Tagged “Creativity”

ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

How to Work Interventions into Classroom Lessons

Post submitted by SmartBrief education editor Amy Dominello

The gap in vocabulary, reading, and comprehension starts long before children arrive at school. Children are often not learning the words they need to at home, and that makes reading teachers out of educators at all levels, said educator and author Jim Grant during a session at the ASCD Annual Conference.

That's become especially important in math, where more word problems are now part of the curriculum and tests, he said.

Fitting interventions for struggling students into everyday teaching doesn't have to be hard, Grant said. He offered classroom-tested, time-saving tips and strategies that allow educators to administer high-quality interventions in the classroom for students from poor backgrounds.

Among some of the strategies he shared for both reading and math:

  • Make cold calls in the classroom, but don't give students the ability to opt out of answering. Call on another student, and then loop back to that first student to make sure they picked up the answer.
  • Use mind maps to help students organize their thoughts for crucial words. These include a definition in the student's own words, a drawing, and antonyms and synonyms.
  • Make time during sustained silent reading to work with struggling students while other students are reading on their own.
  • Create a checklist for students to edit their work that has them check for capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and usage.
  • Borrow heavily from the Singapore Math teaching method, which emphasizes number bonds and immerses children in numbers. He highlighted activities common to Singapore Math that include having students take photos that show a certain number of objects, human number lines, math scavenger hunts, and visual aids.
  • Don't make students go through an entire worksheet before checking for understanding. Giving students five questions can let you know whether they've understood a concept or if they need more help.
  • Give students multiple opportunities to show proficiency by returning worksheets for students to fix the problems that weren't correct.
  • Before students come up to your desk, encourage them to find the answers on the posters in the room so they don't always rely on you.

For more information, visit Grant's website.

ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Get Up and Move Toward Better Physical Education

Post submitted by Whole Child Blogger Robyn Gee

It's not uncommon to find stories of elementary students who missed out on a period of recess because they misbehaved. It's not uncommon to see a student misbehave in physical education (PE) class and then have to run laps as punishment.

Carrie Flint, an elementary and adapted PE specialist from Redondo Beach, Calif., told attendees in her ASCD Annual Conference session that educators must stop associating physical activity with punishment. Students who have a bad experience in PE are more likely to be inactive adults, she said.

Flint's session, "Physical Education and Recess Environments: Keys to Success," touched on challenges PE teachers face, some helpful tips for making physical activity engaging and successful, and where teachers can find resources.

She said PE teachers and programs are constantly up against people who question the necessity of physical activity for kids who are academically behind, claiming there's no time for recess. "Well, if their heart doesn't work, I really don't care if they can read or not," responded Flint. She told attendees that research actually shows test scores remain the same or even improve when students have some regular physical education.

Flint touched on five issues that can pose problems for physical educators:

  • Students' lack of problem-solving skills
  • Inconsistent rules
  • Equipment issues
  • Unclear expectations
  • Not enough to do

One problem-solving strategy that Flint believes in wholeheartedly is teaching the entire school community to adopt and buy into Rock, Paper, Scissors as a way to settle conflicts. Whether it's a fight over whose turn it is or who's right or wrong, it can be settled by a quick game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, said Flint.

Flint also talked about designing the play space to be engaging for students to prevent them from complaining that they have nothing to do. She showed an example blueprint of a blacktop and said more models can be found on the Peaceful Playgrounds website. She showed how she painted grids, multiple foursquare courts, multiple hopscotch areas, a bean bag toss, and targets on the walls for kids to practice accurate throwing. One session attendee said she painted a giant computer keyboard on her school's blacktop.

ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Muddle-Free Middle Schools

Samuel Dasher

Post written by Samuel Dasher, principal of Louisville Middle School in Louisville, Ga., and a member of ASCD's Emerging Leaders Class of 2007. This post was originally featured in ASCD Express.

I am one who believes that there is no "muddle in the middle." Middle schools have taken the brunt of the attack from critics of education for as long as they have been in existence. The reason for the criticism is that most critics (and people in general) really don't understand how a middle school child functions and, as a result, misunderstand the purpose and strategies that make middle schools work.

