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Tag Archives for " motivating students "

Student Engagement

Increasing Internal Student Engagement

 Increasing Internal Student Engagement

Many teachers are seeking ways to increase student engagement in the classroom. The purpose of this blog is to help teachers do just that. I am going to address an area of student engagement that most teachers overlook. That area is internal student engagement. Teachers must consider what it is they want a student to be doing internally while they are presenting material. When I ask teachers what they want the students to do while they are speaking, their answer most often is they want them to pay attention. Well, what does this mean? I want to help you clearly identify what that means for both you as a teacher and for your students. I believe all engagement should start with teachers and students knowing the desired outcome of student engagement.

Student EngagementThe following are examples of what a teacher may want students to do as they are speaking or presenting material. First, do you want students to imagine a scenario in their mind as a result of something you say? Would you like for them to bring up images about a certain phenomenon? Is your intent to make them become curious or begin to wonder about a certain thing? Would you like for them to become angry, empathetic or feel indifferent about what you are saying? There are times you may want them to compare their situation to another with which they are unfamiliar. Knowing exactly what your goal is during your presentation is absolutely critical to being able to elicit a particular response. Identifying what you want them to do internally sets the stage for learning.

Once you have identified what you want students to do it is time to determine what questions or statements will elicit those internal responses you desire. For example, if you want students to imagine a scenario then use questions that cause this to happen. For instance, you could say, “What do you think will happen when…,” and, “Suppose you are in a situation where…” I am suggesting that instead of simply giving answers to students, work on prompts that engage their minds immediately. Consider using prompts such as, “What do you think will happen if…” “You know how most people think…” and “Do you ever wonder why it is that….” I believe it is incumbent upon every teacher to begin a discussion with a phrase, question or statement that opens the minds of the students. Students will be less likely to get off task if you begin by focusing their minds on a topic immediately.

Another way to engage students is by creating a little cognitive dissonance into their lives. By this I mean, the teacher takes something that students think they know and show them how it is not true. I used this technique when I was an earth science teacher and I talked about hurricanes. When I introduced my unit, I would tell the students that as we learned about hurricanes, they would find that although the term hurricane means “big wind,” it is not the wind that kills most people during a hurricane. I would play up the fact that the windspeed of a hurricane’s core can be 75 mph but that some modern hurricanes have topped out above 200 mph. I would ask them to think about video of hurricanes they have seen on television and how the palm trees are swaying so violently in the wind. This would pique their curiosity even more. As I vehemently claimed that the wind was not the major cause of the loss of human life during hurricanes, I would not tell them the major cause, but rather let them figure out the answer as I moved through the unit. Creating that tension kept them on task and on target.

Other examples of how to keep their minds engaged is to use statements like, “Based on what I am about to share, in just a few minutes I’m going to ask you to…” Here is one of my favorite statements that commanded their immediate attention. “Here are some things that most people believe are true about today’s topic. Which ones are true and which ones are false? There is extra credit for the teams that get this right.” Additionally, I ask you to try these next two lines. They really get the students thinking. “There is a common belief that…..  So why do you think that the truth is that…..?” Please understand that these statements can be used anytime during class. They do not have to be used just when introducing something new. Whatever the next thing is that you are about to talk about, figure out how to put it in a question so that they have to immediately start thinking about a possible answer. I have found that students get bored when simply given fact after fact after fact to memorize. 

There are two things about what I have shared thus far. First and foremost, I recognize that it involves a little more preparation. Especially at first. However, it will become much easier as a little time passes. It is definitely worth the extra prep because students will not only participate internally, but will start to shout out answers and make the class livelier.  I also recognize this is similar to using the Socratic method. However, the difference is that instead of asking questions and getting an immediate response, these questions or statements are made with the explicit purpose of creating internal dialogue by those who are receiving the information. 

It is not enough to tell students to pay attention. Teachers must pull students into the lesson and make their ideas part of the lesson. By using the strategies listed above, students will know the specific things they need to do internally because the teacher is prompting them to do so.  By incorporating their ideas and thoughts the lesson becomes more interactive and thus more engaging.

Larry with Linda Dawson from RAPSA

Reaching the Promise of At-Promise Students

Reaching the Promise of At-Promise Students

Over a decade ago, I presented at a SIATech Conference in California. In my presentation, I spoke about the importance of using the term “at-promise” as opposed to the term “at-risk”.

Larry with Linda Dawson from RAPSAI had been promoting this concept for years because of my belief in the necessity of focusing on a student’s potential and positive attributes as opposed to their challenges. It was at this conference that I met Linda Dawson. She told me that she believed it was important to embrace the term “at-promise” and she intended to make this a priority.  

