Vygotsky believed "cultural tools" significantly shape a child's cognitive development.  This might include the use of language to communicate as well as nonverbal cues that are within the environment and shape a child's behavior.    

Tools for thinking greatly influence a child's ability to learn, reason,  think logically and develop abstract thinking.  A calculator, abacus, map, numbers, ruler and protractor are all tools that appear in the school environment, but today these tools also appear in a digital form and have built in scaffolds to support the learner in acquiring the knowledge and skills  to use them. 

The cultural tools of Vygotsky's time are greatly different than the tools we have today. Imagine a child enters the classroom, takes an online diagnostic test which instantaneously determines their cognitive ability and is given a curriculum that is within their "zone of proximal development".  

Viva Vygotsky! The cultural tools we use in the classroom are much different than Vygotsky's time (1920's) however the notion that an educators purpose is to develop a child's ability with cultural tools to create and think remains a driving factor for teachers. Teaching with technology should not be a passive act where students sit and watch, but one where they interact, apply, create and explore with technology.  

Research suggests however teachers tend to teach they way they were taught. The 21 Century teacher is no longer a scripted reader of instructional content  With the birth of the Common Core came a new era of the modern teacher as an instructional designer, curator of content and creator of interactive learning. This requires teachers to become life long learners who are themselves exercising 21 century skills such as: communication with colleagues, collaboration with teachers from around to world in a personal learning network, critical thinkers of instructional tools and creators of personalized learning .
How do you meet the needs of the 21st century learners in your classroom?  In this presentation I examine the role of online tools and how they can be used to engage all learners in the classroom.

In the wake of school violence, suicide and a host of other social problems that plague children and youth, teachers and school districts are hurdled with another challenge, equipping children with the socio-emotional skills to thrive in a democratic society and lead a productive life.
In the next few weeks I will focus my blog posts on the social emotional skills (SEL) that support student growth and personal development; this includes relationship building, empathy and self-management strategies that not only develop children's ability to manage and regulate their behavior but research has also attributed to  higher academic achievement, happiness, self-worth and pro-social behavior.
So what is gratitude?   Georg Simmel coined it “the moral memory of mankind.”Gratitude encourages us to appreciate people, places and things but also repay them.  It's why I pick up litter on the street and don't say nasty things when I am feeling angry.  I know in my head that "this too shall pass" and "don't sweat the small stuff". The importance of teaching gratitude is paramount.  In a world where kids are constantly exposed to images, advertising, and world events that can rock their perception of what is meaningful, important and valued in our society we need to teach our kids how to show they care and are grateful.
Here are a few ways to teach gratitude in your classroom:
  1. First define gratitude with your students and explicitly model and recognize ways that students demonstrate gratitude with each other. Learning starts with understanding.
  2. Next, develop a mindset of appreciation in your classroom. Start the day with positive affirmation (see the glass as half full and not half empty). Use positive affirmations as journal prompts to respond and reflect on what they will do to make a difference in their life and in others.
  3. Provide opportunities for students to show gratitude to peers in their class and school.  I love the book "Have you Filled your bucket today" to teach younger children how to understand empathy and feelings. Older kids can engage in blogs to show gratitude to each other by providing compliments through blog post comments.
  4. Model and set high expectations for gratitude. It's vital for teachers to insist on politeness and respect as part of the classroom culture.  One quick classroom management routine is to greet students at the door and say "thank you for coming to class today to learn" at the end of the period stand at the door and have the students shake your hand and say "thank you for teaching". Tickets out the door can also be used to give gratitude.
  5. Integrate gratitude in all aspects of curriculum.  I am a strong believer that SEL should not be a stand-alone by product of your classroom curriculum but integrated as authentic activities and projects.  For example in an earlier post on building on life experiences students surveyed peers about what they did over the holiday break.  As an extension they can write a thank you note to a family or friend that made this event so special.
  6. Find a silver lining in all that you do.  The sooner children realize life is filled with high's and low's they are more likely to develop what Dweck defined as a "growth mindset"  and view bad experiences as areas for growth, rather than adopting a fixed mindset that believes experiences represent who they are and what they are capable of.
What other ways do you incorporate an "attitude of gratitude" in your classroom? Share your experience with us as we seek to develop gratitude in the work that we do as teachers and leaders in education.
Are you interested in sharing your best practices with preservice and inservice teachers? You can submit your ideas and receive peer-reviewed feedback for your CV. Please share, repost and comment below.  Don't forget to sign up for blog posts on our home page and receive Dr. Dickenson's Top Ten Tips for Motivating Minds in Today's Classroom.
Namaste :)

