Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels,
each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels,
and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008).

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Happy Winter Holidays

It's that time again...time for a winter break.  I hope that, whatever you celebrate during this time of year, you have a wonderful, restful break before the New Year starts.  As usual, I'll take a break with you and see you again January 5, 2015!  

Monday, December 15, 2014

Provoking Thought with Questions

I ran across this blog entry a couple of weeks ago.  It provides a good description of the different types of questions (scroll down through the initial information) and provides examples of some.  Take a look:

Low Risk Questions

These have no right or wrong answer. Examples include asking for students’ opinions about something, or simply asking what comes into their heads when you introduce an idea or concept. These types of questions are most effective in initiating discussion.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Creating Student Independence Through Projects

One way to build student independence and ownership is through projects.  While there are plenty of ideas for projects available on the web (such as this, this,and this technology-based list), I like to allow students to come up with their own projects, even if the teacher prompts it. 

Scott Bauserman, a teacher at Decatur Central High School in Indiana, asks his students to choose a topic from the social studies unit and design a game. The finished product must teach about the topic, use appropriate vocabulary and processes, and be fun to play. As he explains, “Students have to construct the game, the box, provide pieces and a board, and write the rules. I received a wide variety. One game I will always remember was about how a bill gets passed into law. We spent
time [in class] talking about all the points where a bill in Congress or the state General Assembly could be killed, pigeon-holed, or defeated. The student took a box the size of a cereal box, set up a pathway with appropriate steps along the way, constructed question/answer cards and found an array of tokens for game pieces. If a player answered a question correctly, he or she would roll a dice and move along the path to passage. But the student had cut trap doors at the points where a bill could be killed, and if a player landed on a trap door/bills topper, the player to the right could pull a string, making that player’s token disappear from the board. The player would have to start over. Not a bad game from a student who has fetal alcohol syndrome and is still struggling to pass his classes.”
If you'd like to be even more open-ended, use this list of prompts for students to design their own projects.  

Monday, December 8, 2014

Rigor for School Leaders

A quick, two minute snippet for leaders of strategies to increase rigor.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

22 Ways to Add Rigor to Your Classroom

Here's a great article about 22 Ways to Add Rigor to Your Classroom.  I appreciate that she builds her ideas off my work on rigor.

Let's start by clearing up a misconception: Rigor isn't unfriendly. Adding it to your class doesn't mean you become boring, a techie, or an overseer of a fun-free zone.  In fact, done right, rigor fills your class with Wow!, those epiphanies that bring a smile to student faces and a sense of well-being to their school day.  Rigor provides positive experiences, is an emotional high, and engenders a pervasive sense of accomplishment students will carry for years--and use as a template for future events.

For the rest of the article, click here.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Tips and Tricks for Surviving December!

With all the chaos during the holiday season, it can seem like you are barely making it day to day.  But here's a December Survival Guide from Scholastic that is full of tips for grades PreK-8.

Now, here's my top three tips:

1.  Remember to pause and celebrate progress in learning (and in your teaching);
2.  Try at least one new strategy that will help your struggling learners;
3.  BREATHE!!!!!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving for our Students?

As you think about Thanksgiving this week, take a moment to reflect.  What are you thankful for about your teaching?  Are you thankful that a new idea you tried worked for some of your students?  Are you thankful that you took a few extra minutes to help a particular student?  Next, what makes you thankful about your students?  Try to think of one thing you are thankful for with each one of them.  Hard?  Maybe.  But worth it?  Absolutely!  Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

High Expectations

How high are your expectations for your students?

Monday, November 17, 2014

21 Ideas to Improve Student Motivation

I'm working on my latest book, Motivating Struggling Learners: Ten Ways to Build Success.  As I'm completing my research, I'm running by some great resources.  Here's one:

21 Simple Ideas To Improve Student Motivation
The best lessons, books, and materials in the world won’t get students excited about learning and willing to work hard if they’re not motivated. Motivation, both intrinsic and extrinsic, is a key factor in the success of students at all stages of their education, and teachers can play a pivotal role in providing and encouraging that motivation in their students. Of course that’s much easier said than done, as all students are motivated differently and it takes time and a lot of effort to learn to get a classroom full of kids enthusiastic about learning, working hard, and pushing themselves to excel.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Diversity: Tolerance or Celebration?

Have you read my November article over at teachers.net?  I talk about diversity, and compare it to my grandmother's quilt.  

