MAT Blog

3 Ways to Promote Self-Discipline Rather Than Punishment

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Jan 2, 2014 1:38:00 PM

classroom managementWhether you’re a first-year or veteran teacher, you’ve probably said—or at least thought—“What in the world do I do with this student?” It’s a common rhetorical question, but one worth taking a closer look at.

Traditional approaches of discipline usually place an emphasis on “doing”—that is imposing punishments for undesired behavior and handing out rewards for the kinds of behavior we want. While these approaches may make us feel better and “work” in the short term, Marvin Marshall, author of Discipline Without Stress, argues that they fail to instill self-discipline in the long term. Why? According to Marshall, 

  1. If you focus on obedience (traditional discipline techniques) you may engender resistance and even defiance—whereas focusing on responsibility (teaching youth to do things for themselves) brings obedience as a natural by-product.

  2. Using rules places you in the position of a cop, rather than a coach.

  3. Although you can control a person, you cannot change another person. People change themselves, and coercion is the least effective approach for influencing another person to change.

So how do we promote self-discipline rather than punishment?

Communicate in Positive Terms
Don’t think of the color red.

What happened when you read the sentence above? Most likely, you conjured up a mental picture of the color red. Similarly, when we tell our students what not to do, often the opposite results.

As Marshall suggests, “the brain does not envision ‘don’t’ or similar word choices. The brain envisions pictures, illusions, visions, and images.” We may have good intentions when we say “Don’t look at your neighbor’s test” or “Don’t run in the hallway,” but by saying these things, we’ve in fact created images of our students looking at each other’s tests and running through the hallway!

To avoid this, Marshall suggests that we communicate using positive language: Do keep your eyes on your own paper; do be sure to walk in the hallway.

Rather than aiming at obedience, promote responsibility
Making others obedient usually means that we are using coercion, the least effective approach for changing behavior.

It should not be our goal to change students; instead, we should aim to promote self-responsibility so that students can change themselves.

One way to do this is by asking students reflective questions:

  • "Are you willing to try something different if it would help you?"
  • "What would an extraordinary person do in this situation?"

Rather than impose, elicit

When teachers impose consequences, they also take away the opportunity for students to own the behavior and its consequence.

To promote self-discipline, try eliciting a consequence or a procedure that will help redirect students’ impulses. Use questions such as, “What do you think is a fair consequence for doing X?”  and "What procedure can we develop so that in the future you will not be a victim of your impulses?"

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Tags: classroom management, teaching strategies, Classroom Community, classroom procedures, Classroom Climate, stress management

15 More Ways Real Teachers Recover From a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Nov 22, 2013 2:44:00 PM

new teacherWe love our job, but that doesn’t mean that teaching is easy. There will be bad days and classes that don’t go the way we planned them—there may even be days when things go so wrong that we question whether or not we are in the right profession.

We want to remind you that you are not alone.  

To help you put things into perspective, we reached out to fellow teachers and asked them to share words of encouragement and their best pieces of advice for recovering from a disastrous day.

