This Poem Is NUTS!

It is NO secret that I love poetry.  As an educator, you should too! Poetry is a powerful vehicle of language.  Poems contain figurative language, grammar opportunities, and lessons on perspective and point of view in short manageable packages.  Poems are a way for us to provide rigor without overwhelming the reader. Rhyming poems offer an added benefit for younger readers because the rhyming helps them build phonemic awareness and see patterns in words.

Poetry helps students build word recognition and automaticity with repeated readings and sometimes predictable rhyme patterns.

A missing element in our instruction is often GRAMMAR.  Poems offer educators text to examine punctuation and grammar “Do’s and Don’ts.”  Anyone who has looked at an e. e. cummings poem has been exposed to a new world of looking at words and punctuation. Students are able to look at the use of parts of speech in context in small phrases which makes it easier to study the purpose and impact.

I use a strategy called THIS  POEM IS NUTS (more about this on our PD Day)  to help students navigate their way through poetry.  I use the idea of “nuts” to show the differences in poetry and other genres.  Poems use their own rules and ways of doing things which is very different from other genres such as lines instead of sentences, stanzas instead of paragraphs and figurative language that holds hidden meanings.

Look at the following excerpt from Emily Dickinson’s poem Summer Shower:

A drop fell on the apple tree,

Another on the roof;

A half a dozen kissed the eaves,

And made the gables laugh.

A few went out to help the brook,

That went to help the sea.

Myself conjectured, Were they pearls,

What necklaces could be!

The dust replaced in hoisted roads,

The birds jocoser sung;

The sunshine threw his hat away,

The orchards spangles hung.

This excerpt was accessed from the following website on 12/12/2018:



Within these three stanzas are opportunities to discuss verbs used in unusual ways.  The author creates images with nouns that are unconventional, implying that, the sunshine has a hat.   Diamante poems are an easy way for teachers to use poetry to focus on the power of grammar use in writing.  Helping children see why particular punctuation is being used such as the semicolon or comma, helps them understand their purpose within text.  

Poetry allows the educator to teach skills at a sentence or phrase level rather than an entire paragraph or selection. (When you are teaching skills remember that you teach first on a word or sentence level to paragraph to selection to multiple selections.)  You do not begin teaching the skill of context clues within an entire selection because it is too much.  You must isolate the skill to one sentence until they understand and make the level more difficult and add more text.  By moving through this progression level when you teach your skills, it allows students to grasp the concept on a concrete level before moving to a more complex abstract level.

Poems offer a way for students to apply their reading strategy and make true sense of text. When you read a free verse poem, the first response is normally—what? This response is that you did not comprehend the text and what you do next proves whether you know how and are comfortable applying strategic strategies. If you apply reading strategies such as rereading, chunking the text, or applying context clues, etc. than you have proven you know how to apply the needed skills to make meaning of text.  Poetry offers TONS of opportunity to TRULY engage students into using and applying skills and strategies as they read. Some of our students do not even know they do not understand while others see that there is a break down in comprehension quickly. It is the understanding that there is a loss of meaning that separates struggling readers from our strongest. Strong readers make mistakes but they have “read attack” skills and apply them automatically. For the rest of our students, we must teach this skill.   It is rare for our higher students to truly grapple with text. Poetry is embedded with vocabulary and figurative language that even our strongest readers are not proficient. This ensures that ALL of our students are challenged with rigor and learn to see what it feels like when understanding is breaking down and how to apply reading comprehension strategies to fix it.

For example, look at the excerpt from Emily Dickinson’s poem, I like to see it lap the Miles:

I like to see it lap the Miles –

And lick the Valleys up –

And stop to feed itself at Tanks –

And then – prodigious step

Around a Pile of Mountains –

And supercilious peer

In Shanties – by the sides of Roads –

And then a Quarry pare

This excerpt was accessed from the following website on 12/12/2018:

Immediately when students read the first stanza, they think that the poet is describing an animal because of words such as lick, feed and lap.  The words tank and prodigious normally are skipped because they do not make sense for the reader at first. The second stanza is usually where students stop and say, “I don’t get it.”  This should make you happy because they are realizing that they are decoding the words but not making meaning of the text. Having students return to the beginning and begin to question the text and chunk the lines into phrases to really think about the meaning and hidden figurative language embedded in the words helps them think deeper.  The key word is “tanks” because this just does not make sense for an animal. At this point, strong readers will realize that they must think figuratively. Think of the opportunity here to model for students how to “fix their break down in comprehension” with modeling, guided questions and student discussion.