A short time later, she contacted me to discuss using my term “at-promise” as the premise for forming the organization RAPSA, which stands for Reaching At-Promise Student Association. I agreed and thought it was a wonderful idea!

However, I never could have imagined that RAPSA would go on to use this concept to successfully push for, and eventually pass, a law called AB-413 that changed the California Education Code. Yet, that’s exactly what they did. 

Changing the Mindset of Teachers Working with At-Promise Students

This action is so much more than semantics. AB-413 is about changing the paradigms, or the mindsets, of teachers that work with these students. This idea is essential in getting teachers to recognize the potential of these students and use that potential to guide them to success. 

Larry with Ernie Silva from RAPSAOn November 13, 2019, I presented on Reaching the Promise of At-Promise Students at the RAPSA Conference in San Diego. What made this conference exciting was the fact that RAPSA is building a successful movement to create change. It’s a movement that is grassroots.

Most of the people involved are teachers or principals that work directly with students that are struggling. This is not a top-down change. This is a change practitioners feel is imperative, and they’re fighting the fight to make it a reality. They were successful in making the change in California, and they’re now helping other states to do the same. 

Getting AB-413 passed is a tremendous accomplishment, and I congratulate all of those who worked hard to get it done. However, we all are aware that much more work needs to be done going forward. Now the rubber must meet the road. Now teachers and principals must implement the strategies necessary to provide the support these students need.

It’s one thing to believe it, and it’s another thing to have strategies to act upon it every day. This is why when RAPSA asked me to conduct a workshop that was designed to specifically show teachers how to do that, I jumped at the opportunity. 

Using Specific Strategies to Empower Teachers 

I provided the teachers with a multitude of simple strategies they could implement every day that would help students academically. I also gave them specific strategies to use to build positive relationships and create positive classroom cultures.

In addition, I modeled ways to make the classroom more engaging and talked about how to determine if students are, in fact, engaged. We discussed ways to bring these strategies back to the school and help others to get on board and use them as well. It was a fun, strategy-packed workshop! Workshops like these will help teachers and principals ensure that all of their students are successful. 

There is much that remains to be done in California to create learning environments that support the students of today. The challenges that these students face are different in several ways from those of students in decades previous. As a result, our schools and classrooms need to be different as well.

As we move forward in doing this, we will create schools that are relevant and that embrace and support all of our students, allowing them to reach their greatest potential.

Attend a Larry Bell Seminar in 2020!

For any of you that are interested in creating a movement like this in your state, you may contact me and I can put you in touch with RAPSA. You can also visit their website at RAPSA.org. 

For those of you interested in learning more about Reaching the Promise of At-Promise Students, you can attend my two-day seminar on this topic which will be held in two locations. The first will be held from February 24-25, 2020 in Milpitas, California. The second will be held from March 2-3 in Carlsbad Beach, California.

For more information on these seminars, you can visit the seminar page of my website Larry-Bell.com. Hope to see you in California!

Strategies to Develop a Positive Teacher-Student Relationship

Strategies to Develop a Positive Teacher-Student Relationship

In recent months, many educators have asked me about developing good teacher-student relationships. I see this as a good thing.

I believe this area of education has been grossly undervalued and overlooked for many years, especially at the secondary level. There is much research going back to the 1980s that demonstrates the benefits of a positive teacher-student relationship. These relationships are important in all schools, regardless of income levels or cultural backgrounds. 

The question is: what does a positive teacher-student relationship look like?  Part of the issue is that many teachers seldom take the time to figure out what a good teacher-student relationship means to them. In addition, many administrators tell teachers they want to see positive relationships but don’t explain what they’re looking for.   

There are probably as many ways to develop relationships as there are individuals on the planet. However, there are some basic fundamentals in relationship building between teachers and students that seem to work in almost any circumstance. What follows is a list of the fundamentals as I have observed them in the most successful classrooms nationwide!


There’s a saying that, “Kids don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care!” The most important thing is to build a foundation based on students knowing that you care about them.

It’s important they understand that they are more than just a test score to you. Find out about them as human beings, and interact with them as people first and students second. They’ll go out of their way to learn your material when they know you have their best interests at heart, and that your efforts are about more than just teaching the material.

So what does caring look like in a teacher-student relationship? Here are just a few examples:

  1. Asking questions. “How was your weekend?”
  2. Remembering the details. “I remembered you said your mom was sick. How is she doing?” 
  3. Paying attention. “You seem a little down today. Is everything okay? Is there anything I can do?”


Give the students individual time as much as possible. Too many teachers have the mistaken belief that they don’t have time to interact with the students individually.