Middle school children are like no other students the average educator will come in contact with. (Is that a chorus of "Amens"?) They are a massive bundle of raging hormones pent up in bodies that are growing faster on average than they have since infancy, struggling to come to grips with the rigors and responsibilities of young adulthood. While all of this is going on, they are fighting for social independence and, at the same time, maintaining a death grip on their families. Middle school students can be summed up in one word: confusing. However, despite the daily challenges and frustrations of working with middle-graders, middle schools do work.

For a middle school to function efficiently and effectively, it needs to have several factors in place. I am not listing these elements as a specific recipe for success, but I believe that they certainly improve the possibility for the success of any school.

A Truly Dedicated Staff

I was told early in my career that the best middle school educators have a little bit of middle school student in them. I believed it then and swear by it now, with a slight modification: I believe it takes a certain kind of teacher to understand the middle school child. As a school administrator, it is my responsibility to make sure that I have a staff that is dedicated to understanding, working with, and ensuring the success of every child in their charge every day.

I have been blessed with a staff that goes above and beyond on their own initiative—calling students at home to go over homework, accepting my open-door policy for parents without complaint (and encouraging parents to attend classes), staying after school or coming in early to work one-on-one with struggling students, and the list goes on and on. I am very proud of the work the teachers do, and they, along with the parents, are the greatest reason for our success.

A great deal of what my staff does is intrinsically motivated and the result of hard work to change the professional climate of the school. Teachers have the support of other teachers and the school's administration, and there is extremely effective communication among all levels of school personnel. Teachers are also afforded the opportunity to see administrators model our expectations when we are invited into classes to teach and coteach. This support allows teachers to feel free to strive for higher standards through innovation and creativity, without fear of undue criticism. We do ask teachers to explain what they are doing, but in the questioning, we create a true professional learning culture within the school that benefits both educators and students.

My school also provides several types of rewards and fun activities for our staff. They can be rewarded with passes to skip certain duties, which administrators will then pick up for them. The administration often cooks for teachers, with appreciation lunches in the teachers lounge, and twice a year we have a cookout on an early-release day. Our teachers and students have also developed a healthy sense of competition, with each grade level striving to achieve higher levels of academic achievement across content areas. In addition, we have pep rallies and teacher–student basketball and dodgeball games. Remarkably, teachers consider these activities as much of a reward as students do.


I consistently tell my teachers that nothing comes from chaos except more chaos. With this idea in mind, when my leadership team and I accepted the challenge of turning around our school, discipline and the curriculum were top concerns.

For all their blossoming independence, middle school students (like anyone else) just want to know what is expected and what their boundaries are. They will test them, but they want to know how far they can go. Once those boundaries are set, all you need to do is enforce them. There will always be those who try to beat the system, but the overwhelming majority of students will stay within the set boundaries.

Freedom and Respect

These principles apply to both students and teachers. Middle school is a time of exploration as students begin to map out definite ideas and plans for their futures and develop their own unique identities. Students have to be allowed to feel like a part of their education and to make some decisions about what they will do in the future.

Giving students this limited freedom and deserved respect will go a long way toward helping them mature and showing them the same respect we expect as teachers. Teachers have to be respected and trusted as professionals to do what is in the best interest of the child within the confines of the curriculum, standards, and policy. Teachers who are given professional respect and freedom will often return results well beyond expectations.

Hard Work

There is no miracle cure for what may ail a middle school, but there is a plan: hard work.

When I arrived at my school, we were in our seventh year of "needs improvement," according to state mandates, and the climate of the school left a great deal to be desired. At the end of my fifth year as principal, our school can lay claim to the following: We have made AYP for three years in a row. We have watched discipline referrals fall to a fraction of the number they were the year before my assistant principals and I arrived. Teachers have become leaders and taken an active role in the successful operation of the school. And, most important, we have all watched young men and young ladies succeed academically and take the initiative to control their futures.

Middle schools can work, and many of them work extremely well; we just have to take the time as educational leaders to understand them.

