What Makes A Great Teacher?

I attended a beautiful home going service today. It was for my 6th and 8th grade Math teacher, who in later years became my sorority sister and coworker.  I hate Math….can barely count to ten is what I tell my kiddos, but I loved her as a teacher.  At the service I saw my favorite teacher of all time, Mrs. Dupree.  I love her and she loves me.  I still stop by her house to talk when I go home and I bring my precocious baby girl with me when I go – because Mrs. Dupree insists.

On the ride home, I began thinking about these two amazing women (as well as a few others!) and why they stand out significantly when I think about my childhood years.  I began to ask myself, “What did they do that made them such excellent teachers?”   Here are my thoughts:

1.  They loved what they did.

Now, anyone who knows me – knows about my love/hate relationship with Math.  I loved Algebra, hated Geometry, and only took Pre-Cal because I was forced to.  Senior year I took NO math, because I’d met my requirement and Physics was close enough.  I didn’t particular like 6th or 8th grade math either, but I loved Mrs. Footman.  She loved math and I reckon she had enough enthusiasm for the both of us.  Her face lit up as she demonstrated the math problems on the chalk board…..and when we got it!  She kept us after class, during lunch, or after school to help us if we didn’t.  I even remember my mom calling her at home for help- and she never hesitated.

As for Mrs. Dupree, she was my English IV and AP English teacher.  She loved the classics and made us love them too!  I mean who wouldn’t get excited when your teacher recited Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy?  Hmmmm?  She made me fall in love with old troublesome Healthcliffe and scrappy Pip.  She made our discussions lively and fun and you could see the joy on her face.

2.  They were firm but fair.

Sometimes I sit in amazement at how much education has changed in the last 20+ years….how much children have changed in the last 20+ years.  Growing up, there was always one student who got regularly paddled – for me that Mener (and yes, his name was Mener).  Now, there are anywhere from 3-5.  But the potential for children to be….well, children…. is always there.  They were not afraid to reprimand a student who was misbehaving, and you knew that it would happen whether they cared for you or not.  In fact, it was in their caring that forced them to acknowledge and redirect inappropriate behavior.  I was a good student….a great student….for the most part, but I was still occasionally subjected to a stern glance or a voice of reprimand.  I can’t think of anyone who felt inappropriately slighted.

3.  They just were.

There’s no way I can explain it or adequately describe it..  They just were.

  • They were kind.
  • They were knowledgeable.
  • They were intelligent.
  • They were passionate.
  • They were thoughtful.
  • They were available.

And it is my hope that once my time on this earth is done, that my students will reflect fondly on me and say that I was too.


Until the next time,


Keeping Students Engaged via Backchannels!

Today’s post focuses on a website that I can’t live without. I decided to focus on websites that are perfect for back channeling.

What’s a backchannel, you ask?




Backchannel is the practice of using networked computers to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside the primary group activity or live spoken remarks. The term was coined in the field of Linguistics to describe listeners’ behaviors during verbal communication,

Think Eric Think

It’s a kind of parallel discussion, a collectively shaped comment on some ongoing conversation. An alternative channel, often with a different conversational modus.

Lee Lefever

It’s a little like passing notes in class- except via the Internet. Wireless Internet connections at conferences and lectures are allowing people to use laptops and other tools to communicate in real time during presentations. These communications occur in what is called the “backchannel”.

How can I use a backchannel, you ask?

Anytime you want to get immediate feedback from students.

  • Skype Sessions – During our Skype sessions, we use a backchannel to document what’s going on.  This allows everyone who is participating to show their perspective.
  • Book Study – While participating in the Global Read Aloud with Out of My Mind, I added polls and discussion questions to students while we were reading.
  • Greek/Latin Root Study – When students are studying new roots they share words that use that root and the definition.  We use that information to vote on our Root of the Week.
  • Checking for Understanding – While learning new content, students can post questions and/or extend the discussion without interrupting the facilitator.  I can also ask questions about the content and receive immediate feedback from EVERYONE!
  • Watching a Video – While watching a video, students type in their reactions to what they see and I’m able to answer questions that show up as they watch the video.

