Wednesday, November 26, 2008


I made a couple of interesting observations. When I was teaching piano lessons, sometimes mothers would come to watch. It was fine with me but I noticed the students always played unusually terrible. It always surprised me because each student was used to practicing in front of theier mother every day.
One day in kindergarten a father came to visit our classroom unannounced. Again, it was fine with me but I explained that we were testing and it might not be very interesting. He stayed anyway. During the test he positioned himself directly behind his son. He didn't give him any answers to the questions but he whispered in his ear the whole time, things like, "I know you can do it", in an intense way. This may seem to be very supportive but the son performed badly on the test, much worse than usual.

WHAT I LEARNED: Childen can feel pressure when something matters desperately to us, even if it is not verbalized. We need to offer support and help but there must be quiet and genuine confidence that they will make right choices. I guess that is what faith is.

Monday, November 24, 2008

"Building bridges..."

When I was training to become a teacher, we learned the phrase, "Building bridges from the known to the new". I didn't realize the value of this statement until much later. It is much easier for students to make the leap to something new from something he already knows.
One day I was teaching shapes and I introduced the figure: semicircle. The next day I drew a semicircle on the board and asked if anyone could remember the name of this figure. One boy immediately raised his hand and said it was called diesel.
It took me awhile, several days, before I realized why he identified it with such a seemingly unrelated, unexpected term. His dad was a truckdriver and a semi truck and a diesel truck were very much related.

WHAT I LEARNED; Just because someone appears way off the track doesn't mean he is not thinking in an orderly fashion. Unlocking the thought process should be the goal of every teacher.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Carpe diem

Carpe diem = Seize the day! I am not sure about the latin spelling but I have learned that small moments must be appreciated immediately. I could usually tell when a kindergarten aide was inexperienced. Upon looking out the window, She would exclaim, "Oh look, it's snowing!" From then on, excited children were not interested in anything in the classroom. I learned to drop what I was doing, bundle all the students up and go on a "snow march". I would get my umbella with the frog eyes on top and we would march around the playground. Sometimes we would play "Follow the Leader". Sometimes we would try to catch snowflakes with our tongues. Most of all, we would capture the wonder and joy of a snowfall. All too soon, the beginning of a snowfall is over and the order of the day must be resumed.

WHAT I HAVE LEARNED: Learn to recognize special moments and take advantage of them. All too soon they are gone. Even regular moments can become special if you will take advantage of them.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Metacognition is thinking about thinking. Because I am married to an educator, my sister and brother-in-law are educators, this topic consumes more of our conversation than in most families.
I used to play a game with my kindergartners. I would show them a number of small blocks in my hand. We would count them so everyone knew exactly how many total blocks there were. I would put them behind my back and put some in one hand and the rest in the other hand. I would close my hands so no one could see what was in my hands. I would open one hand and have students count the number of blocks. Then I would ask if anyone knew how many blocks were in the closed hand. When a student got the number right, I would open up the closed hand and we would count to make sure. I would ask the student if he was magic. When he assured me that he wasn't ( though some 5 year olds still think it must be magic) and he couldn't see inside my closed hand, I would ask him to explain how he knew how many blocks I had in my hand. For the first time, many students were experiencing metacognition.

WHAT I LEARNED: Many think that those that are good at math are magic in some way. Students just have to think the right way. A good teacher teaches how to think the right way.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I Am a Child of God

I taught college students who were preparing to become teachers for a year at BYUI. I was asked to give a presentation on the Code of Ethics required by the State of Idaho. One point was that you could not teach anything religious like the song, "I Am a Child of God" Parenthetically I stated that while public teachers cannot teach songs like "I Am a Child of God" they had better treat each student like he/she was a child of God.
When I was teaching kindergarten in a public school, I decided I was going to like every child by the end of the year. Some were a bigger challenge than others, like the boy whose mother told me there were diapers in his back pack in case I needed them. (We had him potty-trained in less than a week. I have learned that most deficiencies a child has are really caused by the parent.) I learned to like this boy eventually and enjoy his guileless enthusiasm.
One girl caused lots of problems on the playground. One day she had been sent to my room during the lunch hour to wait for her aunt to come and pick her up. The aunt was beside herself and had her own family to take care of. She had explained to me earlier that this girl's mother had screamed through the phone to the little girl that she didn't want her.
As the little girl sat crying on my lap, I wondered what I could tell her. I couldn't tell her things would be better because I knew they probably wouldn't. All I could think was to love her and teach her that though she couldn't control others, she always had the choice to act how she wanted.
That experience caused me to think a lot. There were many kids in hard circumstances. I was powerless to change their circumstances. I decided that the best thing I could do was to make sure their experience in my class was one where they felt like a child of God.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Anti-Drug Program

