Teaching Between Desk: A Japanese Practice

I recently read an article that was assigned in my doctoral program called “Teaching Between Desk.” The article describe an interesting practice that educators of Japan do in their classrooms on a daily basis. After a little bit of research beyond this article and asking educators in America I realized that most people are unaware of this practice. Although I found some articles on the practice and observations conducted in Japan by Americans, this way of teaching is unknown in the U.S. I thought it would be a great idea to share what I have learned and recently implemented in my own classroom about this practice.

An Instructional Practice

In the article “Teaching Between Desks” the author introduced a successful strategy used by Japan educators. The practice was observed by U.S. citizens through several videos that highlighted a strategy that is highly used in their school system. The practice called kikan-shido, or “between desk instruction,” shows a teacher walking around the classroom monitoring students as they worked. “For decades, Japanese educators have used this practice to engage students in deeper thinking around challenging problems and tasks (Skoda, 1991).

downloadHow it works

Prior to giving students independent work the teacher teaches a lessons that involves modeling and paired exercises that challenged students. The questions asked to each student promote higher order thinking. Differentiate these questions to fit the needs of each student. The questions also challenge students who are mastering the material and encourage the students that need it. The Japanese educators took the time to plan out these between the desk instruction prior to teaching the lesson. The questions they are asking are apart of the overall lesson plan. The four principal functions of kikan-shido are:

    • Monitoring student activity: The teacher actively walks the room and through the desk to monitor student work.
    • Guiding student activity: The teacher prepares the lesson through modeling and paired exercises before giving students independent work.
    • Organizing materials and the physical set up: The teacher has a clipboard to take notes with the lesson plans in front of them on a tablet or printed paper.
    • Engaging students in social talk: Students are working independently to practice the skills taught while the teacher walks the room and ask questions.

Similar Best Practices

You may hear this strategy and think that it is similar to some of the best practices we use in the United States. However, the intent of the Japanese educator is quite different from the practices we are currently using. While the teacher is walking the classroom the intention is to focus on the students and the independent work they are completing. The teacher will look over the students shoulder and hold one-on-one discussion, ask questions and give praise. The teacher does not give the student their independent work after teaching the lesson and they complete it on their own. Instead, the teacher is still active with the students through monitoring and assisting them as they work.

The “Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR) drives this practice. Instructional Framework. This framework is geared towards moving students towards independence. The gradual release is the responsibility of instruction from the teacher to the student. It typically takes place in a linear process but doesn’t have to. Educators can begin at any point in the framework, which reads as a triangle which components are:

  • Focus lesson (I do it)
  • Guided instruction (We do it)
  • Collaborative (You do it together)
  • Independent (You do it alone)

Each student moves throughout the framework as they master skills being taught. At times they made need reinforcement of the skill. It is the teacher’s responsibility to move students along appropriately.

imagesThe Benefits

Decision makers of the American education system believe the between desk instruction can benefit the teachers in America. With a demand of increasing rigor and higher order thinking among students this strategy may be another stepping stone. The simplicity of this practice makes it easier to begin to implement into your classroom or school today.

Teachers may feel that things are being added to their plate, though this may be true at times I believe this practice would be worth adding. It will only involve a little bit more planning. For example, a teacher lesson plan is laid out with step-by-step instructions on what they will be teaching for each lesson. The teacher will have to add in some question sets that they can ask students at each level. Using a clipboard or IPAD to track student responses or taking notes on the process of their work will only benefit the teacher later on when they have to make decisions about assessments, lesson planning and mapping.

What can we learn?

The teacher can learn how to expand the thinking of their students by asking themselves questions. It is important for the teacher to construct a clear image of where they want to take their students. This image will help them determine what they want the lesson to look like. Planning ahead is a huge component to making this practice work in the classroom. The process of teaching this practice will not come overnight. “Findings from a case student conducted on teacher change showed that it took at least three semesters for teachers to adopt and effectively implement a new instructional approach to a high school science classroom” (Emerling 2014). Consistency and follow through from the teacher, administrators and the district, this strategy can prove to be a useful tool for everyone involved.

What practices do you currently use similar to this in your classroom? Comment below and share your ideas. We would love to hear from you!




Ermeling, B., & Graff-Ermeling, G. (2014). Learning to learn from teaching: A first-hand account of lesson study in Japan. International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies, 3(2), 170–192. Retrieved from http://independent .academia.edu/BradleyErmeling

Sakoda, K. (1991). Kikan-shido no gijutsu [The art of teaching between desks]. Tokyo: Meiji Tosho Shuppan Kabushikigaisha


End of the Year Teacher Tag!!