Andrew Miller

Building Student Capacity in the Middle Grades

Project-based learning (PBL) is being embraced by schools nationally and across grade levels. Educators know that each grade level comes with its challenges as students are in a variety of developmental levels and abilities. However, through practicing 21st century skills in a PBL environment, students can build their social, emotional, and cognitive capacity. 

Because the middle grades are a paradigm shift for most students, middle-grades teachers are presented with an exciting opportunity to engage 21st century learners, but they also need to keep in mind that these students need unique scaffolding.

Read more »

ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

A Small School Takes Big Steps for the Whole Child

Post submitted by Whole Child Blogger Robyn Gee

What could prompt a high school student who once upon a time wanted to become an Egyptologist or a race car driver to decide in her senior year that she wants to become a teacher?

Maybe it's the fact that Janet Gil is a student at Quest Early College High School, which was recognized this year with the Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award.

Working in partnership with Lone Star College-Kingwood, students at Quest can earn a high school diploma while simultaneously earning an associate's degree or two years of credit toward a bachelor's degree. "We have structures that are very nontraditional, and not academic, in place at our school," said principal Kim Klepcyk. "We include some soft skills that other schools weren't attending to. Traditional schools say that they want students to be active citizens, but what does that mean? There's no way to assess these abilities."

Read more »

ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Eight Tips to Engage Your Students

Post submitted by Whole Child Blogger Tymeesa Rutledge

"We cannot use the excuse 'I've always done it this way,'" said speaker Laura Erlauer Myrah.

In the ASCD Annual Conference session "Instructional Tips to Tell Teachers," Laura Erlauer Myrah provided eight tips for educators and teachers to engage their students and allow them to remember concepts taught in class. The eight tips cover categories such as the body and brain, movement, emotional environment, collaboration, relevant learning, enriched environment, and Net Generation learners.

In the first category, "body and brain," Erlauer Myrah referred to research that supported children needing oxygen and water so that their brains would not become dehydrated. She suggested that teachers open windows in the classroom, have plants in class, allow students to carry water bottles, and educate parents about the need for students to get adequate sleep.

But students need more than proper sleep, hydration, and oxygen to remain engaged in the material. Erlauer Myrah offered a tip on how to make a lesson that students can be engaged in. She provided research from Sheryl Feinstein, "Handling Specific Problems in Classroom Management" in The Praeger Handbook of Learning and the Brain (2006), as the basis for her tip on how to change the lesson plan to accommodate how the brain works: You should capture your students' attention in the beginning of a lesson. For example, when you begin class, instead of using the first 10 minutes to take attendance or review daily tasks, use that time to teach the most important concepts. This is the time that students are most engaged, according to Erlauer Myrah. For the next few minutes, allow the students to "pair and share" what they have learned with one another. Then, use the next seven minutes of prime time to teach some more concepts.

The four main takeaway points that teachers should want for their students are: know the concept, want to know more about the concept, know what was learned, and know how students can use and apply the concept.

A 1st grade teacher from Southern California enjoyed the session and felt that she could use the tips for her students.

"What I really enjoyed about the session were the practical tips given," said Lisa Taylor.

Another member of the audience was also inspired by Erlauer Myrah's tips.

"I loved the session. It was inspirational, motivating, practical, and respectful of the hardships and challenges within the education world," said Marcia Richards after she had finished dancing a two-step to Kool and the Gang's "Celebration." She also has hope that teachers will "continue to make a difference in children's lives."

This session suggested that in the 21st century, teachers should embrace the changes that are happening in the world and allow them to be available to the students. The old ways of teaching are of value, but if the students aren't engaged and learning anything beyond the classroom, they will not be prepared to thrive in this new world.

Tips that can be used in the classroom:

1. Body and Brain

  • Open windows.
  • Have plants in classrooms.
  • Allow your students to have water bottles.
  • Educate parents and students regarding the need for adequate sleep.