In education, we spend a lot of time labeling our students, don’t we? We use gender, ethnicity, test scores, and family income level, just to name a few categories. But rather than using this knowledge to build up students, too often we use it to tear them down. Although we live in a world that is more diverse than ever, many times, we don’t deal with it well.

For the rest, click here!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Effective Vocabulary Strategies

My November/December newsletter is out today and our topic is effective vocabulary strategies.  If you're not receiving it, just sign up here or with the link on the right.  It's a quick, five minute read with teaching strategies, resources, and a section for principals and school leaders.  I'll be resending it again every couple of days to make sure everyone gets it.  

Monday, November 10, 2014

High Expectations for All Students

One of my challenges as a teacher was having high expectations for each and every student.  I started the year off with them, but it was a struggle to keep it up.  For example, when Jared continually missed his homework, and couldn't answer questions correctly, I began to ask him easier questions.  My expectations slipped--I thought he couldn't answer the "harder" questions, and rather than scaffold him through to the answer, I just gave him something easier to do.  I realized I thought I was helping him succeed, but in reality I wasn't holding him to high expectations.  Now, I wonder how often I underestimated my students.

I ran across this blog post, and found it to be a thoughtful examination of the issue of high expectations.  Clearly, the issue is personal to the teacher, and he honestly reflects on the challenge of his expectations for his students.  It is worth a three minute read.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

PAIRing with Parents Can Improve Student Learning

Here's my latest article over at MiddleWeb--and the ideas apply K-12!  

Would you like to improve your relationship with parents and families? Teachers benefit when learning is reinforced and supported from home. Let’s discuss how to PAIR with parents to improve student learning. (I’ll be using the word parents, but consider it all inclusive with families.)

Click here for the rest of the article.  

Monday, November 3, 2014

Video: Increasing Complexity in the Classroom

Muriel Ortiz, a teacher in Mesquite, Texas, shared this video with me.  Her school is doing a book study on Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word.  Her group was responsible for teaching the chapter on Increasing Complexity, and they created this short (1 1/2 minute) video to introduce the chapter.  I
was very honored when she shared it with me.  Enjoy!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Leadership: Are you a Giraffe or a Turtle?

T. D. Jakes, in his new book, Instinct, tells the story of the giraffe and the turtle. Imagine yourself with your dreams and vision as the giraffe. You reach to the top of the tree and that is where you find your food. Imagine the turtle as all the people who have not understood your vision and tried to hold you back. The turtle finds his food on the ground. You both have different views of the world. As Jakes says, “We eat at the level of our vision”. The turtle can’t reach the heights of the giraffe and if the giraffe bends down to the turtle all the blood rushes to his head, and he becomes unconscious.  As you lead instruction in your classroom and school, be the giraffe.  But as he cautions us,  “When you are built to be tall you will endanger your position if you lower your perspective." Also remember, you cannot explain to a turtle a giraffe decision.  So today, will you be a giraffe, or a turtle?  And, who will you listen to?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Not Yet Grading/Redoing Work

I've been a big fan of "not yet" grading.  I used it in my own classroom.  The use of a “Not Yet” or “Incomplete” policy for projects and assignments shifts the emphasis to learning and allows students to revise and resubmit work until it is at an acceptable level. Requiring quality work, work that meets the teachers’ expectations, lets students know that the priority is learning, not simple completion of an assignment. The logistics, however, can be daunting.  Take a look at this blog entry from @justintarte about making redos and retests work. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Do Positive Words Make A Difference?

Whenever I taught adolescent development, I invited Suzanne Okey, a former special education teacher, to speak to my students about working with special needs students. Before she comes, they have one assignment: Pick a class (or one block of time) and count the number of positive and negative comments they make. They can make marks on a piece of paper, or they can use two colors of marbles and move them from one pocket to another. The process doesn’t matter as long as the teachers unobtrusively keep a count. When she starts her presentation, she asks them how they felt about the assignment. Most of the teachers say they were surprised; they didn’t realize how many negative comments they say.
Students recognize this far quicker than we do. Read one student’s perspective (http://www.whatkidscando.org): “What’s also discouraging is when people never mention the good things. Instead of saying ‘Our geometry grades are up, we’re sending kids to good colleges and stuff,’ you hear, ‘We only have 90% attendance, which means that 200 of you are absent.....’ You know, encouragement creates encouragement. What helps is having a powerful and honest leader that we support and who supports us.”
Derwin Gray, former NFL player and founder of One Heart at a Time Ministries (http://www.oneheartatatime. org), explains the impact of negative words. He points out that when we say something negative to another person, it’s like hammering a nail into them. And even when we say we are sorry, which pulls the nail out, it still leaves a hole. Unfortunately, most students leave school each day with many holes in their hearts. Is that true for the students you teach?  How can we incorporate more positive comments in our day?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Questions (and an answer) about the Common Core