15 More Ways Real Teachers Recover From a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

  •  “Tomorrow is another day. I remember that even the best rock star teachers have disastrous classes, disastrous days, and even disastrous weeks and semesters! I know that I'll examine the class to figure out what went wrong and take steps to remedy the situation, whatever it was.”
    -Mrs. Heckert
  •  “I remind myself why I'm doing this in the first place and that there are going to be bad days...they are part of life. AND prayer...definitely.”
    -Ms. Penning
  • “Take a deep breath.......realize that those students are gone (and you won't have to deal with them the rest of the day!), that a new set is coming in and they need you to be at your best."
  • “Quickly do a run through in your head and see if you need to make any adjustments to your presentation/teaching so that the next class won't go down the same rotten path. And keep in mind that they are just kids; we don't know what kind of home life they are coming from. We have to be adult and the bigger person.”
    -Mrs. Barnes
  • “I keep letters from former students that were given to me in years past. When I have one of those days, I will read some of the letters and remind myself that what I'm doing does matter and is touching lives.”
    -Ms. Hagaman
  • “You will have good days, great days, and bad days. Remember, you are there for the students, to teach them not only academics, but how to be good people. The students that are the worst need your help, love, and kindness the most. Don't take it personal.”
    -Mr. Spencer
  • “I think back to some of the positive things parents and students have told me that helps reassure me I am doing the right thing. This allows me to refocus, step back up to the line and get ready for the next period.”
    -Mr. Shannon
  •  “A prayer for patience—and remember that tomorrow is a new start for both you and the students.”
    -Mrs. Gonzalez 
  • “I find positive things that happened in the same class period. I call home about these positive tidbits. It goes a long way with the students that actually do what they are supposed to and helps me realize my small victories. I always feel tons better after bragging on students.”
    -Mrs. Leone 
  • “Do your best, put your heart into it, but don't take it personally when the kids let you down. You won't actually reach all of them, but work like you can.
    -Mr. Barrows 
  • “Do not take it personally. Reflect on how you can change the lesson or dynamics so that the students will learn. Remember, it is not about you, it is about the students' learning. Chocolate helps too, though. J”
    -Mr. Prestwood
  • “I try to figure out what went wrong and why, and then take action so the same thing won't go wrong the same way. And in the meantime, a deep breath and laughing with other teachers helps.”
    -Mrs. Korfmann 
  • “It is so easy to focus on the disaster and forget about the good things. Remember that you teach students, not a subject. Don't tear yourself up. We are all human. Laugh it off. Reflect, and move on. Think of it as a memorable experience and embrace the next adventure. It can only get better.”
    -Mrs. Eker
  • “They need you! Just keep plugging!”
    -Mrs. Oliver
  • “I am honest with myself and the students. Today for example, class went horrific. They were talking too much, not grasping the material, and not 100 percent focused (mainly because I have them before and after lunch). So I stopped class and told them to put their notes away. I told them that we will try again tomorrow because the cold weather has frozen our brains. We reviewed another topic and they did another activity.

    I try not to force it when class is going downhill. Chances are I will have to reteach the topic again tomorrow anyway because of how the class went. So instead of everyone being frustrated or me rolling my frustration to the next class, I change up the lesson.”
    -Ms. Emerson


15 Classroom Management Apps for Educators

Tags: classroom management, teaching strategies, Classroom Community, classroom procedures, Classroom Climate, stress management

10 Ways Real Teachers Recover From a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Nov 19, 2013 9:08:00 AM

teacherWe don’t have to tell you this, but teachers are not superhuman—at least not all the time. We doubt ourselves. We struggle to reach our students and, despite our exhaustion, we often lie awake at night replaying the day, wondering how in the world things could have possibly gone so wrong.

But there’s good news: You aren’t alone.

To help you put things into perspective and find constructive ways to recover from what one of our favorite authors would call a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day,” we reached out to fellow teachers and asked them to share their best recovery strategies. The response was overwhelming and for that reason, this blog is going to be divided up into two parts.

Without further ado, here is part one of 10 Ways Real Teachers Recover From a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Class.

  • “Rescue Remedy herbal drops under the tongue. Breathe.”
    -Mrs. Rutledge

  • “Several years ago, I started putting student notes, parent thank yous, administrative accolades and the like in a notebook. On those REALLY bad days, I take it out and remember all of the wonderful students and experiences I have had along the way. It's not a cure-all, but it does help me regain perspective and remember why I do what I do.”
    -Ms. Millinor 

  • “I always try to learn from it. I look at the lesson and the kids. I've had lessons and units that one class might love and the other classes just hate. So I may tweak it a bit or decide the class was just not a good fit with that lesson.”
    -Ms. Harrington 