What backchannel should I use, you ask?

I’m going to share with you my Top 3:  Today’s Meet, Socrative, and GoSoapBox.

Today’s Meet 



  • Free
  • No account necessary


  • Little control
  • Fewer features
  • You have to send out a link – it’s too difficult  to have kids type in the entire web address
  • It’s difficult to focus the conversation.




  • Students don’t need an account, they simply enter the “Room Number” (which teachers can custom create) when the teacher has the activity open.
  • Easy to create a quiz and you can even use their excel template to create a quiz then import it into the app
  • Changing order of questions is easy
  • Can share quizzes with other teachers


  • You can’t add images to questions
  • Students have to do questions in order. They can’t skip a question and return.
  • Explanations can be given after the question (I see this as a disadvantage as I have wanted to add a hint prior to students answering a question, not after)
  • If you’re doing a quick multiple choice or true/false question, you can’t type in the question.  You either have to continue to repeat it or write/type it somewhere that the students can see.




  • Works equally well with cell phones, iPods, iPads, laptops and desk top computers
  • Allows multiple choice and short answer quizzes/tests
  • Allows polling
  • Allows discussions with and among students
  • Allows back channeling during lecture,  films, presentations, discussions
  • Can require students to sign in to use the site and have their name show up with the comments
  • Free for up to 30 users at a time.
  • More than 30 users costs $90/year.  

If you are looking for a way to engage students, this is definitely a way to go.  Try it out and let me know the results!  

Until the next time,

My Brain Is Breaking! {20 Day Blogging Challenge}


As a middle school teacher I stopped short when I saw the blog post about brain breaks/indoor recess.  I’m thinking, we only have 60 minutes….we don’t have time for brain breaks!  But I did a little research and I’ve actually seen some things that are applicable to me.  As I was looking I thought, “This is a great way to keep students motivated, so I’m linking this post with my friend Joanne over a Head Over Heels for Teaching for her “Spark Student Motivation Saturday” party!


During standardized testing, we take brain breaks about every thirty minutes….we stretch, wiggle, roll our necks, etc.

The Happy Teacher has a great blog post about it.   Students pull these ultra cute craft sticks from a mug when it’s time for a brain break.  If you’re interested, click here to read more about it. 

Courtesy of The Happy Teacher

Courtesy of The Happy Teacher

In 60 minutes we have about 3 different changes.  I’m going to implement a brain break during those transitions.  I love to dance, so I think my brain breaks will involve a couple of line dancing songs…..Cha Cha Slide, Wobble, Cupid Shuffle, etc.

 I’ll let you know how it goes…..

Until the next time,


If They Love You….They Will Work! {20 Day Blogging Challenge}

Today’s post has me focusing on a professional read that has had an impact on me.  I have read so many professional books, but this one struck deep to the heart of me.

Opening Minds


This book stresses how by focusing on the heart of a child you can affect the head.  In Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives, Peter Johnston shows how the words teachers choose affect the worlds students inhabit in the classroom, and ultimately their futures. 

This book, recommended to me by our Title One Coordinator, solidified everything that I’ve believed in from the beginning.  If you show a child, a parent, a community that you care – you can change the world.  .  Students will work their hardest for you if they know you care about them.  Parents will support you no matter what, if they believe that you care for their child.  A parent may not be able to help their child with algebraic problems, scientific notation or euphemisms – but they can tell their child, “You will not misbehave in that teacher’s classroom, because I know they care about you and they want what’s best for you.”  And that is the best gift they could ever give me – their trust. 



Until the next time,


Jefferson’s Bucks…A No Cost Money System {20 Day Blogging Challenge}


Jefferson’s Jam!