I recently received an email from a teacher with questions about the Common Core Standards:

As a 6th grade teacher of ELA in the East Penn School District (Pennsylvania), I, like all of my colleagues, have been overwhelmed at the rigor set forth in the new PA common core standards.  As I sift through the released items made available to me, I am curious about your take on the cognitive level of functioning it takes to decipher the new common core questions.  Are we asking our students to think and process at a level they are not yet able to or will never be able to.  Are we expecting our 6th graders to think like 9th graders when cognitively they are unable to?  If so, are we expecting our 6th grade basketball players to perform like 9th grade basketball players when physically they are unable to?  I am hoping you can shed some light on this subject.

Here's my response.  What would you have said?

Douglas, thank you for your email.  You certainly asked a great, and very complex question.  I think it's important to differentiate between the standards themselves and the test questions that are now being released.  I do think the standards are rigorous, yet achievable with appropriate support and scaffolding (which is critical).  It's also going to take a few years to see the effectiveness of the standards, because right now, you're still getting students who haven't had the exposure to the higher levels of thinking in those earlier grades.  That means, you're playing catch-up.  It is important to recognize the complexity of what the standards are asking students to do--to analyze and infer rather than just summarize, to back up their ideas with evidence, rather than just stating their opinions, etc.  (I am more familiar with the ELA/Literacy standards than the math ones.)  What I see as a huge challenge is the difference/shift in the level of reading required, rather than some of the less complex text that we have been using.  And that, again, requires more scaffolding from the teacher.  In math, the more complex processing skills are certainly challenging--my son has been challenged!  I do know there is some concern in the middle grades about pushing some of the algebraic concepts down to the lower levels, and whether that is too much for students.  I don't have an answer to that since it's not my area of expertise, but I know it has been debated.

One tool you may find helpful is Webb's Depth of Knowledge.  Most teachers use Bloom's Taxonomy to measure higher order thinking skills, but that can be a little limiting since it only looks at verbs. For example, create is at the higher level, but creating a get well card for another student isn't really rigorous.  Webb focuses on complexity of tasks, and the Common Core incorporates his Depth of Knowledge. I'm attaching a guide I use with teachers--it provides questions to look at the four levels (the CC is typically at level two at a minimum and usually at level three--level four is more for extended projects).  It may be helpful to you.  Also, the reference at the top is his original documentation, including detailed documents for reading, writing, math, and science.  

I can certainly understand frustration with the standards.  Hopefully you are accessing resources other states have created that may be helpful (NYEngage comes to mind).  I hope my information has been helpful.  Best wishes as you and your colleagues continue to work to make a difference for students.  Barbara

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Six Elements of Effective Praise

Have you ever considered how often you use praise in your classroom? Praise is an effective tool to help motivate students. However, this doesn’t mean to make random affirmative comments.
I was in one classroom where the teacher said, “Good job!” every three seconds. Her students rolled their eyes and made faces each time. Saying good things just to say them is like doing 50 practice problems just so you can say you did them. Your students see right through you. There’s a huge difference between mere catchphrases and true praise.
This is the latest article I wrote for teachers.net.  For the rest of the article, click here!

Monday, October 13, 2014

What is rigor?

Want a quick review of what rigor is (and isn't)?  Check out this 2 minute video:

Thursday, October 9, 2014

#Rigor in the Classroom

Did you miss the September STEM magazine?  One of my articles, Rigor in the Classroom, is included.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Effective #Feedback

This month's e-newsletter is on Effective Feedback.  If you aren't already receiving it, just sign up using the link to the right.  I resend it every couple of days to make sure everyone gets it.  

Monday, October 6, 2014

#Rigor and Golf?

