How did you set up the actual exercise? Were students told to give out all three cards and then monitor the feedback?

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Yes, the students created at least three cards.  One card had to be used at our school but off our team.  The other two cards needed to be used outside of our school.  The students will track the cards throughout the month of April, and then a parent is coming in to help them analyze their results.  On April 24th, Pay It Forward Day, we are having a celebration.  The great part is that the cards will be out in the world for as long as possible.  One card has already made it to a different state.  Since they each set up their own Google form, they will be able to track the results for as long as they want.

Teaching Tip: Pay It Forward

At times, life can be overwhelming.  (Thank you, Captain Obvious.)  We get overwhelmed with teaching, taxes, bills, family, etc.  This week, I had one of those days.  It felt like my entire life was being spent doing things for others, and I was downright feeling sorry for myself.  I was hoping that tomorrow would be a better day.

Then, came “tomorrow.”  It seemed as if someone was telling me that I needed to appreciate the great people and opportunities in my life.  My morning started with a trip to Starbucks.  Starbucks is a Friday necessity, okay, new tradition, for me.  When I pulled up to the drive-thru window to pay for my breakfast and tea, the cashier told me that the person in the car in front of me had already paid for my order.  I started crying.  (Emotional, much?)  I’m sure the cashier thought I was insane and was happy when I continued on my way.

You see, our team is participating in a “Pay It Forward” community service project.  I thought for sure that one of my students was in the car in front of me, but no, that wasn’t the case.  My students created Pay It Forward cards to pass on when they do an act of kindness for others.  When I didn’t receive a card, I knew it was just a stranger doing an act of kindness for me.  (For more about how to create Pay It Forward cards, here is a link to the directions I created with my students.  The cards have a QR code, along with a website address that takes the person who received an act of kindness to a Google form with two questions.  This way, the students can track where their Pay It Forward cards end up.  Feel free to use them with your own students or to create your own.) I have to give credit to my teammate, Mrs. S, for coming up with this idea. I also got the logo from the Pay It Forward Day website.

When I arrived at school, many students had shown up early to continue with their “acts of kindness.”  Our team had created little cards, with nice messages in them, to pass out to students, along with a chocolate hug, to everyone before they came into the building.  What a fun way to start the day!  Even though it was 27 degrees, they roughed the cold weather in order to spread some cheer at our school. They also held signs with motivational messages or Pay It Forward signs.  Here are just a few kids that participated.

This girl was covered in goose bumps, but refused to go back inside.

The funny part was the look that some students gave our students.  They weren’t quite sure why they were given a free piece of chocolate on the way into school.

Later that morning, I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Lambrecht.  Her son, Dalton, had passed away at the end of December, 2013, in a four-wheeler accident.  Dalton was a student at our school two years ago, and he affected people’s lives in many positive ways.  Here is an article about Dalton. 

At Dalton’s funeral, his mom said that she wanted people to “pay it forward” in honor of Dalton.  When Mrs. S, my teammate, contacted Mrs. Lambrecht about our project and that we wanted to do it in honor of Dalton, she had plastic bracelets made for our students that have “Pay It Forward” on one side, and DIFDL on the other (Do It For Dalton Lambrecht).  She also brought in stickers, buttons, etc.  I know that it wasn’t easy for her to come in to our school; it took a lot of courage.  Our student aides were in there also, and all of us were mesmerized with Mrs. Lambrecht’s stories about Dalton.  It is obvious that Dalton was a very special person, not only after meeting his mom, but by the friends that he chose and the acts he did for others.  It humbled me to think about how Mrs. Lambrecht is making sure that Dalton’s legacy lives on by encouraging others to pay it forward.

Needless to say, it was an incredibly emotional day.  It took two strangers and a bunch of students to show me that there is always tomorrow.  And because of them, I plan to make “pay it forward” or “acts of kindness” a part of not only my own life, but also a part of my curriculum each year.  What better way to have students become “productive citizens” than to teach them to “pay it forward.”  Next in my curriculum?  Students are completing projects in order to answer the questions:  1)  How will you matter in this world?  2)  What does the world expect of you?

Think about…how will YOU “pay it forward” today?

A Teacher’s Rant and an Apology to My Students

I’m at a loss. State testing is over…for now. Each year, I reflect on the testing process, and each year, I become frustrated. I know, I know…you are tired of hearing teachers rant about standardized testing. Here’s the thing…I’m not against giving students a test; I’m against HOW they are tested and what they are being tested on for our state standardized test.