With the end of the year approaching and summer break at our door step, I thought it would be fun to do the teacher tag. This is a fun way to get to know me and gives you a little more insight on my background as a teacher. Enjoy!

download.jpg1. What grade do you teach and how long have you taught that grade?

I currently teach 6 grade literature and have only been teaching this grade for two years. Previously I have been a 4th grade teacher and a 5th grade teacher in another district.

2. What adjective best describes you as a teacher? And why?


Being a teacher can be challenging, each day we are met with obstacles that can change our moods and even break us if we let it. I’m all about keeping my own energy high and protecting it from anything negative. I have found that working with middle schoolers can easily zap any positive energy you woke up with if you let it. Not only is it exhausting working with this group of children but it can be difficult.

Middle school kids are going through physical, emotional and at time behavioral changes at this point in their lives. Their parents and most importantly the people they spend the most time with, their teachers get all the back lash from them. Staying optimistic by always looking for the bright side of a situation, has always worked for me in difficult situations. I’ve found that being compassionate towards my students and keeping my classroom a fun safe place has allowed these negative energies to cease.

images3. If your life as a teacher was made into a movie, what movie star would play you?

If my life as a teacher was made into a movie I think Christina Milian would play me. We have similar features, has always been a positive role model and seems to be a positive person. Let’s not forget that she is just drop dead gorgeous as well.  So, I think she would be the best fit.

4. Think of a lesson from this year that you’re especially proud of. What made it so special?

I am especially proud of the book club unit I did 4th quarter with my students. In this unit students were given a lot of choice, with this choice I allowed them to choose a book to read, group members and meeting times. I allowed myself to become the facilitator in the classroom while students read their books independently, met in groups and discussed their readings.

My students were so excited to meet with their group members each day to talk about what they had just read. I found that their motivation to read had increased and students were on task. The unit ended with a final project which allowed students to work cooperatively to get the task done. The final projects turned out amazing as students presented their presentations to the class. I found that my students had a better understanding of the novels they read because they had taken ownership in their own learning.

5. Tell us about a student that you think you’ll likely remember forever.

This is a hard one, there are several students I would likely remember. I can think back to my first classroom of 4th graders, they were special because I had been their student teacher and looped as their 4th grade teacher when I got hired at the school. I will always remember those students. There are several students that I teach right now that have left an imprint on my life this school year. Each year my life is changed and constantly shaped by the students that enter it. Remembering just one student would never justify this truth.

download6. At this point in the year, how do you feel about the teaching profession?

At this point in the year, now that summer is a few days away. I still love it! Lol! No, seriously though I do inspire to do more things within the education profession but right now my love is the classroom. The classroom is the best place to start, it’s where you are going to learn everything you need to know that will make you successful in the future.

7. How do you keep your job fun and engaging (no matter how long you’ve been teaching)

I keep my job fun and engaging by introducing new practices and strategies into my classroom. I am not afraid to take risk. If I learn about something new then I try it in my own classroom, if it works then I keep it, if not then I move on to something else. I also like to create lessons that are fun and engaging not only for my students, but for myself as well. In order to hook my students I have to like what I am doing. I believe adaptations and change are what keep teaching fun and engaging.

QEFF76378. What has surprised you the most since the school year started?

The thing that surprised me the most is how much some of my classes have grown. Using a new reading model in my classroom, reading workshop, has really increase the rigor. I am proud of the way this practice turned out as it enhanced my instruction and improved student learning. This is a practice that I will continue to use in my classroom next year.

9. Social Media – Who are your favorite teacher tubers? Teachergramers? TeacherTweeters?

I love to watch Smartie style, The Lettered Classroom and Pocket full of Primary. They all post amazing videos that are lengthy on a weekly basis so that takes up most of my time. I don’t really have time to watch anyone else.

10. What is the last thing you took a picture of? Show us.

F6250ABC-9C79-4BA9-94B9-7E9B6BD3C1CAThe last picture I took a picture of is my students helping clean up the classroom. In this picture we are taking down the posters around the smartboard. It’s a bitter-sweet moment but is also full of so much excitement for the future.