Have you ever considered that rigor is like golf?  Mr. McCracken has:

A student came to interview our principal about the schools’ struggling state scores.  The questions were insightful and an open exchange led to a fluid discussion.  The principal asked the student, in her terms, “What does RIGOR mean?” The answer, “Up to par,” borrowed from the golf industry to reveal insights and wisdom. 

For the rest of the article, click here.  

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Monday, September 29, 2014

Upcoming Webinar on #Rigor

On Thursday, October 9 from 4-5 pm I'll be doing a weimar on Rigor is NOT a Four Letter Word:  Quick and Easy Strategies for Increasing Rigor in the Classroom.  Sponsored by Interactive Achievement, it's free!  I'd love to "see" you there--register here.  

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Effective Praise: What does it look like?

Last week, I talked about the importance of positive language for students.  But what does effective praise look like?  First, praise should be personally meaningful to the student; it should be tied to something the student cares about. Next, it’s important to be respectful of the individual. Some students do not like to be singled out in front of their peers. If you know that, find another way to praise them: a note, an individual comment, or even a look. As Suzanne Okey explains, “some students will appear not to respond positively to praise, then it’s necessary to figure out way to deliver praise in a meaningful way to the student; give them a way to save face. In Chinese culture, saving face and losing face are huge concepts; it’s big in our culture, too.”

Third, praise must be authentic, or you devalue the student. If you praise Shanta when she doesn’t deserve it, she’ll know it, and so will everyone else. If you think you can’t find anything positive to say about David, you’re not looking hard enough. Suzanne continues, “Take a correct thought, and validate that, then restate it, so he/she hears it correctly. That’s what we do with students all the time; find the kernel that we can validate, then extend it; students find that very encouraging; and it creates risk-takers.”

Praise also should be immediate or reasonably soon after the action being praised. If you wait two days to tell Jeremy that you are proud of him for raising his hand instead of yelling out in class, it loses its effect. Fifth, praise should be specific. Suzanne also points out, “‘Good job’ isn’t specific. Some of our students don’t know what they did that was good. They have to know what they did right; sometimes they have to know how what they did was different from what they have done before.” Finally, praise should encourage the student to build on success. You want to help the student continue to move forward, and praise can be one tool to help accomplish that goal. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Rigor and the Common Core State Standards

Here's a quick three minute video on Rigor and the Common Core.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Achievement is More than a Test Score

In case you missed it, here's a column I wrote for teachers.net about my view of student success.  Here's the beginning:

In today’s age of accountability, where success is defined as a score on a standardized test, the notion of achievement as any more than a test score can be perceived as blasphemous. Accountability is not completely a bad thing. I’ve seen positives come out of increased accountability, such as ensuring that all students know the standards. But the notion that a score on one test given at one time should be the only measure of whether or not someone is successful just isn’t right.

Here's the rest!

Three Tips for Effective Grading

My newest article has posted over at Middleweb.  Click here to read it!

Grading was something I struggled with as a teacher. But I’ve learned there are several characteristics that can help assure we have a fair and well-thought-out grading system that supports rigor in our classrooms.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Tips and Tricks for Teachers (2 minute read)

I ran across this page and thought the ideas were terrific--not just for elementary teachers. Well worth the two minutes it will take you to read it.  For example:

5. Twitter Exit Ticket

Are your students using Twitter? If so, infuse Twitter into the classroom by incorporating “tweets” into your exit ticket routine. Their ticket out the door is to “Tweet” or comment about a topic discussed in class.
This example is made from white paper strips which were laminated and written on with marker.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them become what they are capable of becoming.-Goeth

Monday, September 8, 2014

Success is MORE Than a Test Score

In today’s age of accountability, where success is defined as a score on a standardized test, the notion of achievement as any more than a test score can be perceived as blasphemous. Accountability is not completely a bad thing. I’ve seen positives come out of increased accountability, such as ensuring that all students know the standards. But the notion that a score on one test given at one time should be the only measure of whether or not someone is successful just isn’t right.
Take a broader view of success. Celebrate every student success, not just the scores on benchmark testing. What “counts” in your classroom? Define your view of success, and share it with your students and their families. Post it in your room, send it home in a parent newsletter, and make it a visible reminder of what you and your classroom are about. In a discussion related to test scores, a parent asked me how I would define achievement. I explained that achievement simply your view of success. And for me, success is broader than a test score—it’s about every student:
S Showcasing the
U Unique

C Competency and
C Capabilities of
E Every

S Single
S Student