While I was teaching, the state government came out with an Anti-drug program we were all supposed to use. Each classroom received a suitcase full of material they were supposed to use. The first thing we were supposed to do was give everyone a true/false test. I wondered how this would work in kindergarten since most kids are not reading yet. Being a dutiful teacher, I gave the test with a disastrous result.
After a couple years of siimilar experiences, I got rid of the suitcase and designed my own Anti-drug program. I decided that to meet the goals of the program, the best thing I could do was to teach them that they were accountable for their own actions. I knew some needed this on th first day of school. After explaining the classroom rules, (keep your hands and feet to yourself, raise your hand before talking, etc.) I would ask the qurstion, "Whose in charge of seeing that you follow these rules?" Immediately hands would shoot up. "The principal,the teacher, our moms and dads", they would say to which I would shake my head - no. I always knew which ones went to Sunday School because they would raise their hands and shout,"I know, I know, it's God!" When I still shook my head no, they were stumped. I explained that they were in charge and it was quite a revelation. Some enjoyed this new found autonomy.
Our new anti-drug program was playing a childhood game called "Chutes and Ladders" ( some people call it "Snakes and Ladders"). In this game the player rolls a die to see how many spaces he may move. There are pictures of children doing something nice or thoughtful or doing someting thoughtless mean such as pulling the cat's tail. Depending on where they land, they can either go up a ladder, closer to the goal of winning or down a chute where they must keep working towards the goal a little behind the others. No one is ever out of the game.
We would play the game first using a die to determine the outcome. Then we would play the game again with the children choosing how many spaces they would move. When I explained that they were in charge of the choices they made in life, good choices usually brought good results and bad choices usually brought unhappy consequences. They were amazed. From that point I only had to teach that drugs were a bad choice.

WHAT I LEARNED: The most important thing young children can learn is that they are accountable for their own acyions.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Our playground at school was covered with tiny rocks about 1/4 inch
in size. The principal decided that the punishment for throwing rocks would be to fill a large coffee can with the tiny pebbles using a small plastic spoon. As soon as the first student had to fill the can I had other students clamoring around me asking for a can and a spoon so they could join in on the fun.
Another surprise that made me think was when I wrote a note or gave a sticker to a student for being good hoping the "reward" would change behavior. The rest of the students started to wail, "I've been good too". It was true but I did not have time to write a note for every sthdent every day.
The most effective behavior modification plan was when I would consult with a parent. The parent would give the child something small to carry in his/her pocket. If the child came home with it, the parent knew it had been a good day. That way the child could be accountable for his own behavior without it becoming a public issue. In the first two cases the reward or punishment initially did not bring the desired behavior change.

WHAT I LEARNED: Rewards such as stickers or good notes are not always the best motivator. Skinnerian rewards work for training dogs as shown by Pavlov. Children will respond just as the dogs. They want to please as well as satisfy their own gratification but the outcomes are noy akways what one would expect.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

"I couldn't tell the difference."

Soon after beginning teaching kindergarten at Lincoln Elementary, the principal agreed to milk a cow in front of the school for some reason. My son, a high school student at the time, was somehow involved in bringing the cow to our school. That night at home he commented, on how the teachers looked and said, "Mom, I couldn't tell which ones were janitors and which ones were teachers." I was surprised for two reasons. First, I didn't realize a teenager, especially a boy, would notice what grown-ups looked like. Secondly, I am not a "fashion-plate" myself so I didn't think he came by it genetically. Nevertheless, I decided to always look like a teacher.
Later I was enrolling in some graduate classes at Idaho State University. I attended after my regular job at BYUI. I only had a short time before the administration offices closed and had to pay my tuition before the deadline. I became frustrated when no one seemed to want to help me. Finally, I walked into an office full of people who were ignoring me and said, "I'm trying to give this Unversity a lot of money. Can somebody help me? Everyone in the office were suddenly anxious to help. I don't think I would have gotten the same response or been as believable if I had been dressed like the janitor.

WHAT I LEARNED: Appearances matter.

Friday, November 7, 2008


In kindergarten we gave a screening test in the first few weeks of school to see how far kids could count and other things to assess what the students could already do. I thought I should prepare the kids so I told them they would be taking a test but that all the questions would be easy.
I had the first student sit on a chair in front of me and asked her, "What is your name?" She smacked her forehead with the heel of her hand and exclaimed, "I knew this was going to be hard!".
I hadn't realized that even kindergartners have test anxiety. From then on, we would practice test questions before a test so students could see that they could be successful and that they knew more than they suspected.

WHAT I LEARNED: If you will relax and not worry, you will be surprised how much you really know. Confidence is a big boost to success.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Joe II

I've introduced you to my student, Joe, and his enthusism. Later in the year, I made a list of words on the board to show all the words that could be made from the two letters a and t. (e.g. bat.fat, mat, and sat etc.) After the students had discovered each word I told them, "You are reading." Joe jumped up and said,"I'm reading! I've got to write this down!" Then he ran around the room looking for paper and pencil.

WHAT I LEARNED: Learning is exciting. We had better take note.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Early in my professional teaching career I had a student named Joe. He was the most enthusiastic of any student I had.
We had to learn the Pledge of Allegiance so I started by explaining that we are learning the Pledge of Allegiance because we live in the United States of America. Joe erupted in enthusiasm. He said excitedly, "You mean right here on Winther Boulevard (his address) is the United States of America?" I assured him that it was and he sat down and began learning the Pledge of Allegiance in awe.