11. Complete this sentence. If I weren’t a teacher, I’d be……

A literary agent or editor. I love to write and have written a young adult novel. I am currently working on two more novels and plan on publishing them in the near future. Incorporating my love of reading to my love of writing has worked for me. I have found that my job as a teacher fits quite well with my aspirations and I can’t wait to live what happens!

12. Who is your teaching hero? Tell them one thing that you really appreciate about them.


I don’t have a specific teaching hero. I believe that every teacher that is waking up and going to their jobs each day with the love to teach is a hero. This is not an easy job and anyone who is doing it for the goodness and kindness of their heart because they love kids are the true heroes. Each day we get to make a choice, a choice to impact someones life. Each day we get to choose to be heros. That is what I appreciate most about this profession.

Preparing for the end of the school year


IMG_6123The end of the school year may be one of the best times in the school year depending on the way you are feeling about your class right about now. Or it may be one of the worst times of the school year because you are so attached to your students that you don’t want to see them go. Either way, the end of the school year can be one of the most stressful times if you are not prepared. Several task go into wrapping up the end of the school year and making sure your classroom is ready to go for the summer. Here are some things you can do to make sure you are prepared:

Start Early

Now that the exciting count down for the summer is happening at your school it is time to prepare for the end of the year. This may entail many task, checklist and moving around as we prepare to strip down our rooms for the summer. Your school may be open to hold summer programs such as summer school, summer camp or professional developments. Either way, you want to start on your task early. Do not wait until the final week of school to begin breaking down your room because the time will fly by. This will only stress you out as you find yourself working longer hours to pack materials away. Instead, start early!

  • Find pockets of time: Throughout the day while your students are working or you have a quick break find the time to take down posters and signs off the wall.
  • Use your resources: Have your students help you break down the room. They love to help the teacher and this will be the perfect time to give them things to do.


To ensure you have completed all the task you need to break down your room it is a great idea to create a checklist. As teachers we love our “to do” list, keeping things in order, on schedule and on track in our classrooms. Create a list for your end of the year preparations. You may need to go through files for your students or mandated paperwork from administration. Form a list of all the task you have to complete then create a schedule for each task. Complete all your administration task before you begin working on your classroom. For example, some of my own task are to review my home room students cumulative folders and categorized my students NWEA scores.

The cum folders will take one plan period to complete and will be a tedious task as I flip through each students file and fill out their card. Therefore, I will plan to take time at the beginning of the week, like a Monday or Tuesday to complete this task. Analyzing student scores and categorizing them will take a bit longer. Therefore, I will plan to use two or three plan periods that week to focus on this task. Once the task for the day has been scheduled I do not veer away from it or procrastinate from completing it. Set the intention and get it done! I find that having a checklist decreases stress levels. It feels good as I accomplish each task and check it off.

Organize for next year

One of the worst things you can do when you are packing up your classroom is throw your materials anywhere. I have made this mistake several times in the past. With an eagerness to begin the summer I have found myself throwing random bins, binders and papers on random shelves. It may appear that I am packing up my room quickly and successfully. This is actually causing a bigger mess.

When the next school year rolls around it will take longer to unpack. Materials will be out-of-place and harder to find.  Instead, use the time at the end of the year to organize your binders, bins and important papers. Find a space to put everything; label the bins and binders so that it is easier to find next year. You are setting yourself up for success because everything will be where it needs to be. You will have easy access to get to everything when you start putting your room together the next year.

The end of the year can be a stressful time for teachers but it doesn’t have to be. With the right plan in place and a little bit of organization the end of the year can run smoothly. What are some things you like to do to ensure you are not stressed at the end of the year? Comment below. We would love to hear from you!


Developing a healthy parent-teacher relationship

As teachers there are several hats we have to wear and several things we have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Our students may be the number one priority in our classrooms, but keeping the parents of the children happy is a close second. It is important to keep your parents involved with the learning that is taking place in your classroom. Parents play a tremendous role as a stakeholder in education. The way we communicate to them is an important part of who we are as educators.

Let’s be honest, the relationship we have with our parents will impact your school year with their child. Winning the hearts of the parents in your classroom is vital when it comes to your health and stress level.  Dealing with kids on a daily basis can be stressful enough. Dealing with their parents can also become a stressor depending on the teacher-parent relationship established. It is important to develop healthy relationships with the students and their parents. Here are some things you can do to ensure you have a great year full of healthy parent communication:

downloadStart Early

The best way to develop a healthy relationship with the parents is to start early, like day one. Some teachers send flyers to their students prior to the beginning of the school year to introduce themselves. This is a great way to have your parents get to know you before they have even met you.