Goodbye Frank Shaffer circa 1985 you have been in our community long enough and your worksheets don’t grow dendrites.
Teachers if I can give you any advice please don’t waste instructional time with run-offs from your favorite fill-in-the-blank workbook. I’m telling you now it may keep your kids quiet for a moment but it won’t promote a love of learning and this TED talk will tell you why.
As technology becomes increasingly common place in K12 classroom  it is my hope and dream the rush to the xerox machine before the early morning bell will become less commonplace and time will be spent planning interactive and engaging lessons that do grow dendrites.
Teacher educators who are looking for a paperless way to have students practice phonemic awareness and sentence structure should consider Write Reader for student-driven products that encourage, creativity, imagination and practice of foundational reading skills.
Students can create a book using inventive spelling and upload pictures to illustrate their ideas just like a traditional storybook.  Student books can be shared virtually or printed to include in their assessment portfolio.  There is a section on the page for students to write and for an adult to provide corrective feedback.
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When creating the book students can type in words and here the sounds of the letters typed using their audio tool.  Images are easily insert via desktop or google search engine. Students can also use the audio dictate tool to narrate their story. Best of all the tool interface is easily managed by the classroom teacher who can create student accounts without any email needed.
This tool is specifically targeted for k-5 students however older students with learning disabilities can surely benefit from the structured format and additional support features that more sophisticated tools like Ibook author fail to incorporate.
I don’t do handouts in my class anymore.  We create our hand-outs, notes and products as an assessments of student learning.  Teachers please give up the habit of prepackage curriculum with a packet of workshop to assess students ability to fill in the blank and perform rote tasks.  Student-drive products are finally here and can be seamlessly integrated with a click, click, here, and a click, click there. Check out this student created book with audio narration.  Kids love hearing themselves read a story they created.
Got a tool to share? Would you like to write a post for this blog? Contact Dr. Dickenson with your idea: pdickenson@nu.edu

The excitement of school vacation doesn't end just because students have return to school.  From family trips to visiting relatives, students are filled with life experiences percolating in their mind. This excitement builds when they finally see their classmates and teacher with whom they want to share these experiences with.

Have you thought about ways you might build on student excitement and refocus their energy? Creating learning activities that build on life experiences and reinforces skills might be necessary before moving forward with new skills and standards.

Take a second grade class that has been working on writing addition and subtraction equations, they can practice this skill in the context of surveying classmates about activities they engaged in over winter break. While students are collecting data they also have an opportunity to share with their friends about their experiences. They can use this data to write addition and subtraction equations and create a word problem for other classmates to solve. As a whole class you can record all student responses into a larger graph for greater values. This activity reinforces test prep questions that often appear on the smarter balance where students need to read graphs and interpret information. You can bridge this activity across the curriculum by having students write a personal narrative, letter to a friend or journal entry about one activity they engaged in over break. Here is the activity and remediation strategies for Graphing Winter Activities.

 As this activity was created using word it can be easily adapted for spring break or summer vacation. Furthermore teachers might use this with older kids to create a bigger sample size and collect data outside of their classroom. Rather than having pre-selected activities, older kids can create their own responses for the survey so that results represent multiple data sets.

 What strategies are you using to build on life experiences and share students interests in your classroom?
A friend of mine went skydiving for the first time.  She never jumped before so her first jump was tandem.  This process allowed her to enjoy the experience of jumping without the stress of having to remember everything to do.  It can take 25 times of tandem jumping before a student can jump alone.
Tandem jumping is similar to teaching.  The first time we teach a concept our students might be at the 10,000 foot level.    We might need to model each step and explain the process and ask good question to get at the big ideas.  Students just like skydivers also need multiple instances of support and practice before they do it alone.
What makes a tandem jump and teaching successful is the way we build the experience so that students and jumpers feel success.  Success is experienced when students feel like they can accomplish the task, when they have the support that is needed to work independently and most importantly when they enjoy the process.
That is where scaffolding comes in…
For a teacher with a class of 25+ this can be a very challenging task.  That is why data-drive planning and knowing your learner is essential.  Tasks that build in scaffolding give students a cushion they may need to work through a task before they can jump alone.
Take for example a first grader learning to add.  You might have students who have automaticity with basic facts, and others who still need a visual model to add independently.  Knowing this you can build an activity like using playing cards to make addition facts where some students can add without counting the symbols on the playing cards and others can use this as a scaffold.

Teachers can also creating learning activities that will help support scaffolding in more cognitively demanding tasks. Take for example students who are working towards writing an essay about “How do the three branches of government work to create a checks and balance system of government?”