WHAT I LEARNED: We take for granted the privilege of living in the United States of America sometimes and the many blessings this affords us.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Counting Club

When I began teaching kindergarten, one of the goals of the curriculum was to have each child count to 100. I started a 100's club. When a child could count to 100 they received a paper badge showing they had met their goal.
It became a pretty big deal in kindergarten. I had one student, a gentle, blonde girl who was developmentally delayed. Her mother had worked with her to give her every advantage possible. Though this student tried very hard and practiced every night, she could only count to 8.
One day the mother said, more like thinking out loud, "I wish you had an 8's club.". This got me thinking. I had learned in college that the image a student forms of himself in the first year of school, stays with him throughout his lifetime. I decided that my over-riding goal in kindergarten would be to help each child become a successful learner in some way. From then on, we had a counting club instead of a 100's club. Everyone was in the club. They received a badge according to which increment of 10 they could count to.
Our goal was still to count to 100. Some learned early and some learned late in the year but everybody was in the club. When they reached 100 I had them raise their hands like a victorious Olympic athlete and the whole class stopped what they were doing and clapped.

What I learned: It is important to have everybody in the club. Small goals make everyone successful in some way and breeds success for larger, more important goals.

Monday, November 3, 2008

I Begin my First Kindergarten Class

I started teaching professionally after earning my BA in education at Boise State University. I interviewed for a fifth grade position at Sunny Ridge Elementary, a rural school where my children went to school and a kindergarten position at Lincoln Elementary in town. I took the kindergarten position because my own childen were more near the age of fifth graders and I didn't want to come home to the same thing after dealing with fifth graders all day.
My classroom was in a portable unit behind the school. I was excited to get my classroom ready for the first day of school and make my lesson plans.
I don't remember a lot about many of my first students, except one. She was a Romanian girl , recently arriving in the United States and speaking no English. Her mother brought her to school on the first day but as soon as the mother left, the young girl started crying and trying to run out the door. All I could think of was how difficult it would be to find her if she got lost in the neighborhoods near the school and all the dangers that lurked there. What would I do if I lost a child the first day of school? It would be so much safer to stay at school until her mother came to pick her up. I didn't know what to do except hold her tightly in my arms so she wouldn't escape. I taught my first day of school holding her screaming and crying in my arms.
What I learned: Many times in life we think we would be better off if we could run away from a situation. If we will just take a deep breath and not panic, we will find that there are many people who want to help us. It will be OK!

Saturday, November 1, 2008


A few years ago I had to write an essay on the things that had influenced Language Arts in my life. Afterwards, I was thankful for the many influences that had affeccted me positively.
I have mentioned before that my Dad read to us at night. I still remember, as five little girls squeezed in close to him, the smell of a mixture of sweat and wood chips from his day's labor. To this day I can still smell the same thing with warm feelings and fond memories.
We read many of the classics, including poetry. As I've said before, they are a great blessing to me now. It gives me something worthwhile to remember and rehearse when I can't sleep at night.
Though it was usually my Dad who read to us, my mother listened to me read aloud every day after school. I remember sitting on the red couch with her and reading from my Dick and Jane book. I loved Dick and Jane and especially their little sister, Sally. I still remember when I learned to read the word "laugh", truly an impressive word.
One Christmas must have been particularly good in the typically "up and down" construction business. Besides getting the "bride doll" I had wished for, we got lots of books. We got the complete set of Brittanica encycopedias as well as a set of Science books, and volumes called "Lands and People". From then on, whenever I had question, my father took me to our books for research. Sometimes I was sorry I had asked. Passing by the living room an hour or more later, I would find my father still reading something that had caught his attention.
When I was in third grade we lived in the country near Star, Idaho. I loved to read. I would steal a flashlight under my blankets so I could read at night. I would read on the landing of the stairs or hidden in our apple tree until my exasperated mother would find me and remind me of forgotten chores. Still, she took us every Saturday to the Bookmobile, parked at the Star Mercantile, to check out more books
When I was in Junior High we lived in British Columbia,Canada. Television had not yet come to our tiny town and my Dad still read to us. Now classics for older readers broke the walls of the room. My sisters and I put on plays in the hayloft of the barn. Sometimes we had an audience of my Mom and Dad but most of the time our audience was the complacent cows.
When my children were in elementary school, each got to choose a book and we would read it together at night. Ben was in high school and didn't have much interest in novels. Most of the time he read the encyclopedia. I would catch him, however, when I read to the girls, listening around the corner. Josie chose to read "Little Women", Sara chose "The Life of Helen Kellar" and Emily chose "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Emily also read "Emily's Runaway Imagination" by Beverly Cleary with her Dad.
I don't think my experience can be replicated exactly, but I enjoy reciting poems together with my grandchildren. All tell me about the books they are reading and sometimes I read the same books. I am impressed with their parents and how they encourage their children according to each's own personality and need. .
I believe that reading can unlock the doors to any thing you do in life.