Typically, school districts have an open house before school starts or within the first weeks of school. The open house is an opportunity for parents to come to their child’s classroom and meet their teacher. During this time the teacher is walking the room and answering parent questions. There are some things that you can do to prepare for your open house:

  • Create a Presentation 

    When your parents walk through your classroom door you want to begin with a formal introduction. You can create a google slide or PowerPoint presentation that describes your classroom, what their child will be learning and the expectations for the year. The presentation will get parents excited about the school year. They will certainly be impressed with your professionalism and communication early on.

  • Prepare a brochure/flyer

    Creating something tangible for your parents to take with them is key. They will be bombarded with information about your classroom routines, procedures and expectations. Writing it all out for them in a colorful and cute brochure with the most important bullet points will not only put a smile on your parents face, but it will ensure they are informed of how your classroom is run.

  • Classroom design

    Your classroom should be an inviting place full of color, adventure and comfort. Children are going to be coming to it for the majority of their life for the next 9 months of the school year. Make sure you put thought and time in your classroom set up. You want to make sure parents are comfortable with their child’s second home.

  • Provide refreshments

    If the school doesn’t provide refreshments for parents during this time you want to make sure you have some. Teachers do not have to spend tons of money on refreshments. Shopping at stores like Costco and Sam’s can ensure you buy everything in bulk and it is much cheaper. I do not suggest breaking the bank, but I do suggest having something for parents and students to snack on as they tour your room. Providing water bottles and cookies can be cost efficient. The point is to have something that will add to your parents comfort, having snacks will make them more comfortable and your room more inviting.

Create a Communication tool

Once you have met your parents and laid out the expectations of your classroom, you need to establish an ongoing communication system with them. There are a zillion parent-teacher communication tools available to choose from. I would suggest you check out my parent communication tools blog post to learn more. With the endless options out there it is important to choose one that is more effective and fits the needs of your classroom. Some of these tools are geared towards older students while others are perfect for elementary school.

Choosing the right tool to use for the school year will impact how often you stay in contact with your parents. You want to establish the tool and have it already set up for parents before you meet them. There are some amazing tools out there and they can work in your favor as a teacher to help cut down on making daily phone calls.

downloadStay consistent

Once you have set up the communication tool that you will be using to stay in contact with your parents throughout the school year, stick with it. Whatever you choose at the beginning of the year-you have to use it for the whole year. The worst thing you can do is change in the middle of the school year and introduce something else to your parents. Consistency is the key when it comes to using these modern tools for communication. If you find that you don’t like the program then you can explore other options for the next school year.

You also want to make sure you are consistently using the communication tool to reach out to parents. Several tools make it easy to post homework, announcements or even assignments given in class. Using the tool daily or a few times a week will keep your parents informed and happy with what is happening in their child’s classroom.

As teachers we have a lot to deal with; administration, students, peers, and most importantly the parents. Establishing a healthy relationship with each and every one of your parents is key when it comes to a successful school year. What are some things you have done to ensure a successful parent-teacher relationship in your classroom? Share your ideas below. We would love to hear from you!



The Importance of a Good Parent-Teacher Relationship

downloadTeachers have an endless list of responsibilities throughout the school year. The number one being the students, but the students are a packaged deal and ahead of them are the parents. Developing a relationships with the parents first is vital when it comes to teaching their children. As teachers we have to leave a good first impression when we meet the parents in our classroom. We will not only be working with their children for a whole school year but with them as well. They come as a packaged deal. So, it’s important to have a good parent-teacher relationship for various reasons:

  • Behavior issues: 

    If a you are having trouble with a student in the classroom room and the discipline rules in your room aren’t working then the next step would be to contact the parents. Your relationship with each parent in the classroom will determine the response you receive from the parent. Let’s be honest, no parent wants to hear about their child being a behavior issue. But, if the teacher and parent have a great relationship, then the parent will trust the teacher and hopefully take care of the situation with their child at home. This will then make the teachers job with dealing with that child less challenging if the parent is involved and in the teachers corner.

  • Classroom volunteers: images

    Some elementary schools offer parent volunteers to come into the school to help in the classrooms, office and lunchroom. Having a good parent-teacher relationship could potentially bring some parent volunteers to your classroom. If the relationship is strong then the teacher could have consistent help from those parents throughout the school year.