  • “Remember that everyone has an off day, you are a good teacher and you tried your best. Also, always try something new; it does not always work but at least you tried.”
    -Mrs. Pirc 

  • “I find positive things that happened in the same class period. I call home about these positive tidbits. It goes a long way with the students that actually do what they are supposed to and helps me realize my small victories. I always feel tons better after bragging on students.”
    -Mrs. Leone 

  • “Often, I have to remind my students that I'm a human being and make mistakes. If I've been a disastrous teacher, I find open apology actually earns the teacher some serious cred. If I've bolloxed-up a lesson, I make it right by re-explaining. But it is a reflective process. Look at it as a chance to reflect on your practice.

    Another suggestion: Go for a hike (even if it's a local park) and sit and read some Emerson. Look at the trees and rock formations that have been here so much longer than we have and realize that your problems really aren't problems in the grand scheme of things. Keep your chin up!”
    - Mr. Hamlin 

  • “I am usually willing to admit my mistakes. I have a frank conversation with the class and say, ‘Hey, I messed up!’ It allows the students to see you're human and that we all make mistakes.
  • I also talk to them about their responsibility in the debacle. What did they do to compound the situation? A disastrous class is rarely just one party’s fault. Sometimes a written reflection helps: as the students write theirs, you write one of your own.”
    -Mrs. Carberry  
  • “I straight up, tell my next class(es) that I'm having an ‘off’ day—and I sometimes explain why. If I'm short tempered for any reason, I also tell them that ‘it's not them, it's me.’ I ask them if they can think of anything to make me smile (usually they do), I paste on a smile and move along with the lesson. But then when I get home, I go for a super long run: outside and with music playing loudly. Very loudly.”
    -Mrs. Kane 

  • “I'm pretty frank with my middle school classes. I just let them know that I, too, realize that what we just did didn't work and we will try again tomorrow. They are pretty understanding and appreciate the honesty. We are teachers who work hard to do what's best for our kiddos. We are nowhere near perfect and can't beat ourselves up over a bad lesson. Learn from it and move on.”
    -Mrs. Borth 

  • “Keep a ‘Why I Do This’ folder, virtually and physically. Inside, place any positive and supportive item you’ve ever received from a student, parent, or colleague, and pull it out on days like that.”
    -Mr. Beat 

We’d like to thank all of our friends on Edmodo for their willingness and enthusiasm for sharing their experiences with us. Be sure to check back Thursday week for part two!


Thanksgiving Craft Guide

Tags: classroom management, teaching strategies, Classroom Community, classroom procedures, Classroom Climate, stress management

No Opt Out: A Simple, but Effective Teaching Strategy

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Nov 8, 2013 11:35:00 AM

teaching strategyWe’ve all had reluctant students, kids who hide in the back and do their best to blend into the crowd so that we don’t call on them or ask them to participate.

Students opt out of classroom activities for a variety of reasons: some sincerely do not know the answers, some are afraid of being wrong, and others—the rare few—simply don’t want to put in the effort.

We’ve been reading Doug Lemov’s book, Teach Like a Champion and came across a strategy that eliminates the possibility of opting out and helps teachers maintain high expectations for every student—even those that don’t have high expectations for themselves.

The next time you ask a student a question and s/he says, “I don’t know” or simply shrugs and looks out the window, give the No Opt Out strategy a shot.

No Opt Out: A Simple, but Effective Teaching Strategy

Lemov describes No Opt Out as a sequence that begins with a student who is unable (or unwilling) to answer a question and ends with that same student giving the right answer as often as possible, even if it is only to repeat the correct behavior.

How No Opt Out might work with a student who refuses to try
Say that you’re reviewing multiplication facts with your fifth graders. You ask Charlie, “What is three times eight?” Charlie looks down and under his breath mutters, “Don’t know.”

Using the No Opt Out strategy, you would turn to another student and ask him or her the same question. Assuming that the other student answered correctly, you would return to Charlie and say, “Charlie, can you tell me now? What is three times eight?”

