Image result for game board clip art freeDepending on whether or not you have been living under a rock (hey, no judgement here), you might have heard a thing or two about gamification. I will admit, I've only recently started to pay attention to all the talk on Twitter about gamification. At first, I quickly scrolled past any tweets that mentioned this topic. I wasn't ready. Yet, things have changed. I've met a few goals, and I am ready to take on a new challenge!
    Now that my brain is ready to absorb new information, I have started to dip my foot into the waters. I am finally ready to get this journey going! I must admit, though, that it was when the technology committee at my school sent us on a scavenger hunt to find different technology around the school that I decided to really pursue this. It was the thrill of the game and its game-like features that made everything click for me. Maybe, just maybe, this is what all the excitement over gamification is about.
     While in the midst of this exciting scavenger hunt game (my team lost, by the way...we came in second place, and, well, I'm not bitter), I decided to do something similar with my class. Instead of using an app (we were playing on GooseChase), I wrote out ten missions on a sheet of paper; ten math missions, to b exact. Each mission is a different math task, such as "find two different ways to make the number 12. Write a number sentence and number bond to match." Each mission is granted a certain number of points, with the possibility of extra points for creativity, neatness, and effort. Some of these missions are done on paper and turned in, while others require evidence in the form of a photo or video, in which they are emailed to me. The student earns the points, and the points are awarded to the team.
     To keep track of all the points, I created a document in Google Sheets, as well as a game board on my outside bulletin board. When I receive a mission, I record it to the student and team within Google Sheets, and then I update the game board once or twice a week. Every couple of days I show the class the score sheet, which they love to see! They can see all their points for each mission. The game board has been something that the parents have been enjoying because they can see the growing team scores with the completed points.
     As of the day I type this, the game is still current and going. In a little over a week it will be closed and we will have a winner. This is one game with a beginning and an ending, but it is one step closer to gamification. I am not yet ready to take on a fully gamified classroom, but I am ready to dabble in what all of this means. Some teachers prefer to go in full force, but my style is more slow and steady. So far it's been fun, but I have so much to learn still. I will keep everyone updated on my journey towards a gamified classroom!

Want to learn more about the Math Missions game? You can view the letter I sent to parents about it about it here: Math Missions Game document


     Inspired by a vague tweet about a shape town project, I began to conjure up my own ideas as to what that could look like in my classroom. My students are only 5 and 6 years old. Can they actually build a town? What materials would we use? What would be the guidelines, goals, and objectives of such a project? Just like that, this idea began to take shape in my mind, and soon I decided: we MUST build a paper town!
     That weekend I explored Pinterest like a drug fiend, salivating over one photo and then the next. I couldn't get enough. Each town piqued my interest even more, and the possibilities seemed endless. With enough photos floating like ghosts through my mind, I rolled up my sleeves and went to work! I headed straight to google slides where I worked out a project plan in less than five minutes! The project was formulating, and I couldn't WAIT to share it with my students on Monday.
     The following Monday came, as it always does: fast, furious, and with a vengeance. Today was the big day. Today was MY big day to unroll the paper town project that I had spent so many precious minutes pondering over. Walking into class never felt so invigorating as it does when you have something precious to reveal, such as I did.
     During math workshop I unwrapped this precious gift of a project before my students' eyes. I smiled as I clicked through each slide, pausing after each one for the additional dramatic effect. They "oohed" and they "awed". It was evident, this project was already a hit! Not only was I enamored with the paper town possibilities; they were too.
     Over the next couple of days, students began to bring in empty cereal boxes, Kleenex boxes, and anything cardboard related. Our supply stash was growing, and our excitement increased. Yet, something inside me broke when I began to work with our first group on this project. While they bubbled with drunken laughter from all their excitement, I began to make a horrid observation: their paper town looked nothing like the immaculate paper towns constructed on Pinterest. The Pinterest paper towns looked like they had been designed by architects who had been designing for years upon years. What were these things my 5 and 6 year olds were designing and building? Were they even worthy of the material? Of our time? Of the effort put into it?
     This sunken, hole-ish of a feeling stayed with me for the next couple of days. Every math workshop started the same. I began with my spirits high, positive that this group would be the group to design a town that rivaled any and all of the Pinterest paper towns I'd seen. Yet, by the end of math workshop, I was left underwhelmed by what the group had created. What was wrong? Why weren't these paper towns as aesthetically appealing as the ones online? My class had seen the photos, so why weren't they even trying to design their towns to a similar caliber?
     However, on the third day, something started to change. To begin, I didn't start math workshop thinking this new group would create a town like the ones I had seen and shown them. My work with the groups the previous days had proven this to me. At this point, I knew the reality of what I was dealing with and I had fully given myself up to this reality. Their town was going to be whatever they created it to be, and I was going to accept that. Yet, something unexpected happened during the construction of this group's town. I listened in as they excitedly discussed how they would construct their castle, where it would go, and what should go around it. They assigned construction roles to each other and continued to plan out the rest of the town.
     Something magical was happening, if not in the town, in the atmosphere. Their collaboration and problem solving blew me away. Sure, I had told them they would work together and solve problems in the designing and construction of their paper towns, but to see it in action was magnificent! To make matters even better, their town was starting to look impressive! Sure, it still didn't rival the impressive Pinterest versions, but I no longer cared about those. They had used shoe boxes to create a two-leveled building in their town. Then, they used another shoebox, cut in half with both halves on top of each other for a two-level building. On top of the building, they created a balcony. Below this building was a park with a 3-d tree and green grass below. This beautiful town was being constructed right before my eyes, and, once again, I was delusional with excitement and with possibilities.
     We are still in the process of building our paper towns, so how this ends is yet to be determined. However, if there's one thing I have learned so far from this journey is that the aesthetics are such a small part of success. We teachers have to give up control and embrace the ugliness, the chaos, the trials and triumphs. Once we figure out that the learning is in the struggle, it is in the process, then and only then will learning soar in our classrooms.

