How to Get Students Thinking About Their Own Learning

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • May 11, 2022, 1:45 p.m.

If you know me well, you know that my passion is helping students to take responsibility for their own learning. This starts with students setting daily learning goals and monitoring their own progress.

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Why Aren't Our Kids Learning Like They Were before the Pandemic?

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • March 10, 2022, 2:05 p.m.

Are we stressed out? Every time I turn on the news, a new wave of fear and anxiety wash over me. We were forced into a "new normal" in our lives and schools. Many of our children are going through a lot of stressful situations and this impacts on their learning.

This new normal demands that we pay special attention to getting rid of the "bad" stress and creating "good stress" in learning situations. 

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Playing Phonics Games to Build Fluency

  • Feb. 8, 2022, 5 p.m.

Games help our learners develop skill proficiency. A good game will challenge thinking and require the player to strategize. Here are a few of my favorite games for children learning phonics AND for older students who haven't developed their encoding and decoding proficiency.

Big Word Meltdown-The goal of this game is to make as many words as you can using only the letters in the big word. Choose a word that contains 9-15 letters. I like to choose science, social studies, or holiday words. Challenge your students to create small words using only the letters from the big word. The person or team who makes the most words wins.

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Increasing Rigor with Worked Examples

  • by Ashley Taplin
  • April 15, 2021, 11:35 a.m.

By Ashley Taplin and Rachel Mane

According to Robert J. Marzano in Understanding Rigor in the Classroom, “knowledge that has been proceduralized can be turned into worked examples” (Marzano, Understanding Rigor in the Classroom).

A worked example, as explained by Hattie’s research with Visible Learning, is “a problem statement with step-by-step guidelines for finding the solution. Worked examples enable students to focus on discrete problem-solving tasks, rather than attempting to hold each of the steps in their working memory while solving a complex problem.” (Hattie, Metax). Marzano says, “the cognitive analysis process of comparing can enhance the rigor with which students execute procedural knowledge.” (Marzano, Understanding Rigor in the Classroom).

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Catching Up Students Who Have Unfinished Learning

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • April 15, 2021, 11:31 a.m.

I was talking with four 2nd grade teachers last week who are very worried about how they are going to send their students to 3rd grade reading and writing "on level." Given that during first grade, the students went into lockdown for the entire fourth quarter of the year and then with the challenges of keeping kids safe this year, these teachers were feeling very defeated. They wanted to know what I thought is possible for their students with the forty days left in the year.

First, we accept what we can't control and then, with laser-like intention, we focus on strategies that have the best chance for impacting student literacy growth.

Here are 4 strategies for helping students accelerate literacy growth during the last weeks of school.

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5-3-1 Rating System

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • Nov. 11, 2020, 11:25 a.m.

I like to use a rating system with students. I explain that a rating of 5 means you are an expert and you could teach someone else. A rating of a 3 means you are an apprentice. You need more coaching and/or practice to clear up misconceptions or misunderstandings. A rating of 1 means you are a novice. You are just beginning to learn the learning target. There may be vocabulary in the learning target that you don't recognize or understand. At the 1 or 3 level, you can set personal learning goals. This might sound like "I'm a novice and I need to know what character motivations are and how you would describe them."

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Using Success Criteria to Prevent and Plan for Interventions.

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • Nov. 11, 2020, 11:07 a.m.

Impactful instruction is very intentional. From planning the learning targets to planning how students will practice and demonstrate learning, we work to provide clarity for our students. Success criteria brings everything into focus for the learner.

Dr. John Hattie defines success criteria as:

Success criteria are the standards by which the project or performance will be judged at the end to decide whether or not it has been successful. They are often brief, co-constructed with students, aim to remind students those aspects on which they need to focus, and can relate to the surface (content, ideas) and deep (relations, transfer) successes from the lesson(s). 

The effect size of using success criteria is a .88-over 2 years of growth in one year!

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Micro and Macro Interventions

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • Nov. 11, 2020, 11:05 a.m.

During Tier 2, the goal is to provide teaching and time for students to master grade level standards. Many times, students are missing necessary prerequisite knowledge and skills. We gather assessment data, plan how we will assess growth and mastery, and then provide multiple learning opportunities for students who need time to master the critical grade level learning goals. We follow up with a post assessment to determine the learning and effectiveness of the intervention.

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Establishing Culture and Community through the Houses Systems

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • Sept. 12, 2020, 11:30 a.m.

The Why

Professional collaboration was at play two weeks ago when I went to my fellow teacher (and sister-in-law) Christe Montgomery to ask for ideas for building community and managing behavior. She suggested the Ron Clark Academy house system that her school implements. It sounded fun and engaging, so I rallied the troops in 4th grade and we went for it. It was a hit very quickly. The house system teaches teamwork, responsibility, teamwork, friendship, and leadership.

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Math Resources for Elementary

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • March 17, 2020, 7:39 a.m.

There are so many resources available online for elementary children. Here is a list of my favorites!

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Laying a Foundation for Growth

  • by Ashley Taplin
  • Sept. 9, 2019, 10:50 a.m.

This month, as we dive into the consistency of school days, I have been thinking about ways we can develop and foster a growth mindset for students in math to gain confidence in their knowledge. I have been working with another department in our district to bring more SEL practices to the curriculum. We have been talking about how the foundation of this mindset is helping students become self-aware in their learning in order to take on challenges and new situations. Below are some strategies and ideas I have been reflecting upon to cultivate this.

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First Week Reflections

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • Aug. 16, 2019, 12:30 p.m.

Looking for some easy ways to have students reflect on their first week of school? We have you covered!

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Reflecting & Revising Learning

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • Aug. 13, 2019, 8:33 a.m.