  • Field Trips:

    Field trips can be a great time away from the school building or could be a terrible time away. Depending on your group of students and their behavior having a parent volunteer would be a great addition to your team. Having parents that are familiar with the other children in your class and have the skills to discipline could help your field trips run much smoother.

  • Advocate:

    One of the most important reasons to have a great parent communication relationship would be that they are an advocate. Each parent in your classroom has a voice and along with that voice there is an opinion. Parents talk to each other outside of the school building, more often then a teacher may think. It is important to develop relationships with parents so that they can advocate for you later on.

    Parents are a great resource when it comes to your teaching style and what their children think about you as a teacher. You want parents to have good things to say about your to administration and other parents. Of course, we all have those difficult parents to deal with that will never have anything nice to say. The truth is we can’t please everyone and some people are just the way they are. Focusing on building strong relationships with the parents in your classroom can benefit your later on in your career.

From the beginning

Building relationships from the very beginning would be key to start the relationship with parents on the right foot. The start of the school year is a time to get to know your students but we can’t forget about the parents. We have them for the whole school year as well and having another adult in your corner will only make your school year run smoothly.

imagesHow do you approach your parent-teacher relationships in your classroom? Share your ideas below. We would love to hear from you!


Keeping a positive mindset in the workplace

If you begin your day in a positive vibe then it will be easier to tackle negativity throughout the day. One of the main negative sources you may encounter as a teacher are your students! As much as we love them, at times they are the main source of energy zapping at work. We have to be prepared to keep our positive energy guarded so that it doesn’t decrease throughout the day. Oh boy is this challenging at times!

There are a few things you can do to keep a positive vibe at work:

downloadDrink water throughout the day

 Keep a glass water bottle on your desk throughout the day. I find myself drinking water during the day to keep me not only hydrated, but cleansed. Water is life and the more you drink, the better you feel. Water always puts me in a good mood and always creates high vibes. The pureness of water is a constant reminder that life can be so clear at times that you can see right through it. Water is positive energy. The more of it you consume throughout the day the higher chance you will have to hold onto that feeling.

imagesPick a motivational quote of the day

I love reading and receiving inspirational quotes! Write down the quotes that resonate with you the most and post them around your house and classroom. If I am feeling a little down and I feel my positive mindset is fading I love to read the quotes that I have posted to help bring my mood back up. You can also sign up to receive motivational quotes to your phone on a daily basis. It is powerful to receive an unexpected message during the day, to read it and have it speaks to you. I often find that it is exactly what I need at the time. You can sign up for quotes on sites such as BrainyQuote, Daily Shine text, or Keep inspiring.

The best part is that you can tailor the quotes to fit your needs, if you like to be amused then you can have funny quotes sent to you or you can even have bible verses sent to you. The point is that you are receiving messages that are going to keep your vibrations high during the day. The quote I received today was, “The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today.” -H.Jackson Brown Jr.

images.jpgSend myself reminders

 Aside from the quotes I believe it is important to remind ourselves of the work we put in at the beginning of the day. If we don’t do this then it will all be in vain. I have to remember that I left my house in a high vibe mood and I deserve to continue to feel that way regardless of who or what I encounter. There will always be tests throughout the day; big ones and little ones that will try to steal your joy. Set reminders on your phone every few hours as messages to yourself about your WHY, your affirmations or life purpose. This will keep you grounded and on your toes when it comes to recognizing challenging situations. These reminders will prepare your to respond to them positively.


downloadSmile anyway

I like to use this technique often in my classroom and outside of my classroom when I encounter negative vibes. It can also be used in any setting that involves interaction with others and in any work environment. Smile! No matter what the person may say to you that is insulting, hurtful or disrespectful-you just smile. You will find that the small act of smiling can change the whole dynamic of the conversation. It is hard to be insulting or angry at another person if they are smiling at you. This will let the other person know that you are not being affected, nothing they say to you will steal your joy because you will keep smiling anyway.

What are some things you like to do to keep a positive mindset at work and throughout the day? Comment below. We would love to hear from you.


How to overcome feeling stuck in your career

downloadHave you ever felt stuck? I bet you have. We all have and for some reason it is a part of life. Sadly, it shouldn’t be just that simple to say or even accept. Being stuck should not be a part of life and being stuck is not acceptable.

At the start of a New year several people find themselves in this predicament each year. They find themselves questioning what they are doing with their lives, their families and careers. They question whether or not they are moving in the right direction and making the right choices. How can we know for sure?