Finally, poetry provides creativity and the opportunities to see and think from other perspectives. Poetry is a world where any object or setting can take on a new persona.  Poetry is a world where “things are NUTS” and sometimes do not make sense but open to possibilities. Poetry provides a world of imagination and a place that educators should WANT to run towards.

Resources for you:

K-1 Exemplars 2-3 Exemplars 4-5 Exemplars

For TES specifically–

This Poem Is NUTS- strategy for testing– see Kelly or a 3-5 teacher if you want to learn more

‘Tis the Season for Brain Breaks

‘Tis the Season!  We think of the season as a merry time with fun and memory making but it can also bring tons of stress to our families.  December can be filled with worries of custody schedules, work schedules, money and balancing all the elements of life. January intensifies these worries with added stress of bills collected in December. Our students are the recipients of much of this stress because they are “in it” and have no control to fix or change the situation.


Food for thought coming back in January:  

Judy Willis M.D., Edutopia Article, stated the following, “For students to learn at their highest potential, their brains need to send signals efficiently from the sensory receptors (what they hear, see, touch, read, imagine, and experience) to memory storage regions of the brain. The most detrimental disruptions to traffic along these information pathways are stress and overload.”  Providing our students with “Brain Breaks” often throughout a lesson can help students obtain optimal retention of information and attention.


Your brain contains 100 billion neurons or brain cells.  These cells have the primary job of receiving information and signaling other neurons using electricity or chemicals to stimulate messages within the body. The hypothalamus is the regulation center of the brain.  It keeps your body at a constant; including temperature, heart rate, etc.  Learning happens when neurons are activated and a message is sent along the axon.  When repeatedly stimulated a process called synapse is created. Synapse is created when two neurons are connected from the end of the dendrite. The creation of dendrites is when the brain is relating information that is important within the brain and “filing it” for retention or when the brain makes a learning connection which puts it in our memory.


When the brain is exposed to stress the body begins to release cortisol which is the primary stress hormone. This chemical affects your heart, lungs, skin, immune system and circulation.  In addition, it stimulates the hypothalamus and when it reaches the neuron, it shuts off the impulses of the dendrites which halt learning.  This is a temporary response and the dendrites will grow back UNLESS there is a long term period of stress.  When stress is repetitive the brain will respond by short circuiting that pathway which will stop impulses and result in the lack of input and messaging.  Many of our students are in a constant state of stress from instability at home, lack of confidence in a subject, poor self-esteem, and relationships with their peers, etc. This constant state of stress causes inability to stay on task, inattention, and lack of self-control.


Implementing a “Brain Break” is essential to keeping learning happening and can be a natural way for students to “sum up learning” or thinking.  No more than 20 minutes of any activity should be taking place in the elementary school without a change in thought or activity.  A person’s attention limit is approximately their age plus one –a second grader only has an attention span of about 8 to 9 minutes!  By rebooting the brain, you restart the learning process by restoring to a calm state and producing dopamine.


Three Ways to Implement a Brain Break!


  1. Use the summarizing throughout the lessons that was featured the last two weeks.


  • During teaching stop frequently and ask students to talk to a partner and summarize learning or their ideas. To change things up you can have students draw, write or act out their learning as well.


  1. Read Aloud for a few minutes after an activity or lesson to calm and relax students while provoking thought.


  • Read aloud and stop often to discuss or have students act out scenes, visualize through drawing or writing or to chat with a partner about an event or character.


  1. MOVE.  Have students move such as jumping jacks, walking in place, sing a song with movements or throw/catch a ball.  All of these activities help to produce dopamine and increase blood flow to the brain.