You’ll notice that there’s no lecture and no stopping. All you are doing is reinforcing that Charlie must participate.

How No Opt Out might work with a student who doesn’t know the answer
Say you want Clifton to identify the subject of the sentence, “My mother was not happy.” Clifton takes a shot at it and says, “The subject is ‘happy.’”

To redirect Clifton, you might ask the class, “When I asked about the subject, what was I looking for?”

One student replies, “You’re looking for what or who the sentence is about.”

You: “That’s right.”

Now you return to Clifton: “Does this help any, Clifton? Could you tell me what the subject is now?”

Clifton now answers correctly: “Oh, yeah. It’s ‘Mother.’”

That’s great, but what if things didn’t go so peachy? What if Clifton still doesn’t get it? Simply ask another student, return to Clifton and say, “Clifton, now you tell me: What’s the subject of the sentence?”

This makes it all but impossible for Clifton to opt out.

There is one very important rule to this strategy
Always make sure that the tone you are using is cheerful and positive. This will make students feel confident and, as Lemov puts it, “cause all students to take the first step, no matter how small.” Not only that, it will remind them that you are confident that they can do it—that they really do know the answer.

15 Classroom Management Apps for Educators

Tags: classroom management, teaching strategies, Classroom Community, classroom procedures, Classroom Climate

Poetry reading is a great explicit word analysis exercise!

Posted by Colleen Cadieux on Apr 18, 2012 10:49:00 AM

Celebrate National Reading Month with Explicit Word Analysis ActivitiesIt’s National Poetry Month! We celebrate it wholeheartedly, and can’t help but wonder why poetry is often overlooked in the elementary classroom as a way to teach a multitude of skills. We know that poems are excellent for practicing fluency, learning the different forms of rhyme, and understanding the genre.

Having students participate in poetry reading is also an effective way for teachers to teach explicit word analysis (EWA) skills. Explicit word analysis includes training in phonological awareness, phonics, and the alphabetic principle that letters represent sounds in a language. These core foundational skills are vital to emerging readers, allowing them to identify and read words with ease. EWA also helps prepare students for future, more difficult reading.

Consider this EWA exercise using the following poem by British children’s literature author James Reeves from the book 70 Wonderful Word Family Poems by Beth Handa and Jennifer Wilen:

Run a Little
Run a little this way, 
Run a little that!
Fine new feathers 
For a fine new hat.
A fine new hat
For a lady fair - 
Run round and turn about
And jump in the air.

Run a little this way,
Run a little that!
White silk ribbon
For a black silk cat.
A black silk cat
For the Lord mayor's wife
Run around and turn about 
And fly for your life!

There are many different ways teachers can use this poem to teach explicit word analysis skills. Here are a few good ones:

  • Copy the poem onto large, chart sized paper for the entire class to read together.  Used along with your students’ own personal copies, this large version allows for choral reading and word analysis.
  • Read the poem multiple times aloud to the class. Students should listen for any words with a specific sound (-at). If they hear a word with the identified sound have your students put their hands on their head each time they hear it during the reading, then raise their hand at the end of the reading to share.  Students can come up to the poem on the chart to underline the specific sound in that, hat, and cat.
  • As your students become more familiar with the poem, through repeated readings, they can increase their participation in the reading. You can have them point to their ears or clap when the targeted word is read.  
  • You can add the targeted words of that, cat, and hat to index cards to use for sight word practice. This is especially powerful when targeted words from previous poems are also included. The words can be used in a pocket chart or on a word wall as additional practice during a center or independent activity.

Outside of identifying the targeted sound of -at words, teachers can use this poem to teach and reinforce a variety of explicit word analysis skills.

