Friday, March 25, 2016

Helping Students Thrive Giveaway

If you participated in our #HashtagHunt, you saw pieces of this image all over our Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and other sites.  The full hashtag was #STThrive.  Now I'm sure you might be wondering, Why the heck would they choose that as a hashtag? Well, in true S.O.L. Train Learning fashion, we are going to tell you all about our hashtag and give you stuff too!

So, I got this idea awhile ago as I tried to think about an example that would fully encapsulate the environment that students now experience in the classroom with standardized testing.  I kept thinking, students aren't really thriving anymore.  They are just being taught how to survive.  They work to achieve standards.  We are teaching students to be standard, instead of reaching beyond standards.  They memorize enough facts to survive the test without truly learning.

This image plays on the idea of Darwin's Survival of the Fittest.  Students fighting to survive education.  We want them to love learning and thrive in their educational environment.  This is what we at S.O.L. Train Learning are all about.  We aim to provide resources that make learning fun, and more importantly, meaningful.  To that end, we would like to give some of our stuff away.

We would like to thank you for all your support and share with you that we now have over 2000 followers on Teacherspayteachers!  You have been an integral part of that and we greatly appreciate you.  Our giveaway has 3 prizes.  We will be giving away $25, $50, and $100 to our store.  Here's how you enter:

  1. Follow our store
  2. Tweet how you help students thrive in the classroom with #STThrive
  3. Share on FB how you help students thrive in the classroom with #STThrive
  4. Sign up for our email newsletter

Monday, March 21, 2016

3 Good Reasons to Celebrate Failure

"F." There it is, bold and unyielding, in bright red pen at the top of the paper.  This single letter brings with it so many connotations; I screwed up, I'm stupid, I'm such a loser, and most prominently, I failed.  No one likes failure.  It's a reminder of our humanity and along with that, our imperfection.  I'm sure you have both seen and written this letter on a test, paper, or other graded assignment.  This letter doesn't provide positive feelings for the giver or the receiver.  It's a letter so dreaded that it might as well be excluded from the alphabet.  That would be a hassle though as we would have so many words we could no longer understand.  Just as the alphabet needs the letter "F," your students need failure.

Now, I am not advocating "allowing" your students to fail or creating an environment that facilitates failure.  I have known some teachers that purposefully make the first test nearly impossible so students can get that first "F" out of the way.  This just isn't air (See what I did there?  Doesn't have the same oomph as with the letter "F" does it?).  Along these lines though, students should not be afraid of failure.  Failure is a healthy, inevitable part of life that should be embraced and leveraged rather than avoided.  My reasons are three-fold:

1) Failure pushes students to work harder:  If a student never encounters challenges, that student will never realize his or her full capacity for learning or achieving of any kind.

I was an "A" student.  My whole life, the Principal's Honor Roll was standard for me.  This wasn't because I was remarkable in any way, I just worked hard, and honestly loved to learn.  I was and still am a proud person, and couldn't stand anything less than excellence.  It bothered me to my core to get a grade any lower than a B, and even that took some concession.  There were a few times I would get low grades, work harder, and ultimately bring them back up.  It was my failure that showed me there was more room to grow.

When your students fail, it's important to show them this is a sign something has to change.  This isn't a roadblock, it's an opportunity to grow and excel.

2) Failure makes students braver and more confident:  If a student never meets opposition, he or she will never grow.  There is an entire website called The Growth Initiative dedicated to the idea that adverse life experiences lead to a stronger and more positive person.  It makes sense doesn't it?  Cliched though it is, Nietzsche’s claim that "what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger," is true.  Because once you have undergone a stressful or challenging life event, you realize something: You're stronger than you thought you were, and there are higher priorities in life.  