  • Just free movement for 3-5 minutes can get blood flowing and stop the production of cortisol in students.  Don’t forget a great site with videos to get them moving.


Enjoy your Christmas Break and think “January Brain Breaks.”

Move Beyond Complacency

I said a few weeks back on my update, “Success is a catalyst for failure,” which was shared on the George Couros’ blog. This quote seemed to fit the atmosphere in my school building of “good enough.”  We are doing well by standardized test measures and better than most people would expect in some ways.


How did that sound?  It hurt to type those words actually, but, a complacency has fallen across the building. Is this because of me?  Am I not teaching enough? Am I not inspiring or motivating others enough?


This week I read this quote:


Success breeds complacency.

Complacency breeds failure.

Only the paranoid survive.

—-Andy Grove


In case you didn’t know, the author of this quote it is Andrew Stephen Grove who was born in Hungary.  Hungary was a one party communist controlled country .All businesses were confiscated during this time in the name of “egalitarianism” and became a total dependence on the state or government for their well being and needs. Andrew Grove escaped his country at the age of 20  to the United States. Here he completed his education and became a successful businessman and CEO of Intel.


Think about this man for a minute.  Reread his words:


Success breeds complacency.

Complacency breeds failure.

Only the paranoid survive.

—-Andy Grove


If we live in a state of “it is ok” then the results we get are mediocre. The “paranoid that survive” are those that constantly think good is not ok.  


I feel every organization, school and or business survives, thrives or is destroyed by the principles that uphold this quote. You can survive by doing what NEEDS to be done to function.  But staying in the survival state and NOT changing will ultimately be your demise. It is only by those who are “paranoid” and keep things moving in new directions, growing, and learning which breeds success.

3 Ways to Move Beyond Complacency:

  • Be a Lifelong Learner AND be Willing to TRY!   Learning new things, putting them in notebooks and then on a shelf–does not make change. Be willing to step out of your comfort zone and try new ideas.  What is the worst thing that can happen? No Change? You get that by not trying anyway!
  • Be “OK” with not being in the crowd.  This is hard because we all want to belong and be accepted.  However, if you are stepping out of the box and the norm–you will often be criticized by others.  This is definitely hard but the gifts you do receive are growing as an educator, student growth and self satisfaction. 
  • Be Willing to FAIL.  Failing at something is hard but you cannot win if you do not fail. I often say “It takes a lot of wrong answers to get to the right one,” and that is true.  You will not succeed every time but YOU will gain knowledge and continue to move forward.


Stepping out of comfort or complacency is hard but recognizing it is even harder. If you have fallen into the trap of everything is fine or ok—take a risk and try something new.  It is with this risk and challenge that YOU will grow and OUR school will grow.

Power of the Conjunction

As a school, we have been working to have students speak in complete sentences are now moving towards having them using complete sentences in their writing.  Now that we have conquered this piece, it is time to move forward to compound sentences.


Students need to begin learning to combine ideas so that their sentences are longer and more coherent. By reading complex text, students SEE how authors’ put their ideas together in different and unusual ways.  It is this exposure that helps our students see that we can change up a subject and a predicate or combine like ideas into one sentence. We do not always speak this way and therefore–we do not write this way.


Have you listened to your students speak?  I mean, really, speak. Ask them a question.  Listen to their response. Do they speak in complete sentences naturally?  Are the sentences coherent and distinct or a stream of consciousness? List the characteristics you notice.  Ask your students to write about a topic for a few minutes. Compare this writing with the characteristics you noticed in their speaking—are they similar?


The next step after a complete sentence is a compound sentence. Show students how to combine subjects and adjectives to keep from having to write repetitive sentences.  Begin showing students how they can use conjunctions to tie their ideas or sentences together. A subordinating conjunction which is simply a word that can help you extend your sentences to make them longer and more complex.  Subordinating conjunctions include the words for, but, and, yet, so, or and nor. This can help your students transform their understanding of syntax. For example: Spiders have eight legs. Insects have only six legs. These sentences can become:  Spiders have eight legs, yet insects only have six.