  • On individual copies of the poem students can "mark" the paper to identify certain sounds, words, or phonemes. For example, you can have your students identify every word that contains the /l/ sound by underlining the word with a red pencil or marking the word with a highlighter. Next, they could circle every word with the /r/ sound with an orange pencil or use a different color highlighter to mark the word. Finally, the teacher can direct them to box all the words with a /t/ sound with a blue pencil or mark the words with a third color highlighter.
  • Students can use highlighting tape to identify rhyming words on a large, laminated copy of the poem.
  • Once you have completed using the poem in direct instruction it can be added to center or small group work. Your students will gain additional practice in fluency and word analysis based on individual need. This is an activity that can be easily differentiated to meet the needs of a variety of learners. 

We hope we’ve given you some good ways to celebrate National Poetry Month with your students. For more ideas and tips on infusing EWA into your classroom of eager readers, download our guide, today!

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Tags: teaching strategies, download, reading strategies, National Poetry Month, poetry

Problem-based learning is a strategic solution for all students.

Posted by Colleen Cadieux on Mar 15, 2012 5:45:00 AM

small butterflyMost teachers will agree that cooperative learning activities are highly beneficial for their students' learning. They know that students benefit from working together, discussing varying opinions, and learning alongside a peer. Yet teachers often realize that to truly make cooperative learning activities deep and meaningful learning experiences, it will take something more than simple group work.

This desire for in-depth learning is the exact reason Problem Based Learning (PBL) is regarded as one of the most beneficial cooperative learning activities available to the elementary classroom. 

PBL is defined as " instructional (and curricular) learner-centered approach that empowers learners to conduct research, integrate theory and practice, and apply knowledge and skills to develop a viable solution to a defined problem," (Savery, 2006). Since the “problem” that students will be solving is generally interdisciplinary in nature, learners are challenged with integrating content and skills across a variety of curricular areas.  

PBL benefits all learners by providing a unique, differentiated, and challenging task. Teachers and students alike have found that the rewards of PBL are:

  • Authentic, real world tasks that pique student interest.
  • Opportunities for cooperative work require students to work together to solve problems.
  • Interdisciplinary study connects curricular content areas.
  • Challenging tasks motivate students.
  • Core problems require both  critical and creative thinking.

The only limitation on scenarios and topics to study for PBL is the teacher's imagination! The possibilities are endless for designing engaging problems, connecting curricular standards, and creating formats for gathering and sharing information. Teachers can introduce PBL in their classroom by first devising a problem that will engage students and integrate curriculum standards. Once these foundational pieces are established, the teacher can plan cooperative tasks and assign groups to find solutions for the problem.  Although this may seem like an overwhelming process, it doesn't have to be.  Here's an example of PBL in the elementary classroom, which we love for its simple, organic nature!

Attracting Butterflies to the School Garden: The Perfect PBL Lesson for Spring!

  • The core problem second grade students will be tasked with solving is how to attract butterflies to a new butterfly garden in the school courtyard.
  • Students will work on cooperative learning activities in small groups assigned by the teacher.  This is important to ensure that groups are balanced and that a positive cooperative learning environment is present.
  • The class will visit the school courtyard to observe its current state and take notes about what is planted in the garden.
  • The groups will then begin researching what attracts butterflies to a garden.  This will be done using a variety of materials including library books, gardening and butterfly manuals, and the Internet. 
  • Once the groups have determined what attracts butterflies to a garden, they will work together to design a blueprint for the new butterfly garden. They may choose to draw a schematic or create a model.
  • The groups will also be given time to complete a written explanation of their plan highlighting what they think the butterfly garden should contain and how this will attract butterflies.  
  • Finally, each group will present their ideas to the class and provide an oral explanation for their design of the butterfly garden.

    The tasks outlined in this sample PBL will be challenging to students and will require them to use a variety of skills to solve the assigned problem. Implementing PBL in an elementary classroom is highly beneficial to all students—not to mention lots of fun— and will challenge all learners to do their best to solve the problem.

    Try it and let us know how it went!