It is my belief that children desire a well structured environment.  A well managed classroom is imperative in children being successful in your classroom.  You can be a wealth of information, have creative ideas, and amazing lesson plans – but none of those things will benefit anyone if the children are running around the classroom like wild animals.  And although we all think that the rewards for learning is a smarter brain – that just doesn’t cut it for all of our students.  Enter Jefferson’s Bucks!

Check Register

With Jefferson’s Bucks my classroom runs smoothly, my children are well behaved, and they know the “cost” for being unprepared.  Students that are on task and follow instructions are awarded incentive money.   I don’t have students take out money for inappropriate behaviors, but I do charge students for needed materials.

Say a child doesn’t have a pencil or paper or forgot their homework in their locker….you know what I’m talking about, right?  Instead of going on a tirade about how this is school, their job, and they should come to their job prepared…..blah…blah…blah…. I just hand them a pencil/paper/eraser/etc. and tell them to take money out of their account.

I hear you asking, “Isn’t that costly?  Spending your money to buy materials that parents should buy?”  Nope!  Parents donate these items and their children are paid for their donation in Jefferson’s Bucks.

At the end of the quarter I host a Jefferson’s Jam – the coolest party on the planet that has food, music, and games.  Plus, students get a chance to miss a class to participate!  And that costs me nothing either!  Parents donate items for the party and their child is compensated.

It’s a Win/Win situation!  And it makes for stress free days! 🙂

Until the next time,



A Peek At My Week {January 13th}

It’s Sunday already? Well, if it’s Sunday, that means it’s time to hook up with Mrs. Laffin’s Laughings “A Peek At My Week”!

Peek at My Week

We’re continuing with writing this week, with a brief interruption for benchmark testing.  Last week, students wrote on a persuasive writing prompt and I did a lesson using the Backwards Design Model.  In the Backwards Design Model, students write first then complete their graphic organizer based on their writing.  They really get a chance to see how “skimpy” their writing is without pre-planning first. If you want to know more about the Backwards Design Model, click here.

This week, I’ll meet with students in groups for writing conferences.  In order to group them according to similar needs, students will complete a conference planning sheet in a Google Form.

Conference Planning Sheet


It is my hope that since we’re meeting in groups, we can practice peer editing skills where they can give each other ideas as a way to beef up their writing.

Final drafts will be posted on their blog on Friday!

Until the next time,


Thumbs Up….Turn & Talk! {Spark Student Motivation Saturday}

Today, I’m linking up with Joanne over at Head Over Heels for Teaching for her Spark Student Motivation Saturday!




By the time my kids get to me, they know how to play the game to stay unnoticed.  The ones who know are extremely vocal about knowing…and the ones who don’t just stay quiet and disappear.  

With the EDI model we’re encouraged to randomly call on students. But who would want to embarrass a child who has no idea what the answer is?  So, I use the “Thumps Up” model quickly followed by “Turn and Talk”.

thumbs up

When I ask a questions during guided practice, I tell students to put their thumbs up when they have their answer.  Thumbs up right in front of them, so only I can see.  This gives the students who needs a bit more time just that – time!  Once I see all thumbs up I tell them to turn and talk to their partner and what the answer is and why.  And I’m not talking about them yelling out one letter, word or phrase.  They have to say, “I think the answer is __________ because_____________”.  Then and only then do we check whole group for the answer and I chose students to comment.  That way everyone has had a chance to participate even if they’re not the one to share out. And it gives my struggling students a chance to hear good thinking and emulate it which increases their confidence.  

You should head on over the Joanne’s blog and share you great idea. Plus, she and Fourth Grade Flipper have an amazing giveaway going on!  Stop by and get the chance to earn some goodies.


Until the next time,




The Backwards Writing Design {20 Day Blogging Challenge}


I think I’m a pretty good writer.  I don’t love to write – but I can and will.  I absolutely despite teaching writing.  I think it’s unfair to expect me to teach reading AND writing in a 60 minute block.