Time can be made by prioritizing, and especially by the teaching methods that you use to present material. If too much time is spent lecturing, there’s less time for face-to-face interaction with the students.

Giving students more responsibility for their own learning using different modalities frees the teacher to do more one-on-one interactions. Face-to-face time is how humans bond!

So what might devoting your time to each student individually to build a relationship look like?

  1. Working out obstacles to learning. “Don’t worry about it. I’m going to sit right here with you and we’ll do it together.”
  2. Devoting after-class time. “See me after class and I’ll help you with this assignment.”
  3. Consider group time. “Everyone, get a partner and share how you work the problem. I’m going to walk around and visit the various groups as you share your wonderful work with each other.”


Be understanding and positive when students make mistakes. All of us needed positive guidance as we were growing and developing.

When students know that you’re not going to be overly judgmental and critical as they’re learning, they are more likely to engage in the learning process.

What might being positive look like in your teacher-student interactions?

  1. Being understanding of mistakes. “It’s okay to make a mistake. This is how we learn!”
  2. Encouraging them to take their time. “It takes me a while to pick up certain things too. It’s okay. Take your time!”
  3. Showing devotion to their success. “I’m here to help and I love the way you’re working so hard on this. We are going to get this! Whatever it takes, because you are awesome!”

Pointing Out Strengths

Positive affirmation in the form of pointing out strengths is something some students rarely experience. Be that special someone. Let them know that you see them, the whole person, the wonderful often hidden talents others may not acknowledge.

Sometimes their strengths are things that they don’t recognize in themselves. Pointing out strengths is an example of one of the little things that causes students to bond with a teacher. It helps the student realize that you see them as a person and value them. It also builds confidence in the student!

How can you point out strengths in students to build that essential teacher-student relationship for success?

  1. Acknowledge their efforts. “You’re such a hard worker. I love the way you work hard and try hard in my class every day. Thank you for that!”
  2. Point out their attention to detail. “I love the way you’re always able to pick out the main idea in a story or a passage. You are absolutely phenomenal with this. Keep it up!”
  3. Praise a specific skill. “Your math skills when it comes to long division make me so proud. You are outstanding with this!”

There are obviously many other ways to build a good teacher-student relationship; these are just a few things that may help. If you have others, try writing them out and breaking down good examples of how to use these things more effectively and positively. Please feel free to share your ideas as well!

Creating Quality Staff Development for Your Teachers

Creating Quality Staff Development for Your Teachers

Although staff development should take place all year, the beginning of the school year is essential to setting the tone for the entire year. It’s extremely important to have an effective Back-to-School event to set the right tone!

Having been involved in literally thousands of staff development events over the last 20 years, I’ve seen many that have been highly successful. Successful staff development events have several things in common.

Taking Into Account the Mindset of Your Staff

The first thing to consider is the state of mind of your staff. This is something most people don’t think about. Regardless of what information you think your staff needs to hear, the biggest question is how they’re feeling at this point in time.

When Your Staff Needs Inspiration

If your staff feels beaten down, frustrated, and defeated, you need to consider this with the type of presentation you offer. At that point, I recommended a seminar that’s fun, light, and encouraging.

If last school year was a difficult one, I definitely encourage you to start the year with a positive but informative speaker. I never recommend a speaker who’s all fun but no substance. People may later feel it was a waste of their time.

When Your Staff Is Ready to Grow

If recent experiences have gone well and you feel your staff is ready to learn and grow, deliver a session that’s content heavy yet still inspirational. The worst staff development is boring.

It doesn’t seem to matter how much information is shared. When teachers are bored during the presentation, they hate it. Don’t do boring! Find a presenter who’s lively and knowledgeable.

Determining What Type of Development Is Needed

One of the biggest factors when planning staff seminars is determining what type of staff development is needed. I always recommend asking for teacher input since they’re going to be the ones receiving the training. There are several ways to get staff input.

Conduct Surveys

Surveys that are anonymous are great because people are more honest and there’s less danger of one or two people dominating the discussion. If you want some control over the input, limit your survey to four or five topics. You may offer fewer topics or you may offer more depending on your circumstances.

I’ve found that completely open surveys are less helpful because responses can vary greatly. However, if you use an open survey and responses are very similar, this is particularly valuable because many are saying the same thing without any “guidance” from you.

Analyze Data

Another highly effective way to determine staff needs for a seminar is to look at your data in various areas. The most obvious is to look at student achievement data and determine which areas students scores are lowest and find professional development that strengthens your staff’s ability to teach those areas. This same data can be shared with teachers to help them decide which type of staff development is needed.

Create a Leadership Team

Another highly effective way to get teacher input is to have a staff development committee, teacher leadership team, or other teacher group that’s intimately familiar with the workings of the school involved in staff development decisions.