My straight "A" career may seem like the perfect academic success story until you start peeling away what those "A" grades did to me.  As I grew, it became increasingly difficult for me to accept failure.  Now, you're probably thinking, "What's wrong with not accepting failure?  Shouldn't everyone strive for excellence?"  Yes and no.  The issue with my aversion to failure is that it soon became a stumbling block for growth in my life.  I wouldn't set goals because I would fear not achieving them.  Why strive for something if you could potentially fail?

Once I actually encountered failures, and more importantly personal setbacks in my life, I realized life is too short to fear failing.  My father-in-law passed away three years ago from cancer.  He was in his mid-fifties and none of us saw it coming.  If you have ever lost a loved one, you know that kind of powerlessness and lack of control really puts things in perspective.  There are some things we can't control in this life.  You can do everything right and still fail. released an article in January of this year, stating that 90% of startup businesses fail.  Do these failed business owners hang their heads in defeat?  Some do, and some get up, brush it off, and become millionaires.  Read these 29 success stories of familiar individuals.

3) Failure is always an opportunity to learn:  How much more impact does an experience have on you when it is associated with failure?  For whatever reason, we have very strong emotions connected to failure.  It's how we're designed.  This PDF from Indiana University in 2009, addresses the negative effects failure has on individuals psychologically, and more importantly, addresses the result a positive outlook has on failure.  Continuing with my educational journey...

My AP US History teacher was tough.  Most of my class time was spent listening to lecture, taking notes, typing those notes into my computer at home, and then studying those notes.  This all culminated in epic tests that pretty much always had to be graded on a curve.  As an academic perfectionist, you can only imagine the effect this had on my psyche.  That being said, this teacher gave us the opportunity to do test corrections.  We would go back through the test and find the correct answers to the questions we missed.  I have to admit, once I missed a question on a test, the memory I associated with that failure helped me better recall the correct answer in the future.

The moral of this story?  Redefine failure in your classroom.  You will not only have to redefine for your students, but parents as well.  As you fully know, parents are sometimes harder on their kids than you are.  Do what you do best and teach about how failure is a positive thing and it's a wonderful learning opportunity.  I encourage you to try something totally outrageous and please, please share your findings: The next time a few of your students fail a test, encourage a brave volunteer to stand up and share his or her "F."  Rather than feeling shame, encourage your student to celebrate. Explain that you are celebrating this "F" because it means your student has an opportunity to learn and grow.  Use this time to remind students that failure is a part of life and it's what we do with it that's important.  For those of you that are subscribed to our newsletter, we will even be sharing a note you can send home to parents with a child's "F" celebrating his or her opportunity to learn.  If you aren't subscribed, subscribe above for great content and exclusive offers!

One last thing since this is part of our Educational Superhero series.  If you have not been following along, here are some links to catch you up: Post 1, Post 2, Post 3, Post 4, Post 5.  Redefining failure gives the learning process to your students.  You show them how to take ownership of their grades and you give them control over how to feel about them.  They don't have to be ashamed.  They have the power to change their outlooks and their results.  I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

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Have a great week!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Fun Friday Scavenger Hunt

Hey you!

Just popping in really quick to share our Fun Friday treat.  We're doing another Scavenger Hunt and it's sure to be a lot of fun.  This hunt is not based on who answers first so you have plenty of time to contribute.  Also, we'll just share a little something to jumpstart your classroom.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

What a Bouquet of Dandelions Really Means

"Oh crap, here comes another one," you think as what seems like the 100th child today brings you a bundle of weeds.  She smiles wide as her innocence has blinded her to the true nature of the dirt-caked monstrosity she's handed you.  Your very first bouquet was just so sweet.  How wonderful for a child to take the time to pick those flowers just for you.  But now, you could probably retire on the money you'd make if you had even a penny for each flower, I mean weed, you've been given.

It's so easy to dismiss these.  You think, "Aww that's sweet, but seriously, enough with the weeds.  All you're really doing is giving the landscapers less work."  Now, let's pause and see what those weeds are through a child's eyes.