Having students create a foldable as a previous learning activity that will support scaffolding more complex activities like the writing prompt above supporters learners with embedded knowledge and skills that allow them to work independently.
Jumping into teaching without identified support and scaffolding is like taking your first jump without an instructor to show you the ropes.  We need to design instruction with this in mind so that our students can be successful and enjoy the learning process just like my friend enjoyed her first jump.
How do you scaffold instruction for students in your classroom?
Being a teacher is a powerful force, it can shake the surface of a young soul like an earthquake, and cause a ripple effect that can last a lifetime.   It is the”why” for many of us who enter the profession and the essence of being a teacher.  We want to make a difference and have an impact on another person’s life.  What we say and what we do, not only impacts the lives of students in our class, but also the lives of the people whom our  students come into contact. We are the ripple effect.
So where is the disconnect?
Why in the year 2016 have we come so far from peace, prosperity, hope, and change.  What have we forgotten in the classroom to foster these things. A country divided, and filled with violence, from school shootings to suicide bombers that have become the norm.  A drug epidemic that causes more deaths, than guns and car accidents. and obesity rates that continue to rise.  Where have we gone wrong? What have we forgotten.  Why have we become so numb and disconnected from ourselves and each other.
Growing up I was always connected to the saying “the eyes are the windows of the soul” the idea that we are all connected and this connection is evident when we look into another person’s eyes.
As a teacher, we call “withitness” the ability to be aware of what is going on in the classroom.  But I argue that withitness lacks the human awareness and connection we all need in our lives, the window to the soul doesn’t lie with the teacher who has eyes in the back of their head, but one who makes time for every student.  A teacher can have “withitness” and have a well run classroom where students work independently without any disruptions, but withitness won’t tell the teacher if a student is suicidal, abusing drugs or engaged is reckless behavior.
We are the ripple effect.  We can make a difference.  A personal motto can help you in your profession, define who you are and what you stand for as a teacher.  For me as a teacher, I was always connected to the saying “give students the most precious gift your time”. Time tells your students that you care.  It can be the change agent that saves a child’s life and makes a ripple effect that last a lifetime.
As a teacher educator, I want to be the ripple effect that impacts future teachers who enter the profession, with hope, empathy, and passion for what they do.  I also want them to know that students will know that you care for them when you take the time to listen to them.  Here are a few ways you can make time to show you care:
  • Use journals to foster creativity and create a dialogue between you and your students,
  • Arrive early to class and always great them at the door
  • Hold weekly teacher-student conferences
  • Invite groups of students to your class during recess or break for snacks
  • Stay after class to make yourself available
  • Create a suggestion box and survey students on their attitudes and beliefs about your class
  • Personalize content as much as possible with stories, examples and scenarios
  • Answer students questions completely and always ask if they have some.
  • Give students feedback that is personalized and specific
  • Ask students for their input, experience and beliefs
How will you make a ripple effect in your teaching practice? 
Please Facebook Like, Tweet, etc below and/or reblog to share this discussion with others.
Managing a classroom is a difficult task. Regardless of the age, grade or school environment each class will bring about management issues that a teacher simply cannot ignore.  A teacher is a manager whose primary role is to get students to complete tasks and support them in achieving goals. According to the Wall Street Journal (2015) managers have 5 primary functions:
1) Sets objectives. The manager sets goals for the group, and decides what work needs to be done to meet those goals.
2) Organizes. The manager divides the work into manageable activities, and selects people to accomplish the tasks that need to be done.
3) Motivates and communicates. The manager creates a team out of his people, through decisions on pay, placement, promotion, and through communications with the team.
4) Measures. The manager establishes appropriate targets and yardsticks, and analyzes, appraises and interprets performance.
5) Develops people. With the rise of the knowledge worker, this task has taken on added importance. In a knowledge economy, people are the company’s most important asset, and it is up to the manager to develop that asset.
From a teaching perspective management could be seen as:
1) Set objectives: Start each day with a clear objective, learning target and class goals.
2) Organizes: Chunk curriculum into tasks that students can accomplish, differentiate instruction to meet ALL needs and select pedagogy that will support all learners
3) Motivates and communicates: Set clear expectations, classroom rules, procedures, consequences and incentives that are clear, comprehensible and understood by all.
4) Measures: Use student assessment both formal and informal to drive instruction.  Provide students with immediate feedback, recognition and praise that is tied to their performance and behavior.
5) Develop people: establish relationships with all constituents at your school site and connect stakeholders in a way that builds on the most important assets in the community their children.
The similarities between teacher and manager are certainly clear and therefore begs the question what kind of manager are you?  Identifying one's strengths and weaknesses as a manager can surely support teachers in identifying areas of strength and places for growth.
Teachers do not enter the profession with the desire to be unsuccessful and managers who are not successful surely won't last for too long. Managers not only set expectation but also manage conflict.  The biggest mistake new teachers often make is turn over the management of their classroom to the principal.  This not only sends a message to the school leader (CEO) that you can not do your job as a manager but also sends a message to the student (your employees) that you are not authority when it comes to classroom discipline.