2. Movement

  • Ask your students to stand instead of raising their hands.
  • Questions around the room
  • Clapping rhythms
  • New location for important material

3. Emotional Environment

  • Make every student feel unique and secure.
  • Meet and greet.
  • Give recognition.
  • Listen and show interest.
  • Expect respect from all.
  • Relationships transcend everything.
  • Emotions and memory

4. Collaboration

  • Collaborative learning/projects
  • Pair and share (tell students to talk to classmates and practice answers)
  • Connections with other levels
  • Connections with community

5. Relevant Learning

  • Make the relevance obvious to students.
  • Make it interesting and fun through your delivery.
  • Experience learning.

6. Enriched Environment

  • Challenging problem solving
  • Physical classroom
  • Play music during tests or writing.
  • Use of music: a. Primer; b. Carrier; c. Arousal/Mood

7. Assessment and Feedback

  • Know it well.
  • Remember it always.
  • Use it readily.

8. Net Generation Learners

  • Youth don't see working, learning, collaborating, and having fun as separate experiences.
  • They believe in, and want, these experiences occurring simultaneously in school and in future careers.
  • This generation wants to problem solve and innovate.


Klea Scharberg

Ask Dr. Judy Willis Webinar: Strengthening the Brain's Executive Functions

Join renowned author, neurologist, and teacher Judy Willis for an exciting free webinar on strategies to promote executive functions and goal-directed behaviors, especially critical during the school years when this highest cognitive system undergoes its most profound changes.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011, 3:00 p.m. EDT
Register now!

The last part of the human brain to "mature" through pruning and myelination is the prefrontal cortex, the seat of executive function such as judgment, critical analysis, prioritizing, deduction, induction, imagination, communication, reflective (versus reactive) emotional control, and goal development, planning, and perseverance. These executive functions are needed now and will be even more critical for the best job opportunities and creative problem solving in the 21st century as globalization and technology continue to rapidly change the skill sets needed by the students who will lead us in the coming decades.

Connect with Willis on ASCD EDge and on her website, RADTeach.com. Watch her archived webinars below:

Explore forthcoming and archived ASCD webinars.

ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Helping Struggling Students Learn How to Learn

Post submitted by Whole Child Blogger Matt Swift

Why some students "get it" and others don't when it comes to learning is a problem that many educators struggle with at some point. Betty K. Garner discussed what can help these struggling students achieve and overcome the obstacles that cause their struggles. Garner offered practical tips as her audience at ASCD's Annual Conference learned how to get their students to do the same.

Garner started the session by asking the audience to close their eyes and think of a beautiful thought, a practice she uses in the classroom. This allows endorphins to release and gets students to use their imaginations and be creative. Getting students relaxed and creative can help them learn in other areas.

"When do we ask kids to wonder? When do we ask kids to reflect?," asked Garner about this practice. "This allows students to be still for a few minutes ... it's just a valuable tool."

Garner told the audience to come up with lesson plans that "provide and encourage" students to learn on their own. These lesson plans should ensure students are doing the work and learning their subjects and not expecting the teachers to do all the work for them. Many audience members responded when she asked them whether they had ever spent hours on a lesson and had the students take just a few minutes to finish it. This, she said, was the educator doing the work for the students, and this is not a true learning experience.

"Let them do the work," she told everyone.

Throughout the session she said that sensory input, visualization, reflective awareness, and prior knowledge will develop cognitive structures in students that ensure they know how to learn by themselves. This will create what Garner calls "metability." This is a concept she developed that is the "dynamic of learning, creating, and changing" and will help struggling students.

"Learning is created by the learner," Garner said. This, she stressed, is the most important thing everyone should take with them after the session. "What we will do is see how to equip the students with the ability to learn how to learn."

For more information from this session, please check out Garner's session handout (PDF).

ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Boosting Graduation Rates: A Success Story

Post submitted by Whole Child Blogger Hunter Holcombe

How does the poorest school district in Iowa increase its high school graduation rate every year since 2005—from 68 to 78 percent?

As Martha Bruckner and Ann Mausbach explained in their example-rich ASCD Annual Conference presentation "Badges, Buttons, and Beliefs: Ten Dynamic Ideas to Increase Graduation Rates," the answer is complex.

"Unfortunately, there is no magic answer," Bruckner said. Yet in the hour-and-a-half session, Bruckner and Mausbach presented an impressive compilation of methods that, when used collectively, can result in major graduation rate improvements.

