Minds is an excellent PBS documentary series that tells the stories of five families as, together with experts, they try to solve the mysteries of their children's learning difficulties. We like coupling this series with our lessons on empathy.

Even if you don’t end up screening the documentary, we suggest stopping by the website where you’ll find interactive activities that help students explore what it’s like to struggle with attention, reading, writing, and mathematics.



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Tags: classroom management, Classroom Community, classroom procedures, Classroom Climate, stress management, social learning skills

The Best of the Week Volume 5

Posted by Ryan O'Rourke on Apr 28, 2014 10:55:00 AM

best of the weekThere’s never enough time to blog and reblog all of the interesting resources we find during the week, so we decided to start a Best of the Week List where we share all of the education-related blogs, articles, apps and resources we come across every week.

Classroom Management/ Student Engagement
-Kindness Seeds: Student Shout-Outs

Reading and Language Arts
-Go On a Blind Date…With a Book
-Free books: 100 legal sites to download literature

-50 Questions that will Free Your Mind
(these could be useful writing prompts for students)
-50 of the Best Books for Teachers
(an infographic)

-Planet Size-Comparison App
-How Many People Are in Space Right Now?
-Space Junk Facts (an infographic)
-17 Things You Should Know About DNA (an infographic)
-Experience the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing
-What Happens to a Wet Washcloth in Space?

History and Social Studies

-Theban Mapping Project
-Old Maps Online
-Where in the World is Your Food From?
-The D-Day (a WWII infographic)
-Old World Radio: Listen to some of the most famous speeches and broadcasts of the yesteryear
-History in an Hour: History for busy people
-How Well Do You Know Your World? (an online geography game)
-12 Historical Speeches No One Heard

Random Links
-Needs Improvement: Student evaluations of professors aren’t just biased and absurd—they don’t even work

-80 Mind-Blowing Facts That Sound Stranger Than Fiction But Are Completely True

-Nobody Tells This to People Who are Beginners

-Critical Thinkers Through History
(an infographic)

Tags: reading comprehension, classroom management, reading strategies, reading instruction, Classroom Reading Strategies, classroom technology, Best of the Week Best of the week

Travel Our Solar System With This Interactive Infographic

Posted by Ryan O'Rourke on Apr 24, 2014 9:57:00 AM

Space Race is an animated infographic that takes users on a scrolling adventure that begins on Earth and ends at the edge of the solar system, some 21 billion kilometers away. Comprehending the enormity of our solar system is difficult, but Space Race certainly helps put it in perspective.

Space Race

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Tags: STEM careers, STEM jobs, STEM curriculum, apps for educators, apps for teachers, science curriculum, science and engineering education

Cut Down Grading Time with This 3-Step Homework Hack

Posted by Ryan O'Rourke on Apr 23, 2014 9:48:00 AM

homework hackStudents never appreciate working hard on a homework assignment, only to have it go ungraded for days, sometimes even weeks. It’s easy to get behind, but with this 3-step homework hack, you’ll be able to cut down on your grading time and get back to what you do best—teach.

Step 1                                             
A student collects the homework and, on a separate class roster page, marks a check next to the student’s name for an assignment handed in.

Step 2
The papers then go to another student who checks to see that the entire assignment was done. If so, he or she places a second checkmark on the roster. At this point, only papers with two checkmarks are on the roster. All others are incomplete assignments.

Step 3
The third check may be added in a number of ways: If the answers are either right or wrong, a key given to another student might allow that student to correct the papers. Or, papers may be redistributed to the class at large, with no one having his or her own paper, and corrected as part of the lesson.

Now that it’s time to record the grades, you have an easy way to assess each effort. If you substitute the checkmark for numbers 0-3 in your marking book, it will make averaging out a homework grade relatively easy.

This homework hack comes from the April issue of Think Teachers.

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Tags: student evaluation, grading, time management

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