Monthly Archives: August 2013

Focus this year…

“The teacher is probably the single most important factor affecting student achievement — at least the single most important factor that we can do much about” (Marzano, 2003, p. 1). The second half of that statement strikes me as the most crucial to consider. The classroom environment today is affected by so many variables such as the increase in students with diagnosed learning differences, the increasing number of students coming from varying language backgrounds, the increase in the number of students living in or near poverty, the prevalence of social issues/influences toward negative behaviors, and more students, from a younger age, living in families that undergo redefining throughout the child’s school years. All of these changes affect student behavior in one way or another, and therefore, we are wise to prepare for those effects by understanding our own role in the classroom, by preparing our classroom expectations with as much foresight as possible, and by striving to create a culture of caring and learning in the areas within our control.

With this in mind, I recognize a key area in which I would like to improve as I learn to establish a positive classroom environment for my students. I don’t face classroom management issues, per se, because I work with students individually, yet, as I look at my daily interactions, I ask myself if my words and actions are helping students to learn. For me, this means to not only know my students’ grades, but more importantly, to establish relationships with each student so that I understand how to best support their learning. I’m reminded of an illustration depicting a pot cooking over a fire on a tripod like one used when camping. The legs of the tripod are lashed together at the center to form a cradle for the pot, and the legs must work together to avoid collapse and the toppling of the pot. Student’s academic success is the pot and the three legs are the student, the parents, and the school; if we are missing one of those legs, we may lose the pot. As suggested in the earlier quote, I often can’t do much about the other two legs, but I can definitely take responsibility for my own sturdiness in supporting my students’ success. I want to show my students that I see their effort and I respect them…my role in this relationship is “one of engaging students in the hard work of school: the continuous cycle of studying, producing, correcting mistakes, and starting over again” as a coach, listening between the words for feelings of discouragement or doubt or even of accomplishment and always visibly respecting and accepting the student…this is the type of relationship that will “encourage both confidence and high achievement in students.” (Alderman, 2004, p. 14)

A by-product of the relationships established with students will be the influence I can have in helping them more effectively solve their own learning problems and conflicts. I do have the role of liaison between teacher and student, but I would like to do more with role-playing and showing students how to positively interact with their teachers to resolve concerns before I get involved in the situation. In the past, I have found myself engaged in conversations that really the student should have had with the teacher. My students may come to me flaming with indignation at the unfairness of a grade or classroom situation; I want to improve my ability to diffuse the anger and help the student work through the issue. Role-playing with the student will enable the student to vent, and if I play the role of devil’s advocate, the student may be able to better understand the teacher’s motives or reasoning. At that point, the student and I can brainstorm possible ways to handle the situation and practice what the student can say when talking with the teacher so as to avoid a confrontation. Many of my students need social skills training and do not realize that their approaches do put their teachers on the defensive, which rarely leads to positive resolutions. As Jones and Jones (2007) point out, although I cannot necessarily change my student’s attitude toward a teacher or situation, I can show him “more positive and productive methods for responding to corrections from” or differences of opinion with adults (p. 418).

According to Alderman (2004) “four broad conditions…clarity of purpose, fairness, personal support, and success—are integrated into a climate of caring” (p. 204). By continuing to study the social factors and school factors that influence behavior, by working closely with parents when possible, by communicating acceptance to my students, and by serving as a model to my students of conflict-resolution and problem-solving, I hope to more pro-actively meet the needs of my students and create that positive learning environment this year.


Alderman, K (2004). Motivation for achievement: Possibilities for teaching and learning. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Jones, V., & Jones, L. (2007). Comprehensive classroom management: Creating communities of support and solving problems (Laureate Education, Inc., custom 8th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Marzano, R. J., Marzano, J. S., & Pickering, D. J. (2003). Classroom management that works: Research-based strategies for every teacher. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Phelps, P. H. (2006). The three Rs of professionalism. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 42(2), 69–71.

