Saturday, May 6, 2017


This word: engagement. Can we talk about that? I’ve learned so many things this year as my district is implementing some Marazno work. It was at a training that I learned the most interesting thing: engagement can come in different forms! I feel like a lot of us teachers hear the word “engagement” and we automatically think “BIG, EXCITING, AND INTERESTING!” ...And I think that can and should be a part of it. I just want to explore and chat with you about the idea that there are different kinds of engagement. I’m sooooo not saying that one is right and one is wrong- but they are DIFFERENT and can be used at different times. I just can’t sit on what I’ve learned about, let’s chat.

In reading the work of  Robert J. Marzano and Michael D. Toth (among others) I’ve learned that class structures can come in a few variations. Classrooms can be teacher-led, student-led, and student-led with RIGOR. Usually, no class is one way ALL of the time, nor should it be. These are fluid variations.

In a teacher-centered classroom, the engagement comes from the teacher’s personality or actions. The engagement is therefore dependent upon the teacher. That reminds me of the time that I decked my classroom in red gingham and straw. I hung up big farm animal cut-outs and I brought cream and containers in to learn about farm life. We made butter. There might have been adult overalls, pigtails, and a neck handkerchief involved. It was a blast- and the kids were engaged. But they were engaged because of ME and what I brought in, set up, and displayed.  And that was cool- I do support and think that there is a time for that.

The next kind of engagement comes from a student-led classroom. That looks like students working together in groups while the teacher provides the instruction or activity. The cognitive engagement is up to the students- and that may or may not happen. The teacher is still playing a hefty role in the learning but the students are free to own more of their engagement. I think most of us live right around here. We teach something, assign an activity, and then send them off to work independently. This one can be tricky (for me) because true engagement can be hard to observe. Compliance can easily be mistaken for engagement. The student looks on task, so we assume they are learning.  Of course, we are monitoring while this happens so we can get the evidence of learning- but we are still really involved as the teacher. So, again, there is a time and place for this! There has to be.

Another variation of instruction is a classroom that is student-centered with RIGOR. This means that the engagement comes from the cognitive complexity of the performance task and group work. This means your students are working on a cognitively complex task at higher levels of independence. This also means that you become more of a facilitator and less of a teacher because your students are the ones doing the heavy lifting. They say the one who is doing the talking is the one who is doing the learning, right?

Now, if you know me at all, you know that I’m always looking for ways to move toward a student-centered classroom with rigorous activities. Even (and especially) in kindergarten.
I wanted to take kindergartners past recall and recognition tasks. Before my new learning about rigor, I wanted to meet every student where they were...because that’s what “good” teachers do. The problem? I was struggling to keep from running myself into the ground in the process. This year my class was split in half as far as academic performance. I had about 11 that mastered everything and about 9 that really struggled. Whole group lessons were challenging so I decided I’d teach them in rotations.  I was writing two sets of plans, making two sets of copies, and making twice the mistakes. I needed to get in front of those kids and deliver exactly what they needed, right? How else were they going to learn?  Oh boy. This is why I love our profession. There is always something to learn and get better at! I will say that this wasn’t all bad. My kids were getting exactly what they needed- but it was hard for me.

Once I figured out the magic of the word rigor, there was a whole new world to discover. Instead of teaching in rotations so that the students with mastery would get more content covered more quickly, I kept everyone on the same skill and found ways to give them cognitively complex tasks so that they could just go deeper.  I felt that if I could put some activities and routines in place that would get them using their knowledge (which is the highest cognitive level) then I could let the students with mastery go off and create things.

When they are creating, they are stair-stepping all of these really great cognitive tasks. They are problem solving, analyzing, executing, experimenting, investigating, and so much more. I started the year off by giving my studentstools to create games...

And most recently, we are creating academic songs and jingles to help others learn. The “helping others” part has been the most rewarding part of this rigor work. The students with mastery feel a sense of pride when they use the knowledge that they already have in order to create something that will help others learn what they know.  

Below, there are snapshots of our creating songs unit! Click any image to see more! 

So what do you think? How does engagement look in your room? I think there is a place for all three versions- so don't judge if you see my dressed up as a farmer again! ;) 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

APRIL Social Studies!!!

We have finished up another AMAZING social studies unit! This one has everything you need for April. If you still haven't checked out our engaging, rigorous, and easy to use monthly units, check out the FREEBIE here!

We were are super excited to show you all that our April unit has to offer. There's so much to pick and choose from to meet your K-3 students. And these units truly are for K-3!

Take a quick look at just some of what our April download has to offer:

LaNesha currently teaches kindergarten and does an amazing job of differentiating that passages that I design for 2nd and 3rd grade. They are getting the same content at a level they can understand! eBooks, reading passages, writing responses, crafts, interactive vocabulary, and activities are available in different levels that you can choose from to best meet your students' needs.

The full color eBooks are the PERFECT way to present the topics in our units to your K and 1st grade students. You can project them on the board for an engaging whole group lesson. They work as an engaging hook for 2nd and 3rd as well, before they go off to independently read and learn in their workbooks.

 (Above is a sample page from the 2nd/3rd grade workbook)

For each month we choose for 4 out of the 5 subjects that make up social studies. Sociology, history, economics, and geography are available for April. Check out the amazing topics your students will be learning about this month:

Grab the full unit for April here! You won't be disappointed. A teacher guide is included to help you plan how to implement these units.

We truly hope you and your students enjoy our units and have fun learning!

LaNesha and Naomi

Saturday, February 25, 2017


We, LaNesha Tabb and Naomi O'Brien, are SUPER excited that we decided to team up and work on these units together! We have our January Unit and February Unit and complete and available for purchase! There's also a FREEBIE to check out, wanted show you guys what you have to look forward to with this resource.