Simple changes can help students extend their thinking and sentences.  More complex subordinating conjunctions include the words: after, although, as, as if, because, before, even though, if, once, since, though, unless, when, that.  These words help students further explain their ideas and make their sentences more complex. We use the conjunction because to answer the simple question of why!


Taking the above sentences:  Spiders have eight legs. Insects have only six legs.  We combined these with the conjunction–yet. Can it be done other ways?

  • Spiders have eight legs but insects only have six.
  • Spiders have eight legs even though insects have only six.
  • Insects have six legs though spiders have eight.
  • Insects have six legs when spiders have eight to help them sense prey on their webs.


How did the use of conjunctions change my last sentence?  It is important we show students that sentences can be built in many ways.  We want sentences both written and oral to “sound good” but to also provide the most detail in the most efficient way.  

Why We Need Self Regulation Education?

When we are educating our students, we must consider where they come from each day and enter our building.  So many students enter bouncing and moving while asking questions and boisterously making comments. Why do we have this constant movement, questions and lack of control?  Many things are contributing to a shift in our student populations. One reason is our families struggle financially which puts a huge stress factor on the family. In addition to poverty, we have students dealing with traumatic situations or medical/mental health issues that cause deficits in learning and a lack of emotional regulation.


Poverty, trauma and ADHD all cause similar characteristics including:

  • Lack of follow through
  • No consideration of consequences
  • Interrupts
  • Learning gaps
  • Vocabulary and language deficits
  • No impulse controls
  • Over or under response to stimuli


Have you ever thought about our students who are one on one with technology for more than 4 hours a day?  

Over stimulation with technology continuously works the left brain which actually affects how the prefrontal cortex, cerebellum and parietal lobes mature and develop.  A person who is overstimulated with technology can be confused with the same characteristics of students who have been involved in traumatic situations, have ADHD or live in an poverty stricken environment.


What do these three parts of the brain do?  

The prefrontal cortex of the brain is charged with complex cognitive thinking, decision making and moderating social behavior.  The cerebellum is the center which receives information from the sensory systems which regulates your motor movements. The cerebellum helps to ensure balance, coordinating and affects your speech.  The parietal lobe integrates a person’s sensory input.



Speech and communication is impacted as well as how people interact.  If you cannot regulate your movement and the sensory input–what do you think you will have in your classroom?


Our push to begin class meetings (morning meetings) is to begin to build a safe environment for our students.  Students must feel safe and cared for before they can learn. Helping students learn how to socially interact, deal with problems and their peers.  


Model how to handle different situations and what we do when we have strong feelings or emotions that take over. Students must understand how emotions control your actions and learning.  Role playing and conversations help students SEE what they should do and helps to reshape behaviors. 


Think of the students you serve and how they are unable to self regulate–what do they need?  Post your ideas for class meetings below!

Text Features Lead the Way Through Non-Fiction Text

Literary elements are the “skeleton” of fictional text.

These literary elements give fiction structure but what about non-fiction?


Non-fiction is “held up” by the text features and signal words which help to determine the “skeleton” or structure of the text.  An author creates a text structure by designing or writing the text by using common text features to “build” the main ideas.  The signal words are embedded to let the reader know what ideas are important and to better understand them.  The main structure types of non-fiction are:

  • Cause and effect: describe cause and effect relationships.  The text describes events and identifies reasons (causes) for why the event happened.
  • Description: text that visualizes information which utilizes sensory and descriptive details that provides the 5W’s about a topic.
  • Sequential: chronologically organized from beginning to end
  • Compare and Contrast: comparisons used to describe an idea and similarities and differences are shared
  • Problem and Solution: author introduces a problem and presents solutions

Text features must be explicitly taught to help students navigate through informational and non-fiction text.  These features help readers “see” how the author crafted the article or selection. The use of subheadings, columns, graphics, and other features help the reader determine what is important.