Considering the Desired Outcome for All Staff Members

A factor that’s often not given enough consideration is the desired outcome for staff members. What do you want your staff members to be able to do when they walk out of the training? This is a big deal because it’s a major factor in determining whom to select as a speaker and whether or not the training was a success when it’s over.

As a speaker, I always ask potential clients what is the main thing they want to accomplish with the staff development event. Then, I follow that up with a questionnaire and one of the questions is, “What are three goals you have for the training?”. It’s critical know EXACTLY what you want staff to be able to do as a result of the training.

Finding the Right Speaker for Your Staff

 Finding the right presenter for your staff is easy if one follows some simple rules. Unfortunately, most administrators fail to get this part right. The fact that most participants hate staff development days speaks volumes about the choices administrators usually make.

Yet, some administrators get it right over and over. How?

Know Your Staff

First, know your staff. Do they prefer upbeat or slower presentations? Are they talkative? Do they like to work together or do they prefer to work alone? These are just a few of the things to consider when looking for a trainer. Develop a list of questions to ask every potential speaker!

Evaluate the Speaker in Person

The best way to know if a speaker is right for your staff is to go and hear the speaker before you bring him or her in. Don’t just evaluate their material—every speaker has material. It’s the overall experience you should be judging.

For instance, how does the person interact with the audience? DOES the person interact with the audience? How does the person handle questions and, especially, any challenges that may arise? If you can’t see the person present, watch a video of the presenter that’s unedited for at least five minutes.

Check Out Their Website

Every speaker has a website, visit and study it. You may also want to have some of your teachers visit it and give you feedback. If the person is an author, read some of the written material. When you speak with the presenter, ask questions from your list. Ask about references if you’re not satisfied with what you see on the website for ANY reason.

Contact References

Next, call at least one reference and ask your two most important questions, being respectful of people’s time. For instance, ask if the person accomplished the major goal you wanted them to accomplish. You may also ask if the presentation was boring or interactive. I recommend you follow this procedure with at least three presenters in order to select your best fit.

Follow Up

When the presentation is over, debrief staff and, if everyone agrees, do at least one follow-up with the presenter. Staffs do not seem to follow through if they feel the presentation is a “one and done” event with no follow up or accountability.

You can create quality staff development training for your teachers by understanding the needs of your staff and taking steps to secure a speaker that fits their current mindset and goals. Don’t underestimate the power of quality training and motivational speakers for your team for the coming school year!

Enter Into a Bold New Frontier!

Enter Into a Bold New Frontier!

My friends, often I am asked about the latest things I see in the educational field as I travel the nation and indeed the world.

Normally I share things I’ve done or things that schools I’ve worked with have done for long periods of time. I have to tell you that what I will share now is new to me. It’s a tremendous idea that only a few teachers are using nationwide.

You must have some courage to do this, but I believe it will be the wave of the future. I also believe that it will be very helpful to students, including those at both ends of the achievement spectrum. I believe that gifted students will be able to take this idea and fly even higher, but it is with the struggling, at-risk students that I believe this strategy can have the greatest impact.

If you’re a teacher who likes to be at the forefront and interested in a dynamic, small project you can work on from now until the end of the year, and especially over the summer, read on and come fly with me!

Make a Video to Teach Students

First, for many reasons I advise you to get permission from your school administrator to do this project. I would love to give credit to the teacher who gave me the idea, but for the life of me I cannot remember where I was when the person mentioned this technique.

The idea is to video record yourself conducting a lesson regarding a standard that you really want the kids to get. Record the lesson keeping it under seven minutes, as though you were speaking one-on-one with the student. At the beginning of the video, clearly state your objective and what you expect the student to not only learn but to do after you finish the video lesson.

Show on screen the standard upon which you’re basing the lesson. Show the standard in writing the way the state has written it and then paraphrase the standard and objective in everyday language. Use charts and graphs to clearly make your points. When you come to an important word, stop and repeat the word, and then show the word on the screen with the definition beside it. Once you have finished the lesson, do a summary of the important parts of the lesson. Use chart paper of some sort as a part of your summary. This will allow you to go step-by-step through the summary.

Giving the lesson and then summarizing the lesson is important. However, the next part of the lesson is the most critical. Give at least one question regarding the lesson you just taught. Instruct the student to turn off the video and work out the problem. When they finish, they are to turn the video back on. When they turn the video back on, welcome them back and explain what the correct answer should be.  Whether you teach science, math, language arts, history or whatever subject, the most important thing is to walk them through the process by which you got the correct answer. Finally—and this part is very important too—ask the student to write down at least two questions or observations to turn into you the next day about the problem that you and they just when over. Thank them for their time and tell them you will see them next class.