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Whatever It Takes

Critical to any student’s learning is a teacher asking the right questions at the right time, and perhaps the most important question a teacher can ask is “how do I know if all of my students have learned what I think I have taught, and what will I do to help those who have not?” In this content-driven world, many students do not learn what we think we have taught and we just keep on moving. We rationalize this by arguing that the student didn’t try hard enough or that we do not have the resources to change the situation. This book addresses all of the above with practical advice and examples of how schools can ensure that students have a better chance of learning, not just being taught.

Notes I would like to discuss with my colleagues —

* three critical questions — p2,3
* goal — p5
* Systematic, timely, direct intervention – p7

Chapter 1
* “all children can learn”
* three critical questions — p2,3

Chapter 2
* teacher “lottery” should not be characteristic of education
* “Darwin” theory (failure to succeed indicates student should not be at school) and “Pilate” theory (failure to succeed reflects irresponsibility of student)
* paradigm shift as necessary, if not more so, than additional resources – p35-37
* Must have a plan — school admin and faculty must implement plan together

Chapter 3
* Pyramid of Interventions – p60ff
* summer study skills course

Chapter 4
* grading periods of 3 6-week sections each semester, rather than 2 9-week sections
* paradigm shift: “think positive, not punitive” — approach to assessments

Chapter 5
* needs of the middle school student – p83
* key question – p85
* crucial at all levels: steps 5 through 8 (step 5 often skipped — reteaching/support for those who didn’t “get it” the first time) – p87

Chapters 6 and 7
* team learning process
* SSD needs – work directly with grade-level teams – p111
* two-way system of communication/synchronization of schedules – p112,113
* focus of SST – p126
* “learning will be constant…time and support will be the variables” – p128

Chapter 8
* commonalities – p134
* is there an “if” factor – p134
* structured collaboration and shared knowledge and action
* analyze results/targets for improvement — just because it was taught does not mean it was learned – p140
* key question – p141
* collective commitment works through conflict

Chapter 9
* honest dialogue between “change zealots” and resisters
* questions we may face – p150, 158 (teach to the top philosophy), p165

Chapter 10
* paradigm shift about teaching – p 173
* key question – p175
* from “fixed” to “flexible”
* from “average learning” to “individual learning”
* from “punitive” to “positive”
* honor improvement/effort, not just the success of elite few – p179
* misapplication of “rigor” as “more” and “more difficult” – p180
* assessment “for” learning – p183,184
* collaborative culture w/ timely interventions
* look for and share evidence of small-term wins – p189

The appendix
* mission and vision statements – p201
* job descriptions
* sample correspondence
* program descriptions
* graphics to illustrate intervention plans
* graphic representation of Adlai Stevenson’s Pyramid of Interventions – p210

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Gifted With Learning Issues

Many of the students with whom I work could be considered gifted by most scales, and definitely score in the gifted range on the ISEE Entrance exams used by our school. Most people praise, admire, or wonder about gifted students, those students who eagerly interject thoughtful and thought-provoking comments during class discussions; those students who not only write the assigned essays with clear syntax and correct grammar, but also engage in insightful analysis; those students who offer to help their peers and often take leadership roles during group work. A gifted student is defined as having “demonstrated potential high-performance capability in intellectual, creative, specific academic and leadership areas or the performing and visual arts” (Friend & Bursuck, 2009, p. 289). In general, gifted students display wonderful curiosity, engaging personalities, strong problem-solving skills, and “an advanced ability to comprehend information using accelerated and flexible thought processes;” thus the challenge in the classroom for the teacher is sometimes to keep up with these students, to develop absorbing learning activities that tap into those intellectual and social qualities.

As odd as it may sound, though, those are not the students I want to discuss. I want to discuss those students who enter the classroom with a backpack spilling out its contents; those students whose hands never rise before their mouths open, and whose mouths open before their brains pause to think; those students who gaze out the window halfway through class or doodle constantly in what appears absolute mindless activity. These students may be known as lazy and/or not working to potential; in fact, some researchers suggest that “this group of students is often rated by teachers as most disruptive at school” (Baum, 1990, p. 1). These students are often “failing miserably in school” and they get “noticed because of what they cannot do, rather than because of the talent they are demonstrating” (Baum, 1990, p. 1). Then, on the other hand, some of these students may not be noticed at all because their “superior intellectual ability is working overtime to help compensate for weaknesses caused by an undiagnosed learning disability” and they just seem to be an average learner (Baum, 1990, p. 1).