Educators spend a great deal of time teaching text features because we want them to navigate the text effectively.  This intentional instruction is important—right?  The answer to this is “YES” but that is simply not enough for a young reader to fully navigate the text. They must be taught the different text structure types, text features that accompany each structure and the signal words that the author uses to organize a selection.  Together these elements are used to create a text and help a reader find and understand the main points of the selection.  Explicitly teaching signal words helps students determine how the author organized or structured the information for the reader to understand.  Signal words are the author’s way of helping  the reader see and understand the main points.  Signal words help suggest and show the reader how the author has structured their writing to help you better understand the text.

Click this site to see important signal words to focus on:


What Questions Do Text Features and Signal Words Help a Reader Determine?

  1. How do I navigate a text?
  2. What main ideas and details do the author feel are important?
  3. What type of TEXT STRUCTURE does the non-fiction selection have? (The text features and signal words guide this!)
  4. What is the author SHOWING you that is important?  How? (text features and the author’s craft)

In conjunction with text features, an author uses signal words to help a reader determine the structure that was used to create the text. Please click this link to see a chart which shows the text structure types and signal words:


I have created a guide for students to use to determine the text structure of a text.  This is a step by step process and requires students to interact with the text and self question.  They must determine what they see and how it is organized using text features and signal words. Understanding the structure helps students to apply the correct type of note taking, look out for main ideas and to make sense of what the author finds important.

Click here for the guide:  analyzing-text-structure


What can you do to teach text structure explicitly?

  • Teach text structures using examples of texts and discuss how it has been organized.
  • Take text features out of a text and allow students to figure out where the features should go and why.
  • Discuss main idea sentences and key words that show a certain text structure.
  • Model how to preview a text and to collect information from the text prior to reading and information they can gain while reading in the form of annotation.
  • To solidify learning have students write using that specific text structure to ensure they understand how this type of text is crafted.


Check out resources below from FCRR which can help you gain more ideas about text analysis for students.  Student understanding of how something is written helps to aid their comprehension. We know that teaching by genre can help a student better understand fictional text by knowing what elements they are looking for as they read. Once a student knows they are reading a fairy tale, they know that magic will be an element and contain a heroic event.  If the child is reading a tall tale, they will understand that hyperbole is an element which aids in the understanding that the story may not make sense at times but is meant in a humorous manner. Non-fiction and informational text takes many forms as well and deserves the explicit instruction that we provide when we teach literature.


Start noticing as you read non-fiction text, what text structure the author has utilized.   Notice how you read differently if you know it is organized sequentially rather than in problem solution format. How does it change what you are looking for as you read? Do you take notes differently? When you notice how you read differently—you will see the importance of showing your students.


Florida Center for Reading Research Text Structure Resources:

FCRR: Text Analysis (Grades 2-3)

FCRR: Text Analysis (Grades 4-5)

FCRR: Expository Texts (Grades 2-3)

FCRR: Expository Texts (Grades 4-5)

Don’t Skip it—Use Context Clues!

As we focus on vocabulary, I think it is important to really think about our statement to students when figuring out unknown words:  JUST READ AROUND IT.  What? What does that really mean?

Be sure to explain that the word context means “a setting in which something is found.”  A clue means ” a hint.”  Understanding what these words means help you see why we use the term “context clues.”  We are looking to find a mystery word and looking for details or hints that help us see how the word “fits into the setting or sentence” in which the author has put it.

We HAVE to teach our kids what they are reading around for and where around means.  So, around really means before the sentence with the unknown word. I typically have students go back to the beginning of the paragraph unless it is really long and then I have them go up two sentences but tell them they may have to go up more if they cannot find any clues.

Once they find the place to begin, they need to know what type of things they are looking for. Here are a few examples of what context clues look like?

1.  Grammar or Syntax

Teaching students to look at the structure of the sentence for clues is a bit more advanced.  Is the mystery word a noun or verb?  Figuring out the part of speech is a clue that can help. Does the word connect or describe something?  Is the word present or past tense?  All of these small clues can help a reader figure out a word.