Want to learn more about the Paper Town Math Project? Check out my podcast episode on it right here.


     If you've been following my blog for a while, you already know I am not a fan of grades. However, I felt the need to explain my strong dislike for grades. Last week I was in a Twitter chat (as I so often am these days) and made the comment that one great myth in education is that we need grades. Later, someone responded with the remark that we need to be careful with this kind of thinking as it can go too far. Additionally, he commented that we need standards and objectives. Well, on the latter point, I think he is 100% correct. This led me to realize that many people, like him, probably hear the grade-less argument and misunderstand its means. That, my friends, is my purpose of today's post. I would like to clarify my stance on going grade-less, and further explain its meaning.
     When I say grade-less, I don't mean that we teachers have no end goals, objectives, or standards. I don't mean we don't evaluate or assess our students. In fact, what I mean is instead of a system that relies on grades, we should instead rely on standards, objectives, and skill sets to drive instruction and learning. This requires frequent and regular evaluating and assessing of students not to give a grade, but to provide feedback and instruction appropriate to where each student is on the learning continuum. This is very different from the idea that "anything goes", which is what I think many believe going grade-less means.
     If we change our system to one that puts importance on learning, growth, and progress, grades begin to mean nothing. In fact, what does an 80% even mean? Of course I understand that it means a student did something correct on 80% of the assessment, and something incorrect on 20% of the assessment. However, what exactly was it that the student knew or did? What exactly didn't the student know or do? That's what an 80% doesn't tell us. This ambiguity is what I am arguing against. Even if we state that a teacher could dissect the assessment to extrapolate that information, I would contend that most teachers simply do not. Do you know teachers who do? Are they many or few?
     Now, a system that runs on learning, growth and progress requires the teacher to act more like a coach. The coach must analyze what the player (student) is and is not doing well. This means the coach must really know his or her players, providing feedback on how to improve so that the player can master the game. Why are we not doing this in education? Why do we continue to run on a system of meaningless grades? A system that neither encourages its own players to improve, nor encourages its coaches (teachers) to really help its players grow. In today's current school system, grades are carrots that teachers dangle in front of students and parents. Grades give teachers all the power with little motive to help students reach mastery. This is because in this dinosauric system of grades, the burden is placed completely on the student. Don't get me wrong. The student should have some burden, but so should the teacher. Our current grading system just asks the failing student, "What's wrong with you?" This must change.
     In sum, I am not against standards or objectives. Quite the opposite is true. Going grade-less does not mean we flounder around like fish out of water. What it does mean is that we have clear end goals and skill sets in mind. We work towards these end goals, acting like coaches who truly know what each of our students need instructionally and otherwise. We push them along the learning continuum, relentless in the journey to mastery. Are you willing to take on the grade-less challenge?