Something is seriously wrong with this picture, we should not be confused and asking ourselves more and more questions that make us even more confused. Do we have too many choices? Or are there so many choices that we don’t believe we can really achieve them? For example, someone may feel stuck in their career and would like to start a new one. Well, that’s not as simple as it sounds. These days you need credentials and experience to jump to a new career.

The average person is unmotivated to make such drastic changes and will choose to stay where they are instead of taking a huge leap of faith. Or someone may want to lose weight but there are too many diets to choose from or changes they would have to make in their everyday food choices;  these decisions can make a person lose motivation and make it difficult to make these changes.

The problem is that there are way too many steps, rules and procedures that need to be taken to get to where we want to go and we don’t have enough time.

Here are a few things that you can do to help make these decisions easier:

Write everything down

We go through our days on auto pilot with thoughts running in and out of our heads. Ideas are popping in it all day long but we don’t stop to observe or analyze these thoughts. Sometimes these ideas can be road maps to where we want to go or answer the questions we have been asking ourselves. Get a small notebook or notepad and keep it with you throughout the day. Next time you get an idea or something interesting pops in your head, write it down. Write down everything that you are thinking.

Once you start this process of writing things down you will realize it will be a part of your auto pilot and you will have more ideas flowing from your mind than you can ever imagine. After about a week look back at your notebook and read through all your ideas; look for connections and trends in your thinking. Once you have done this for a while I promise you, you will start to find your answers.

Stop and listen

Like I said before we are on auto pilot all day long and we don’t even realize it; especially in the classroom with our students. Everything we do has already been planned and laid out for us, we just have to execute them. The only way to stop your vehicle that is going 100 miles and hour is to hit the brakes, park and breathe. Stopping to listen each day for only a few minutes has so many benefits, such as reducing stress levels, increasing happiness and improving concentration.

Maybe you don’t have time to meditate for thirty minutes each day but finding the time to stop and take a breath is crucial in our fast pace world. During your plan take time to stop and breathe for five minutes, stopping all thought. When you find yourself doing this a couple of times a day for five minutes you will begin to get more answers and clarity to your questions.

Make one small step each day

 Once you have completed step 1 and 2 then you will have a little more clarity on which direction to take or choices to make. Once this is established it should only take one small step towards that goal each day in order to accomplish it. We often think that we have to do everything at once in order to make something happen. The truth is we get burned out this way and then the goal is typically abandoned. All it takes is a plan and one small step towards that plan each day.

So, if you want to lose weight make a small accomplishment each day towards that goal; such as drink more water or exercise for ten minutes. Maybe you want to start a new hobby or build a business; each day do something to make that happen. You could start off doing some research by gathering facts about the hobby or business you want. Maybe you need a certification or a degree to move into a new position. Make small steps each day towards reaching this goal. After about a week you will start to feel better about yourself because you see progress.

We all have been there. We all have had these same experiences and we all have persevered through at some point or you wouldn’t be reading this post. Feeling this way is a normal part of life. Its easy to get to this place but getting out of it is often the hard part. Try these three steps for a few days this week and see what changes start to take place in your life. Remember there is no limit in the sky. Comment down below; e would love to hear about it!



How to Write Higher Order Thinking Questions

The curriculum your district is using to teach literature will depend on the resources beyond the textbooks you have to gather. Too often you hear of districts that use curriculum that doesn’t align with the standards of with their students. Some may have textbooks that are too rigorous and others might use a textbook series that doesn’t challenge their student body. Despite these circumstances I believe it is imperative that teachers learn how to write their own questions. Develop questions that will promote higher order thinking. Higher order thinking questions will ensure students are meeting the standard and that they are being challenged.

imagesBegin with the Standard

First, you want to look at the standard that you are teaching for that particular week. The standards are the beginning point to all instruction because it gives the teacher a focus. Common Core state standards are designed to map out the progress of students throughout the year. If they are executed properly in the classroom then they can push students to the next level.

Increase the Rigor

What is the next level you might be wondering? The right questions asked will get students there. When developing questions for whole group discussion, small group or an assessment; it is vital that the rigor is there to push students to dive deeper. Using sources such as  Blooms Taxonomy and DOK (Depth of Knowledge) can help when developing questions.