2.  Roots/Affixes

Finding the base in a mystery word is often an “AHA moment.”  Teach students how to break the word up and find known affixes. Teaching students prefixes and suffixes is very important as students begin to decode multisyllabic words. When a student comes across a word such as “deconstruction” they can see the base word is construct or even construction which has something to do with build.  If they learned de is a prefix and means down or away, they can get a good idea of the term.

3. Synonyms or Antonyms

Authors often put a synonym or an antonym in the sentence to help clarify a word for the reader. For example,
Richelle is gregarious, not like Kelly who is quiet and shy. Students can be taught to look for key words that signify an antonym such as not like, unlike, different from, or in contrast.  Words that signify a synonym are like, similar, compared to, and or.

4.  Comparisons/Contrasts

Teach students that authors often provide information that shows a comparison or contrast to another person, event or term.  This is very similar to the synonyms and antonyms but is not usually one word but a description.

5.  Explanations, Examples or Definitions

Explanations are the most basic because the answer is clearly given in the sentence. These are great!

6.  Author Techniques or Tools

Author techniques or tools should be taught directly like you would teach text features.  Bold print, highlighting, a change in font are all techniques an author may use to draw attention to a definition or clue. In addition, the hyphen or parenthesis will normally give a definition to the reader.

I know that all of these seem like common sense and for our strong readers–they do this automatically but for our struggling readers–they do not see them.  Take time to show students the smallest clues to figure out unknown words.

If you would like more information on how to make context clues “visible” for your students–stop by and let me know!  I would love to practice some with you so you can be prepared to help your students!



Context Clues Various Resources

I use this one most of the time.context clues graphic organizer (simple but effective)

Resource Packet for Grades 3-5

FCRR K-1 Vocabulary

FCRR 2-3 Context Clues

FCRR 4-5 Context Clues

I know this information is not new to you but wanted to stress the importance of directly teaching what clues look like for our students. If you need examples, let me know and I will send you some written work for your grade level.    If you have suggestions or ideas, please share them!

K-12 Reader has a ton of examples for all grades.

Readworks offers printables for all grades.

Have a great week!


Who Are We Teaching? Generation Z

We classify our “generations” to try to begin understanding their characteristics so we can better serve them as educators. Our current students are the “Generation Z” while the kindergarteners coming in begin “Generation Alpha.”  


Why does this matter you ask?  Students are changing and as educators we must change with them to maximize our effectiveness. What characteristics do these students possess?


Generation Z students are the children of the millennial generation. They are digital natives who have the world and endless information at their fingertips. Spending on average more than three hours a day on screen time. The written word (books) no longer have the value that something posted on the internet has to these children. These students are confident in technology and how to navigate but their ability to communicate in written and spoken word is lacking. Thanks to text message, Twitter and other quick social media sites that encourage quick thoughts, our students often struggle to spell, use punctuation and to see the need for formal written tasks.


Traditional schools provide a structured environment that many students do not have at home. Families are diverse and have complex relationships and situations which are often less bound to routine and structure of years past. This plays a strong role in a child’s ability to adapt in the classroom environment with rules, routines and procedures.


Some of the qualities that our young people possess are:

  • Less focused (they reach for a smart device every 7 minutes)
  • Absorb information in burst
  • Visual learners
  • Multitask (or try) across five or more screens where their parents used 2 or 3


Think of the implications of these!  As a teacher–can you see the need for engagement strategies and to allow student movement and collaboration?


One of the most interesting characteristics of our students is they are much more realistic than generations past. They do not know the world before 9/11, access to 24 hour news and the internet to confirm the details of violent acts. With this understanding that “government, systems and people fail, they have developed a harsh reality of the world.  Adding video games to the mix increases the visual stimulation to violence and understanding that distress that can happen. This increases the need for our students to feel safe. Despite this, they have a willingness to do “good things”and be helpful.


Our kindergarteners coming in are the start of the next generation who have been sitting in front of technology since birth.  They are children of more diverse parents who have faced more struggles financially or on the flip side have had more wealth. There will be a stronger divide of those who have and do not. Their parents are a bit older and more extended than ever.  The future changes are unknown but we will need to continue evolving our practices and ideals.