      Recently, I recorded a three-part mini series podcast all about teaching to each learner. I find that it is this very area that overwhelms teachers, leaving them feeling defeated. Once, I was watching a Youtube influencer whose video discussed why she left teaching. She couldn't find a way to teach to all the needs of her students, so she left the education altogether. In fact, to hear her speak, she believed it was impossible to meet all of her students' needs. I am here to tell you that while the task of teaching to every stident's needs seems daunting at first, it is not impossible. In fact, once you begin to teach to each learner, you find a rhythm, it begins to flow, becoming a much easier task. Read on to learn how you can meet the needs of all your learners while keeping your sanity.
     The magic begins in keeping your lessons short. Why? Because students have better things to do than sit and be idle. Okay, that's kind of why, but there's more to it than just that. Passive learning doesn't result in much learning. We all need some small tidbits of instruction, information, or demonstration to get going, but we don't learn much from others talking. Time is precious and of the essence, so lessons need to be fast and direct. "But I have so much to say, how can I do that?", you might ask. Simple. Just stop talking. Just stop it. We all need to stop it. It's a waste of time. What do you really need to say? Figure out the most important information or talking point that you absolutely must say, couple it with a demonstration, perhaps get the students to practice it with you, and then send them off. It is only then, when your students go off and work, that the real magic happens. They begin to make sense of all those words thrown at them, and the process of learning and understanding starts to construct.
     Once your talking time is minimal, you will have more time to teach to each learner. This is going to require organization on your part. Good organization. I like to keep a binder (some teachers hate binders. Some teachers despise binders. Choose whatever system works for you) to help with this. In my binder, I have a sheet for each student (it grows as my student notes grow). This is where I keep anecdotal notes of behavior, work habits, strengths, areas of improvement, my goals for them, their goals for themselves, etc. You name it and it's in there.
     My binder keeps me organized so that I can keep track of the individual learning happening in my classroom. I do a lot of my teaching while conferring with students. Through observation (this can be fast), I can quickly determine a student's strengths and next steps. I begin by complimenting my student on what he or she is doing well (you always want to start positive). From there, I teach something new. Just as I would do in front of the whole class, I demonstrate the skill, then have the student practice it. Before I move to the next student, I like to make a note of the next teaching point for that student. Typically during an observation I might notice several things a student could work on. However, it's important to give students one thing at a time, otherwise it can be overwhelming and difficult. Choose the next step that seems most appropriate to help move them along in their growth, and save the others for teaching points for another time. Once a student is practicing the skill or strategy, I am ready to move on to the next student.
     This same kind of work can be accomplished by pulling small groups of students instead of conferring. Based on all your observations of your students, you're probably going to find some overlapping needs and shared next steps. When you have a handful of students with common needs, you can pull a group instead of conferring one on one. This implies that you'll need a spreadsheet where you can see all your students at a glance. This might be a spreadsheet of their next steps, your goals for them, of their goals for themselves. There are many ways to do this, and it will likely stem from what your current goals and objectives are.  

      This all sounds great, but how will I logistically do this? 

     If you're asking this question, then keep reading. You're almost there. I suggest you use a calendar. This could be a monthly and weekly calendar, but you'll definitely want to have a weekly calendar to stay organized and focused. Perhaps you dedicate Mondays for conferring, and the rest of the week for small groups. Or, maybe one day you confer, and the next you pull small groups. Either way, you want to have a fixed schedule that you adhere to if this is going to work. Even so, don't forget that we also need to be flexible. Having a schedule keeps this kind of teaching and learning well organized, making it possible to teach to each learner. However, you'll also want to make room for learning priorities. Let's say it's a day that you planned to confer, but you saw a great need that was shared between a group of students. You don't have to wait for your small group day if you feel it's urgent now. Be organized and consistent, but also be flexible.
     In sum, students will always have varied skills and abilities, as well as different appropriate next steps. This is never going to change, but it does not have to defeat us as teachers. It might be easier to teach the entire class one thing, but easier doesn't equate to better. We can teach to each and every learner, but it requires ample time, organization, and really knowing our students. Are you ready to teach to each of your learners?

     If you would like even more detailed information on how I teach to each of my learners, you can check out the three-part series from my podcast, Time to Teach. The third part will not be published until a few more days, but I will come back and link that episode when it's ready.

Teaching to Each Learner: Part 1

Teaching to Each Learner: Part 2

    Has this post helped you in some way? If so, I'd love to hear from you. Leave me a comment, or tweet me at TamiJ123.