It's recess time, and I can hardly contain my excitement; not because I'm going to rush to the swings or hurry to be first in line for the slide, but because I'm going to pick flowers.  I will spend the only 20 minutes of free time I get in the day picking the most beautiful yellow flowers.  They're not for me, or my friends, or even my parents.  They are for you.  I don't know they're weeds.  All I know is, they are beautiful and perfect, and I want to share them with you.  I love you so much that even though I spend every moment of every school day with you, I want to spend the few precious moments I have to myself, thinking about you and choosing a gift that is just perfect for you.

It's difficult to remember this, especially when her bouquet of flowers is the 1000th bouquet you've received this year.  I know I've been guilty of this many times.  You forget how much that bouquet means to them, and more importantly, how much your happiness means to them.  What a precious gift from practically a stranger!  So the next time you receive that bundle of weeds, consider it a pure and wonderful gift from someone who loves you unconditionally.  You can't help but feel blessed.  What better profession than this?

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Have a blessed day,

Monday, March 14, 2016

#1 Reason to Motivate Rather Than Dictate in the Classroom

Hello out there,

As you know, we've been sharing with you how to be an educational superhero.  If you need to catch up, here are the articles in order: Why This One Basic Teaching Principle is Holding Your Students Back, 10 Ways to Stop Sending Kids to the Principal, The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Project-Based Learning, 3 Steps to Easy Comprehension for All Learners.  Wow, that's a lot of reading.  Now that you're caught up, the basic premise behind all of this is teaching students how to learn, teach themselves, or even teach others.  I'm sure you're probably burning inside with a desire to hear the answer to the title of this post.  What could this #1 reason possibly be?  What do I mean by motivate rather than dictate?  Well, to keep you in suspense just a little longer, I'll answer the latter question first.

Since it's getting close to testing time, I'm sure you're feeling the pressure, more than ever, to push students to succeed on their tests.  Your very career depends on it.  It doesn't matter what you've accomplished if they fail the test.  Whoa, talk about pressure.  Then of course your pressure filters out to the students, and everyone's stressed out.  Not exactly an optimal learning environment.  You are so consumed by the burden of ensuring students' success that you talk at them, and practice test them, and talk at them some more, hoping, praying, bargaining; anything to get them to pass the test.  Can we talk about this meme from Education to the Core?
Can you really say you like doing this?  I would wager not.  Remember the good ol' days when you could just be a good teacher?  Well, I'm here to tell you to trust those instincts and march to the beat of your own drum.  Now, I'm not asking you to lead some kind of protest or start a coup against your administration.  What I'm suggesting is easy.  Motivate instead of Dictate.

Motivate Instead of Dictate  

Have you ever had a boss that spends 80% of their day, not only in your classroom, but breathing over your shoulder?  How about a boss that talks at you every single staff meeting and never pauses for feedback or questions?  Your boss is dictating, not motivating, and you hate it.  It's stressful, and sometimes even insulting.  Now think about that boss you only see at review time.  He or she has spent time to time in your classroom, asking you questions and praising your efforts.  You sit together for your review and he or she says, "awesome, keep it up."  Which boss makes you want to work harder?  Exactly! 

Now apply this to your students.  If they spend every day being talked at, given worksheets, practice tests, and being berrated by the addage "you must do well on the test," they will either crack, or not want to work.  Their motivation, at best, is fear.  When they are given a reason to care, though, everything changes.  Here are two practical applications for motivating:

1) Incentivize: At the beginning of the year, quarter, week, wherever you are, be transparent with your student.  We'll call her Susie.  Tell Susie where she is and where you would like to see her.  Ask her how she feels, and what she thinks she can accomplish.  Next, work together with Susie to set goals for each day, week, to accomplish larger goals for the month.  Decide what type of incentive you can offer.  My partner, Pam, offers Quality Quentin dollars in her classroom.  You can click here for more details.  Students are paid to do their job just as teachers or any other profession are paid.  This is a simple system to implement and teaches a larger topic of economics.  You can also offer computer time, prizes, "teacher for a day," or anything else your heart desires.  You can have students write down their goals in sentence form and how they will accomplish them.  For older students, they can write how they will feel when they accomplish their goals.  This can be easily incorporated into your writing time.  The most important thing about this, don't edit their writing.  Let this be free journaling time and you can work on editing with another writing assignment.  Goal setting needs to be unencumbered and positive.