Mike Myatt (2012) warns managers "Don't Fear Conflict--Embrace it-it's your job".  Teachers must adopt the mindset that conflict is natural and healthy part of your job. Rather than perceive conflict as a impediment for teaching it should be viewed as an opportunity to develop your practice and for all to grow.  Perhaps then conflict would be confronted in a much more productive way and become in itself a teachable moment where all stakeholders can benefit.  Myatt (2012) also shared with managers 5 keys of dealing with workplace conflict which I will restate with a teaching lens
1). Define Acceptable Behavior:  Teachers need to make PUBLICLY clear what their expectations are and what is acceptable behavior.  Myatt notes that manager can not assume that people understand what is acceptable and should establish a framework.  Teachers likewise will also benefit from having clearly posted guidelines and expectations defined and simplified.  Expectations can be sent home and signed by parents and students.
2)  Hit Conflict Head On: Teachers just like managers need to seek out areas of potential conflict and devise strategies to intervene and circumvent disruptive behavior.  An ounce of behavior is worth a pound of cure.
3). Understanding the WIIF Factor: The WIIF factor is "Whats in it for me" is important for teachers to consider when managing disruptive classroom behavior.  Rather than approach a situation from the lens of I can't do my job because you are being disruptive,  approach the student from the stance of what the benefit is for the student.  If students see the value in what they are doing and how it will help them then they will be motivated to do the task.
4). The Importance Factor: Timing is everything and when we respond to conflicts in the moment this may cause us to act out of character or out of emotion.  Determining when to pull a student aside to discuss an issue is critical, but also teachers need to think critically about whether a potential conflict can be ignored. If students are constantly being redirected for behavior they can not control this can cause an uncomfortable dynamic in your personal relationships.
5) View Conflict as Opportunity: This is especially true for teachers as conflict in the classroom reveal areas for growth and ways we can support our students in being successful not only in the classroom but throughout their life.
Preservice teachers can certainly benefit from addressing potential conflicts they will face as new teachers in the classroom.  In this Voicethread post I challenge my students to respond to these 3 situations in a way that is proactive and seeks solutions that develop students' capacity to manage their own behavior.
When new teachers enter the classroom, they bring with them personal experiences, beliefs, and attitudes that shape instructional choices, interactions with students, and beliefs about the learner. Teacher expectations are strongly correlated to student achievement. As such, what a teacher believes about a student may become the expected outcome, and this is true for students with disabilities as well (Hampton & Mason, 2003).
The Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004), mandates public schools which receive federal funds to provide equal access to education for all children regardless of disability. Schools must evaluate students with disabilities and create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) with parental input, in order to educate students in the least restrictive environment (LRE), with the first educational placement consideration being a general classroom setting. Today, 57% of students with disabilities spend more than 80% of their day in general education classrooms, yet general education teachers consistently report that they do not have the skills they need to effectively instruct diverse learners, including students with disabilities. (Blanton, et al., 2011).
How do we change the knowledge, skills and dispositions of teacher candidates who are likely to work hundreds of students with disabilities throughout their career?
I remember the first time I learned from another colleague about Garret’s story. This story inspired me to think differently about how I prepare teacher candidates to work with students with disabilities,  because I heard the experiences, struggles and dreams of a parent and their child who has Down Syndrome.
We teacher educators must: share stories of students with disabilities so future teachers can understand the experience of living with a disability, provide opportunities to work with students with exceptionalities so future teachers can connect with students who have a disability, develop knowledge through research of learning disabilities so they can make informed decisions, and provide situational experiences (case studies) from which teacher candidates can reflect on their decisions and grow.
Here are a few tips for new teachers who are working with students with exceptionalities:
  1.  Learn about students disabilities by reading their IEP, talking with the Special Educator, and parents.
  2. Collaborate with families to set realistic goals, effective ways to communicate, and promote transfer of skills to home life.
  3. Spend time with students with exceptionalities,  get to know the student such as their interests, favorite things and what they do for enjoyment.
  4. Establish a relationship of trust and support with your student and design instruction that will incorporate their interest for motivation.
  5. Design instruction to support IEP goals for academic and non-cognitive skills as well. For example a student with Autism spectrum disorder might have a goal for emotional regulation strategies to self-manage behavior.
  6. Use progress monitoring to collect data of students performance both behavioral and academic across time.
  7. Create a safe and structured classroom environment that is predictable, and consistent.  Minimize distractions that might create an unpredictable and confusing classroom environment.
  8. Use multiple representations to teach a concept, multiple ways for students to engage and multiple ways for students to express what they know (UDL)
  9. Chunk information into small steps with illustrations, diagrams and cues to support learning.
  10. Incorporate visuals into instruction such as pictures, graphic organizers and multimedia.
  11. Show don’t tell (model your expectations) and always smile.