     As I write this, it is currently parent-teacher conference season. We've been in school for a couple of months, and finally it's time to meet with parents. Even though the day always feels like I've ran a marathon when it's over, it truly is enjoyable to sit down and talk with parents. In preparation for our fall conferences, I began to think about what goes into a good parent-teacher conference. I will discuss those points in this post.

1. Start With Positives

     I think we hear this a lot, but I'm not sure we always adhere to it. Start with the positives. If you are starting with data, then at least don't start with the negatives. Beginning with the negatives will start your conference on a negative tone. That's not good for you or the parent. It can put up an invisible wall between you and the parent. Remember, we are stronger when we work together. We don't want to push parents away, and starting out negatively can do that. Every child is a person and has something wonderful about him or her. Draw on those positives and share it with the parents. This will help make it easier to flow into any areas of concerns and/or improvements later in the conference.

2. Remember Each Student is Someone's Precious Child

     Sometimes behavior and other concerns become so large that, that's all we see. However, it's important that we keep the whole child in mind. Just as there are many factors that make up who we are as individuals, the same is true of our students. While we may hyper focus on certain aspects of our students, it's important to remember their organic, whole self. Each student is someone's precious child. This is to be honored and respected. Not only should this be kept in mind during conferences, but on a daily basis as well.

3. Have a Specific Format

     If your conferences are going to flow smoothly, it's helpful to have a specific format that you follow. For example, I start my conferences with data from a phonemic awareness assessment and reading, highlighting what the child knows and can do well. Then I discuss areas of growth (as well as provide suggestions of practice, etc.). Following that, I discuss the student's writing. I show examples and draw on what the child is doing well, and, once again, then discuss goals and areas of growth. Next, I discuss math and, as the pattern goes, what he or she is doing well, followed by areas of growth.  Last, I discuss the social and emotional aspects of the student. Having a solid format helps guide my conferences. This is especially helpful if I find myself sidetracked by questions or concerns by the parent. I can easily answer specific questions, and then go back to my format. It helps keep me centered.

4. Don't Be Afraid to Ask Questions

     You want to make sure to ask parents if they have any questions for you once you have finished. This lets them know that you have finished your part, but also that it's okay for them to ask anything they've been wondering about. Aside from this, however, it's important for you to ask parents questions you may have about your student. Sometimes I see a behavior in class and wonder if the same behavior is seen at home. This can be helpful and insightful, especially if I am looking for ways to work with this behavior. Asking questions can help you gather important information about your student, so don't be afraid to ask.

5. Sleep and Eat

     The last important tip (and perhaps the most obvious but least followed) I have is to get a good night's sleep followed by a good breakfast in the morning. I always refer to parent-teacher conferences as a marathon day (we conduct ours during the school day, so students have the day off while we meet with parents) because it is nonstop and leaves me exhausted. There's probably no way around the nonstop aspect of it, but this is exactly why you need to start off strong. Getting a good night's sleep will allow you to enter the conferences energized and well rested. Having a healthy breakfast will provide you with fuel to maintain that energy. These two things seem small, but their impact is huge!

     I hope these tips help you have amazing parent-teacher conferences. If they do, won't you leave me a comment and let me? I'd appreciate it!


      Currently at my school, each grade level is endeavoring on an instructional strategy PLC. This PLC will span over the duration of the entire 17-18 school year. Since I love to learn, I am loving this PLC (disclaimer: we've only had 1 meeting so far!). We meet once a month to discuss what we did the previous month, learn a new strategy, and then plan how to use that new strategy. My focus for the next month will be on nonlinguistic respresentation.
     As a teacher of young learners, I think I have seen time and time again just how powerful visuals are. I mean, if you put things into perspective, my students begin the school year not reading. However, they will leave as emergent readers. All of this is to say that visuals, then, become extremely critical as these young students understand very little text. Aside from benefiting the youngest of learners, though, visuals remain excellent aids in assisting to make clear what might otherwise be too ambiguous to understand.
     Upon deciding to focus on nonlinguistic representation for the next month, I decided that reading might be an excellent place to start. At my grade level, we use Lucy Calkins' Units of Studies to teach Reading Workshop (love!).  In the first unit, students read all-about-the-world books (nonfiction) and then story books. This got me to thinking that I could use nonlinguistic representation to help students think about what they learn from their all-about-the-world books. Since I am still following a pacing guide, I figured the best way to teach this strategy is in small groups. This allows me to not fall away from the pacing guide, but provide the additional teaching points (and in a more manageable fashion).
     The last two days I have been busy implementing this new strategy. My teaching plan looks something like the following:

Connection: Remind students that they have learned how to read all-about-the-world books and story books. Remind them that all-about-the-world books are teaching books. They can learn lots of information from them. However, sometimes we have to work a little harder to remember the things we learn. Thankfully, there is a trick to help readers remember more of the information they read.