In a society where we hear about 21st century skills and world-class education on a daily basis, why are we still testing like it’s 1999? Imagine spending the school year where you teach your students to be creative. I encourage them to use their critical thinking skills, collaborate with their partners, and don’t forget to communicate their thinking to others; it’s even better if they can communicate globally with other people across the world. Then imagine handing those same students a reading/writing booklet that is over 80 pages long, with a pencil, while making sure that they are sitting in rows, and don’t forget that their telephone (and yours) has to be a in a separate room. We also make sure that testing is completed in three days (9 tests), so that it doesn’t detract from their education, and don’t forget the time limit for each test. Oh wait, one more thing, the students are tested on information that the teacher has only had seven months to cover.

So, my students, I apologize. Agonizing over whether I will be evaluated on your results, but not changing my teaching philosophy, I apologize for not testing you on how I taught you to learn. Can you annotate the text while you read? No, sorry; you can’t write in the book, except “on the lines.” Can you talk through your thoughts with your partner first? No, sorry. Can you look up a great quote so that you have an interesting introduction? No, sorry. Can you use your phone to look up the word on the test that you don’t understand? No, sorry, and I’m sorry, but I can’t answer any of your questions either.

Students, were you tested on how to write and give a great presentation proposal or to write a strong debate speech? I don’t think so, but I’m not allowed to see the test, nor am I allowed to see what you still need to work on for the rest of the year. Yes, you AND I will have to wait to see the results once you have left my classroom and your high school teacher has become your new “coach.”

So, as you can see, it’s not the fact that I have to give a test. I like knowing how my students are doing; I only wish that my students could be tested like they are the rest of the year…in a real-world setting.

My rant is over, and unfortunately, I don’t know what to do to change how our state tests are given.

I know, my students, I teach you to go out there and change the world, to be passionate, to believe in yourself, and to take risks. I only wish that I could follow my own advice.

Oh, and just for the record, my feelings do not reflect my employer’s feelings. They had nothing to do with my thoughts as a teacher. :)


Need a Book Recommendation?

Since two different adults asked me for book recommendations today, I thought I would post them here for everyone.  Most of the year, I am reading young adult novels; I like to be able to constantly recommend books for my 8th graders.  However, if you are heading out on vacation, you might enjoy some of these titles.  Warning:  there isn’t a lot of brainwork going on when I read during the summer, so don’t expect thought-provoking novels.


1)  Ice Cold by Tess Gerritsen
2)  The Kinsey Millhone Series by Sue Grafton (A is for…, B is for…)  Love this series!
Regular Fiction:
1)  The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
2)  Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
3)  She’s Come Undone (kind of weird, but one of my favorite books) by Wally Lamb
4)  Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (one of my top 5 books)

1)  Home Front by Kristin Hannah
2)  My Sister’s Keeper  or The Pact by Jodi Piccoult
3)  Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts
4)  Fault in our Stars by John Green
Hard to put down:
1)  Divergent by Veronica Roth

Chick Lit:
1)  I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella
Historical Fiction:
1)  The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
2)  Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
3)  Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
4)  Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
What books would you recommend for a vacation-read?

Teaching Tip: Bring in some art!

It all started with a student request.  “Ms. Holst, can we have a day to just draw?”  Art?  Okay, I get that I teach a “Language ARTS” class, but I don’t always remember to bring in the arts. 

My students have been working hard on researching their topics for their debates coming up.  Research is difficult; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  It is a lot of non-fiction reading that is usually not written at the student’s reading level, and it definitely activates some brain cells. 

Thinking about my student’s request, I knew that I could work in art somehow, but I wasn’t sure how.  Then it came to me…writers should visualize their main ideas before they start writing. 

I created a lesson about propaganda, and I taught them how propaganda was popular during WWI and WWII because people couldn’t just be persuaded by commercials, like they are now.  We looked at war posters and discussed what made them more persuasive than others.  Was it the slogan?  The colors?  The images?

Next, I wanted them to visualize their main argument for their proposition.  What image do you want to create during your speech?  Then I set them free…there weren’t any restrictions on what they could do, other than that it had to be persuasive.  It was wonderful to hear their discussions while they were working.  I only gave them about 20 minutes to create their debate propaganda poster.  Here are a couple of posters that showed some great thinking:

I like how this student showed boxing going “underground.”