Benefits of Video Lessons

I realize that for those school districts that offer virtual studies this may be similar to how some of those classes are conducted. However, I’ve not seen this kind of learning tool being used for students not registered for virtual classes. Video lessons are an additional way to review important information.

You can, in effect, create a YouTube channel with your top lessons and explanations on it. There are many reasons I’m extremely excited about the possibilities video lessons offer because they allow students to:

Replay parts of the lesson. First, many students, teachers, and parents already use YouTube to find the answers to almost every problem they face. This activity will give struggling and slow learners the opportunity to replay important parts of your lesson over and over again until they get it.

Get parental guidance for emphasis. A parent can sit down with the child and watch the lesson with them and have a better chance to help the student understand the process because they’re hearing it along with the child. It will give the parent the opportunity to stop the video at various stages and stress particular points that they see the child overlooking. As time passes, if a student wants to review difficult assignments, they always have a video post to go back to.

Not miss out just because they were absent. Consider the advantages of having a video post of the 10 or 15 most difficult standards available on your webpage or YouTube channel all year. If a child is absent for an extended period, she or he could watch the video and see at least the most important information delivered with the focus you want the student to have.  This would also be helpful for studying for semester exams and end-of-year state exams.

Have a greater access to a range of materials. Now imagine if your colleagues, who teach the same subject as you, posted their own version of these most difficult standards also. Think of the library of materials available to students and parents that would help them master material at home.

By working with other teachers who teach the same subject or grade level the workload could be divided up so that there could be videos on more of the standards. Imagine also, what a help these videos would be if you live in an area where they are many school closings throughout the year!

Have You Used Videos in Your Classroom?

Have you ever made a video to teach students or know of a colleague that puts this idea into practice? I would love feedback from any of you out there who may already be using this idea, as well as feedback from all others. Best of luck and enjoy this great strategy!

Strategies for State Testing Part Two: Providing Incentives

Strategies for State Testing Part Two: Providing Incentives

One of the most difficult things to do in teaching is getting low-achieving students and struggling learners motivated to take state tests. Often, these groups of students don’t care about the test or the score they earn.

Some states require that students pass the test in order to advance to the next grade, but most states don’t offer motivation for doing so. How then can you get your students interested in doing well on the end-of-year state test?

The Case for Incentives

I’ve found that offering incentives is a great way to get students to care about how well they do. I’ve heard the argument that we shouldn’t offer tangible, concrete incentives for student performance on state tests. That argument has some merit but it’s not realistic or practical.

Incentives are offered for everything in this world. Many business professionals make excellent salaries and then receive large bonuses at the end of the year.  Multi-millionaire athletes have incentives in their contracts because incentives work.

Until students are able to be intrinsically motivated themselves, I see no reason to let them fail to do their best on these examinations.  These tests prepare them for future examinations that will determine the type of life they’ll be able to have.

Appropriate Use of Incentives

Before I give you some examples of incentives that I’ve seen work for students at all levels, I’d like to discuss for what incentives should be given. The following are just a few examples that I’ve personally seen work very well.

Working through the entire test. In the schools I’ve worked with, incentives are given for actions that will help students do well during tests. For instance, give incentives, prizes or the opportunity to win a prize to students that work the entire test time.

One of the biggest enemies of doing well on a test is that students put their head down and go to sleep 15, 20 or 30 minutes into testing. Most of the students will have no chance of doing well when they sleep through the test. Therefore, give an incentive to those students who work through the entire test.

Using mnemonics they’ve learned. Consider giving incentives for using the mnemonics that were taught throughout the year. It’s unfortunate, but often students don’t utilize the tools teachers give them that will help them on standardized tests.

During the year, require students to write out the mnemonics on scratch paper or wherever allowed so that it’ll be automatic for them to do so during state testing. It is critical that students use all legitimate tools at their disposal.

Writing down strategies. Another incentive-worthy behavior is having students write out three main testing strategies they should use during the test. If they have those three strategies written in front of them, there’s a better chance that they will actually use them. An example of such a strategy would be to read the entire set of answers before selecting one.

Other behaviors to reward. There are other important things to give incentives for, such as being present every day for testing review, turning in all makeup work that relates to testing, and any other behaviors that each teacher designates as important for their students.

Ensuring Incentives Are Age-Appropriate

When considering giving incentives, the most important thing is to make sure that they are age-appropriate and things that students would go the extra mile for. The best way to determine what students will work for is to ask the students directly. Put it out in front of the whole class. Ask the question, “What types of things would you like as incentives?”

