School Suspensions: Supporting Students During a Challenging Time


“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

― Maya Angelou

In a 2013 study, the Civil Rights Project estimated that more than two million students were suspended during the 2009-2010 academic year.

That means if you are reading this blog, one of your students probably has been or will be suspended from school. Whether the suspension relates to your classroom or an issue beyond it, you’ll have to decide how to relate to the student involved.

How will the student be welcomed back into your class? How will your relationship with that student move forward in a productive, positive way?

Before they Go

There are legitimate reasons for students to miss school due to a suspension, but try to keep your student as connected to learning as possible.

Work with your students’ families to make sure they have work to complete for each day they will be out. If possible, try to find a sibling or friend who will bring work back and forth. This will help support a feeling of connection and continuity. Consider including a note of encouragement to let the student know that his or her presence will be missed in the classroom.

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Building Study Skills: A Four-Step Plan


Study skills. They’re part of the hidden curriculum, those strategies that students must learn in order to succeed. No high-stakes test I’ve ever seen measures “study skills” discretely. But they are the hallmark of high-achieving, confident students.

How do we teach such strategies? We can’t just plan a unit on study skills, and call it done.

Instead, teachers must develop a sharp approach to the learning that goes on in our classrooms. Ultimately, what matters most is what students can do independently. To get them there, we help them learn the content or skills but also make sure they can make the material their own; develop confidence; and take responsibility for studying and its outcomes.

In my middle school math classroom, I offer significant support at the start of the year when students are getting used to my style and curriculum. By the end of the year, I transfer preparatory responsibilities to my students (as much as is age-appropriate).

This course of action—a long-term plan carried out over the course of the school year—is transferable to different age groups and types of content. You’ll need to customize it for your students and classroom situations.

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Four Ways to Think Like a Scientist with Science Notebooks


I’m obsessed with keeping notebooks. I have drawers full of them for collecting thoughts and ideas generated during faculty meetings, conferences, and workshops. So many treasures: lists of things to do, illustrations to remind me how to replicate, questions, unfamiliar terms, and examples of strategies I want to remember.

So it’s hardly a surprise that notebooking is a key practice in my elementary science instruction! I’ve tried fancy hardcover notebooks with lines, formatted templates with space for drawing, and lined paper. But do you know what works best? The simplest option: blank papers stapled inside of a file folder. Why? Blank pages allow for flexibility and freedom.

Science notebooks evolve throughout the year along with students, becoming more complex as students gain a better understanding of how data is collected and recorded. For example, a kindergarten class starts off with a general notebook for gathering and recording information, then gradually to specific-topic notebooks. A second grade class starts with general observations, then moves towards formal data recording.

Here are four ways to use science notebooks:

1. Help students create their own reference sheets.

I use a direct approach sometimes, asking students to write down definitions or copy a specific diagram. These entries serve as references for students.

Reference Sheets

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Next Generation Science Standards: What’s a Teacher to Do?

CTQ: Center for Teaching Quality

How will my district handle the implementation of science standards? How will they be integrated with the Common Core literacy and math standards? Will I have to figure it all out on my own? Those are big questions for thousands of American science teachers who are encountering the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Yes, it’s going to be hard work, but the NGSS show great promise, with their emphasis on what students are able to do. How do I know? I’m a practicing teacher who was part of a committee that vetted the standards as they were developed. I know what teachers need to do to get ready.

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Making Every Minute Count: 5 Summer Learning Opportunities


Just a month or two ago, you were knee-deep in the cycle of planning, lesson delivery, and assessment. It was tough to find a free moment to learn something to improve your practice. Maybe summers are just as busy—but hopefully you’re carving out a little time for beaches, barbecue, baseball… and some professional learning.

Here are five simple ways to make the most of your summer weeks so that you’re rested and inspired when the start of the 2013-14 school year rolls around…

Tune in to Teaching Channel

I’ve yet to find a Teaching Channel video that didn’t help me in some way. Their vault of hundreds of videos is rich with thought-provoking ideas and strategies that cover all grades and subjects. (Confession: when I plan to browse videos for twenty minutes or so on a lazy summer Sunday, I often wind up exploring for a couple of hours.) Here are a few great ones to get you started:

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Supporting English Learners in the Primary Classroom

Center for Teaching Quality

Common Core Standards ask students to construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others in math; ask and answer questions about key details in a text; and participate in collaborative conversations about topics and texts. Students are expected to explain their thinking and build on others’ talk in conversation.

But what if your students don’t speak English?

When teachers shift into Common Core Standards mode this fall, we must remember that although the standards are common, the students we teach are not. Read more

Reflecting and Recharging This Summer

Center for Teaching Quality

By now, you’ve probably worked through the piles of papers and exams that needed grading. You’ve taken a stab at cleaning your classroom, mostly putting things into random boxes. You’re ready to let the tension from your neck and shoulders fall away.

Maybe you’re looking forward to some travel or perhaps you will finally find the time to get to the books that have piled up on your bedside table. No matter what your start-of-summer-break tradition is, I hope you’ll consider making reflection a part of it this year.

After all, summer can provide you with the opportunity to make the most of what you’ve accomplished this year—and make next year even better.

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Getting Started with Twitter in the Classroom

Center for Teaching Quality

One of the greatest things about this school year was seeing what teachers at our school have been doing with Twitter in the classroom. As an instructional coach, I have observed and also participated in new opportunities for our students to know each other and communicate their learning.

Autumn Laidler, a third and fourth grade science teacher at the National Teachers Academy, played a critical role in introducing Twitter to our colleagues. In February, Autumn and other Chicago Public School educators hosted PLAYDATE at our school. PLAYDATE was just that—a space for teachers to play with technology, share ideas, and network. Participants had a wide range of experience: from Twitter newbies to teachers who were already thinking about how to use Twitter to communicate with families.

Inspired by PLAYDATE, a team of our teachers created Twitter Tuesday. On Tuesdays, teachers and their classes discussed a predetermined topic of interest to the entire school community, then teachers tweeted on students’ behalf with the hash tag #NTAlearns. On a cold day in February, our first topic was “What do you like about being an NTA student?”

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A Tale of Two High School Advisory Programs

Center for Teaching Quality

Most high schools have some sort of advisory program built into their ecology—a time when a group of students gather to check in with a teacher. At some schools, “advisory” is referred to as “homeroom” or “study hall.” But how advisory is used in schools to support students varies greatly. Consider these two snapshots of advisories in action:

Scenario #1

It’s a little after 8 a.m. and students file randomly into an advisory period, where they are greeted with a sign-in sheet. Most are on cell phones. They rarely take the time to interact with the teacher or other students in the classroom. Meanwhile, the teacher is trying to find a way to make copies for his first period class, remove the coffee stain from his tie and monitor who has or hasn’t signed the attendance sheet. In 12 minutes, when advisory ends, the work of the school day will begin and students will head off into their first period classes.

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A Different Approach to Formative Assessment Makes Practice Time Count

Center for Teaching Quality

Want to spend class time wisely? Formative assessments can help. The trick: taking the time to analyze the data and put it to use. You can do this in any subject area, but we’ll start with an example from teaching math.

Let’s say my class is working on quadratic equations and we’re just beginning to learn how to find x-intercepts (remember it’s where a line crosses the x-axis).

In the past, I might have taught the lesson, worked sample problems on the board in class, and then assigned 3-5 problems for students to work on that evening.

Formative assessments change that model.

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