Savery, John R. (2006) "Overview of Problem-based Learning: Definitions and Distinctions," Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning: Vol. 1: Iss. 1, Article 3.
Photo courtesy of State Library and Archives of Florida.


Tags: curriculum, reciprocal teaching, instruction and assessment, teaching strategies

The QT on RT: How to Make Reciprocal Teaching Come Alive.

Posted by Colleen Cadieux on Mar 13, 2012 5:43:00 AM

Reciprocal teaching is about the interaction between teacher and student.I was introduced to Reciprocal Teaching (RT) several years ago while teaching Title One. Recently, I discovered the facelift that author and trainer Lori Oczkus gives it in her video, DVD and books. She provides multiple examples of the four comprehension strategies: Predicting, Questioning, Clarifying, and Summarizing, which are very helpful.  In the video, she models using each strategy at grade levels one through middle school and in several content areas, including science.

Lori’s focus is on interaction between the teacher and students. Students learn to use and internalize the four main strategies in order to comprehend whatever they are studying. “The Fab Four,” as Lori calls them, are presented in engaging formats through the use of props and voice inflections. For predicting, she and her students use a fortune teller scarf; for questioning they use a toy microphone and reporter voice; for clarifying, oversized glasses; and for summarizing, a lasso which can be shortened and lengthened to get just the right length!

For a hands-on aid, I have students make a paper plate model with each concept on a quadrant, and a dial to move to the concept being modeled.  As student understanding increases, they are told to “spin the dial in your head” and eventually just the words are clue enough. For this, I find it is important for students to create their own models with extra hints such as colors, pictures or word clues.

In some states, predicting and summarizing are taught as early as pre-Kindergarten through picture walks and the teacher question, “What did we learn from . . .?”  To encourage retention, I ask parents to try to ask students, daily, “What did you learn in reading [math, science] today?” This encourages summarizing skills, too.  

In RT, “question” means that students form questions about the reading or concepts being learned.  Many students enjoy this chance to take the questioning role their teachers have modeled for years. It also encourages teachers to model higher order questions!

“Clarify” means looking for words, sentences, or major ideas that are unknown or seem puzzling; then seeking to understand them.  Because some students are reluctant to share their unknowns, “clarify” can be introduced as “What is something in this passage that somebody in the class might not know?”  This relieves the stigma of needing something clarified. 

In her video, Lori models an important teaching method that provides sentence starters for student response. Examples of this approach might be, “Read page six and come up with a ‘who’ question.” Or “An idea the author could have stated more clearly is. . .” You could ask students to write a clear summary using 25 words or less, e.g., for science, you could write (on a transparency): “The word “atom” means…”

The four comprehension strategies can be done in any order, and all of them do not need to be included in every lesson.  As students’ comfort levels increase, they automatically move back and forth between the strategies that best help them to understand what they are reading. When given the opportunity, they quickly learn to reciprocate as they take responsibility for helping each other understand.

The complete RT strategy as outlined in the previous blogpost is just fine, but I have found that my students really love getting engaged with these activities—especially when we use props and the sentence starter prompts for the “Fab Four.” 

Has anyone else found Lori Oczkus’ book or video on RT helpful?

Lucia Schroeder is a 15-year elementary school teacher. She also taught pre-service and in-service teachers for nine years at the university level.  She is currently a substitute teacher for pre-K through eighth grade. This is her third year as Mentor for the Marygrove MAT program, and she especially enjoys including poetry reading and writing in the content areas.


Oczkus , L. D.  (2005) Reciprocal teaching strategies at work:  Improving reading comprehension, Grades 2-6, VHS or DVD.  Newark, DE: International Reading Association
Oczkus, L.D.  (2010) Reciprocal teaching at work:  Powerful strategies and lessons for improving reading comprehension (2nd ed).  Newark, DE:  International Reading Association


Tags: curriculum, reciprocal teaching, instruction and assessment, teaching strategies

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