It is imperative to create questions that force students to look back in the text. Students have to depend on the text they are reading in order to answer the question correctly. They shouldn’t grab the answer from thin air. If the type of question is a level 1, 2 or 3 question then they are referring back to the text and looking for the evidence that will support their answer. Higher level questions will require students to use evidence from the text to support the inferences that they make. Use these tools to increase rigor and force students to dive deeper into the text.


imagesText Dependent Questions

Now that the standard has been established, the questions have to be developed. These questions are used in whole group, small group instruction and on assessments. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • What skills do I want my students to use? (outcome)
  • What evidence will need to be presented (details) in order to answer this question successfully?

When you are developing your question, look back at the standard and use the language in the standard to form a question. The questions that are created are used throughout the week so that students become exposed to the language. Use the DOK stems to help formulate questions that will promote higher order thinking. When students are answering the question they should use evidence from the text to analyze, develop claims and to synthesize their thinking. We have to teach our students how to do this through a process called modeling. When we model for our students we are literally showing them exactly what we want them to do. Students should take notes during this time so that the information sticks or they can refer back to it later.

Graphic Organizers

Using a graphic organizer to introduce “how to answer questions” to your students is a great place to start. There are several types of organizers available to use on the internet. Although the graphic organizers are a great place to start they should not be the end result. The purpose of graphic organizers is to organize the answer.  It is simply a tool. Eventually students should be able to answer questions without the tool and can formulate their thoughts on their own. This may not happen at the primary level but should be happening at the intermediate level on up. We do not want to cripple our students. We want to give them tools to be successful and continue to expand their thinking.

The questions should build from the bottom up. Students are able to build on their knowledge of the text through questioning. For example, standard R.L.1 is a level one standard that focuses on recall from the text by using details. This standard is an easy standard to begin a discussion with or answer questions about a text. Building questions from the bottom up also benefits students that struggle with the content being taught. The level one questions should always be a recall question; something that a struggling student is able to answer on their own with little teacher support. This will build up their confidence level as they make their way through the next set of questions.

Color Coding

An easy way to teach students to respond to text is to teach them how to color code their responses. This system consists of three colors of their choice or assigned by the teacher. There are three things students need to do for every question to make sure they have answered it completely. Each part of the response is highlighted in a different color.

  • Restate (yellow)
  • Answer (blue)
  • Evidence (green)

After students answer the question they will reread their response and color where it is appropriate. If there are only two colors highlighted than students know that they have not answer are not answered the question completely. They will have to go back to find the missing part of the response. This strategy provides students with a clear visual.  The rigor has increased tremendously in my classroom using this simple strategy alone.

What strategies or tools do you use to create questions? How do you increase the rigor in your classroom? Share you ideas below. We would love to hear from you!





Bringing rigor and promoting higher order thinking into the classroom through questioning.

Rigor is a buzz word in the education world. If you attend professional development then you have heard this word a million times. In your team or administration meetings you may have discussed ways to bring more rigor into your classroom. One of the easiest ways to expose your students to rigorous task and discussion is through questioning. The questions you are asking will create an understanding of what you are teaching. If we are not asking the right questions then our students may not be thinking the right thoughts. Questions are everything, they guide our lessons, promote discussion and wondering within our students. We have to be their guide, their pathway into knowledge and where we want them to go next.

downloadBackward mapping

When we sit down to plan our lessons we need to start with backward mapping. First look at the standard that is being taught and then ask yourself these two simple questions:

  • What do I want my students to know?
  • What questions will guide them to mastering this standard?

The lesson and assessments that are developed should focus on answering these questions. Throughout the week the teacher will provide instruction tailored to student success. Begin with the end in mind, the final exam that student will take at the end of the unit. On the exam create questions that will expand their knowledge and promote higher order thinking. Use Blooms Taxonomy to help develop questions that will align with the standard being taught. Start here, then it will be easier to create the lessons that will lead up to the exam. Using this strategy will help eliminate any gaps in instruction and will create a clear pathway to success for the teacher and students.


Now think about how you are going to model the skill to your students. What questions are you going to ask them to get their minds thinking? Begin with a simple graphic organizer such as a KWL chart. Students will think about what they already know (K) and what they want to know about the topic (W). By the end of the lessons your students will be able to fill out the last column (L) to write down what they learned.