When dealing with high school students, there are many good options. Examples would be free tickets to dances, sporting events such as home football games, home basketball games, the prom, free parking spaces, etc. Examples of incentives that could be donated by members of the community are gas coupons, tickets to a professional game, tickets to a concert, etc.

At every grade level, consider getting the PTA involved to donate money or items. Items such an as PlayStations, bicycles, skateboards, video games that have been vetted, toys, computers, savings bonds, and grocery store coupons are all great incentives that can be donated to the school and used to get students excited for standardized testing.

Have You Used Incentives for Your Students?

I’ve found that incentivizing state testing is one of the most cost-effective ways to ensure that all of the hard work done during the year doesn’t go to waste because the students have no motivation to do well.

By using age-appropriate incentives for your students during state testing time, you can motivate and encourage them to do well on the tests. When education is the groundwork for their success in life, teachers can’t afford not to incentivize their students!

Getting Your Students Ready Now for the State Test: Part One

Getting Your Students Ready Now for the State Test:  Part One

I have to tell you, this is my favorite time of year. This is the time of year when you start getting students ready to take the end-of-year assessment. I am so excited, and forgive me, but I love it.

I love it because I know so many students have used the strategies I’m about to discuss to help them excel. I love it because so many teachers have been able to see the fruits of their labors by using these strategies when teaching their students.

I designed these strategies because I sympathize with teachers who spend the entire year teaching all to have the students be unable to demonstrate their knowledge on the end-of-year assessment.

I’m fired up today to give you the following suggestions regarding testing to prepare your students and ensure the knowledge they gain in your classroom during the year can be demonstrated on state tests!

Use Regular Tests as a Model for the State Tests: The ABC’s of Testing

First, realize that it’s critical to use your regular weekly or bi-weekly assessments as practice for the state test at the end of the year. It’s something I hope you did all year, but if you didn’t, now is the perfect time to double down on what you want the kids to do while they take that test.

Immediately instruct every student to write three critical strategies in the margin of the test or on scratch paper they can use while taking the test. I like to call these three strategies the ABC’s of testing.

A might be, always take my time.

B might be, be sure to circle keywords in the questions before answering them.

C stands for carefully check and double check all answers before turning in the test.

You can make your own strategies based on the mistakes you see your students make when taking an assessment. This strategy is critical and has to be done on every test you give until the end of the year. Practice helps strategies such as these become automatic.

You want these methods to be ingrained in your students so that on test day they don’t panic but do what comes naturally, which is writing down the strategies and using them.

Watch the Clock: Prepare Students by Conducting Longer Tests

The second important suggestion I would like to give is to make sure your tests and quizzes—especially your regular assessments—are longer than usual.

But why?

Lack of endurance during testing is one of the most common issues teachers see from students during the end-of-year test. Now is the perfect time to make sure your students are able to sit for long time blocks so they’re accustomed to doing this on state test days. You cannot give 20-minute tests all year and think students can sit for an hour or an hour and a half on state test day without becoming exhausted.

Add more questions to your weekly or bi-weekly assessments. Add more open-ended questions to these assignments. Give extra credit questions at the end. Whatever you do, make sure that the students are sitting for longer periods of time now and it will pay dividends at the end of the year on your state tests.

Utilize Questions That Mimic Those on the State Test

My final suggestion in this part of the testing strategies series involves preparing your students for the rigor of state assessments.

Immediately begin using as many released state test type questions and items as you can with your students in every capacity possible. These items contain the same rigor, nomenclature, and structure your students will see on the state test.

You don’t want to teach and test one way all year and have the questions on the state assessment look completely different at the end of the year. That’s not fair to your students and it’s definitely not fair to you. I recommend using these items, as long as they aren’t copyrighted, on your quizzes.

I especially urge you to use as many of these types of items on your weekly and bi-weekly assessments as possible. During this time of the year, 80 to 90 percent of your questions should be released state test type questions.

Like many educators, I was also a coach. Every coach knows you make practice more difficult than the game. You want your students to walk out of the test on test day saying that your assessments were more difficult than what they took on state test day. Consistently and repeatedly using released state test type items will help you accomplish this.

Encouragement for Teachers

I want to leave you with these words of encouragement.

When you prepare students for the challenge of the state test, they will perform better.

If you use the strategies I’ve outlined here and you use them consistently, you will give your students a better opportunity to demonstrate the knowledge and skills they’ve learned throughout the year.

If you peruse my website, you will see many examples of schools that made tremendous gains in their test scores. These schools used many of my strategies including those mentioned in this article.

Start by implementing the strategies discussed here and see the results. Teachers—you can do this!