2) Encourage Independence:  Explain to your student, we'll call him Fred, that he is responsible for accomplishing his goals.  Explain the consequences if he does not accomplish his goals, and focus on the benefits of accomplishing them.  Help him take ownership of his success and show him you are still available to him as a resource.  Consider your new role to be that of a textbook or search engine, or even a counselor.  You are there to guide and offer help when needed.  And of course, when he succeeds, PRAISE, PRAISE, PRAISE.

When Do I Teach?

Now I'm sure you're sitting here wondering, "ok so when do I teach and when do they actually learn new material?"  Refer to 3 Steps to Easy Comprehension for All Learners.  The best way for students to learn is to find answers and as Ms. Frizzle says, "...make mistakes."

Why Should I Listen to You?

Now the answer you've been waiting for since clicking that button.  The #1 reason motivation is better than dictation is: It prepares your students for an actual job.  Think about it.  As we get older, we are expected to take more responsibility for, well, our responsibilities.  No one is there to give it to us step by step or remind us every day, hour, minute, to get it done.  We have to take ownership of our success, or we fail.  Which brings me to next week's post.  Tune in for ways to Redefine Failure.  
An added bonus, your students will be happier because they have choices, goals, and a positive outlook on learning.  Not to mention, goal-setting is a huge part of success in adults as well.  You are teaching them life skills that they will carry into adulthood.  You're teaching them how to create to-do lists and accomplish what they set out to do.  You're teaching them follow-through and how good it feels to succeed.  This feeling carries into the testing atmosphere and rather than dreading that test, they walk in ready to kick its (well you know.)

If you're looking for more tips on test success, you can also check out 5 Secrets to Test Success.

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Ciao for now!

Give Away and SALE!

We're giving away a pot full o'Edubucks to our users, and entering to win is

1 Entry: Stop by the storefronts listed below to check out their awesome products. While you are there, follow their stores (tap the heart) and you automatically have 1 entry for the prizes! Be sure to come back to this post and visit EACH store for more entries!

3 Entries: SHARE how you celebrate St. Patrick's Day or complete the sentence "I'm lucky because..." on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #EducentsLuck!

5 Entries: Make a purchase (not a freebie) of any item from any of the storefronts below and you will receive 5 entries for the prizes!
Just click on our picture below to follow our store and click on the heart there to receive an entry and while y'all are there, check out all our products that are 20% off during this promotion. Remember you get more entries and more chances to win when you purchase items.

Here is our newest item that we just posted and is great for this week! Your kiddos will build sight words with fun shaped gold coins and we just included our words with real photos  from our March calendar to to build sentences. There are directions for this game included.
Below are a couple of pictures of my students building their sight words. I apologize for the glare from the laminating cards.

I will add pictures of the Build a Sentence part tomorrow after we have done it.

The words are from our Word of the Day March calendar. This would be a great time to try these calendar words! Introduce a new word each day and improve vocabulary as well as writing skills.
Here is just a sample of the writing done using the words  from our Feb. calendar words.

These are the other products that we have that will also help your kiddos learn these words in fun ways. They make great literacy centers! just click on any picture to see more about them.

We also have scoot games and unit bundles on Community Helpers,Goods and Services, Wants and Needs, Five Senses and Plants. All of these units have songs and activities that will keep your kiddos engaged and having fun as they learn!

We hope y'all will check out our store!
Good luck on winning!

All the store links are listed here as well as more information about what y'all can win:)