There are essentially three categories of Gifted and Talented/Learning Disabled students:
(1) identified gifted students who have subtle learning disabilities,
(2) unidentified students whose gifts and disabilities may be masked by average achievement, and
(3) identified learning disabled students who are also gifted (Baum, 1990, p. 1).
It is important to note that because a student may be working at grade level or are considered gifted, she is “likely to be overlooked for screening procedures necessary to identify a subtle learning disability” (Baum, 1990, p. 1).

Baum (1990) notes that if teachers “view below-grade-level achievement as a prerequisite to a diagnosis of a learning disability…an extremely bright student who is struggling to stay on grade level may slip through the cracks of available services because he or she is not failing” (p. 1). Others note that the Gifted & Talented/Learning Disabled student often is failing because he does not complete assignments (or loses them before turning them in), has difficulty with writing — with the motor skills required for hand-writing as well as with producing a clear, cohesive development of a topic; yet, at the same time, this student’s comments during class may show insight and understanding and in fact, an ability to think beyond the level of his peers (Lovecky, 2004, p. 150). Either way, whether failing or not failing, noticed or unnoticed, the Gifted & Talented/Learning Disabled student often faces issues with self-esteem, generalizing “their feelings of academic failure to an overall sense of inadequacy” and misunderstanding that will only increase if not recognized (Baum, 1990, p. 1).

We may be tempted to lower our expectations for students who struggle in our classrooms, but for these students, that would work against them and us; instead, teachers are encouraged to maintain a classroom environment characterized by “interactive participation, flexibility, high standards, student participation in cooperative groups, individualized programming, active listening, and practice in conflict-resolution strategies” (Weinfeld, Barnes-Robinson, Jeweler & Shevitz, 2002, p. 226).

It is also sometimes tempting to encourage our brighter students to study more, give more effort. This will prove counter-productive, however, with the Gifted & Talented/Learning Disabled students because often these students really do not know how to study more, or try harder, or why they can’t seem to do what they should be able to do according to their parents and teachers. These “learning disabled students who are also gifted and talented or ‘twice exceptional’ require opportunities to promote their own individual strengths and talents to achieve the accelerated academic proficiency expected of nondisabled gifted students,” and we need to provide them with “the gifted instruction and the special instruction, adaptations, and accommodations provided to other students with special needs” (Weinfeld, Barnes-Robinson, Jeweler & Shevitz, 2002, p. 226).

I could share so much more — the reading I’ve done just to write this much fascinates me! I know there is much more to consider regarding the specific needs in the classroom of these learners. I will sum up by saying excellent pedagogy applies to helping these students — using graphic organizers, providing clearly structured assignments, developing challenging learning activities in the students’ areas of interest, modeling, and using think-aloud strategies — which actually provides sound pedagogy for all students. In addition, Friend and Bursuck advise curriculum compacting, which involves assessing the students’ “achievement of instructional goals” and then allowing those students who have met those goals to engage in alternate activities such as individual research, working with a mentor, or some other more advanced study (p. 292). As I have noticed before, “when a student’s gifts are identified and nurtured, there is an increased willingness on the part of the student to put forth greater effort to complete tasks,” and I would add that I believe that is true for all students regardless of learning styles, disabilities, or preferences (Weinfeld, Barnes-Robinson, Jeweler & Shevitz, 2002, p. 226).


Baum, Susan, (1990). Gifted but learning disabled: A puzzling paradox. The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education (ERIC EC). Retrieved March 9, 2009 from

Friend, M. & Bursuck, W. (2009). Including students with special needs: A practical guide for classroom teachers (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Lovecky, D. V. (2004). Different minds: Gifted children with ad/hd, asperger syndrome, and other learning deficits. [Electronic version]. London: Jessica Kingsley.

Weinfeld, R., Barnes-Robinson, L., Jeweler, S., & Shevitz, B. (2002). Academic programs for gifted and talented/learning disabled students. [Electronic version]. Roeper Review, 24(4), 226+.

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