Have you worked with students with exceptionalities? How has this experience shaped your perception about creating an inclusive environment?
Check out my latest publication for more information on how to prepare preservice teachers for the inclusive classroom.
Ask the average 8 year old boy what he wants to be when he grows up and you will probably hear “make video games”.  Boys love video games because it gives them an opportunity to use their logic and reasoning skills in the context of a virtually crafted world that includes tools to build and create.

The idea of having “video game” time in any classroom would probably raise some eyebrows by parents and teachers alike.  But we know that creating an engaging learning environment means tapping into students interests so why not use the concept of video games to get students to read, write, do math and activate higher order thinking skills.
So that is exactly what I did, I finally took the plunge this week and let my son engage in an “Hour of Code
As an elementary teacher I could easily see the connection to mathematics, reading and 21 Century Skills.  My son had to read the directions to figure out what to do, he had to watch the video to see a visual demonstration of the process (multiple representations), and then he had to try his code out to see if the program worked.  When the line of code he wrote was not successful at achieving the task he went back and tried again.  The Mathematics Practice Standard “Make Sense of Problems and Persevere in Solving Them” was so evident in his thinking process.
The deeper he went in the coding process the more evidence for higher level mathematics.  He could use the “repeat loop” to write a line of code where a process is completed at a faster rate just like multiplication.  Then during more complex tasks he was introduced to the “If___Then____” statement which are conditional statements in math.  I was so jazzed to see the higher mathematics application being introduced to kids at a much younger age and they are motivated to do it because it is in the context of video games
The first few tasks my kindergarten completed as it required him to count the number of blocks and write a line of code that would get Steve a character in Mindcraft to shear a sheep oh yes the coding was about video games and they also have a Star Wars and Frozen version.  My eight year old son was so in the flow he promised me that he would write a blog post about his experience coding if I let him finish his task.
As a teacher I am all about creating an interdisciplinary lesson that includes not just math and reading but also writing so feel free to check out my son’s blog about what he learned from an hour of code.
Braeden’s Blog: The Code of Mindcraft
Please share your experiences on how you can or have used coding in the classroom?

Preservice teachers are required to complete four Teacher Performance Assessments (TPA) as part of the Preliminary Teaching Credential requirement. These assessments are designed around tasks that a classroom teacher will typically do throughout the school year such as designing instruction, supporting diverse learners, analyzing student data and classroom management. In a nutshell the TPA assesses a candidates ability to teach.

 Just like students have standards they must meet by the end of the school year, a preservice teacher must demonstrate competency in meeting teaching standards as well. Pre-Service teacher standards are the Teacher Performance Expectations (TPE).

 In TPA 3 Pre-Service Teachers are required to design an assessment related to a Unit of Study. The assessment can be a benchmark from a school district, chapter test from a textbook, or a teacher created measure. The key is for teachers to match the assessment with the standard they are teaching and articulate how the activities and tasks they are teaching will support students in mastering the standard.

 For example if the student learning goal is to:

 CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.2.NBT.A.3 Read and write numbers to 1000 using base-ten numerals, number names, and expanded form.

 The assessment should determine if student can:
 1. Read a number to 1,000 using base ten
         2. Write a number using to base ten to 1,000
         3. Correctly read and write number names
         4. Correctly read and write expanded form.

 Teacher Candidates are expected to design activities that would support ALL students in meeting the standard.  The teacher could use variety of measures and question types (multiple choice, open-ended, fill in the blank, matching, etc.) to determine if students have met the goal. They could even great creative and create authentic assessments such as having students manage a virtual checking account using Google Docs or an online webtool.

 Candidates should clearly articulate what mastery means. If all students are required to score at least 90% for mastery will this then support students in learning future concepts that require a strong understanding of these learning goals.

 Pre-Service teachers should be able to distinguish between different types of assessment and how they can be used to not only support student learning but assist the teacher in planning, and reflection on their teaching.

 In this Prezi I review the requirements of TPA3. I also have embedded videos that will help you understand how schools can and should be using assessment.