It’s important to gauge your students’ moods and listen to their requests.  Art doesn’t have to be a “foo-foo” activity at the end of a Friday, and it doesn’t have to be intimidating.   It can be used to teach students about imagery and how you have to first visualize something…before you can paint it with words.

Teaching Tip - Creating Intrinisic Motivation = Autonomous Learners

This past week, one of my colleagues asked me why I have started sharing my teaching ideas on my blog. I wasn’t sure where she was going with her question, but it did make me think. Do I do it for money? No, but that would be nice. Do I do it for a grade? Nope. It dawned on me that I did it for my own intrinsic motivation. I enjoy sharing ideas, and I enjoy reflecting on my teaching. End of story.

This started my mind whirling…how can I “create” intrinsic motivation among my students when it IS still for a grade?

I was lucky enough to attend the “Beyond Giftedness" conference on Friday. I attended a session by Dr. Robin Carey, Dr. George Betts, and Dr. Blanche Kapushion, and it was about creating learner-based programming. One of my big takeaways is that there are three levels of a learner-differentiated curriculum: explorations, investigations, and in-depth study. I started to wonder…how can I create a unit that lets students explore AND investigate any topic of their choice? Will students WANT to extend their own learning, if given the chance, and become autonomous learners? How can they show their learning? What standards will I assess? They will definitely need to have different options of reporting what they learned.

I have been trying to think of a unit to teach while some of my advanced students are editing their novels, from Nanowrimo, in order to get them published; I know that not ALL of them are excited about going back and tackling their book again. Can I just let my advanced class loose if I “flip” my classroom and provide the lessons by video on Edmodo? Would my LA8 classes be able to handle it also? Will it be productive or will it be chaos? (Okay, I sort of enjoy chaos if the students are learning and still having a good time.)

Oh geez, I’m starting to have Shark Tank flashbacks (my previous unit). I have this idea, but I’m just not sure where to take it yet. I know that I’m at a point that I need to discuss it with a colleague and get their feedback. But most importantly, I need to talk it over with my students. What do they feel like they need to learn before they go to high school? What interests them? Do I center it around a big question?

According to Nathan Levy, another speaker that day, he said that you need to get your students engaged, and to create a culture where kids speak up and take charge of their learning. He explained that in order to get them engaged, you need to connect it to a bigger idea. He also stated, “Things take time.” (That quote is taken out of context, but it is important to remember.) A strong unit in your class takes time…time to plan, time to initiate, and time for students to learn. But if students are using their intrinsic motivation, and not doing it for the grade, then the time is worth it.

Help? Has anyone else taught a unit like this before? Suggestions? Guidelines? Helpful hints? Anything would be appreciated.

Taken from:

Do gifted students KNOW that they are gifted?

Have you ever asked your gifted students if they are gifted? I did one time with my advanced class, and they gave me a funny look. The common reply was, We’re gifted? What does that mean exactly?

As part of my job as the Gifted and Talented Lead in my school district, we send out a monthly newsletter to the staff regarding gifted education in our district. It may contain opportunities for gifted children, resources that teachers can use, etc. This time, however, I wanted to include an article written by a student; it is important to me that educators learn about being gifted through the eyes of the kids in their class.

I asked one of my past students, Alana, if she would be willing to write an article for me. Of course, she said yes; she enjoys writing AND schoolwork (go figure). I didn’t give her a lot to go on regarding what I was looking for, other than to share what it is like to be a gifted student. After reading her article, I realized that she didn’t really “get” how gifted she is as a person. To her, it was more about being just a good student. I had to explain to her all of the characteristics that she had that were similar to a gifted student…and then I made her cut her article from three pages to one. You see, Alana has never been identified as a gifted student, but there is no doubt in any of her teacher’s minds that she is one.

Luckily, Alana comes from a family that has provided her with opportunities to be challenged, or she provides them for herself. But as teachers, we need to keep a close eye on those kids that are slipping through the cracks. Sometimes, they are ones that misbehave the most. Are they bored? Sometimes, they are the ones that are doodling while you are talking. Are they multi-tasking? Sometimes, they are the ones that are hiding the book that they are reading, while you are trying to teach. Are they looking for something to “strain their brain”? (Thank you, Alana, for that phrase.)

Tomorrow, keep a close eye on your students, and think of Alana. Try to look through the eyes of the student that doesn’t even realize that he/she is gifted.

Click to read Alana’s article. You won’t regret it.

Traits of Giftedness - in case you’re wondering.