At their district—Council Bluffs Community School District—success was the result of several distinct initiatives. One of the most important was their ambitious long-term strategic plan: 100 percent graduation.

"We have a strong belief here that 'All Means All'," Bruckner said. She admitted that many in their community might scoff at such a seemingly impossible number, but it was that commitment to thinking of every single student as a "must-graduate" that helped them look at the problem, one student at a time.

Another major requirement, particularly in a poor community such as theirs, is that the district must partner with the community. From parents to after-school programs to regular community members, everyone must be on board, communicating and working together, to keep the students from falling through the cracks. At the core of their strategy are 10 ideas:

  1. Strategic Plan
  2. Class of Buttons
  3. Attendance Checks
  4. Promise Activities
  5. SAMs (School Administrative Managers)
  6. Lateral Capacity Building
  7. Summer Exploration
  8. State of the Schools/Data Consults
  9. Data Walls
  10. Grading/Learning Recovery

The second idea, Class of Buttons, is one of the most unique. All students are given "Class of ..." buttons to wear and take home, which ties students mentally to their graduation year. In addition, teachers stop referring to their class as "4th grade," for example, and instead call it the "Class of 2023." The district has witnessed young students arriving at high school graduation ceremonies proudly wearing their own "Class of ..." buttons.

Another novel approach, Attendance Checks, creates incentives for the children to come to school. Students are placed into groups, which are given awards if they collectively reach high attendance levels. This creates inner-group peer pressure on the kids to show up so that their friends in the group don’t suffer the consequences of their own absence.

The SAM is a new role designed to take administrative stress and daily distractions away from the school principals, freeing them up to better manage the teachers and spend more time in the classroom. The SAM is a middle-management position, so it does not take up a large chunk of the budget, and the net effect on the principal's efficiency is considerable. "It has changed everything," Mausbach said.

Laura Varlas

The King of Ish-ful Thinking

Peter Reynolds - 2011 ASCD Annual Conference

When Peter Reynolds' teachers dared him to teach others, through art and storytelling, they uncorked the genie of Ish-ful thinking.

At the second general session of ASCD's 2011 Annual Conference in San Francisco, the award-winning children's book author, illustrator, and software designer (FableVision), shared some of the backstory to Dot and Ish, and how educators can incorporate the maxims from these books into their classroom culture and practices.

Dot encourages readers to "make their mark and see where it takes you." Ish builds on this theme, advocating that there are no prescribed "right" ways of imagining and creating.

How well do all schools reflect these values of creating something meaningful to yourself and the world and breaking free of conformity and standardized thinking?

Reynolds suggested six essentials for classrooms that support creative ideals:

  • Environmental Cues: How does the physical space of our schools encourage creativity?
  • Open-Ended Invitations: A blank page, or a blank screen, invites creative thinkers. Let the good stuff come from you and your students, not scripted curriculum, said Reynolds. "Bottled-up creativity leads us to consume, not create. We need to make more."
  • Expressive Tools in the Hands of Students: Reynolds demonstrated a digital drawing tablet that turns a computer mouse into a pen. "Technology lets us explore and share ideas, and see what else is possible."
  • Time and Freedom: Reynolds said teachers need more time and freedom to dive more deeply into learning. "We're much more creative than standardized testing. Standardized testing is like dial-up in a broadband world."
  • Visionary, Enlightened, and Engaged Leaders: Reynolds aimed this appeal not just at school leaders, but political leaders who need to "get it" that creativity is not just a once-a-week art class. It's every day, across curriculum. Art can connect the dots between the subjects and fun.
  • Love: Let every child know they exist and they matter. Ask students, who are you? Where have you been, where are you going, and how will you get there? Reynolds' middle school math teacher noticed him and connected the dots between doodling in class to using art to teach lessons through stories. Know that you change the lives of your students for the better, and let that prompt you to do it even more.

ASCD's Annual Conference is an "opportunity to stop and imagine what next year could be like," noted Reynolds. He called on educators to express themselves bravely; to be kind, creative, and generous and to "let no one squish your ish or the ishes of the ish-ful thinkers around you."


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