So What Do We Do?


A few strategies to begin:


  • Break up assignments and lessons to allow for short attention spans
  • MUST teach stamina and how to stick with hard tasks because they are used to quitting when it is hard
  • Use LOTS of visuals
  • Teach strategy to get through long texts without graphics because they do not know how to break up a text into manageable pieces
  • Use  instant feedback which they thrive on due to texting/social media
  • Start with WHY to show relevance (task oriented)
  • Must teach about work quality vs. completion

As educators, knowing WHO we are teaching–helps us know HOW we need to teach them. For me, I see the need for a safe school environment that is welcoming to all students. One that reminds students of the good things happening and how to make a difference. Teaching students that small acts of kindness do matter and that they are special.  Communication both written and verbal are so important for students to gain a strong sense of themselves and where they belong. Most importantly, to use technology as a tool to make their lives better but not to be controlled by it or hide behind it.


Articles read to inspire article:

New York Times online:  Meet Alpha:  The Next “Next Generation” by Alex Williams on September 19, 2015

Caylor Solutions online article:  5 Major Characteristics of Generation Z for Education Marketers by Bart Caylor on February 26, 2018.


Confidence Affects Neural Pathways

This week from Summer Reading Camp, I have heard students mutter in frustration, “I can’t! This is too hard!” I have watched teachers and assistants build students up and remind them of their strengths so they could tackle something hard. Watching this interaction has inspired me to review some information I have discussed in the past that centers around self esteem and how it affects learning.
Self-esteem or confidence actually resides in the frontostriatal section of the brain which is located between the ventral striatum and the prefrontal cortex (Decision making, personality and social parts of brain) according to Anna Almendrala (2014). The ventral striatum is associated with feelings of motivation and reward. Studies have shown that with continual positive or negative statements and emotions an increase or decrease can occur in the activity of this pathway of the brain. Therefore this affects the person’s self-esteem. Think about that statement and learning. When completing and activity that is difficult, such as reading, the student encounters negative emotions and therefore affects their neural pathway.
According to Susana Martinez-Conde from Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, our brain “makes use of two types of knowledge everyday: explicit knowledge (the “know what” type) and implicit knowledge (the “know how”). She uses the example of explicit knowledge is knowing your math facts which is something concrete but implicit knowledge is riding a bike which is something you know how to do. Implicit knowledge is not as easy to explain to someone because it uses many functions and actions to complete the action—you know how to do it.
Self-confidence is an element added to these two types of knowledge which affects our ability to share or retrieve this knowledge based on what she calls real memories or fake (subconscious). Our subconscious (fake memories) actually is the foundation for how our own confidence is ascertained. Our subconscious is much like a “recorder” because it is taking information from all of our senses and recording impressions. Our subconscious is different from other information taken in from our brain which is manipulated, organized and utilized in a purposeful way. The information from our subconscious is simply brought in and impressions recorded. When we are engaged in certain activities, these impressions will cause anxiety or enjoyment or lack of confidence based on previous information gathered by our subconscious.
Powerful Information!! Think about a student from a home where literacy is not celebrated. This could be for various reasons; parents uncomfortable reading, lack or unstructured time, unstable environment. The events are not necessarily remembered but an overall impression is being created in the brain as the subconscious records the events. These recordings are creating negative feelings that will be associated with literacy. In contrast, our children who grow up in literacy rich homes feel comfortable with reading and more willing to try because the subconscious has recorded positive attributes with the event.
The implications I have gathered through my research is that most likely our lowest performing students have developed a negative feeling or impression of the topic in which they struggle. When a negative thought is repeated many times it is actually being “recorded” and causes stress when the child engages in this activity. For example, speaking publicly is very difficult for me because I lack confidence in that area and I have over the years developed negative feelings about being in that situation. To combat this low self-confidence or negative feeling in our students, we must replace the negative connotation with positive repeatedly.
Positive affirmation can simply be a smile! Smiling, positive feedback, encouraging words and simply being patient can help a child begin to “record” positive subconscious thoughts as they engage in the activity such as reading. The more positive and comfortable the student feels, the more likely they are to try harder and build higher self-confidence. For students who are extremely shut down, a tangible reward paired with positive feedback can begin to create the connection between the task and a good experience.
Positive feedback and sometimes a tangible trip to the prize box will activate the ventral striatum (home of reward and motivation) which connects to the frontostriatal (home of self-confidence). When these two sections of the brain work together, you are increasing both self-confidence and motivation which increases the engagement and openness to learn.
I do caution here that over rewarding can have a negative affect as well because there is no clear understanding of why they are being rewarded and the connection to the task is not associated. It is important that rewards are clearly associated to the task or behavior you are wanting to change.
It is powerful to think that we can help change a person’s self-confidence and motivation. How often as teachers do we hear, “I can take a horse to water but I can’t make them drink.” I do not believe that old adage is true. With repetitive positive affirmation and helping a student feel success we can improve their motivation to try. This in turn will begin to build self-confidence. These factors together can increase the change of learning because the child becomes open to receive the information. We may not be able to “make them drink” but we can certainly motivate them to want to try!