I’ve noticed that despite the fact that I’m sure all teachers have preached “prewriting….prewriting….prewriting….” not much of that gets done.  This week as we began our persuasive writing I only had one student out of ninety-seven begin their writing with a graphic organizer…..ONE!  I knew that would happen, so this week I planned for us to use the Backwards Writing Design model to show my students the importance of prewriting.

After they’d written their rough draft, I shared with them an exemplary paper.

Facility Exemplar Writing

We then used colored pencil to highlight the key components of this paper:  Hook, thesis statement, topic sentences of body paragraphs and supporting details.  When you teach four classes, sometimes your last class gets the best of you, or they get the worst of you, if you know what I mean.  This time, my last class got the best of me.  I was able to tweak my lesson each period so that by the time 6th period ran around it was definitely a well oiled machine!

After we highlighted those key elements in each paragraph, we used my writing graphic organizer to see what this person’s pre-planning looked like.

Writing Graphic Organizer

They then had to take their writing and complete blank graphic organizer.  I heard so many “Oh man, I have a lot of work to do!” and “My graphic organizer is blank! I don’t have enough details!” and “I forgot to add my ___________ (insert word here)!”

I’m really excited with what I’m hearing. Come back tomorrow to see how what I have planned to finish it up!

Until the next time,


I’m Going to Stop Procrastinating…..Tomorrow {20 Day Blogging Challenge}

2013-12-28 12.02.05

Today’s challenge topic is to share ONE thing I wish I were better at.  That would definitely be my difficulty in staying focused on a task – or rather not even getting started on work that needs to be done until the last minute.

For example, here I am working on blog post #5 for this challenge when I have a crate full of papers that need to be graded. The upcoming week will be the last week of the second quarter and grades will be due. Ugghhh.  I just don’t want to do it!

I went out to school Thursday and Friday and I was able to clean up my classroom, get lesson plans done, and make copies for the week.  I’ve carted that crate to and from work both days without even touching it!

This picture describes me perfectly……


Courtesy of Tumblr

If I could kick this procrastination habit there’s so much I could do!  Consistently blog!  Upload numerous items to my TpT store! Kick some of this stress!

I know I can do it!  I’ll get it together…..tomorrow!

Until the next time,



Making The Pieces Fit {20 Day Blogging Challenge}



Today’s blogging challenge asked me to give a tip about assessments.  The best tip that I can give is that they be frequent and give feedback as soon as possible.  Remember, an assessment is not always a test.  We can break assessments down into three major categories:  Formative, Interim, and Summative.  Check out the image below from Scholastic.

typeof assessments

I assess my students in a variety of ways.  During direct instruction I give students information in chunks and then immediately check for feedback.  That’s why I love our Promethean devices so much.  With ActivInspire and our ActivExpression devices, students can put in answers to questions and we receive feedback as soon as the last person answers.  That way I know right away whether they’re getting it or not.  Whether we’re moving on….or I’m reteaching.


For all paper multiple choice assessments (formal or informal), I use Edmodo.  That way students know their score immediately as well as what questions the missed (there is a way to turn the immediate feedback option off).  Plus with Edmodo, I know at a glance the class percentage of each question and can immediately do a data analysis.  I make sure that the appropriate indicator is attached to each question.

Students also take a quarterly benchmark 3x’s a year and we do MAP testing 3x’s a year.  After each benchmark we look at how each class compares against the other and focus on questions that less than 60% of the students got correct.


Before we take MAP, students and I conference and look at where they were the last time and where they need to be this time.  Students fill out a MAP data sheet after they finish with their data and a reflection.

Frequent and immediate feedback.  There’s no use discussing the information if it’s been 3 months since they’ve last seen it.  And it’s not enough for us to look at and then put in a folder to never discuss again.  Although I don’t think standardized tests are the end all/be all, they’re here.  And probably never going away.  So it’s my goal to dual prepare my students.  They must be prepared for the end of the year standard that they will be judged by – but they must also be prepared for what the real world will expect of them.  Students who are readers and critical thinkers.

And believe you me, it’s a donkey of a job doing both.

Until the next time,