As a reminder, it is always our overall goal with these units to teach young students about different cultures, people, parts of the world, and about our country. We hope to inspire them to be compassionate, empathetic, and knowledgeable about the world around them.month's social studies topics are ones that your students are sure to enjoy! March is Women's History month AND Irish American Heritage Month! We also cover economics and geography in this unit. Let's take a look!

February was Black History month. That, unfortunately, goes hand-in-hand with topics like segregation and discrimination.  When you show students a picture of a segregated bus or school, that is visually clear. Brown people over here, white people over here- got it.  But what about the fact that when the Irish first came to America, they faced discrimination as well? That's not so easy to visually see. It makes us wonder if our students would arrive at the fact that if white people can discriminate against other people with the same color skin... maybe the REAL problem is FEAR? 

In this unit, we remember the past in our e-books and then we celebrate the accomplishments of Irish Americans that have helped to make our world what it is today.  
We recognize the sacrifice that the Sullivan brothers made for our country. 

We learn about the man who invented the first operational submarine- John Phillip Holland. 

March is also Women's History Month! 
We discuss the reasons why we would even need a Women's history month and then we allow for students to research their favorite influential women! 

We learn all about daylight saving time and how that changes. 


We also touch on the time zones so that students can see that the time isn't the same everywhere. 

For economics, we will focus on bartering and trading! Your students will be able to set up a classroom economy and bartering experience! 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Raising Rigor...AGAIN!

Rigor is my new favorite thing. It makes my life as a teacher easier- I'm not even kidding. If you caught my last post about rigor, you know what I'm talking about. A crash course review:

So rigor lives at the intersection of kids working without you telling them what to do every 5 seconds and a task that requires cognitively complex thinking. Like, actually complex. No recall, recognition, or comprehension stuff.  I'm talking analyzation, utilization, decision-making, problem-solving, and so on. The success that I had in my kindergarten class with making games was so addicting that I needed to see if I could figure out a fresh way to get more rigor in! 

I was sitting in a PD session that was all about a teaching a guaranteed and viable curriculum. One of the things that stuck with me was the phrase "teach less, learn more." They were basically saying that many teachers spend time trying to cover everything and the students end up mastering nothing. The push was for schools to identify critical standards and master those- and then if that happens, there is room to each the other standards that weren't identified as critical. We are in that process now and the great thing about it is that I have a laser-focused curriculum and that makes it SO easy to communicate to my students. 

One of the skills that we identified as critical came from a standard (we are not a CCSS state) that asked students to write their numbers 0-20. I had my students participate in some personal monitoring for learning and they placed a sticky note on a chart that allowed me to see how they felt about this skill. The class was almost split in half. Before my rigor work, I would have looked at that and thought that I needed to take the kids that have mastered the skill and move them to the next "thing" faster. Not anymore! I wanted to keep the class together and come up with a way for them to go deeper. I asked the students that had mastered the skill how they felt about helping the students that needed help and they were more than happy to oblige. 

So we began a peer tutoring service.

I wanted them to be able to help each other not just with this skill but with any skill that they want extra help with. I am very careful to point out that ALL students can be tutors. I give examples of students that are rocking out in math but might need to get help from a friend with sight words. 

On Mondays, they partner up. They identify the roles that they will take (so that no one is always tutoring or being tutored) for the week. This allows students to be able to get extra help in ANY subject all week long and it allows me to have a dozen extra teachers in the room! 

If the students are tutoring this week, they have to...

1. Write a lesson plan. They LOVE this part. That's because I showed them my lesson plan book and I explained why I have to have a plan before I come to teach them. 

2. Select the activity. I have them organized into literacy and math buckets but I also leave a blank space on the lesson plan in case they have their own idea that they'd like to try.

3. Check-in with me. At this point, I review the lesson plan and I ask them to show me the activity that they've selected. I might even frontload them with some "what if" questions (that I am assuming will happen). That might sound like, "how will you know if they really can write their numbers without help? What if they look at the numbers on the wall? What could you do?" ...things like that. 

4.  I have them put their lesson plan and activity in their "tutor tote" and it's all ready to go whenever they are ready to work! I have lots of students that do tutoring during our gentle entry time slot but they also do it during free choice or even during instuctional time.

Once they are into the groove, I give them some options for tracking data. In KG that is as simple as a stamp or a sticker in a box for how they did, but in older grades, you could have the students actually track data with numbers. 

I also encourage them to write a success criteria statement so that they truly know when their tutee's "got it." I only push that part if I have a class-wide tutoring cycle (like when half knew how to write to 20 and the other half didn't).

I have an incentives area, reflection sheets, and awards that students can give each other for a job well done!

I've LOVED this work. These kids are SO smart. I just walk around and watch the magic. 

This tutor came up with her own practice activity. She said, "I'll write a number on the board and you have to count that many."  AMAZING. 

Another student said that her dad helped her with a trick to get over those decade numbers when counting to 100. I watched her get a 100's chart out and show her the same trick. So great. 

Outside of that, I've got tutors that use the iPads, make flash cards, or get extra practice with an activity that we've done previously at stations or centers.

I have had so much fun working with the students that have mastered a lot of the skills that they need to because they really have to do some higher level thinking when they are responsible for someone else's learning. Their own knowledge is deepened when they are tutoring because it's hard to teach what you don't know! They have to:
-Process their own learning strategies in order to show someone else
-Think about a "plan B" if their lesson isn't effective
-Reflect on how they did as a teacher
-Answer questions that they may not be prepared for
-Figure out how to assess and track progress
...and so much more! This REALLY gets those wheels turning.

The best part is that there is just a lovely sense of community when we engage in peer tutoring. 

If you're interested in getting peer tutoring running in your classroom, click the image below!

Also, if you want to learn more about raising rigor with game making, click the image below!