At the end of each content block, students need an opportunity to reflect on their learning for the day.This is a great opportunity for students to validate their efforts and learning, while also giving teachers an opportunity to formatively assess who hit the target and who needs more practice time.

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Practicing Strategy: Quiz, Quiz, Trade

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • May 6, 2019, 2:21 p.m.

As students work to build skill automaticity and accuracy, we want to avoid death by worksheet and provide fun ways for students to process, practice, and strengthen important neural pathways. One instructional activity that always delivers is the Kagan collaborative learning strategy Quiz/Quiz/Trade.

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Rally Coach as a Micro-Intervention

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • April 23, 2019, 11:05 a.m.

When students are developing skills or strategies, they sometimes need coaching to move them to mastery. The Kagan strategy Rally Coach can be a perfect micro-intervention for helping students achieve the daily learning targets.

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Scaffolding Up!

  • May 4, 2018, 2:54 p.m.

Tier one classroom instruction is always about learning grade level standards. But what about the kids that aren't quite there yet? How do we scaffold them up to achieve those standards? Here are a few ways to make accommodations that get kids where they need to be.

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The Why Behind RTI

  • May 14, 2017, 3:49 p.m.

The Why Behind RTI 

Even before RTI was a thing, I worked alongside teachers as they put a three tier model of reading instruction into practice through the Reading First Initiative (2002). Over the past twelve years, I’ve worked with schools in Texas, Missouri, Michigan, and New York to examine Response to Instruction (RTI) best practices and ensure these practices are embraced and in place in every classroom.

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Number Talks

  • May 7, 2017, 3:47 p.m.

From pre-kindergarten to high school, students need frequent practice using their numeracy skills to solve problems. During five-to-ten minute number talks, students solve problems using mental math strategies and explain how they arrived at a solution.

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RTI Reading: Techniques for Processing Learning

  • April 10, 2017, 3:43 p.m.

Meeting the needs of every student can be rewarding yet exhausting at the same time! Here are some fresh instructional ideas for helping students to process their learning.

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Habit of the Mind: Creating, Imagining, Innovating

  • April 9, 2017, 3:38 p.m.

It is important for children to be creative as they engage in projects and new ways to solve problems in the classroom. This is intrinsically motivating. Modeling and discussing what it looks like to imagine, create and innovate is the best way to promote this habit of the mind. Here are some texts and a video to help spark the discussion in your school or classroom.


This short video is a great way to illustrate Creating, Imagining, and innovating. The video includes some historical features about how people have been innovative and changed the way we have done tasks. It also uses uses the habit of the mind specifically in improving writing!

Click here to watch and use!


This is a great text to show students how your imagination can take you on great journeys and help you problem solve. Walk along with Harold as he draws his story! Habits of the mind: Creating, Imagining, Innovating, Responding with Wonderment and Awe, Gathering Data Through all Senses.

Watch the video story here!



Max's brothers have great collections that they do not let him touch or be apart of. Max decides to start his own collection of words! Max's collection just needs a little imagination to make a story! Habits of the mind: Creating, Imagining, Innovating, Thinking Flexibly.

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Countdown to Assessment Strategies

  • March 15, 2017, 3:36 p.m.

With state assessments fast approaching, many educators are "teaching with their hair on fire!" We are all trying to get as much review and practice in as possible and make sure to revisit all the tested standards. Sound familiar?

Here are 3 strategies to consider when planning!

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Guided Math

  • March 14, 2017, 11:17 a.m.

Small group guided math instruction is a powerful tool for helping students accelerate their problem solving skills. Just ten minutes of coaching and practice can potentially move students by leaps and bounds. Here are a few guidelines for guided math groups:

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Habits of the Mind: Thinking Flexibly

  • Nov. 6, 2016, 3:46 p.m.

The Art of Seeing Alternatives

The skill of a great thinker in to be able to think flexibly. When we think flexibly we see other prospectives, generate alternatives, and consider other options. It's easy to say, "That's impossible" or "That will never work" but, being able to look at the situation and try to solve it or think flexibly is the sign of a growth mindset!

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Habits of the Mind: Listening With Empathy & Understanding

  • Oct. 1, 2016, 4:42 p.m.

The Art of Listening

Sometimes the most important thing you can do for someone is to simply listen. As easy as this sounds, it's actually not! Listening is a skill that takes both self control and compassion for others. When you stop and listen, you are putting aside yourself and focusing on others. Listening with empathy and understanding is one essential skill that students need to see modeled, authentically practiced, and discussed often.

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Getting the Day Started: #daystarters

  • Sept. 4, 2016, 4:41 p.m.

The first five-to-eight minutes of class sets the stage for the learning. Students need (and want) to be engaged and thinking from the moment they walk into our classrooms. Sometimes this can become a daunting task with all the morning routines we must complete before the first lesson of the day can begin. Being organized and intentionally incorporating student interests and natural curiosity will wake up the brain, get dendrites excited, and synapses firing!

We have compiled a list of some ways to wake up the brain and get students in a learning ready state of mind.

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Habits of the Mind: How to Help Students Manage Impulsivity

  • Sept. 2, 2016, 4:40 p.m.

The purpose of school is to teach children strategies for becoming successful adults. Students need to learn academic skills and academic behaviors that will help them succeed in the classroom and in challenging life situations. Costa and Kallick have identified 16 habits of mind that help us respond intelligently when charting unfamiliar territories.

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Teaching A Growth Mindset

  • July 31, 2016, 4:36 p.m.

The beginning of the year sets the tone for you and your students' entire school year. Educators have the task of creating a positive learning environment and setting the attitude and perception of their classroom. What are you doing to help your students establish or continue to have a growth mindset?

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