Creating an Engaging Classroom

Creating an Engaging Classroom

Student engagement is one of the most challenging problems a teacher has to overcome. According to research, when students aren’t engaged, they’re more likely to disrupt class, less likely to accept challenges, have lower grades, and aren’t confident in their ability to learn.

It’s also become clear to me that a teacher can’t teach someone who’s bored. In a study of high school students, 66 percent said they were bored in class every single day.

There are ways to dramatically increase student engagement at all grade levels. The first thing that needs to be done is that a teacher has to define what student engagement means to him or her. In other words, what does it look like in your classroom? For the purposes of this blog, engagement means getting students to accept challenges and to be involved in classroom activities.

So let’s talk about how you can increase student engagement and create excitement around learning!

Try Low-Risk Engagement Activities


One method of increasing student involvement immediately is to start with low-risk engagement activities. Try this right away. Put a question up on the whiteboard that involves students answering something about themselves that may help lead into the lesson of the day.

For example, as an earth science teacher, I would put a question or a statement on the board such as, “Tell me about a time when you were caught outside in a thunderstorm and may have been concerned about lightning.”

Another such statement for a language arts teacher may be something like, “Tell me about a time when you were upset about a friend not living up to your expectations or letting you down.” Students love to talk about or write about themselves. There are many lessons that this could lead into.

What you’re attempting to do is to make it safe to answer and to take away the fear of not getting an answer right. Low-risk activities are a great way to begin getting students involved. This activity works great as an opening to stimulate interest in what you’re about to teach.

Encourage Student Interaction

Another tactic to get students engaged is to have students interact with each other. Many students will engage with other students before they will engage with teachers.

Once students have worked on the activity mentioned above, have everyone in the class stand up, hold their paper in one hand and their pen in the other, and go around the room and share their answer with someone. Give them about two to three minutes and have them write down key points their classmate shares.

Now, have them rotate and find another classmate to share with; about three rotations is all I recommend. These interactions usually generate some excitement in the classroom.

Student interaction is also a great tool to incorporate into other instructional lessons that lend themselves to student sharing. For instance, as an earth science teacher, I may ask students to share their opinion after a lesson about why more hurricanes form in the Pacific Ocean than in the Atlantic, which can lead to great class discussions later.

There are other versions of getting students up and moving, such as having students travel with partners, or my favorite—having them travel in groups of three. For some reason, a group of three really seems to get more ideas flowing and generate much more excitement.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Surveys

Engagement can mean different things to different teachers. No matter what you’re trying to accomplish, consider asking the students what method they might like to use to help them engage in the class the way you want them to be.

Survey your students on paper and list the various ways you engage students. Ask them to rate the activities you use and then ask them if there are other types of activities you didn’t list that they feel help them to engage more.

Study the surveys and try incorporating the activities they feel best help them to engage, keeping in mind the need to vary activities on a regular basis. This survey is also a great tool for seeing how students in your class best learn, which can be a bit different than being engaged.

List the various ways you present information to students, then have them rate those activities on how they best help students to learn or retain information. Remember to ask them if there’s a method you don’t use that would benefit them. Use the results of both these surveys when constructing your lesson plans.

Leverage Technology to Your Advantage

There are some things a teacher can do that never fail to involve all students. For example, using technology is a great way to get students involved. Some ideas are:

  • Having students work on computers.
  • Putting short videos up on the whiteboard.
  • Using YouTube lessons the students create which are also great for review or to help those that are absent.

Technology can be a powerful tool when it comes to engaging your students and supplementing your lessons!

Learn More about Creating an Engaging Classroom

As you approach the idea of making lessons more engaging, it’s important to take the key concepts that are important to teach and create engaging and fun activities around them. Don’t do an activity simply because it’s fun but has little to do with what you’re teaching.

The key is for the teacher to be excited and involved. If the teacher is enthusiastic about what he or she is teaching, that enthusiasm spreads to the students. Enthusiasm is contagious!

If you’re looking for more ideas about creating an engaging classroom, join me in Pittsburgh at the Hilton Garden Inn Pittsburgh Airport on March 25, 2019 for my “Creating an Engaging Classroom” seminar.

It’s going to be great fun and you’ll leave with a plethora of ideas to get your students excited about learning! Visit the seminar section on my website for more information.


Brewster, C. and Fager, J. (2000) Increasing Student Engagement and Motivation: From Time-on-Task to Homework. Portland. Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.

Macklem, G. L. (2015). Springer briefs in psychology. Boredom in the classroom: Addressing student motivation, self-regulation, and engagement in learning. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-13120-7

How to Choose the Right Back-to-School Speaker

How to Choose the Right Back-to-School Speaker

Are your teachers excited to return to the classroom after summer vacation?

