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The School Improvement Specialists
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Division Anchor Chart

Here is a tip from School Improvement Specialist PJ Toburen. She provides a tool for a teacher to help guide students through division in the event the teacher is not available to walk the student through the process.

PJ mirrors the language and strategy used in the curriculum, so there is common language of instruction and less chance for students to get confused.

PJ also lets the teacher know that “It could be written as a large anchor chart or it could be printed and placed in the Math Notebook in the section labeled “Resources”. Gradually, fade the teacher lead and have students use the chart to solve long division problems. The goal would be to have them practice enough to internalize the strategy and become independent.”

See the chart below and if you have any questions let us know at

 Division Anchor Chart

Tips from the Field: Sponge Activities

A sponge activity is something that teachers give students to work on as they come in the room or to keep the students busy while the teacher takes care of necessary business, like taking attendance, getting the lunch count, or collecting notes and homework.  They can also be used when students are waiting on line.  Sponge activities have the dual role of not just increasing instructional time (minutes add up-topic for a future post), but also keeping students engaged and behaving well.

Here are some suggestions of sponge activities developed by teachers and shared with our school improvement specialists:

A Sound Idea 

Make a tape of sounds from the environment on your phone. Have one with crickets chirping, cell phones ringing, water running, a thunderstorm, a kitty mewing. When the tape is played the students are asked to identify what the noise is. Keep a numbered list for your own reference so you don’t forget what’s on it. The younger children especially like this activity.

Silent Math 

A transition activity I have useful in both 2nd & 4th grades is Silent Math. During the times your entire class is lined up and waiting, have one child start by using fingers and hand signals to give math problems. (Example: Hold up one finger (1), then make a plus sign (+), then two fingers (1+2). Lastly, put one hand above the other facing in opposite directions for the equal sign(=).) If a student wants to answer, he/she must raise their hand to be called on. They must give the answer using fingers and hand signals. The kids love it and it keeps the noise level down!

What Is It?

Put something in an opaque bag. Let students feel the objects without looking at it. After everyone has had a chance to think about what the object might be, list his or her guesses on the board. In order to eliminate certain guesses, have students list the properties of the object that they were able to ascertain from touching it. Narrow the choices down to those that fit with the descriptions

Twenty Questions

Pick a topic such as An Object in the Room, A Famous Person, An Animal, etc. One student must think of something in that category without telling the rest of the class. Everyone else must guess what the object is by asking Yes or No questions. The student that picked the object must ONLY answer Yes or No to the questions asked. The class has twenty guesses.

A Hoarse Horse:

(For a group in line, have them just tell 2 homonyms and what they are.

Line up Codes

Ask the children to get in line by alphabetical order. You could go from A - Z or try Z -A for a change. (Have children place themselves in alphabetical order by first or last names.

Have a good idea you want to share? Send them to .  

Tips from the Field: Five Easy Steps for Managing Two Instructional Groups

A common question that JP hears from our new sites is, “How do I manage two reading groups in the same period?”  Sounds like you might need to make use of magic OR you can follow the advice of PJ Toburen, one of our School Improvement Specialist (You can learn more about PJ and our other team members by clicking on this link: http://jponline.com/about-jp/our-team. )

One of the many benefits of working with professional development specialists is you get to draw on their experience. There is no need to reinvent the wheel.  JP has collected and gathered volumes of field-tested solutions. By keeping track of time proven strategies, we assist our schools in being successful and saving time that can be applied to other things, like instruction. In this case, PJ pulled from her personal experience plus ideas from Randy Sprick’s The Solution Book. Here are her Five Easy Steps:

First, time should be divided equally among the two groups. If Reading is scheduled for 75 minutes, realistically each group should receive instruction for 35 minutes. That allows time for Bell Work and transition of the groups.

Second, set the room up for success.  For programs that are taught in chairs, the transition time would be from the student’s desk or table to his/her assigned seat at the chairs.

For groups that are taught with students at their desks, one of the easiest setups is to have rows of desks where one group sits on the left-hand side of the room and the other group is on the right-hand side or have the first two rows face the front and have the  last two rows face the back. This does not necessitate moving all of the desks.

It may very well be that, for another class, you want all the desks facing forward. If that’s the case, simply have students move their chairs to the other side of the desk so that they are facing the back. From the front of either group, the teacher can monitor students who are working independently. And, one group will not be distracted by the other group.

Third, instruction should begin immediately. Chatting with students does not communicate the importance of instructional time.

Fourth, it is important to design procedures so that students can ask questions. One example of an effective strategy is for a student to set up a book vertically on their desk and then go on to the next problem. When there is a natural break in the instruction, the teacher can call on students who placed the open book on their desk.

Another effective strategy is to create a 2 foot square question box on the floor with masking tape. A student with a question stands in the box until the teacher calls on him/her. An important rule with this strategy is that only one person can be in the box at a time. The box should be placed where the teacher can easily see it, but so that the student will not distract other students. The box should not be close to anything that the waiting student could play with.

Fifth, one of the greatest challenges of having two groups is providing meaningful seatwork for those are working independently. Seatwork should be at the students’ instructional level. If it’s too easy, the student may misbehave because they are bored. If it’s too difficult, the student may constantly interrupt to ask questions about the assignment or misbehave. Also, if the work is too difficult, there’s a high probability the student will do it wrong. Any time the student practices errors, it becomes much more difficult to master the task.

So, what do you provide for independent workers? More skilled readers can complete the independent work from their reading program and then read a book. Younger children or more naïve readers cannot be asked to sit and look at a book for thirty minutes or more.