Remember the mini-lesson is the introduction to everything they will learn throughout the week. You are simply exposing them to a new concept or even a spiral concept at the beginning of the mini-lesson. Take note of what they already know and what you need to teach them. Your exit slip will provide you with the data you need to answer these questions.

downloadSmall group instruction

The goal is to meet with your individual groups and teach the skill in a smaller setting. At this point you will be able to dive deeper into the skill and student comprehension. Begin to expose students to the type of questions they will see later. Start breaking down what they will need to know for the final exam. We want them to be successful so this is the time to teach them everything in between. Small group instruction is the meat of the burger. This is where students are going to grasp the most from what is being taught. This smaller setting is more engaging and requires their full attention. Now is the time to bring in the rigor and ask the right questions.

Just as a lesson plans and a final assessment was created to drive the mini-lesson instruction, you need a small group lesson plan as well. This separate lesson plan will be tailored to each group the teacher meets with throughout the week. The lesson plan should consist of a little bit of modeling and a whole lot of questioning. If the lesson is on character traits, use this time to ask higher order thinking questions about the characters in the story they are reading. Dive deep into the text with your students and have students create visualization to expand their understanding. This is only one example of what you can do in a small group setting. Use this time to teach them everything they need to know to be successful.

Now what?

If we want our students to begin to analyze and think deeper about the topics that are being presented to them, then we have to lead them in that direction. The work we do leading up to our instruction has to be rigorous. If we take the time to use the strategy of backward mapping to create the final assessment, mini-lessons and small group instruction then the material will be executed properly. As the teacher we have to teach our students how to think, we have to create the pathway for them.

What do you do to bring rigor into your classroom? How does the idea of questioning relate to your every day instruction? Comment below and share your thoughts. We would love to hear from you!



Teacher Self-Care: Creating a Night Routine

In this article, I am going to discuss the benefits of creating a night routine. I have talked about the importance of creating a healthy and productive morning routine. These type or routines will set you up for the rest of the day. The way you start your day is typically an indication of the way it will end up. This inspiration for a successful start of your day is actually motivated from what you did the night before.

Therefore, it is vital that you set yourself up for a successful morning routine and day by focusing on what you do before you turn the lights off and lay your head on your pillow. Simply because the energy that you end the day with, will transfer into the next day. Hence, why people often say, “Don’t go to bed arguing” or “Don’t go to bed worrying.” This is true because that energy you felt before going to sleep will flow over into the next day because it is still on your mind. To prevent negative energy flowing into the next day here are some things I like to do to set myself up for success the next day:

Take a hot bath/shower

downloadHave you ever felt drained or didn’t have a good day? A hot bath or shower will typically wash those feelings away. When you dip your body into water you may realize it makes you feel better almost instantly. This is because water not only represents purity but cohesiveness as well. It brings a sense of balance back to your life. According to the website, “What’s your sign,” it states: “Water takes on a form in which it is held and moves in the path of least resistance.” Not only is it the perfect treat to the end of your day but, it is relaxing and cleanses any negative energy from your day.

downloadEat two hours before bed

Eating right before you go to sleep will often leave you feeling sluggish as you lay down with a full stomach. During the night your body goes through a restorative process as muscles and tissues are repaired. If your stomach is full, not only will you be at risk of gaining weight but the body will have to work two times harder because it has to digest your food. In order to avoid these feelings and possible health risk you should eat a couple of hours before you go to sleep. This will give your body time to digest your food and you will go to sleep feeling much lighter.


Drinking herbal tea before bed time has become a new found habit of mine. The smell and warm feeling of tea flowing through the body can put you into a relaxing state of mind. I do not suggest loading your tea with refined sugars, milk and other ingredients before bed, you can save those type of teas for the morning or during the day. A natural cup of tea with a splash of honey or lemon will help calm the body and mind.


After I drink my tea I am usually in a relaxed state which makes it easy to go into a short meditation or just to sit still for a few minutes. I don’t typically meditate right before bed because I find that my awareness shuts down and my eyelids go straight into sleep mode. I’ve found that if I make it one of the second to last things I do before bed it is usually more effective.


I don’t do both of these steps before bed but choose one to do each night. If I write I will typically use my five minute journal or do a free flow in my personal journal. Either way, I find that it is helpful to get my thoughts out onto paper before bed. I like to read a few pages before bed, without restrictions. Some people do require themselves to read one or two chapters a day. I find that this makes it less fun. As long as I’m reading until I want to stop, it is enjoyable.

These are my nightly tips to set yourself up for a successful morning and day. What are some things you like to do before bed? Comment below. We would love to hear from you!