My Lesson: Holding Your Learning on a Sticky Note

Teaching point: Today I am going to teach you how you can use sticky notes to show your learning. This helps to hold the things you learn, and when you look back at it, it will remind you what you learned from your book.

Teach: I demonstrate to the students me reading a nonfiction book. Then, I put my hand on my head and say, "Now, what did I learn?" I look through the book again, and stop on something and pretend to be excited about it. I explain that I learned xyz, and then show how I draw a quick sketch. I then stick it on the front of my book. I share with the students that later when I see my sketch, I will remember my learning. I also explain that when I do read with a partner, I can share my sketch with my partner. I then quickly demonstrate what that would look like.

Active Engagement: Have students read a nonfiction book and do the same thing.

Link: Tell students that they never have to worry about forgetting their learning again. Sticky notes are a great way to hold their learning.

Closing: Reminder students what they learned. Explain to them that now that they know how to do this, anytime they read an all-about-the-world book, they can sketch out their learning.

Note: During the active engagement time, you can confer.

     Feel free to try this lesson with your own students. My idea is to teach it, then continue to work with students as they use this strategy with their nonfiction books. If you do use this lesson, I'd love to hear from you!

     It's the beginning of the school year for most of us and we are back at it! After spending weeks thinking about the new school year, it's finally here! With a new class and group of students comes the massive job of building a posivite classroom community. With this comes the question, "How exactly do we go about this?"
    To that I would answer that there are several things that must be done when setting up a positive classroom community. To begin, yes I believe that setting clear expectations is key. It is important that students know there are specific guidelines and expectations in your classroom. I try to keep my expectations simple and overarching so that everything fits within it. My three expectations are: be responsible, be kind, and be safe. When I talk to students about these expectations, we talk about examples of each of them. This helps create a clear picture of what I mean by, "responsible", or "kind", or "safe".
     Setting up expectations is only part of building a community, however. For some reason I think we hyper-focus on the activities of classroom community building (and those activities are great; I certainly am not advocating against them), and forget what is at the heart of what we are trying to do: build relationships. A community should be one that cares for each other, but typically that is going to grow out of the relationships, and those relationships take time. So, while we work on all our community building activities, it's important to keep in mind that what we are really trying to do is develop relationships with our students, as well as help them build relationships with each other.
     As such, we need real, ample time to talk to and get to know our students. We need to hear what their interests are and who they are as unique individuals. I like to start talking to them on day one. As they work, I go around and check in with them and talk about their work, and then try to start a more personal conversation. After a few days of doing this, I have established a bridge of communication with each student and have learned at least one thing about them.
     It's also important to connect with students by opening up to them. Students love to hear about your personal life (also because it's hard for them to imagine that you have any life outside of school). You don't want to make it all about you, but you do want to open up and share interesting stories and tidbits so they can get to know you. Again, I try to do this whenever it seems fitting when I go around the classroom and speak with my students. However, this is important to maintain during the entirety of the school year. Find times and ways to share something about yourself, especially if it fits into something you are doing. Students get a glimpse of your life, and it helps them to know you as a person, not just a teacher.
    Lastly, students need time to get to know the other students. We can do this with icebreakers that help them begin to feel comfortable, but also learn about their peers. More than this, they need to be able to get to the heart of each other. I feel our turn and talks allow them to begin to actually hear, listen, and learn about each other. In addition, any partnerships can help promote deeper student-to-student connection, as can small group games and activities.
    To conclude, as we enter the new school year and begin to build our classroom communities, let's  keep the deeper meaning of what we're doing in mind: relationship building. This is the time to get to know our students, develop meaningful relationships, and let them know we care. Then and only then can true learning occur.

Exploring a Gamified Classroom: The Journey Begins

    Depending on whether or not you have been living under a rock (hey, no judgement here), you might have heard a thing or two about gamifi...