Articles that were cited and helped inspire this Blog:
Article by Anna Almendrala for Huffington Post: on July 20, 2016.
Article by Susana Martinez-Conde and Richard J. Haier on June 2008 entitled Ask the Brains: What are ideas? Does confidence Affect Performance. Accessed on July 22, 2016:
Quote from
This entry was tagged brain, brain and learning, growth mindset, self-esteem. Bookmark the

Compliance or Empowered?

Recently in a meeting, I made the statement, “Compliance is not “ok” with me.” When I made the statement, there were many responses both aloud and quietly.  I was surprised that my statement evoked such a response. The negative undertones were apparent and I did not make a connection until I read this quote from George Couros’ Blog.  I thought, “exactly.” Sometimes we are happy that someone is doing as we asked but compliance is a minimal expectation in my opinion.

From George Couros’ Blog:  #INNOVATORSMINDSET


In my mind, when I think of compliance–I see this graphic:





When you think of these words in this manner. Where do you want students to be?  Where do you as a teacher want to be?


When a new concept is taught, we look for compliance or can they do it.  This does not mean doing something well; it means–getting it done or checking it off a list. With practice things become comfortable, a learner becomes involved/engaged. This to me is the practice stage. Successful is simply being able to master a concept but what we truly want is empowered. This means they have the ability to do something and implies motivation to do.


Motivation paired with the ability to do—is true learning. How many students can we think of that have the ability but simply will not do?  How many of our students want to do but don’t have the skills?


Building a learner’s motivation is just as important as the automaticity of the skills.


How do we build this motivation?  A 3 Step Process.


  1. Repetition:  We must repetitively teach content and strategies. We sometimes think that is boring so we want to change up our teaching BUT the brain likes repetition and that is how it learns. Remember it takes 24 exposures for something to “stick” but can be up to 100 for students struggling with a concept.This repetition builds automaticity or what some people refer to as procedural fluency.
  2. Accountability and Expectations:  We must hold our students accountable to what we ask. This is the expectation and therefore, our students must work to meet our “challenge” even when it is hard. If it is hard a teacher can add scaffolding while learning a concept but our goal is to remove that help slowly so a student masters the concept or skill independently without support. When things get tough–accountability is key.
  3. Reflection and Feedback:  Students must have time to reflect on their performance and learn to know if they were successful. If they were successful–what is the next step?  If they are not successful–where can I improve? It is this reflection that is paired with the feedback of a teacher that helps a student set goals and meet them. The process of reflecting and making changes from feedback creates motivation for the learner and without it—they know how to do it but don’t.


Think about your classroom–are these steps in place?  If you want truly empowered learners–find the pieces that need to be strengthened and take action.


Subscribe By Email

Get a weekly email of all new posts.

Please prove that you are not a robot.

Skip to toolbar