The teacher needs to plan ahead for seat-workers. I am sure that most of you are thinking, “More work???” The reality of it is that nothing is more tiring than dealing with disruptive students and misbehavior. If you plan for seat-workers, you will minimize the behavior challenges you face.  Fortunately there are a myriad of things available online. Here are some recommended sites for resources:

The Florida Center for Reading Research has an almost limitless supply of worksheets and activities available for free: http://www.fcrr.org/for-educators/sca.asp

The next link has what it calls the “Ultimate List of Printable Math Manipulatives and Worksheets.” (And, it lives up to its name!) For example, if you don’t have geoblocks, it has a printable sheet to make your own. Then, it has worksheets of activities that can be done using the paper geoblocks. It also includes patterns to make games, Houghton Mifflin’s Math resources online, free printable Math Resources, and online games related to Math. http://jimmiescollage.com/2011/04/ultimate-list-of-printable-math-manipulatives-games/

The following is a link to what is called “Cookie Sheet Activities.”  They are pretty much geared to Kindergarten, but may give you some ideas about how to provide seatwork that is not another worksheet. http://www.classroomfreebies.com/2012/11/cookie-sheet-activities-math-concepts.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+ClassroomFreebies+(Classroom+Freebies)

Try these five steps and let us know how you do.  We always like hearing back! 

The Business of Schools is Instruction!

In today’s ever expanding role of the school, it is easy to lose ourselves in the plethora of new initiatives and responsibilities being added to the already existing list demanding so much of our time. Amidst all the activity, we can forget the primary task of schools: Instruction.

The cornerstone of effective schools is instruction.  All other factors (and these factors are important) should support the work of instruction. It is essential that each teacher in each classroom recognizes that they are part of a larger system--the grade level, and then that group is part of the school and the school is part of a district, and so on. This necessitates that there is alignment, appropriate support and clear direction—all functions of effective leadership.

Too often schools see the district as a separate entity-an “us against them mentality” may exist. The fact is without substantial engagement by the central office, schools do not see any substantial and sustained improvement. The objective, the “sweet spot,” is when central office administrators and school leaders (and school leaders and their peers) exercise essential leadership together to build capacity throughout the district.

Working in tandem, leaders should:

  • Investigate the investment of staffing and other resources at multiple levels of the system
  • Align staff and resources with learning improvement goals to enhance equity and leadership capacity
  • Explore the reinvention of central office work practices and relationship with the schools to better support district-wide improvement of teaching and learning.

In short, a re-culturing of all levels and members of the district should be explored with the goal of a focus on instruction and student achievement and what must be done to accomplish that objective.   A system of support and communication around a central message regarding instruction is essential.

The adoption of an instructional framework containing components that support instruction is integral to ultimate success.  Such a plan should identify:

  • Appropriate instructional models (curriculum) based on a review of the data
  • An efficient data management system (efficient meaning collects the right data, analyzes it, and distributes the information so that principals and their teachers can use it to guide instruction on a weekly, if not daily basis)
  • A behavior management system

Efforts should lead to a configuration and exercise of leadership within elementary, middle, and high schools to enable more focused support for a learning improvement. Effective instruction needs a strong culture of accountability to take root. Everyone one in the district must accept the belief that they are all accountable for the instruction of all children. One of the objectives of leadership, therefore, is to help each person to define what their specific role is and what support and resources they need to be successful in that role.

Visit JP’s website (www.jponline.com ) and learn more about how we can help you implement your leadership vision and support instruction.

Roll Call or Getting to Work? Getting to Work!

PJ Toburen, one of JP’s School Improvement Specialist, works with a wide variety of schools, and very successfully.  She is a passionate educator and coach.  She visits her schools monthly and always leaves them with something to help them move to the next level.  Here is one such set of suggestions she left recently for one of her teachers:

Harry Wong (author of The First Day of School) says that your first priority when class begins is not to take the roll; it is to get the students to work.

An assignment must be available, and the students must know the procedure for getting to work immediately. Do not destroy prime time with non-prime time activities such as taking the attendance, making announcements, answering questions, or collecting papers.

To prepare the students for the day's instruction, they should enter the classroom and begin with a class routine. A typical routine could be:

  • Quietly walk into the classroom.
  • Get a pencil as you enter. (These must be available for the students.)
  • Begin BELLWORK assignment on your own.

Bell Work or “Do Now” as Doug Lemov (author of Teach Like a Champion) calls it is an activity the teacher has ready so that students have something to do immediately upon entering the classroom. Here are some guidelines he suggests:

  • The “Do Now” should be in the same place every day so that it becomes habit for all your students. You can write it on the board, post it on a piece of paper in advance, or put it in writing on a sheet of paper–wherever you put it, keep it consistent.
  • Students should be able to complete the “Due Now” without any direction from you, without any discussion with their classmates, and in most cases, without any other materials you provide. So if the “Do Now” is to write a sentence interpreting a primary source document that is a 19th-century French cartoon, that cartoon should be posted somewhere easily visible to all or copied into the “Do Now” materials. If you have to give directions, it’s not independent enough.
  • The activity should take 3 to 5 minutes to complete and should require putting pencil to paper. That is, there should be a written product from it. This not only makes it more rigorous and more engaging but also enables you to better hold students accountable for doing it, because you can clearly see they are (and they can see that you see). It must not morph into the entire lesson.
  • The activity should generally preview the day’s lesson or review a recent lesson.

During Bell Work, a responsible student from each group may be asked to distribute the materials.

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