Are they looking forward to getting back with their students and getting them motivated to learn?

Believe it or not, a great back–to–school speaker can deliver those results. That’s why selecting the right speaker is so important. Your back-to-school convocation or event sets the tone for your school or district for the rest of the year. It’s extremely important that your teachers leave feeling inspired, motivated, and excited to start the year.

The next question, then, is how do you choose the right back-to-school speaker? There are three important steps to take during your search.

1. Visit the Speaker’s Website

You’ll want to research the speaker in question to gather as much information as possible. From perusing the website, you can hopefully identify the message or perspective the speaker portrays.

Is this message one that is in sync with your message? View the videos on the website to see the style of delivery the speaker uses. Does this style work with your audience?

2. Read Reviews and Follow Up with References

Read the references on the website and even email or call a few of the references with critical questions you would like answers to.

If a speaker did a good job, people are willing to share this information with other educators because they understand the challenge of finding a good speaker.

3. Schedule a Call with the Speaker

Call the prospective speaker and have a conversation. You can learn much about a speaker this way.

You can pick up on their tone and their perspective and get a feel for their level of comfort in addressing the theme you want delivered.

 In addition to the above three steps, there are four things to keep in mind when searching for a speaker and conducting your research.

  1. Is the Speaker Relatable?

Will your teachers feel that the speaker has walked in their shoes? Look for someone that has spent time in the classroom. The length of time isn’t necessarily important, but teachers are more likely to listen to someone who has been there. They want to listen to someone who understands the challenges, idiosyncrasies, and nuances of the classroom. 

  1. Is the Speaker Engaging?

 You don’t want a speaker that will bore your audience. Regardless of how relatable a speaker is, teachers don’t want to be bored out of their gourd, so to speak.

 Check references to see if words such as inspiring, up-tempo, or engaging are used to describe the prospective speaker’s presentation. My belief is that you cannot inspire people by boring them to death. You do not have to look for a standup comedian by any means, but a little humor and levity goes a long way towards keeping the attention of your audience.

  1. Does the Speaker Have Credibility?

 Make sure the speaker is thoroughly familiar with the topic and can provide new insights that complement your theme for the year. The speaker should be someone who has experienced success with the material, can document that success, and show your audience how they, too, can have that same type of success with the topic.

  1. Does the Speaker Involve the Audience?

 People love it when they or a colleague is involved in the presentation. Actually, this models what teachers need to be doing in the classroom with their own students!

 This engagement makes the audience pay closer attention and helps the group make a connection with the speaker. It doesn’t have to be a very long interaction, but should be interspersed at critical and appropriate junctures.

 A speaker who stands and reads an entire speech from their notes or who relies on overheads as the major connecting point won’t have the same impact as a speaker who can involve the audience in the presentation. Keep this concept in mind as you read the reviews or references of the speaker. 

It is sometimes a challenge to find a speaker that can deliver your message and energize and inspire the audience. But this should be the standard for all back-to-school events. Our teachers deserve no less and our students will reap the benefits!

Simple But Effective Motivational Techniques for Teachers

Simple But Effective Motivational Techniques for Teachers

A great motivating activity that worked well for me as a teacher was to simply have a one-on-one discussion with each of the students.

Take a moment to sit and talk to one or more of them about life. Let them do the talking. Listen as they discuss the challenges and obstacles they face in everyday life. Listen as they talk about things that we as teachers may not know they face.

Encourage them to talk about their hopes, dreams, and goals. It will very quickly remind you how much you can help inspire and guide them. This discussion will reveal how badly they need you. When I did this with students I had, I kept thinking to myself as they were talking, “I can help with that!” It almost always got me motivated once again.

Another simple strategy that worked extremely well for me was to drive through the neighborhoods where some of my students lived. Choose a safe but challenging neighborhood and experience again, or for the first time, where your students are literally coming from.

Every once in a while, I would see a young child in the neighborhood while I was driving around. I would always wonder if that child knew that they were just as capable and deserving as any child anywhere. Seeing that child and seeing those circumstances usually helped reignite a spark in me that said, “Go back and work harder”. Another benefit of taking that drive was that it reminded me of how blessed my family and I are and caused me to want to pass on those blessings.

Lastly, remember that teachers are professionals. Every doctor, lawyer, business person, and all other professions got their start with a teacher.  I frequently hear fellow educators describe themselves by saying “Oh, I’m just a teacher.” Remember it all starts with teachers. Every hope, dream, and goal gets filtered through a teacher. You provide the tools to make those dreams come true. You have the power to encourage and enhance those dreams.  You have the power to be their greatest inspiration. Be that for all those that enter your classroom!